Law­maker: ‘Kids are dy­ing’

Se­na­tor tells col­leagues to pay at­ten­tion to fed­eral au­dit of DCF

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris­tine Stu­art CT­newsjunkie.com

HARTFORD >> It was largely a pub­lic hear­ing about the spend­ing cap, which is why his mes­sage in sup­port of Con­necti­cut’s chil­dren may have got­ten lost.

Se­nate Co-Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore Len Fasano, R-North Haven, made a pas­sion­ate plea to the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee ear­lier this month, ask­ing mem­bers to pay at­ten­tion to a fed­eral au­dit of the Depart­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies.

“Kids are dy­ing, kids are be­ing abused and there has not been enough voices in this build­ing speak­ing out,” Fasano said, crit­i­ciz­ing his fel­low law­mak­ers for not be­ing more out­spo­ken.

His po­si­tion is not a sur­prise. He’s asked DCF Com­mis­sioner Joette Katz to re­sign on three oc­ca­sions and he’s asked the gov­er­nor to fire Katz on at least two oc­ca­sions. But his crit­i­cisms have been largely dis­missed by Demo­cratic Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“Enough is enough,” Fasano said April 3. “We have to pro­tect those who can’t pro­tect them­selves.”

He was speak­ing in sup­port of leg­is­la­tion in­tro­duced by Rep.

Toni Walker, D-New Haven, who co-chairs the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee and the Ju­ve­nile Jus­tice Pol­icy and Over­sight Com­mit­tee (JJPOC). One of Walker’s bills would es­tab­lish a Child Wel­fare Over­sight Com­mit­tee and an­other would ex­tend Con­necti­cut’s cur­rent con­tract with Univer­sity of New Haven as it re­lates to the work of the JJPOC. Walker thanked Fasano for his ad­vo­cacy on the is­sue.

Fasano said the re­ports about abused and ne­glected chil­dren turn your stom­ach, “but I have yet to see out­rage in this build­ing.”

“If this fed­eral re­port doesn’t wake up (peo­ple in) this build­ing, I don’t know what will,” Fasano said.

The same day Fasano was making his re­marks to the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, fed­eral of­fi­cials were ex­plain­ing their find­ings to state of­fi­cials and law­mak­ers.

The au­dit by the Chil­dren’s Bureau, within the U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices’ Ad­min­is­tra­tion for Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies, “found that the agency prac­tice is in­con­sis­tent in as­sess­ing safety and risk in the child’s liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment and in pre­vent­ing chil­dren’s re­moval from their homes.”

The au­dit also found that Con­necti­cut’s child wel­fare agency is not in sub­stan­tial con­form­ity with any of the seven child and fam­ily out­comes re­lated to chil­dren’s safety, per­ma­nency, and well-be­ing. The state was found to be in com­pli­ance with two of the seven sys­temic fac­tors: agency re­spon­sive­ness to com­mu­nity and qual­ity as­sur­ance.

Fasano said if they are a “data driven” leg­is­la­ture, then they need to be pay­ing at­ten­tion to this data, which shows the state is do­ing worse today than just two years ago.

One of the au­dit’s per­for­mance stan­dards was that “chil­dren are, first and fore­most, pro­tected from abuse and ne­glect.” On that state­ment the au­dit said only 59 per­cent of the 41 ap­pli­ca­ble cases re­viewed show that it was sub­stan­tially met. Of the 13 other states that have un­der­gone sim­i­lar au­dits by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, Con­necti­cut per­formed the third worst based on that safety stan­dard. It was also well be­low the mean of 72 per­cent for that one stan­dard.

But Rep. Diana Ur­ban, D-North Ston­ing­ton, pointed out that none of the states au­dited met all of the fed­eral stan­dards.

In an email to all the mem­bers of the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, Katz said the re­marks made by Fasano “were based on a su­per­fi­cial un­der­stand­ing” of the fed­eral au­dit, which is called the Child and Fam­ily Ser­vices Re­view (CSFR).

Katz said “no safety alerts were iden­ti­fied” in the au­dit, which re­viewed 82 cases sam­pled from all 14 Con­necti­cut DCF of­fices.

“By way of his­tor­i­cal back­ground, the CFSR has been oc­cur­ring since 2001, and no state has been found to be in sub­stan­tial con­form­ity in all of the seven out­come ar­eas and seven sys­temic fac­tors,” Katz wrote.

She also said the pro­gram im­prove­ment plan, which Con­necti­cut will un­dergo as a re­sult of the au­dit, is “some­thing done by all ju­ris­dic­tions.”

She said the sam­ple size of 82 cases used by the feds “is not sta­tis­ti­cally rep­re­sen­ta­tive, given the ap­prox­i­mately 13,000 pos­si­ble cases in the uni­ver­sal for the sam­ple pe­riod.”

