We Must Not Be Complacent About State’s Obligation To Protect Connecticut’s Children

September 7, 2010

While happy to learn that the State Department of Children and Families (DCF) is beefing up its hotline – the first place people concerned about child abuse and neglect turn to for help – I strongly believe it would be a mistake to just assume that things will now proceed smoothly at Connecticut’s child protection agency.

When I responded to a recent, highly publicized, child neglect case in Torrington by calling for a legislative hearing, I never intended the informational forum subsequently held by the Human Services Committee to be the last word on the matter.

More to the point, I do not believe that DCF’s formal response – issued in a press release last week – ought to be the end of our discussion. As the Senate’s Ranking Member of the General Assembly’s Human Services Committee, which has cognizance over the agency, I assure you that I do not intend to let the matter drop.

By now, you may have read media accounts of DCF’s public response to its own internal review of how the agency handled the Torrington child neglect case. Reading it bolstered my strong belief in the need for the General Assembly to find workable, appropriate, ways to increase legislative oversight, efficiency and accountability with respect to DCF. Failing to do this would be tantamount to failing in our obligation to the children who depend upon us to protect them from abuse and neglect. The children whose circumstances bring them to the attention of DCF may very well have no one else.

I was very disappointed that DCF issued a press release, rather than a full report, on its findings with respect to the handling of the Torrington child neglect case. Nevertheless, conceding that police should not have been kept on hold for 30 minutes when they called the hotline for help – and taking steps to see that such a thing does not happen again – is certainly a step in the right direction. However, I believe the General Assembly must take a much closer look at DCF’s decision to let these children go home when police officers had expressed concern for their well-being.

Keep in mind that these children had already come to the attention of DCF when the police called the hotline; the agency had requested a court order to obtain custody of these children in May. The Torrington police called the hotline because of their concern for the children’s safety on July 12th. Yet, according to the DCF press release, agency workers allowed the children to return home several hours after the police called its hotline because they felt the situation had improved sufficiently to wait for a court order for temporary custody – which the agency filed and received the following day.

As a parent, I have to question how DCF’s handling of this situation could be considered to be in the best interest of the children. As a legislator, I have to question the laws, policies and procedures that make such a response seem reasonable to the state employees we trust to protect Connecticut’s children from abuse and neglect.

The General Assembly and the public needs answers – and we need to act on what we learn. Sooner, rather than later. Connecticut’s children are counting on us.

As always, I welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue, and the many others, 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.