Supreme Court: DCF gets to decide placement for delinquent children

The Connecticut Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that judges can no longer send children who break the law to treatment facilities out of state.

The decision follows a move by state legislators last month to change the law to make clear who they want making these decisions — the commissioner of the Department of Children and Families.

“The purpose for that language is to make clear that the court does not have the authority to direct the [C]ommissioner of the Department of Children and Families to place delinquent children in an out-of-state facility,” Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, told her colleagues before they overwhelmingly adopted the change.

In a unanimous opinion, the state supreme court justices dismissed the case brought originally by a plaintiff named “Jeffrey M.” who DCF wanted to place in an in-state facility.

“We conclude that the appeal in this case should be dismissed as moot and not capable of repetition, yet evading review. We are persuaded that the legislature’s most recent amendment to [the law], along with the clear statement of legislative intent that accompanied its enactment, firmly establishes that [the current law] does not authorize the Superior Court to order the direct placement of a child committed to the department in an out-of-state residential facility,” reads the opinion.

When the judicial system can not find a suitable placement in Connecticut for children who break the law, the decision will be left to the Department of Children and Families, a state agency that has been monitored by the federal courts for decades.

As part of its effort to reform the troubled agency — and with the approval of many child advocates — agency officials have made it a priority to avoid sending children to live out of state. But that initiative — which has resulted in almost 300 fewer abused, neglected or delinquent children living out-of-state today — at times has come into direct conflict with a judge’s order.

That will no longer be an issue for the agency.

See previous Mirror stories about this issue here and here.

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