Protecting Connecticut’s Children

August 17, 2010

Every law-abiding compassionate adult is moved by stories about children who are abused or neglected, so it is no surprise that Connecticut residents want to know more about how the state Department of Children & Families (DCF) handled a recent highly publicized Torrington case.

It is my hope that we will soon have some answers. At my request, the General Assembly’s Human Services Committee will hold an invitational forum on Wednesday, August 25th. Those who will be invited include DCF Commissioner Susan Hamilton, State Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein, West Hartford Police Chief James Strillacci, and members of the General Assembly’s Select Committee on Children.

As I have said before, the people who work for DCF have incredibly difficult jobs – and I know that most of them spend every day doing their best to protect children who cannot protect themselves. However, media reports of this particular child neglect case and the state agency’s response are disturbing, and neither the General Assembly nor the public should have to rely solely on media reports for information. As the Senate’s ranking member of the Human Services Committee, I believe it is the responsibility of those of us who serve on this committee, which has cognizance over DCF, to seek that information.

I do not believe that it is necessary, or productive, to describe here what has already been reported by the media regarding the child neglect case in question. I do believe it is important to state that my intention in calling for this hearing is to collect information that might prove useful in proposing future legislation, if necessary, regarding DCF’s policies and procedures. In other words, I believe that state officials can answer legislators’ questions without violating anyone’s privacy or jeopardizing anyone’s right to due process.

Meanwhile, keep in mind that DCF has a huge job. According to information provided on its website (www.ct.gov/dcf), this state agency’s responsibilities encompass child welfare, children’s behavioral health, juvenile services and prevention. DCF operates four facilities, and conducts operations from a central office that oversees 14 area offices that are organized into five regions. At any point in time, this agency serves approximately 36,000 children and 16,000 families across its program and mandate areas. On average, DCF employs 3,526 full-time employees. Its budget for this fiscal year is $849,647,000.

Suspicions of child abuse or neglect can be reported 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling the DCF hotline at 1-800-842-2288. In Fiscal Year 2009, about 91,000 calls were made to the hotline. Those calls included more than 41,000 reports of suspected abuse or neglect, of which more than 23,000 were accepted for investigation. According to information on the DCF website, approximately 6,800 of these abuse/neglect reports were substantiated.

Clearly, it is in everyone’s best interest for the General Assembly to make sure that the policies and procedures DCF has in place to carry out its responsibilities are workable, up-to-date, and appropriately carried out. DCF officials understand the importance of this as well; DCF Commissioner Hamilton has ordered her own review of the agency’s handling of the Torrington child neglect case.

I look forward to the opportunity to learn more about DCF’s handling of the Torrington child neglect case, and more about how the agency handles similar cases in its day-to-day operations. Once we have that information, we can decide how to proceed.

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

Senator Rob Kane represents the 32nd Senatorial District, which includes the communities of Bethlehem, Bridgewater, Middlebury, Oxford, Seymour, Southbury, Thomaston, Roxbury, Watertown and Woodbury.