New Plan Reduces Remaining Goals from 22 to 10; Guarantees That DCF’s Budget Cannot Go Lower Than Current Levels While State is Under Court-Ordered Decree
(Bridgeport, CT) – Child advocates and state officials presented a streamlined child welfare reform plan before U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill today, which, if approved by the Court and the Connecticut legislature, creates a pathway for Connecticut to exit court oversight in the lawsuit known as Juan F. v. Malloy. This strategy reduces the number of outcome goals from 22 to 10 and, most importantly, guarantees the resources to support the last stage of the longstanding reform effort.
The new exit plan replaces one filed in 2004. The strategy acknowledges the need to clarify remaining priority areas, but also recognizes significant progress in revamping the state child welfare system. On August 8, an independent federal court monitor filed a report showing that DCF has achieved some of its “best findings ever.” These include significantly decreasing the number of children in institutions, placing more of them with kin and bringing fewer children into custody.
“Without question, DCF is making important strides that better support children and families involved in the state’s child welfare system,” said Ira Lustbader, litigation director for Children’s Rights. “While exit from court oversight is now within reach, the timing will be completely driven by DCF’s performance on the final 10 goals.”
Priorities going forward involve improving the quality of case plans and ensuring that children’s medical, dental, mental health and other needs are met. The new plan also sets revised caseload limits, which will reduce average social worker caseloads by 25 percent from current limits. The new agreement also requires over $6 million in additional support services, such as outpatient mental health and substance abuse services.
The new agreement will be submitted to the legislature for approval, most likely in early 2017 unless a special session is utilized. If, for any reason, the legislature rejects the new exit plan, the current court order will remain in effect, including an open-ended resource requirement to implement the obligations. In contrast, the new exit plan guarantees that DCF’s budget can’t go below the July 1, 2017, budget for as long as the state remains under a court-ordered consent decree.
The Juan F. lawsuit, led by national advocacy organization Children’s Rights and Steven M. Frederick of the Stamford law firm Wofsey, Rosen, Kweskin & Kuriansky, LLP, requires protections for all children in DCF custody, and all those at risk of entering custody.
“It’s an exciting moment for Commissioner Katz and her agency,” said Frederick. “With a clear roadmap and focus in place, and the proper resources to support DCF’s efforts, there is an opportunity to make Connecticut child welfare a model system.”