Legislature Has Responsibility To Oversee State’s Child Protection Obligations

July 23, 2010

It is always difficult for responsible adults to understand why anyone would abuse or neglect a child. Yet, we know child abuse and neglect does occur, and that is one of the reasons Connecticut and other states operate child protection agencies. As parents, taxpayers and responsible citizens, we depend on our child protection agency, the state Department of Children and Families (DCF), to do what has to be the hardest job of any government agency.

Not surprisingly, anything that makes us question how DCF does its job is cause for concern. That is why I recently asked the co-chairs of the legislature’s Human Services Committee to call a hearing to look into this state agency’s handling of a recent, widely publicized, case regarding Torrington children who were returned to their parents after police found them living in unsafe conditions. As I write this, the children in question are in state custody and the case is in the courts. However, questions remain and Connecticut citizens deserve answers.

The General Assembly’s Human Services Committee has cognizance over DCF. As the Senate’s ranking member of this committee, I believe it is our responsibility to seek answers to these questions. In my opinion, it is irresponsible to leave the job of obtaining the facts and informing the public about the actions of DCF in this case, and others, solely in the hands of the media. By the time you read this, it is my hope that the Human Services Committee’s co-chairs, Senator Paul Doyle (D-9) and Representative Toni Walker (D-93), have agreed to call a hearing.

Much is likely to be said about the need to respect the confidentiality of the persons involved in this, and other, DCF matters. Agreed. However, details of this case have already been widely reported. It is not unreasonable to expect DCF officials to respond to legislators’ questions about the very serious issues that are raised by these media reports. To her credit, DCF Commissioner Susan Hamilton also has concerns, and has ordered a review of her agency’s involvement in the Torrington case. Clearly, legislators will be very interested in learning the results of her investigation.

I believe that the General Assembly’s Human Services Committee – and, thus, the public – should have the opportunity to closely examine what happened, and take a very close look at what DCF does right, and what it should and must do better. Maybe we will find out that new legislation is necessary. Maybe, we will find out that DCF has to take certain steps internally to better handle situations like this. First, we need information above and beyond the media reports. That is why a hearing by the legislature’s Human Services Committee would be useful and, in my opinion, a necessary first step toward making whatever changes are necessary to ensure that the state responds quickly, responsibly and appropriately when children’s safety is at stake.

A just and responsible society does what it must to protect its children from abuse and neglect. It is up to us to all of us – and the state agencies that act on our behalf – to act in the best interests of our youngest citizens until they become adults legally capable of taking care of themselves.

As always, I welcome the opportunity to discuss this, and other issues important to our state. I can be reached in my office in Hartford at 1-800-842-1421 or via e-mail to [email protected].