Bridgeport, CT – Today, marking a milestone victory for Connecticut children and families, the parties to the Juan F. v. Lamont class action lawsuit jointly filed a motion to exit federal court oversight, citing measurable, sustained and durable improvements to the care and support of children served by the State’s Department of Children and Families (DCF). The children in the Juan F case are represented by Children’s Rights and Co-counsel Steven Frederick, Co-Managing Partner at Stamford-based Wofsey, Rosen, Kweskin & Kuriansky, LLP:
The request for an end to the long-running court-ordered reforms in the civil rights class action lawsuit, known as Juan F. v. Lamont, will now be considered by Chief United States District Judge Stefan J. Underhill.
The court-ordered reforms (also called a “consent decree”) require supports and services for thousands of children at the “front end” of the state’s child welfare system who may be subject to maltreatment investigations and possible removal into foster care under DCF custody. The consent decree, most recently modified as the 2017 Revised Exit Plan, stems from the settlement of a 1989 federal complaint alleging that DCF failed to make reasonable efforts to keep families together, adequately investigate child abuse and neglect complaints, and provide safety, oversight and health care services to children in foster care served by the agency.
In the years following the filing of the Connecticut complaint, DCF faced many challenges through numerous administrations. The joint motion reflects DCF’s organizational and operational changes that have dramatically improved the way the agency provides services, positively impacting the lives of children and families involved with DCF. The Department has also implemented policies and practices that are designed to ensure that these improvements will be sustained over time. More particularly, the joint motion describes how DCF, as validated by the federal Court Monitor, has achieved and sustained all required outcome measures for improvements, and put in place durable reform structures that can promote the safety, permanency, and well-being of children and families in the future.
Key accomplishments include:
Preserving Families: DCF now prioritizes keeping families together and avoiding the trauma of investigation, family separation and removal to foster care. Programs include extended family preservation services in communities, innovative initiatives to avoid the filing of unnecessary reports of child neglect, alternative service tracks instead of traumatic investigations, and the use of child and family team meetings designed to avoid the removal of children. Showing the positive effect of its family preservation work, the population of children in foster care has dropped from 6,203 in 2016 to 3,284 in January of 2022.
Ending Institutionalization: Recognizing that children do better in families, especially their immediate and extended kinship families, and that institutional (congregate) care should be used only in very rare instances and for limited duration as a treatment, DCF has dramatically reduced the placement of children in institutions, while increasing the placement of children with relatives and kin. From 2006 to January 2022, the percentage of children in institutions and other group facilities has dropped from 28% to just 7%, and the percentage of children placed with relatives and kin has increased from 26% to 42%.
Addressing Racial Inequality: DCF’s comprehensive racial justice program, recently presented to the state legislature, demonstrates a commitment to eliminating racial disparity in child welfare. The agency now has numerous tools and filters in place that disaggregate data by race and ethnicity. This allows DCF to develop and implement strategies looking at who is better off, and reliably assess its progress in reducing disproportionality in its outcomes, especially for Black children and families.
Ensuring Access to Health Services: DCF has made significant strides in providing multi-disciplinary health exams for youth. Emphasizing access to mental health services, the most recent monitoring report highlights success in providing community-based mental health, behavioral health, and substance abuse services for children and families involved with the agency.
“This civil rights case was brought to support families, prevent the removal of children into foster care, and when that is not possible, provide for the safety and well-being of children in state care. While the work is never done, years of documented improvements show that court oversight has accomplished its purpose and should now end,” said Ira Lustbader, Chief Program Officer Children’s Rights. “Under the extraordinary leadership of Commissioner Dorantes, Connecticut has fully embraced the reform process and has the tools and resources to make informed decisions for children and families and to reimagine its child welfare system.”
“As a Connecticut resident, I am proud to have served on this case for so many years and to see DCF reach these sustainable achievements for the children and families it serves,” said Steven Frederick, Co-Managing Partner at Wofsey, Rosen, Kweskin & Kuriansky LLP. “This joint motion underscores that DCF’s achievements – which are to be applauded – resulted not only from the talent and dedication of DCF’s leadership and staff, but also from the state’s commitment to fund adequate staffing, services and structure, which must be maintained to ensure lasting change for the children and families of Connecticut.”
More information about Juan F. v. Lamont can be found here.
ABOUT CHILDREN’S RIGHTS
Every day, children are harmed in America’s broken child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and healthcare systems. Through relentless strategic advocacy and legal action, we hold governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy. Children’s Rights, a national non-profit organization, has made a lasting impact for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children. For more information, please visit www.childrensrights.org.
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