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    Monday, May 20, 2024

    Department of Children and Families supervisor suspended in connection with Groton arrest

    Groton — At least one state Department of Children and Families worker has been suspended in relation to the February arrest of a Groton woman accused of allowing an 18-month-old to become emaciated.

    Elizabeth Duarte, who supervises the licensing of relatives and is a 31-year veteran of the agency, was suspended last week.

    “The work that gets done (at DCF) is really difficult, and my heart goes out to every single child we work with,” Duarte said by phone Tuesday, near tears. “When something does happen, it was never done on purpose. It breaks workers’ hearts. It breaks my heart.”

    In February, Crystal Magee, 32, of 181 Mather Ave., Groton, was charged with risk of injury to a minor and cruelty to persons after police said the 18-month-old she had been caring for was so malnourished he couldn’t walk, talk or feed himself.

    According to the affidavit used to obtain a warrant for Magee’s arrest, the toddler also had several scars, a fractured elbow, old fractures that had begun to heal, visible ribs and very little muscle mass.

    The affidavit describes Magee as the sister of the child’s mom.

    The same affidavit states Magee told police that DCF workers left the child with her in June 2015 even though she initially outlined her chronic lung disease and her husband’s brain tumor as reasons she could not care for the child.

    She eventually agreed to care for the toddler for a month, Magee told police, but ended up with him for closer to five months and rarely saw DCF workers during that time.

    According to the affidavit, family members said a DCF worker took the child from Magee in November and placed him with another aunt. That aunt took the toddler to a medical center the following afternoon.

    Records show Magee is next due in New London Judicial District Superior Court on Oct. 6 for a pretrial conference.

    In a prepared statement, DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said she is “very disturbed that the department may have failed to timely identify the risk to his safety and respond accordingly.”

    She said the department has “serious questions about key decisions made in this case” and that its human resources division is conducting an investigation into how managers, supervisors and workers handled the case.

    DCF officials declined to say whether any other workers have been or will be suspended.

    Katz further said she wouldn’t identify or confirm the names of any affected staff until the department’s investigation is complete and the staff members have received their due process.

    Duarte, who said she couldn’t comment on the specifics of the case, called her co-workers “an incredibly dedicated group of people.”

    “The amount of work that everybody has to do at this agency is beyond what anybody in the public knows,” she said. “I cannot emphasize enough that I do not know of one person who works in our office that doesn’t go into work wanting to do the very best they can do every day.”

    She called the DCF an “emergency-driven agency” and said workers routinely get pulled away from their planned to-do lists to respond to other things that come up, such as a call from police about a child who may have been left alone.

    Duarte, a member of the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee who is active in local politics, has been working with DCF since 1985, she said.

    In that time, she said she’s never had anything like this happen.

    Duarte said she would see to it that she has due process in relation to her suspension, but declined to comment further.

    Duarte’s suspension came just days before Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Tuesday announcement that DCF has placed a record number of children with members of their own families — or with others with whom they have pre-existing relationships — as opposed to unrelated foster parents.

    Malloy said the 42 percent of children now placed in “these types of kinship families” is double what it was in 2011.

    “The staff at DCF have worked tirelessly to achieve these goals,” Malloy said in a statement. “These are numbers to celebrate. We are seeing the change that we promised nearly six years ago.”

    In another statement, Katz said “we know from both the research and from common experience that children do better living with people they know and love. Our staff has taken that fact to heart and made every effort to keep children with kin whenever possible consistent with safety and the child’s well-being.”

    On the heels of Malloy’s announcement, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, issued a statement of his own, calling it “an attempt to distract” from cases such as the one in Groton.

    “While the numbers released today seem to be a positive thing, we need to correct the mistakes within the kinship placement system that have led to children being placed in dangerous settings,” Fasano said.

    “There’s still more work that must be done to ensure that children are placed in safe homes," he said. "Child safety must always come before family preservation.”

    l.boyle@theday.com

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