Connecticut and its Department of Children and Families (DCF) today reached an agreement with national watchdog group Children’s Rights on a new action plan to better meet the service needs of the state’s abused and neglected children. The plan is the latest development in an ongoing federal class action lawsuit, filed in 1989 by Children’s Rights and known as Juan F. vs. Rell, to reform the state’s child welfare system.
The plan is the result of months of negotiations and focuses on: preventing foster children from staying too long in shelters and other temporary facilities; moving children safely out of state custody and back home with their parents or into an adoptive home; and reducing the use of institutions and group homes, particularly for young children. The agreement was reached with former DCF Commissioner Darlene Dunbar, who left her position on February 28 of this year. A new Commissioner has not yet been named.
“Meeting the service needs of abused and neglected children remains a big problem area for Connecticut, and DCFdeserves credit for committing to this plan, especially at a time of leadership transition,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “If this plan is rapidly and thoughtfully implemented, it will be a major step forward in improving these children’s lives.”
The new action plan is tied to DCF achieving required benchmarks in providing children’s services under a 2004 court-ordered exit plan, which, once fully implemented by Connecticut, would effectively end the Juan F. lawsuit. The action plan includes targeted efforts such as:
- Specialized tracking of any child who is kept in a shelter or other temporary facility for more than 60 days, with heightened services to move the child into an appropriate home.
- Specialized tracking of any child age 12 and under living in a group facility, with heightened services to place the child with a family.
- Specialized tracking and case reviews for children in DCF custody for over one year who are getting stuck in the system, to ensure they receive services to return them home safely to their parents or to relatives whenever possible, or to rapidly move them toward another permanent home (usually through adoption).
“While we will be watching DCF closely to ensure that this plan is implemented, during the months we worked withDCF officials on the plan we began to see some improvements,” said Lustbader. For example, the number of children who did not receive the steps required by federal and state law to move children towards adoption was cut from 823 in November 2006 to 502 in January 2007.
One key area not yet developed by DCF is a comprehensive plan for recruiting and retaining more foster homes.
“The recruitment and support of foster families must become a top priority at DCF,” said Lustbader. “Children belong with families whenever possible and not housed inappropriately in group homes and facilities, plus foster parents are the most likely people to adopt foster children.”
DCF is currently meeting 17 of the required 22 outcomes measures under the exit plan, but performance on the critical service needs measure has remained poor. The last full measure of service needs by the federal court monitor occurred in November 2005 and found that only 56% of children had their service needs met by DCF, and a small review sample in October of 2006 found that service needs were not met in more than one-third of cases. New data from the Court Monitor on DCF’s performance is expected in the near future.
Chris Iseli or Brooks Halliday // 212.683.2210