If any state agency had monumentally failed in its mission, the legislature would hold hearings to get to the bottom of the problem and if the failure proved true, the governor would act. Apparently, that doesn’t apply to the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Connecticut General Assembly and Gov. Rell.
Last week, in the wake of the abhorrent neglect case in Torrington, the legislature’s Human Services committee held a “hearing” on DCF practices. Child welfare advocates and committee members came to the forum expecting to get some information about how it could be that police were kept on hold for more than a half hour after discovering the disgusting conditions as well as other outrageous actions in the Torrington case.
Instead of information, interested parties were told that no details of the Torrington case—or any other case—would be discussed because of the need for confidentiality of the children involved. They were then treated to a dog-and-pony slide show about how DCF operates in general.
DCF Chief of Staff Karl Kemper said that two-thirds of the calls to the abuse-reporting hotline that are deemed worth investigating are handled within 72 hours. Kemper said that was a good average by national standards. One doesn’t have to be a six-figure chief of staff to know that if the reports are credible, the children involved easily could dead within 72 hours. The Shad doesn’t care about national averages—nor should anyone else.
There are some specifics about this entire situation that are unbelievable. First, Human Services committee Chairman Sen. Paul Doyle said that if the Torrington case had been specifically addressed, DCF officials could decline to appear. In fact, Commissioner Susan Hamilton didn’t show. Is Sen. Doyle not aware that legislative committees have subpoena power? Yes, it should be used only in the most extreme cases, but what is more extreme than the abuse of children?
Secondly, the Hartford Courant reported that state Child Advocate Jeannie Milstein (a gem among public servants) told the committee that her staff had found four situations in which apparently credible child-neglect complaints to the DCF hotline were simply dismissed. She called DCF one of the country’s best-funded child protection agencies with relatively low caseloads and highly paid workers, and said its failures stem from how its staff implements policies — not with the policies themselves.
Thirdly, state Sen. Ed Meyer got it right when he walked out of the hearing and called it “a sham.” How is it that Sen. Doyle and Sen. Meyer, both Democrats in the same caucus, were not on the same page as to the purpose and structure of the hearing?
And finally (and most importantly), Gov. Rell and Commissioner Hamilton have moved to have federal court oversight of DCF ended. They have got to be kidding. Rell is on her way out and Hamilton should go before her. When the state asked the court to end its oversight back in April, Hamilton said, “I am proud of the condition our system is in now.” For that alone, she should resign. The system is an abomination and fails the very most vulnerable in our society—the children.