In a move to protect orphaned children, federal authorities are charging that Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) with an insufficiency of foster homes and inadequate medical treatment for those in its care.
On September 22, DCF began petitioning the U.S. District Court in Hartford for an end to the supervision under which the agency has operated for nearly two decades. Pointing to significant improvements it claims to have made, DCF says it no longer needs judicial oversight.
The monitoring began with the so-called Juan F case, in 1989, when DCF was found negligent in searching for relatives to adopt foster children removed from their homes by the courts. The most recent monitoring report states that “nine out of 10 times a search was completed, satisfying the requirement.” Gary Kleeblatt, a spokesperson for DCF, acknowledges that “the expectation is our workers will search for relatives when a case commences,” and “the preference is to find suitable family members.” However, he says, “that’s not always possible.”
But Martha Stone, one of the Juan F lawyers, calls the cited figure misleading. She and like-minded advocates point to negative findings in the same report:
- Connecticut’s still lacks foster homes for 4,000 children in DCF care
- Too many foster children lack medical and mental-health treatment
- Inadequate help in nearly half the cases reviewed (up from one-third in the previous reporting period)
- DCF failed to add 850 foster-family homes by April 2010 as it agreed to do two years ago; fewer than half have been added so far
In addition, says Jeanne Milstein, the state’s child advocate, DCF fails to prepare foster parents for their duties. “DCF doesn’t return phone calls. Calls for help are too often ignored.” Parents “are also not given accurate information about the child they are fostering so they are too often blindsided by the child’s needs.”
Kleeblatt responds with more positive statistics, pointing out that the total number of foster homes tripled between 1989 and 2009, rising to 3,347. He adds that overall, the number of children in DCF care dropped by 31 percent from 2004 to 2009. Besides, he says, “The rate of Connecticut children entering care per thousand is 3, compared to a national average of 4.1 – giving Connecticut one of the lowest rates in the nation.”
Statistics, however, fail to impress Domenia Dickey, who spent eight of her 18 years at DCF and never found a foster family. “After a while you just get tired of the process and hoping someone will step up and want you.”