The Department of Children and Families will be hiring 120 social workers to comply with an updated consent decree in the long-running Juan F. case, and the Malloy administration already has warned legislators it will need to spend $10 million more on the agency than is budgeted, the state’s top budget official said Thursday.
Ben Barnes, the secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, said the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy anticipated the staffing and funding improvements necessary to comply with a court order that was negotiated over months and signed Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge Stefan R. Underhill.
“We signed off on a plan,” Barnes said. “We were aware that we need to add social workers.”
Underhill’s order requires Connecticut to meet certain staffing and caseload levels as part of an updated plan for how the state can eventually emerge from the court’s oversight of DCF, the result of a lawsuit filed in 1989 during the administration of Gov. William A. O’Neill and a consent decree negotiated in 1992 by his successor, Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr.
Juan F. was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed on behalf of a broad class of children who are, may become, or should be under the supervision of DCF for reasons of abuse, abandonment, neglect or risk of maltreatment. Over a quarter century, the state has made progress, while failing to convince the court it is adequately protecting its neediest and most vulnerable children.
Unlike a previous exit plan rejected in February by the General Assembly, the new one does not commit the state to a specific budget for DCF, which is a threshold for review by the legislature. But it adopts goals that will require the state to spend money to hire the social workers — or accept continued oversight by a court-appointed monitor.
“The Defendants shall provide funding and other resources necessary to fully implement and achieve sustained compliance with the 2017 Revised Exit Plan,” reads the order approved by the judge and signed by representatives of the plaintiffs and attorney general’s office.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told legislators when he signed the bipartisan two-year budget that it shortchanged DCF by $20 million, and his budget office informed the comptroller on Nov. 20 that it expected to spend $10 million more on DCF in the current fiscal year than its $800 million budget.
“We believe if things proceed as we expect, we’ll end up with a $10 million deficiency,” Barnes said Thursday. “I’m hopeful we’ll find offsetting savings.”
The order signed Wednesday commits the state to working with the plaintiffs to develop a strategic plan withing 60 days to meet performance goals, including meeting tight deadlines for opening investigations upon receipt of complaints: the same day for cases in which a child is at risk of death or serious injury; 24 hours for situations deemed serious, but not life-threatening; and 72 hours for other complaints. At least 85 percent of the investigations of complaints to DCF via its “Careline” shall be completed within 45 days.
It also specifies caseloads for various DCF employees, ranging from a low of 15 cases for in-home treatment workers to 49 for certain social workers.
Progress on meeting those goals will be measured monthly at least for the next year or until they conclude “the process is no longer productive or useful.”