sarah eagan
Connecticut Child Advocate Sarah Eagan. Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Connecticut’s Child Advocate called for greater oversight and funding of state-licensed group homes for people with developmental disabilities in a Monday report on an incident in which a teenage boy in the state’s care sexually assaulted an adult woman who lived at the same facility. 

The incident, which occurred in October of 2021, involved a 17-year-old boy who had been committed to the Department of Children and Families and a young adult woman who received Department of Developmental Services care.

Both of the individuals involved in the incident had intellectual or developmental disabilities and resided at a group home licensed through DDS. According to the 43-page report, the young woman’s family reported the incident to DDS after the boy was found naked on top of their daughter in her bedroom. 

Staff at the group home did not file timely reports with either state agency, but did call local police and had the young woman transported to a hospital for care. A first responder concerned about supervision at the facility alerted the Office of the Child Advocate, the report said. 

The report found that the boy, referred to by the pseudonym “John,” had a history of “sexually reactive behavior,” which was documented in records dating back to 2018, and that his behavior plan indicated he should be closely supervised at the residence and that he should not be left alone with a female staff member. 

Meanwhile, in early 2021, John’s supervision level was downgraded from “1:1,” meaning he no longer had one staff member exclusively charged with his supervision. A group home staff member said the decision was made due to lack of funding, according to the report. 

“In my opinion, I feel that we as an agency failed both John and Jane,” a staff member told DDS, according to the report. “Had he still had 1:1 staffing this incident would not have occurred because he would not have been left alone.”

A DCF investigation found that the group home’s staff members were eating dinner with no view of the bedrooms at the time of the incident, according to the report. 

The Office of the Child Advocate faulted the provider for not reporting the October incident as well an earlier incident involving the same boy as possible neglect or child abuse. Meanwhile, the group home had also been cited by DDS for failing to report an incident two years earlier, when a resident was hospitalized following an “ingestion incident” caused by lack of supervision, the report found.

In both cases, DDS failed to comply with a requirement to complete a follow-up to ensure problems had been addressed, according to the report.

As a result of the 2021 incident, the OCA began a broader investigation of the state’s framework for overseeing community living arrangements for people in DDS and DCF care. The advocate found that although the agencies had made progress since a federal review in 2016, serious concerns remained.

The Office of the Child Advocate made a series of recommendations for changes to state law regarding the oversight of group homes. Among the recommendations were requirements to:

  • Conduct annual unannounced visits to licensed group homes.
  • Include the results of agency investigations into programs in the state’s public database.
  • Notify parents or guardians when an agency identifies programmatic neglect.
  • Notify the group Disability Rights Connecticut of critical incidents involving disabled individuals in state-licensed group homes.

The office also called for state policymakers to dedicate additional funding and boost reimbursement rates to group homes that support vulnerable populations. The report noted that providers have reported staffing vacancies and funding deficiencies that have “profoundly impacted” their services. 

“[T]hese staffing vacancies and challenges are a direct threat to the safety and quality of life of dependent children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” the report said. 

The OCA report comes on the heels of an October legislative hearing on allegations of abuse and sexual assault at a state-funded emergency group home for girls in Harwinton.

Legislative Republican leaders issued a press release Monday, urging Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration and legislative Democrats to begin addressing systemic problems in agencies charged with caring for vulnerable residents.

“We must begin work on this crisis immediately in preparation for the start of the next legislative session to give us flexibility to act quickly if policy changes are warranted,” House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora and Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly said.