Urges Commissioner to Revisit Reform Legislation

July 16, 2015

HartfordSenate Minority Leader Len Fasano (R-North Haven) is raising questions about Department of Children & Families Commissioner Joette Katz’s effectiveness in light of serious DCF deficiencies discussed in the Federal Court Monitor’s quarterly report released yesterday. Fasano is also questioning Katz’s recent statements regarding her commitment to advancing juvenile justice reforms in the wake of a new report on DCF’s two locked facilities: CJTS and Pueblo Unit.

“While Commissioner Katz came into office in 2011 promising dramatic improvement in DCF’s care and programs for children, the reality is that, over four years later, DCF has regressed under her leadership and is failing to meet the needs of our children by a greater degree than ever,” said Fasano. “This past legislative session Commissioner Katz rejected proposed legislation that would have directly addressed many of the persistent problems advocates have spoken about repeatedly. She was wrong to reject those proposals and I urge her to revisit them immediately,” said Fasano.

Court Monitor’s Report

“The most recent court monitor’s report released this week paints a bleak picture of an agency struggling, and too often failing, to meet the needs of Connecticut’s children,” said Fasano. “Last year, the court monitor found that the quality of DCF’s abuse investigations, case management and care coordination had deteriorated under Commissioner Katz. Now we are seeing serious deficiencies persist, leaving children at risk and without vital services.”

Fasano pointed to the following issues highlighted in the report:

  • Under Katz’ leadership, DCF has consistently failed to meet 7 critical quality benchmarks, up from 6 in 2010 before she took office.
  • DCF’s performance on these standards has actually deteriorated on her watch. For example, the monitor found that DCF developed adequate treatment plans for children only 47.2% of the time compared to 86.5% in 2010 and also successfully met children’s needs only 47.2% of the time compared to 67.3% in 2010.
  • DCF failed to meet 306 identifiable needs of children in its care. This is a more than 30% increase from just last year and a 125% increase or more than twice the number of unmet needs in 2010 (136)

Katz’s Reaction to Report on CJTS and Pueblo Unit

“Earlier this week, Commissioner Katz affirmed her commitment to reform DCF’s approach to juvenile justice given new findings in a report she commissioned to study CJTS and Pueblo Unit,” said Fasano.

“I’m happy to see the Commissioner acknowledging the need for reforms in DCF’s locked facilities. However, I find it difficult to believe Commissioner Katz is fully committed after she flat out rejected many proposed reforms this legislative session as well as a past study that made many recommendations to improve these same facilities.”

Sen. Fasano pointed to a study done by the Georgetown Center for Juvenile Justice and paid for by the state in June 2013 that included a comprehensive evaluation of DCF’s juvenile justice programs and facilities. It highlighted many of the issues advocates continue to raise concerns about.

“The Georgetown study brought up many concerns I sought to address in multiple legislative proposals this year dealing with data collection, quality assurance, independent oversight and accountability,” said Fasano. “But instead of implementing these reforms, Katz commissioned another report with a hand-picked consultant. She has failed to implement the reforms recommended by Georgetown and many child advocates. Instead she’s paying for different recommendations from another source.”

Both reports emphasize DCF’s lack of data regarding the effectiveness of its programs and both also highlight significant issues with DCF’s use of restraints and seclusion.

Below is list of bills proposed by Sen. Fasano this year to reform DCF as recommended by the CJTS Advisory Group and the Child Advocate. Commissioner Katz opposed all his proposals.

  • S.B. No. 307 An Act Implementing a Quality Assurance Program for the Department of Children and Families’ Programs and Facilities: This legislation proposed that DCF and any DCF-contracted juvenile justice facility incorporate the use of Performance Based Standards (PBS). PBS is a nationally recognized quality assurance program launched by the Department of Justice in 1995 to improve the conditions of juvenile confinement. PBS is an evidence-based program that is already used successfully by the state’s Judicial Department at its juvenile detention facilities. This system would allow DCF to collect and report data on outcomes and efficacy in a timely, objective, standardized and useable way that will allow it to quickly identify and respond to trends and develop evidence based best practices.
  • S.B. No. 306 An Act Establishing an Independent Department of Children and Families Ombudsman: This legislation would have created a new independent ombudsman to give children incarcerated at CJTS and Pueblo a voice and a safe place to report complaints. The ombudsman would receive, hear and respond to complaints and grievances from children at these facilities and act as an independent office not under DCF.
  • S.B. No. 304 An Act Concerning the Connecticut Juvenile Training School Advisory Group: This bill would have increased the independence of the CJTS Advisory Group. Currently, this group serves at the will of the commissioner with no independent authority. While this bill would not give the board the authority to implement policy, it would give it greater independence and authority to oversee CJTS and Pueblo and make recommendations to legislature.
  • S.B. No. 301 An Act Concerning Transparency within the Department of Children & Families: This bill would have increased transparency and accountability for Department of Children and Families operations by increasing public access to the department’s records.
  • S.B. No. 308 An Act Concerning an Independent Review of the Department of Children & Families: This bill would have required DCF to retain an outside independent agency to review the department’s child protection policies and procedures and submit a report on findings to the state’s committees on Judiciary, Human Services and Children. The committees would hold a public hearing on the report and the department would be required to submit a plan to implement recommended changes.
  • S.B. No. 310 An Act Strengthening Child Fatality Review Procedures: This bill would have required an independent review of fatalities involving children with Department of Children and Families involvement, promoted a more transparent review process and ensured public discussion of findings and recommendations.