Study finds schools failing to report abuse and neglect

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and the state’s child advocate, Jeanne Milstein, say child abuse and neglect cases are slipping through the bureaucratic cracks at the state’s schools.

Their proof: hundreds of examples in a 66-page report they released Thursday.

One case outlines a teacher and women’s basketball coach at Southington High School allegedly having inappropriate behavior with female athletes. Another: a teacher accused of slapping her disabled student’s hands and making another stand in the rain with no coat. 

The Department of Children and Families substantiated both the claims at Southington, the report says, they were even forced to resign. But their teaching licenses were not revoked and they continue to teach at different schools today.

“There are major problems with how we handle these cases,” Milstein said during an interview.

The report says a major problem is the state Department of Education is barely using the DCF’s statewide Child Abuse & Neglect Registry in hiring decisions. The education department conducted just 10 checks from August 2007 to August 2009, the report says.

Additionally, just eight individual schools used the registry during that same time. More than 15,000 licenses and certificates were approved during those two years.

“We have found a maze of miscommunication,” said Blumenthal, adding, “Local and state authorities fail to share abuse information or adequately screen new hires.”

Every public school teacher undergoes a criminal background check, but they are not required to be vetted by the DCF. However, every school bus driver and child care center employee is required to go through the abuse and neglect registry.

Tom Murphy, education department spokesman, said it is a local school system’s decision whether to use the DCF registry.

“The process that we use recognizes convictions, not allegations,” he said. “Hiring is done at the local level .. and they can use whatever means they have, which includes DCF. Would we recommend using this to connect the dots, certainly.”

Blumenthal and Milstein also say teachers and other school employees required to report abuse and neglect are not properly trained.

“There is a lack of consistent training,” Milstein said. “A lot of mandated reporters don’t know their responsibilities.”

But Gary Kleeblatt, DCF spokesman, disagrees.

“They are aware of the law. I can say that with a high degree of confidence,” he said. And just in case they are not, “We offer extensive training around the state of Connecticut on their obligations.”

In fiscal 2009, DCF reported that 9,600 people were trained.

But the report calls this level of training “inadequate to reach all necessary staff.” It also cites an example at a school in New Haven where the training lasted just five minutes.

While there may be isolated instances where mandated reporters fail to abide by their obligation, we believe that communication between school systems and the department is free flowing and effective,” Kleeblatt said. “We investigate more than 40,000 abuse and neglect cases every year. There is a constant flow back and forth between the schools and the department.”

But Milstein says there is more work to be done, citing case after case in her report where an employee didn’t report to the appropriate person or waited far longer than the 48 hours allowed by law.

“Too often these are not done in a timely manner. They sit on reports or they don’t file them at all,” she said. “We were surprised when we started digging how often the investigations were done poorly and not right.”