Call for DCF’s Katz to resign is about children, not politics

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Recent reports concerning the Department of Children and Families, along with Commissioner Joette Katz’s long history of failure, misplaced priorities and lack of transparency and accountability, leave me with no confidence in her willingness or ability to openly and seriously confront critical issues within her agency. That’s why I felt compelled to call for her resignation.

The Child Advocate’s report detailing abuse and underreporting at DCF’s two locked facilities, Connecticut Juvenile Training School and Pueblo Unit, ‘shocks the conscience,’ according to the state’s top public defender.

The most recent court monitor’s report also paints a bleak picture of an agency struggling, and too often failing, to meet the needs of Connecticut’s children. According to the report, Commissioner Katz has failed to meet 306 identifiable needs of children in DCF care – a more than 30 percent increase from just last year. In fact, DCF is failing to meet more than twice as many critical needs today than when Commissioner Katz took office and is failing more quality assurance benchmarks.

The governor’s office was quick to brush off my call for the commissioner to resign as a knee jerk reaction that was purely political in nature. But nothing is further from the truth.

DCF Commissioner Joette Katz.

DCF Commissioner Joette Katz.

This is not about politics. This is about protecting kids. I believe Commissioner Katz should resign, not just because of these recent disturbing reports, but because she has known about problems and has forged ahead with blinders on to pursue her own agenda.

Last year, after meeting with advocates, families, and stakeholders, I expressed my early concerns about Commissioner Katz’s leadership to the governor. I questioned her when she was nominated for reappointment and detailed my concerns to the Children’s Committee leadership. I also proposed legislation that, if passed this year, would have shown a good faith effort on the commissioner’s part to address the concerns raised by child advocates across the state.

Unfortunately, my apprehensions were not recognized and Commissioner Katz was reappointed. She also opposed multiple legislative proposals that would have shown a true commitment to reform, including proposals that would have:

  1. Created a new independent ombudsman to give children incarcerated at CJTS and Pueblo a voice and a safe place to report complaints,
  2. Improved transparency and increase public access to the department’s records,
  3. Increased the independence of the CJTS Advisory Group,
  4. Required an outside independent agency to review the department’s child protection policies and procedures, and
  5. Implemented a nationally recognized quality assurance program to allow DCF to better collect and report data.

DCF employees work extremely hard to meet the needs of Connecticut’s children, but the dismissive approach of Commissioner Katz has set back the agency as a whole.

For example, in response to the Connecticut Juvenile Training School Advisory Board’s recommendations in 2014, the Commissioner not only rejected their proposals, she also terminated the Chairman of the Advisory Board and decided to ‘reconstitute’ the board with handpicked members.

Commissioner Katz also ignored concerns raised by the Center for Children’s Advocacy, Connecticut Voices for Children and our state Child Advocate when she pushed forward with the development of Pueblo Unit, the high security prison-like facility for juvenile girls at which abuse has been documented.

The commissioner also failed to implement the most substantive recommendations made in a 2013 report from Georgetown University’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform regarding improving data reporting and transparency at DCF’s locked facilities, and instead commissioned another report with a hand-picked consultant. Although the commissioner has now suggested pursuing some changes, reform can’t be taken seriously without independent review and oversight.

In addition to the problems at CJTS and Pueblo, Commissioner Katz has also blindly sought to reduce caseloads and residential placements at all costs, including the cost of child safety.

While “family preservation” is a laudable goal, keeping children at home and kicking them out of group homes simply to avoid out-of-home placements and improve agency “statistics” is a reckless policy that has inflicted irreparable harm on our most vulnerable children. As a result, we’ve seen an unprecedented number of child homicides involving children who should have been protected by DCF as well as an increasing problem among children who have been de-institutionalized and removed from Connecticut’s residential treatment system with no effective plan to meet their needs.

When Commissioner Katz came into office in 2011 she promised dramatic improvement in DCF’s care and programs for children. The reality is that, over four years later, DCF has regressed under her leadership and is failing to meet the needs of our children by a greater degree than ever.

After over four years of ignoring advocates and watching the system deteriorate, it’s time for change.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, a Republican, represents the 34th Senatorial District including Durham, East Haven, North Haven and Wallingford

 

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