One lawmaker continues to push for the resignation of Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz, while another is calling for a public hearing in the wake of the Child Advocate’s report on the near-death of a toddler.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, maintained his position that Katz should be held responsible for failing this toddler and other children in the agency’s care and resign. He pointed out that Dylan (a pseudonym) is not the first child to suffer during Katz’s tenure.
“Vulnerable families should not be subject to an agency that is completely mismanaged by an individual who cares more about creating the appearance of improvement by keeping kids in unsafe conditions in order to reduce caseloads and out of home placements than about actually making progress and meeting the needs of Connecticut children,” Fasano said Wednesday in a letter to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
But Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, who co-chairs the Children’s Committee that oversees the department, doesn’t believe Katz is the problem.
Urban said it’s “institutionalized workers” who are protected by a union, which makes getting rid of them extremely difficult. She said Katz’s hands are largely tied when it comes to managing the 3,000 employees in that agency.
Urban said she would hold a public hearing after the election in November to further investigate why this toddler was allowed to spend five months in a foster home where he was neglected and allowed to nearly starve to death.
At 18-months, when Dylan was finally removed from the home, he wasn’t walking or talking and only weighed 17 pounds, according to the Child Advocate’s report. There were bruises on his body, his skin was loose, and he had broken bones in both arms. There was also sparse hair on the back of his head, indicating that he was lying down for long periods of time.
Things haven’t gotten better for the toddler, who is now two years old. He is being moved to his sixth foster home, according to a New London Day interview with the boy’s biological mother.
Two managers were suspended for 15 days without pay and one social worker received an unpaid 20 day suspension, according to a DCF spokesman. A supervisor involved with the case retired.
Urban said that’s not good enough. She said “they should have been fired. End of discussion.”
She said there seems to be some sort of systematic breakdown in that regional office and something needs to be done. However, getting rid of Katz is not the solution, Urban said.
Asked Thursday about whether Katz should resign, Malloy said he supports the commissioner.
Malloy said the judge and the plaintiffs in a decades old court order are all saying the agency is making improvements.
He said over the last six years there’s been a reduction in out-of-state placements and an increase in the number of children being placed in foster homes with relatives.
“It is the hardest department in state government in any state to run,” Malloy said. “You’re always at risk.”
He said he’s holding Katz accountable and “real progress is being made in Connecticut.”
At the end of September a federal judge modified the terms of its decades old oversight of the agency. Malloy said that’s one of the many indications that the agency is making progress under Katz’s leadership.
Katz has dismissed the Child Advocate’s report saying that “while there is much we can learn from a particular case, a system as large and complex as a child welfare system cannot be judged accurately by one or even a handful of cases.”
However, Child Advocate Sarah Eagan pointed out in the report that there’s much larger systemic problems with some of the agency’s practices regarding placement in kinship foster homes.
Between 2015 and June 2016, DCF granted 65 waivers to prospective foster parents with criminal or child protective histories. Those waivers involved the placement of 90 children, 49 of whom were age seven or under at the time of the placement. Eagan’s office has begun reviewing the waivers and has been able to complete 25 of them. Of those 25 cases, at least 14 foster parents had “previously been substantiated for abuse or neglect by DCF and 4 had their own children removed from their care.”
The Child Advocate’s review of the waivers is currently ongoing.