CT Senate passes bill requiring in-home DCF visits | CT Mirror

April 10, 2024

From the CT Mirror:

The state Senate on Wednesday passed several bills that aim to improve children’s mental health and safety, including requiring state workers within the Department of Children and Families to conduct in-home visits and requiring the study of how hate speech and bullying affects kids.


With about a month left until the end of session, state senators sent about 20 bills to the House on Wednesday, including several focused on issues before the Committee on Children this session.


The state’s Department of Children and Families, like other state offices and businesses, went largely remote during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many home visits were conducted virtually rather than in-person, lawmakers said Wednesday.


Senate Bill 126 would require state workers to conduct home visits to check in on families with open safety plans unless anyone in the home is under quarantine or isolation for public health reasons. If someone in the home is under quarantine or isolation, DCF workers can conduct the meetings remotely.


The bill had initially only instituted the requirement in cases in which the parent or guardian has a substance abuse disorder, but lawmakers amended it Wednesday.


“The amendment tightens up the bill by making sure that any family that has a safety plan, that there will be a visit made… to make sure that family is following the safety plan,” said Children’s co-chair Sen. Ceci Maher, D-Wilton.


report from the Office of the Child Advocate issued in February cited an urgent need to give more attention to in-home cases. The report detailed procedures and systems involved in the case of Marcello Meadows, a New Haven 10-month-old who died from ingesting opioids in June.


“DCF is making numerous efforts to strengthen practice,” the report said. “However case reviews and DCF systems data continue to show persistent deficiencies in safety planning and case management. Available data shows a marked decline in DCF’s risk and safety assessment and case supervision over the last two years.”


DCF commissioner Jodi Hill-Lilly said in response to the report that the department has undertaken several measures, including safety assessments in substance abuse cases, expanding access to fentanyl testing, working with service providers to ensure that information-sharing is efficient, working to address provider staff turnover and engaging more fathers in the care of children.


Still, lawmakers want to put the in-home visits in statute rather than leaving it up to DCF policy. Some Republicans objected to the amended bill, citing concerns about the allowance for remote visits in quarantine or isolation cases.


“We got into this position that we were behind on home visits and children’s welfare was compromised as a result of the home visits not being in person,” said Children’s ranking member Sen. Lisa Seminara, R-Avon. “My concern with the home visit is that we are going to put ourselves back into this position again.”


Maher said the provisions would ensure children and families were also safe from health risks.


Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said he was concerned that the governor could “completely and utterly arbitrarily,” declare a public health emergency and DCF would make meetings remote. Although the bill doesn’t address family visitations, only safety planning, Sampson said he worried that it would give DCF leeway to limit family visitations in the cases of a public health emergency.


He cited the length of the public health emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What happened during the pandemic was unacceptable at the time,” Sampson said. “It was an absurdity. The fact of the matter is that the governor of this state and the majority body decided to carry on a public health emergency well beyond any period of rational review that would suggest that we were actually in some sort of emergency.”


The bill passed the Senate 27-8.


The Senate also voted 35-0 with one absent to approve Senate Bill 327, which would create a task force to study the effects of hate speech and bullying on kids.


Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many issues in the children’s mental health system have been at the forefront as more youth report more mental health needs.


There have been increases in incidents of homophobia, racism and antisemitism in recent years, Maher said. She hopes the bill can help lawmakers figure out how to address the problem.


The bill would require the task force to create a report for the legislature by next year. There was little debate on the bill.


“We heard during the public hearing how this kind of hate speech and anti-caring for other people has effects on children that lasts well into their adulthood,” Maher said. “I believe that children being affected by hate speech is not good for children and it’s not good for their families and it’s not good for society and it has a long-term impact.”


The Senate also passed Senate Bill 217, which would require the state Department of Health to create a working group to recommend a universal patient intake form for children’s behavioral health services.


The group would research and recommend best practices for the intake form. The goal would be to cut down on paperwork and make the process of accessing mental health care easier for families, Maher said.


Both Democrats and Republicans spoke in favor of the bill. Lawmakers approved the measure 34-1, with one absent.


“This is taking an otherwise cumbersome process and making it simplified for the parents and family members who may be overwhelmed,” Seminara said.


The bills are set to head to the House next.