Serious Challenges Remain for Governor Malloy’s New Child Welfare Leadership
HARTFORD, CT — The new leadership team at the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) has successfully maintained many improvements to the state foster care system, but has also inherited serious and persistent problems from the previous administration — specifically the continued failure to provide children and families with access to critical services — according to the latest report tracking a long-running, court-ordered reform effort spurred by Children’s Rights.
Today’s (PDF) notes that DCF is still failing to meet the basic service needs of more than 40 percent of the children and families involved with the state child welfare system — a statistic that has remained dismally low for more than four years. Because of previously stalled reform efforts, too many children in foster care are still not receiving necessary medical, dental, behavioral, and mental health services. Additionally, families are not being regularly referred to critical counseling programs such as domestic violence assistance or in-home services that would help strengthen their ability to parent.
“The last administration wasted an extraordinary amount of time and resources trying to find a way to end court oversight before fixing persistent problems that harm vulnerable kids and families,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director for Children’s Rights. “While there is a lot of work to be done to make up for the time lost, we are extremely impressed by DCF Commissioner Joette Katz’s ownership of the system’s shortfalls and her commitment to tackle these issues during her tenure.”
Connecticut’s previous administration under Governor Jodi Rell attempted to end federal court oversight in April 2010 without achieving the required reforms for children in foster care — which a federal judge ultimately rejected in September 2010, ordering DCF to immediately renew its work to complete the court-ordered reform effort. The state had also made several failed attempts to cut Connecticut’s Voluntary Services Program, which offers specialized treatment for children at risk of entering state custody due to serious mental, emotional, or behavioral problems.
While Commissioner Katz has publicly pledged to catalyze the state’s reform efforts in many of these problem areas, the independent monitor notes additional significant challenges for DCF:
- DCF must reduce its reliance on out-of-state institutions and place more children, especially young children, with families instead of facilities and institutions. According to the monitor, Connecticut is continuing to misuse non-family settings, also known as congregate care — with nearly 150 children under the age of 12 still living institutions, shelters, group homes, and residential treatment centers. Twenty-five percent of all children in foster care currently reside in congregate care settings, showing virtually no progress since 2008 and falling far short of the promised 12-percent reduction the state had previously committed to hitting this summer.
- DCF must immediately find ways to better recruit, support, and retain foster homes. The state still lacks a sufficient pool of available relative, foster, and adoptive families for children in foster care. Despite committing to add over 850 new homes, DCF has experienced a net loss of 126 homes since 2008, making it much more likely a child will be inappropriately placed in an institution or with a family ill-equipped to meet his or needs.
- DCF must eliminate long waitlists for critical services. Today’s report notes that DCF still has a long way to go with respect to building in-state capacity for a number of services that either do not exist or aren’t widely enough available for youth and families. Among these critical services are substance abuse treatment programs, life skills and transitional living programs for youth aging-out of foster care, and specialized foster placements for children with unique needs.
However, in addition to outlining the challenges that lie ahead for DCF’s reform efforts, today’s report shows DCF has continued to maintain improvements in many important areas, including:
- Prompt and thorough investigations of child abuse and neglect allegations.
- Speedy and successful efforts at reunifying children with their parents or, if that’s not possible, matching children with new, permanent adoptive families or guardians.
- Minimizing the number of different places children are forced to live while in foster care.
- Reducing the instance of abuse and neglect while children are in state custody.
- Ensuring children in foster care receive regular visits from their caseworkers.
- Giving caseworkers manageable caseloads so they can properly monitor families and protect children.
Today’s report was released by court-appointed monitor Raymond Mancuso and monitors the state’s performance during the first quarter of 2011.
Children in the class action known as Juan F. v. Rell, originally filed in 1989, are represented by Children’s Rights and local co-counsel Steven Frederick of the Stamford law firm Wofsey Rosen Kweskin & Kuriansky. The case was filed against state officials on behalf of the approximately 6,000 children in the custody of the Connecticut child welfare system and thousands more at risk of entering custody.
For more information about Children’s Rights ongoing campaign to reform the Connecticut child welfare system, and complete archive of documents related to the Juan F. case including today’s report, please visit www.childrensrights.org/connecticut.