Legislators question DCF on handling of Watertown abuse case [Rep-Am]

March 3, 2016


WATERTOWN — Two state senators are questioning the Department of Children and Families’ role in a local couple’s abuse of their adopted children.

Republican Senators Robert J. Kane and Len Fasano sent letters to DCF Commissioner Joette Katz and Supervising State’s Attorney Maureen T. Platt questioning the department’s handling of the case.

Watertown residents George Barnes and Nancie Barnes were charged with cruelty in January for their alleged disciplinary methods which included forcing their children to stand and read in a bathroom for days, weeks, or months at a time. During periods of discipline, the five children, ages 9 to 18, were only allowed out to sleep and go to school, according to warrants for the couple’s arrest.

The couple claimed that DCF representatives knew and approved of their disciplinary tactics.

In a statement, DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt condemned the couple’s alleged abuse, but wouldn’t say whether DCF was aware of it before their arrest last month. Kleeblatt said the parents received criminal and child welfare background checks before obtaining their licenses to care for their five children.

The Barneses told police they worked with DCF’s Intensive In-Home Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Services and Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington to come up with strategies to control their unruly children, according to a warrant. Nancie Barnes told police that a counselor from IICAPS sat with one of the children for a session in the bathroom during a period in which the child was being punished, according to the warrant.

“This case is extremely disturbing,” the senators wrote in the letter.

The senators asked Katz what abusive behavior DCF was aware of, what steps were taken to instruct the parents in proper care and what steps were taken to protect the children. They asked who received the complaint made in the summer of 2015, whether the complaint was received through the hotline, whether the complaint was referred to the Family Assessment Response program and how DCF followed up on the complaint.

The letter also asked whether DCF had an open case on the Barneses when police began investigating in December 2015 and whether there ever was a DCF case involving the couple.

Katz sent the senators a short response, saying she couldn’t give out information without approval from the Barneses.

Kane, of Watertown, said this isn’t the only DCF case he’s concerned about. He said he has concerns about Katz’ handling of a number of cases and the agency overall.

“I want to get to the bottom of it because this is a terrible situation and we need to protect the lives of the children that they serve,” he said.

He said he’ll confer with Fasano as to the next step.

Fasano, of North Haven, said Katz’ response is inadequate. He said she could answer some of his questions without releasing confidential information.

“That’s just her way of hiding what’s happening in her department,” he said. “How do you fix a problem if every time you ask a question, commissioner Katz says that’s private information. We have to wait until something happens before we react.”

Fasano said he wants to know whether DCF knew of the abuse or just turned a blind eye to it, silently acquiescing. “Somebody needs to be accountable for that,” Fasano said.

He has made several calls for Katz’ resignation in the past. “This is an agency that’s truly out of control,” he said.

He said Katz refuses to have an oversight committee or keep statistics about the outcomes of DCF cases. “What she’s trying to say is, ‘trust me, I’m doing fine’,” he said.

He accused Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the Democratic chairmen of the Children and Families committee of ignoring incidents where children under DCF care are killed or harmed.

“Kids are dying because we’re not doing anything,” Fasano said, referring to the murder of two children in East Haven in June.

Kleeblatt did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.