HARTFORD, CT — Caseloads are growing and children’s needs aren’t being met, according to the federal court monitor overseeing the Department of Children and Families.
A bi-annual review of the agency found that of the 106 cases sampled there were 340 unmet service needs over a six month period.
Some of the services recommended but not readily available in some areas of the state included “in-home services (including the most intensive services), domestic violence services, mentoring, substance abuse services, supportive housing vouchers, foster and adoptive care resources, and outpatient mental health services.”
In some cases, requests for services were made, but wait-lists, client refusal or delays in making the referral were reported.
“As previously reported, interviews and e-mail exchanges with Social Workers and Social Work Supervisors continues to indicate that some percentage of the categories of “lack of referral” or “delayed referral” are due to staff having knowledge that certain services are not readily available,” Raymond Mancuso, the federal court monitor wrote in his report. “Thus, the number of cases with unmet needs due to waitlists and provider issues is understated.”
Mancuso said the most concerning results of his review of the last two quarters involved the department’s “investigation practice, case planning process, meeting children and families service needs, appropriate visitation with household and family members of the agency’s in-home cases, and excessive caseloads for Social Work staff.”
There are currently 151 social workers over the caseload limit and 66 of them have been over that limit for more than 25 days.
There are 1,097 social workers in the department, but an additional 98 would need to be hired to reach an average caseload rate of 75 percent.
The department has recently hired some social workers, but the number has been offset by an increase in children coming into the system as a result of the opioid epidemic.
Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz said they can’t control the number of calls coming into the agency.
“Headlines from across the country reflect the widely-held view that substance use – specifically opioids – is fueling this trend,” Katz said in response to the report. “No public child welfare agency in the country can stem this tide by itself, and neither can we in Connecticut.”
She said Connecticut is also challenged with a “daunting fiscal situation.”
The agency had a budget this year of $795 million, but “there comes a point at which doing more with less becomes unattainable,” Katz said.
She said the court monitor’s report demonstrates that this is the case.
“The Court Monitor’s recent time study shows that meeting all the responsibilities of a social worker is not possible – even with considerable overtime hours,” Katz said. “This is especially true as our remaining cases become more and more complex and as less complicated cases are handed off to community providers via our Differential Response System. We are approaching the point where restricted resources are limiting our work with children and families.”
Earlier this year, the General Assembly refused to approve a settlement agreement with the plaintiffs in the Juan F. lawsuit, which prompted the federal oversight.
Both the House and the Senate voted overwhelmingly against a plan that would require Connecticut to increase funding for the Department of Children and Families to $801.2 million a year.
The agreement touted by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration would have allowed the child welfare agency to begin to get out from under federal oversight that it’s been under for more than two decades.
The lawsuit filed by the plaintiff Juan F. in 1989 found that the agency fell short of caring for abused and neglected children. The legislation, if it had passed, would have reduced monitoring of different aspects of the agency from 22 to six.
The plaintiffs in the case are currently in mediation with the department and disappointed with the results of the latest report.
“This latest report card reflects a disappointing downward trend for DCF, as well as the well-known lack of adequate staffing and services to support children and families,” Steven M. Frederick, who represents Children’s Rights, the national advocacy organization representing the plaintiffs, said. “We are in court-ordered mediation and are hopeful that DCF will get the support it needs to build on the progress this administration has made. There is still a path toward successful compliance with, and ultimate exit from, this long-running lawsuit.”
The case was referred for settlement to Magistrate Judge Holly B. Fitzsimmons on May 30.