The death of 7-month-old Aaden Moreno of Middletown was a painful reminder to lawmakers about why they created a new task force to look at family violence cases.
Moreno was allegedly thrown off the Arrigoni Bridge in Middletown by his father after a judge rejected a request for a no-contact order against him, citing a lack of “imminent harm,” court documents show.
Moreno’s death and the events leading up to it are just one of the many cases the new task force on family violence will tackle when it convenes for its first meeting later this month.
Though the task force has not yet been fully appointed, Senate President Martin M. Looney and House Speaker Brendan Sharkey announced their appointments Wednesday at a Capitol press conference.
Looney named Karen Jarmoc, president and CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, as co-chair.
“Whether it be outright abuse or neglect, the children are victimized by the people that should love them and care for them the most, and results in tragedy as we’ve seen too often, such as in Middletown,” Looney said.
Jarmoc, whose coalition works with thousands of Connecticut children suffering from exposure to domestic violence, said she believes the state needs to maintain a stronger policy on how to ensure the mental and physical safety of the younger victims.
Both she and Sharkey said that, after a string of murders last summer in which six children were present over the course of three different domestic violence homicides, it became even more apparent that something was missing.
“I didn’t feel as though there was any moment to pause,” Jarmoc said. “There was obviously focus on the homicide, on the adult homicide and on the offender, but there was a sort of like a blip in terms of what was occurring with children.”
Sharkey said he believed the state is lacking a coordinated and comprehensive approach to dealing with child victims. His appointment to the task force was Garry Lapidus, director of the Injury Prevention Center at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and Hartford Hospital and Associate Professor of Pediatrics & Public Health at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.
Lapidus will co-chair the task force with Jarmoc.
The role of healthcare providers and men in domestic violence cases are two that deserve more focus across the board, according to Lapidus. He said that healthcare professionals should be more active in connecting victims to external services, while men should be provided with resources to help dislodge them from a system of violence and abuse.
“I think [domestic violence screenings] should be highly recommended,” Lapidus said. “I think we need to work with healthcare officials so they voluntarily implement the initiatives.”
The newly-appointed co-chairs also commented on several other potential initiatives, such as exploring the possibility of training judges that review and issue restraining orders.
“Typically, on most issues we’ve brought to their attention, the judiciary has been very responsive to those concerns and needs as they’ve become apparent,” Sharkey said, adding that he believed they would take the task force’s recommendations very seriously.
Connecticut’s 23 family courts review 9,000 restraining orders per year, Jarmoc said.
Sharkey added that he thought the legislature needed to review “the whole universe” of bills involving restraining orders in the wake of the recent cases. He also commented on the pervasiveness of the issue, saying how the lack of law enforcement protocol surrounding child domestic violence victims gives rise in part to future animosity between law enforcement officials and communities where domestic violence is more prevalent.
According to the Connecticut Judicial Branch, in 2013, 25 percent of cases handled by its Family Services Division involved a child who was present during an arrest.The Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Crimes Analysis Unit reports that close to 32 percent of incidents involving family violence in 2012 involved children present.
“The fact is that family violence has toxic implications going in so many different directions,” Sharkey said.
Ultimately, the task force is charged with the development of a statewide model policy for use by the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, health care professionals, attorneys for minors, law enforcement, the Judicial Branch, and formal guardians.
According to Jarmoc, 50 percent of households suffering from domestic violence have children present and 15.5 million children across the country are living in families where there is domestic violence. The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a membership organization of Connecticut’s 18 domestic violence service agencies, works with 1,200 children residing in domestic shelters, in addition to thousands of other children across the state.
Connecticut averages 14 domestic violence homicides per year, according to the state’s Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee.
The task force was signed into law June 30.
The group is currently waiting on appointments from minority and majority leaders and the Chief Court Administrator. One of the appointees must be a judge assigned to hear family matters and one will represent the Judicial Branch Court Support Services Division.
The task force will include 23 members.
Looney said he hopes the task force will hold its first meeting before the end of July. Their first report is due January 15, 2016.