Two new reports, one from a consultant and one from the Office of the Child Advocate, paint a damning and bleak picture of life at the Department of Children and Families’ two high-security locked facilities in Middletown. DCF is failing and abusing children under its care, and this must stop.
A long time ago I spoke with someone who had worked at a DCF facility, and I asked him about what the biggest problem he had to deal with there was. He looked at me, eyes heavy, and said: “The staff.”
Reports released over the past two weeks confirm that. The picture that emerges is of facilities where staff do not follow vital guidelines and laws intended to protect residents, and they also bully, harass, abuse, and neglect youth in their care.
One of the reports, written by Robert Kinscherff of the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice,
Kinscherff’s report is damning, but keeps its distance and qualifies many of its statements with suggestions that DCF is working on improvement. The report from Child Advocate Sarah Eagan, however, pulls no punches. Eagan’s report details specific incidents, and is a heartbreaking, infuriating read.
Here are a few examples (warning — not for the faint of heart):
Multiple facility staff spoke with OCA confidentially and raised concerns that certain adults are permitted to verbally abuse or threaten youth: “I’ll knock your jaw out.” “I’ll beat your ass.” “You are a piece of shit.”
Eleanor was subject to a protracted physical and mechanical restraint after she “threatened” staff with a bowl of peanut butter and bananas and would not go to her room. She was arrested for assaulting a staff member during the restraint. She was subsequently remanded to the Department of Corrections…
In June, 2015, an anonymous caller alleged that a staff member allegedly struck a youth at CJTS during a physical intervention. This call was initially “not accepted” for investigation due to insufficient information.
A CJTS school teacher reported to the DCF Careline an allegation that a staff member slapped a youth in the face while in the gym. DCF declined to accept the case for investigation as there was no allegation that the youth had marks or bruises.
This is just the tip of the iceberg — there is much, much more. The Child Advocate’s report contains allegations of staff bribing youth to beat up another resident, sexual harassment of residents by staff, physical punishment, and more — many of which were not investigated or only investigated after subsequent intervention or complaint. Youth often were sanctioned or even arrested after being provoked or restrained by staff.
DCF claimed that its facilities had been vetted by a national expert on suicide prevention, but Eagan’s report found that the expert had not conducted any such assessment.
Last year, transgender girl Jane Doe made allegations of abuse against DCF staff that some dismissed as merely the ravings of someone who wanted revenge. But in light of this report, those allegations, as well as the many concerns brought up by advocacy groups, seem all too plausible.
This isn’t how you run a rehabilitation facility; it’s not even how you’re supposed to run a prison. I don’t know what this is, but it’s absolutely reprehensible. DCF’s charge is to protect kids, not abuse and traumatize them further.
DCF must clean house. These reports should serve as a wake-up call, at the very least, and action must be taken. Staff who prey on vulnerable youth should never be tolerated, and staff who report any kind of problems must be taken seriously and protected. DCF must embrace national standards for rehabilitation that involve less use of restraint and solitary confinement, and follow the recommendations laid out in Eagan and Kirschoff’s reports.
Commissioner Joette Katz assures us that steps are being taken, but she has had four years to reform the agency. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy must demand that she act swiftly and decisively or resign.
The children who have suffered under her agency’s care deserve nothing less.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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