Connecticut’s Child Welfare System Moves Closer to Achieving Goals Spurred by Children’s Rights Lawsuit

Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) could be moving toward ending more than 20 years of court oversight stemming from a landmark class-action lawsuit filed by Children’s Rights. Although challenges remain, a report filed by the federal court monitor overseeing DCF’s reform plan showed vital progress was made in key areas. Josh Kovner of The Hartford Courant has more:

The latest quarterly report by the case monitor said DCF had a “strong overall performance” during April 1 through June 30.

Joette Katz, the former state Supreme Court justice, took over the sprawling, $800-million-a-year agency in January 2011. The reports by Wallingford-based court monitor Raymond Mancuso since the first quarter of last year have shown progress.

One troubling aspect of DCF has been its over-reliance on placing children in group settings rather than foster homes. However, that has begun to change thanks to policies introduced by Katz that have more children being placed with relatives and fewer children being removed from their homes for poverty-related reasons. The Connecticut Mirror’s Jacqueline Rabe Thomas reports on Mancuso’s findings:

“There is considerable evidence of collaborative case-planning in most cases. A very important factor for children’s needs being identified prior to discharge and subsequently met appeared to be solid partnership and alliance between the Department, providers, families and youth,” Raymond Mancuso reported.

Reducing placement in large group homes, or congregate care, is one of the goals included in the 1991 consent decree that came out of a federal class-action lawsuit.

“We are certainly impressed,” [Children’s Rights lead attorney Ira] Lustbader said. “[DCF officials] have shored up placements to move these children living in congregate care to more appropriate living situations.”

Despite the department’s progress in finding appropriate housing for more kids, challenges remain–namely the department’s need to add new foster homes:

But with 1,050 children still under the care of shift workers, advocates say the agency still has much work to do. The agency has routinely fallen short of the requirement that it add 850 new foster homes. The court monitor’s progress report says the agency has added a small number since last quarter, but it still has far to go.

…Mancuso said he reviewed the cases of 54 troubled children in state care throughout Connecticut. Of those, all of the child’s needs were being met in 61.1 percent of the cases, a slight improvement over the 60.4 percent mark from the previous quarter.

Lustbader…said the percentage of cases in which children’s needs are being met remains too low, but he acknowledged the improvement.

Overall, Children’s Rights is hopeful that under Katz’s leadership the department will continue to resolveany outstanding issues:

Lustbader said Katz “champions the department’s successes and owns the things that aren’t going right. She dives in to address them. It’s like night and day” from the previous administrations.