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It is a fundamental responsibility of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) to examine the backgrounds of foster and adoptive families before placing children in those homes. It's troubling the agency could not in many cases provide to federal inspectors documented proof of the background checks.
Yet the public should keep in mind that the Office of Inspector General examined placements in 2009 and 2010, during a prior administration. After assuming office in early 2011, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy appointed former state Supreme Court Justice Joette Katz as DCF commissioner. The agency has seen marked improvement since her arrival.
Commissioner Katz contends that her agency does thorough background checks and maintains the documentation in a centralized electronic data system. The appropriate state legislative committees should examine the DCF to make sure it has addressed the problems the inspector general report outlines.
Failing to conduct proper background checks for past criminal activity or other concerning behavior can endanger the safety of children placed by the DCF. It can also cost the state money. The inspector general recommends that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services require Connecticut to return $17.5 million in federal adoption and foster placement assistance because it could not supply the background check documents.
The inspector general reviewed a sampling of 291 cases, and for 185 documentation of the required checks was absent or lacking in detail. Extrapolating from that sampling, the report estimates in 2009 and 2010 DCF failed to meet the background examination standards in 63 percent of cases.
Commissioner Katz said a recent internal DCF review concluded that the agency did do background checks, but failed to retain proper documentation. The agency is finding and providing the documentation in many of the cases and expects the $17.5 million figure to be significantly reduced.
Under Commissioner Katz, DCF is doing a better job keeping families together, is drastically reducing the number of children placed in out-of-state institutions, and has seen such improvements despite a 5 percent cut in state funding for her agency.
We are confident that a legislative review will also demonstrate that Commissioner Katz has likewise addressed the background check issue.