Some foster children to get regular visits with siblings

Some foster children will be guaranteed weekly visits with their siblings beginning October 2014, as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has signed into law a bill that requires the Department of Children and Families to facilitate these visits.

The law follows an outcry from foster children complaining that they have lost touch with their brothers and sisters when they enter state custody. A federal review also found that one-third of the children whose cases were reviewed had not visited their siblings for several months.

But the state’s tight budget has delayed this new requirement from going into effect and how widespread it will reach, several legislators said before unanimously approving the bill.

This bill will guarantee weekly visits for one of every seven children, a fraction of the 228 foster children who live apart from their siblings. Children who live more than 50 miles from their brother or sister will not be guaranteed reunions. Offering visits to every child in state custody would cost $3 million a year, according to the legislature’s budget office. Visits covered in this bill will cost $100,000 a year.

“It’s a great first step,” several legislators said during a news conference before the Senate vote.

The Yale School of Medicine provided the legislature with several studies that show children involuntarily separated from their siblings exhibit increased anxiety and depression and have anger issues.

The department has long been criticized for keeping too few abused and neglected children together with their siblings. A federal court order that the state has been under for two decades requires that 95 percent of children removed from their home remain with their siblings in their new living situation. The agency has not met that requirement in more than six years.

This law will largely remove from the commissioner the discretion of facilitating sibling visits, unless she determines such visits are harmful to a child’s wellbeing.