DCF under fire again in ‘Juan F.’ case

A national advocacy group notified Connecticut on Monday that it once again is in contempt of federal court orders dictating the state’s treatment of vulnerable children.

Children’s Rights, which represents children in a class-action suit filed against the state in 1989, suggested that the only remedy might be new management at the Department of Children and Families.

“This is now and has been a leadership and management issue,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “These kids simply cannot wait another eight months for a new administration.”

Gov. M. Jodi Rell leaves office in eight months, giving the next governor the opportunity to name new leadership at an agency that long has been under the supervision of a court monitor as a result of the case known as “Juan F.,” named for a plaintiff representative of a broader class of DCF clients.

The notification that the monitor has found the department deficient is the first step in a court-ordered process that could lead to a negotiated remedy or a contempt finding.

“All options are on the table,” Lustbader said.

Lustbader said the deficiencies are sweeping and systemic, involving what Children’s Rights says are the department’s failure to recruit foster parents and lessen the reliance on institutional care.

There also are longstanding shortages for services involving mental health, substance abuse treatment and dental care, he said.

DCF promised to resolve those issues two years ago, when Children’s Rights previously notified the agency it was in contempt.

No one from DCF would be interviewed, but the agency said in a prepared statement it has made progress.

“There can be no dispute that the Department has made major forward strides in improving services for children and families; more children receive services to help them stay safely at home, fewer children are placed into care, more children achieve timely permanency, and fewer children experience repeat maltreatment,” the statement said.

The department said in the statement that the monitor relied on DCF’s shortcomings in meeting two of about 20 goals or “outcome measures.”

“This single measurement of complex data is misleading because it confines understanding of performance and masks important progress the Department has experienced in meeting the goals and objectives of these two outcome measures.”

But Lustbader said the shortcomings go to the heart of the agency’s mission and raise questions about its management.

“We’re not fiddling at the edges of the department here,” he said. “This is a basic, fundamental function of what the department does for kids and families. This is a pretty major swatch of what that department exists to do with taxpayer money.”