HARTFORD, CT — The latest report from the federal monitor of the state Department of Children and Families shows that the agency continues to fail at five measures that are part of a court-supervised exit plan.
The agency is still struggling with its caseloads for social workers, completion of abuse and neglect investigations, caseworker visitation of children who remain in their families’ homes, referrals for mental health services, and case planning.
Data collected in the report straddles the end of former DCF Commissioner Joette Katz’s tenure in 2018 and the beginning of DCF Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes’ tenure.
The Juan F. class action lawsuit alleged that Connecticut was failing to provide necessary services for abused and neglected children and youth. The lawsuit was settled in 1991 and the federal court monitor has been supervising the agency since 1992.
In order to successfully comply with the consent decree and exit from federal court involvement, DCF must achieve and hold all 22 outcome measures of the revised exit plan for two consecutive quarters. That plan was revised as recently as 2017 with 10 outcome measures unmet.
“There was major progress under the prior administration to improve Connecticut’s child welfare system for children and families and to move this important long-standing court-ordered reform lawsuit successfully towards completion,” Ira Lustbader, litigation director at Children’s Rights, said. “The new administration under Governor Lamont and DCF Commissioner Dorantes now have a real opportunity to successfully close this case during their tenure, with a focused attention on remaining performance and service gaps.”
Although there are five outstanding compliance issues, the agency made progress, according to Children’s Rights, the organization representing the Juan F. plaintiffs.
Dorantes, who was a regional administrator at DCF before becoming commissioner, has essentially “grown up” under the Juan F. consent decree and is committed to building on the success of the previous administration.
“With that fact in mind, it is important to look critically at those specific areas where inconsistent practice has been evidenced while simultaneously scaling up best practice examples seen in pockets around the state. To that end, during our first 90 days, we examined content areas in two national convenings to gauge our position amongst other jurisdictions as well as participated in focused on conversations with stakeholders here in Connecticut,” Dorantes said in a statement attached to the report.
She said with passage of the state budget, DCF will implement more community-based prevention services that are designed to meet the needs of families and decrease the need for DCF involvement.
“The success of the programs will allow us to maintain caseloads within the established standards,” Dorantes wrote.
While it hasn’t met the benchmark necessary to get out from under federal oversight, the agency has made some progress in predicting how many social workers it needs to hire on a regular basis. The agency is striving to anticipate when staff will leave so that new hires can be in place and limit transferring social workers from case to case so that families have continuity.
DCF employs 3,200 people and has a budget approaching $800 million a year, but it’s still falling short of its caseload goals.
The agency has been hiring 30 social workers per month from January through June, however, the average caseload for workers is still around 78.8 percent. The goal is to reduce that to 75 percent.
To reach the target, DCF needs to have 1,175 social workers trained and serving clients. As of May 2019, it had 1,126 social workers carrying cases. There are 99 approved vacancies waiting to be filled and 32 social workers hired but not yet serving clients.
“Under a required strategic plan, DCF Commissioner Dorantes has a roadmap for making the improvements needed, and we believe she is committed to continued transparency and accountability,” Steven Frederick, who represents the plaintiffs, said. “We will of course remain active as a watchdog to ensure the thousands of children in the Juan F. class action get the needed services and supports the Court order requires.”
The report also pointed out that DCF staff have been hampered by the lack of mobile technology.
“Staff are currently not able to readily access their desk top system when they are away from the office. This means that they don’t have access to their case files,” Court Monitor Ray Mancusco wrote in his report.
The department is awaiting the arrival of tablets that have been purchased by the Department of Administrative Services under a new agreement with Microsoft. The tablet system was not finalized before the report was released Thursday.