DCF struggles continue

The administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy must do some deep soul searching on why it can’t seem to effectively meet the needs of troubled children and families.

After his initial election in 2010, Gov. Malloy persuaded Joette Katz to leave her prestigious position as a justice of the state Supreme Court to undertake what is arguably the most difficult job in state government — commissioner of the Department of Children and Families. In the recent legislative session, Commissioner Katz won easy reappointment to the job.

Her dedication to the position is clear to any fair observer. She has worked to transition DCF from an agency that was overly cautious and too quick to place children in institutional care, rather than find family placements. Under Ms. Katz’s leadership, many more kids are finding homes with relatives when their parents are found unfit.

To try to drive improvement, the legislature authorized 150 new caseworkers, though persistent budget problems slowed hiring.

Yet Connecticut remains under federal court oversight, the result of a child protection case dating to the late 1980s that set performance benchmarks the state must meet before the court monitoring ends.

The latest report based on 53 randomly selected cases analyzed by the monitor, Raymond Mancuso, found that children’s needs were being met only 47 percent of the time, far short of the 80 percent benchmark. The figure in 2010 was 67.3 percent.

The ability of DCF to develop adequate treatment plans also slipped, to 47.2 percent of the time, compared to 86.5 percent in 2010, according to information from the report released by Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-New Haven.

DCF failed to meet seven benchmarks, up from six in 2010, Sen. Fasano noted.

There is no denying those are trends in the wrong direction.

Ms. Katz remains undaunted. She could have opted out after one term if she concluded the challenge was too much. Instead, she continues to look for ways to improve, this past week announcing a series of reforms at DCF’s locked facilities for troubled youth, based on a review by an independent consultant. His report saw a need to reduce the use of restraints, improve suicide-prevention programs, and better maintain information on juveniles in the agency’s care.

As with the budget, on this issue the Republican minority found itself shut out during the recent session. Rep. Fasano is a strong advocate for children in need and his reform ideas deserve serious consideration.

If Connecticut is going to solve this difficult problem, partisan politics cannot play a role. 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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