DCF makes modest gain in number of foster homes

The state Department of Children and Families has reversed a year-long decline in the number of foster homes available for abused and neglected children in its custody, the latest report by a federal court monitor says, but the increase has been slight, and leaves the agency well short of the court-mandated goal.

The quarterly progress report released Wednesday says the agency added 42 foster homes since the previous report, stemming an exodus of more than 400 homes between June 2010 and April 2011. But the 3,203 homes available still are significantly below the target of 4,137 DCF pledged to reach in a 2008 court agreement.

Increasing the number of foster homes is a primary goal of DCF Commissioner Joette Katz, who took over the agency earlier this year, and the monitor’s report closely follows release of a plan by her agency to achieve that goal.

“Additional foster care and adoptive resources remain an essential component required to address the needs of children,” monitor Ray Mancuso wrote in the quarterly report measuring DCF performance from April to June of this year.

“Any time the numbers are going in the right direction, given the history of DCF, it’s great,” said Martha Stone, one of the lawyers behind the 1989 class-action lawsuit that led to federal court supervision. Settlement of that lawsuit resulted in a series of requirements, many of which have been modified over the years, that DCF must meet to end court supervision.

The foster home goal is one of those requirements, and earlier this week the agency released a 73-page plan to meet it.

The report says 30 percent of foster parents say they don’t feel like they are respected and valued by DCF. They’re frustrated by the bureaucracy, feel excluded from decisions about the children they care for, and don’t get enough support financially and from other service providers.

“The culture change required of the Department is enormous but achievable. … Change is already underway,” Deputy Commissioner Janice Gruendel wrote in the foster care plan.

The plan calls for placing more children with their family members when it is determined they can’t stay at home, decreasing the number of foster families who stop taking children because of dissatisfaction with the agency and better providing foster parents with the support and services they need.

Stone, who was not shy in criticizing the commissioner for the lack of progress in the last quarterly report, was happy progress is finally beginning to be achieved after years of the state falling short of meeting the needs of the state’s abused and neglected children.

“We still need a big clip upwards, but at least we are headed in the right direction now,” she said. “The question seems to be now of how quickly will we get there … The kids can’t wait.”

The latest court monitor report cites several other areas besides foster homes in which DCF has shown improvement, including decreasing the use of congregate care for young children and placements of children in out-of-state facilities.

Connecticut was one of eight state’s that had more than one-quarter of it’s abused and neglected children living in congregate care facilities, where there is a rotating staff and several other children living there, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Snapshot of 2009. The court monitor reported Wednesday that of the nearly 1,200 children that have had to be removed from their homes so far in 2011, only 24 percent were placed in congregate care facilities compared to 29 percent in 2010. And the number of young children has seen the largest decrease in congregate care placements.