Critics of the Department of Children and Families are using the bipartisan budget deal to strip the agency of responsibility for its detention facility, the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, and give it to the state court system.
The measure is likely to be seen as an expression of no confidence in the ability of Commissioner Joette Katz, who has repeatedly clashed with Senate Republican leader Len Fasano and other lawmakers over addressing complaints of mistreatment and neglect of children who pass through the facility.
“DCF has no metrics to measure these kids,” Fasano said Wednesday in an interview with CT Mirror. “Let’s forget the history, the abuse, the negligence of the facility and the way it’s run. Let’s just talk about kids and how you get them back into the system.”
The Judicial Department operates a detention facility and tracks the children once they are released. The facility and the courts’ management of it has been praised by child advocates, even after what police termed a riot there.
“The metrics used in Judicial are phenomenal,” Fasano said. “We have asked this commissioner to adopt these metrics. All we get is pushback, pushback, pushback.”
Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, who describes himself as an admirer of Katz, a former Supreme Court justice who left the court to oversee DCF, said legislative support for giving control of the school to the courts was broad and bipartisan.
Katz, who is described even by her critics as bright and committed, has failed to establish a working relationship with prominent legislators, including Fasano and Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, the co-chair of the Appropriations Committee and a juvenile justice oversight panel.
“This is not the two of us,” Walker said of the differences she and Fasano have had with Katz. “This is something we’ve looked at for a long time. The population of the juvenile justice kids have been better served in a different environment under the Court Support Services Division.”
The Juvenile Justice Policy Oversight Committee studied the outcomes of juveniles who were incarcerated in the training school and other settings and found recidivism was higher in the DCF facility, Walker said.
Walker said giving control of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, a secure facility for boys as young as 12 who have been adjudicated as delinquent, to the courts is a favor to DCF, allowing the agency to focus on its core function of protecting children in troubled families.
A spokesman for DCF declined comment, as did the office of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has defended Katz against criticism by Fasano and calls for her resignation.
“He has stood by me through five, almost six years now,” Katz said a year ago in an appearance with Malloy. “I’ll tell you, that’s a national record. The average life expectancy of a DCF commissioner is 18 months.”
Malloy said that day that the agency has the toughest job in state government, constantly weighing whether to take custody of a child from a parent, then finding care in a foster home, congregate care or with a family member.
“That’s the reality. It’s the front lines,” Malloy said. “To put it in perspective, we’re watching out over, supervising, playing a role in the lives of about 36,000 children in our state.”
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