Fasano coun­tered in his own email to the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee that in­stead of ac­knowl­edg­ing the “sever­ity of the facts pre­sented by the fed­eral re­port — the same facts the Child Ad­vo­cate has brought to our at­ten­tion time and time again — Com­mis­sioner Katz sent law­mak­ers an email try­ing to ra­tio­nal­ize the re­port find­ings.”

He said it’s “like watch­ing a child come home with a bad re­port card and try to ex­plain to their par­ents why it’s the teacher’s fault.”

Fasano said to blame the small sam­ple size “completely ig­nores the fact that th­ese are real cases, with real lives at risk, in which the agency failed to prop­erly pro­tect chil­dren.”

Ac­cord­ing to all other state re­ports to date, Fasano said, Con­necti­cut is be­low the mean in all seven child and fam­ily out­come mea­sures.

“While this re­al­ity di­rectly con­tra­dicts the na­tional suc­cess story that some like to tout, it is a se­ri­ous warn­ing sign that we as pol­icy mak­ers can­not ig­nore,” Fasano said.

Ur­ban, who co-chairs the Chil­dren’s Com­mit­tee, said the pre­sen­ta­tion of the in­for­ma­tion from the fed­eral au­dit re­port was not a “gotcha mo­ment.” She said the goal was to make sure that a “ro­bust” im­prove­ment plan can be de­vel­oped from it.

“We rec­og­nize that in our work with the Depart­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies we can al­ways strive to do bet­ter,” Ur­ban said.

At the same time, she said as some­body who is “im­mersed in data we’re very pleased with our re­sults and qual­ity im­prove­ment.”

She pointed out that all states are re­quired to im­ple­ment im­prove­ment plans be­cause none of the states met all the stan­dards out­lined in the re­port.

Walker said she con­stantly hears about all this data DCF has that’s be­ing used to im­prove out­comes. How­ever, Walker said the agency has re­fused to share the data with the Ju­ve­nile Jus­tice Pol­icy and Over­sight Com­mit­tee.

Ur­ban and Walker have two di­ver­gent opin­ions re­gard­ing the per­for­mance of the agency.

Dennis Souza, child wel­fare spe­cial­ist with the Chil­dren’s Bureau of the U.S. Ad­min­is­tra­tion for Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies, told law­mak­ers that the safety is­sues raised by the au­dit in­clude both strengths and

chal­lenges.

“When safety prac­tices were strong, we saw that in­ter­views were held on a reg­u­lar ba­sis with all fam­ily mem­bers, in­clud­ing the chil­dren,” Souza said. “... When safety prac­tices weren’t as strong, we saw that they were miss­ing cer­tain things in their as­sess­ment.”

For in­stance, “They weren’t in­ter­view­ing new mem­bers com­ing into the house­hold,” Souza said. “Or they were miss­ing the on­go­ing mon­i­tor­ing of safety plan­ning.”

Ur­ban be­lieves the agency needs more re­sources and staff in or­der to achieve its goals. Souza said the au­dit doesn’t as­sess re­sources.

Linda Mitchell, a su­per­vi­sor with the Chil­dren’s Bureau of the U.S. Ad­min­is­tra­tion for Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies, said Con­necti­cut isn’t the only state strug­gling with find­ing per­ma­nency for chil­dren. She said the opi­oid epi­demic is “crush­ing” and “clog­ging” the front end of the sys­tem in all the states they re­view.

Al­ready Con­necti­cut law­mak­ers have voted down a set­tle­ment in the Juan F. con­sent de­cree.

The U.S. Dis­trict Court had re­duced the num­ber of out­comes to be mon­i­tored from 22 to 6. But fed­eral of­fi­cials said they are mea­sur­ing prac­tices dif­fer­ently than the fed­eral court mon­i­tor.

“Specif­i­cally, in the safety out­comes, the Court Mon­i­tor as­sesses timely ini­ti­a­tion and com­ple­tion of in­ves­ti­ga­tions. The CFSR as­sesses timely faceto-face con­tact with al­leged victims of abuse and ne­glect. The CFSR re­view process re­vealed that DCF lacks pol­icy that clearly de­fines time­lines for face-to­face con­tact with all al­leged victims in the fam­ily,” fed­eral au­di­tors said in the nar­ra­tive of their re­port.

The au­dit goes onto state that “In gen­eral, case re­views found that the agency prac­tice is in­con­sis­tent in as­sess­ing safety and risk in the child’s liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment and in pre­vent­ing chil­dren’s re­moval their homes.”

Fasano fears if law­mak­ers don’t in­ter­vene some­thing bad is go­ing to hap­pen to an­other child in Con­necti­cut.

Last Oc­to­ber, the Of­fice of the Child Ad­vo­cate con­cluded that the “near-death from star­va­tion and abuse” of a tod­dler points to sys­temic is­sues with some of the state’s re­cently touted kin­ship fos­ter place­ments.

The re­port came a month af­ter a news con­fer­ence dur­ing which Mal­loy and Katz touted in­creased kin­ship place­ments for DCF-in­volved chil­dren.

CT­NEWSJUNKIE FILE PHOTO

Len Fasano

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