Attorney General Richard Blumenthal today called for sweeping reform of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), including a partial breakup of the agency, restructuring its administration and creating a reliable system for investigation of all complaints.
Blumenthal made his recommendations in testimony before the
legislature’s Human Services Committee and Select Committee on Children.
Blumenthal has issued seven reports along with the Child Advocate since 2001 -- the most recent last week -- calling for specific reforms, including transfer of DCF’s facilities licensing and oversight division to another state agency, implementation of a system to assure investigation of all complaints, improvement of communication within the agency and creation of an independent long-term planning unit. Virtually all his recommendations have been disregarded.
Blumenthal called on the legislature to use its appropriation power to compel implementation of reforms long sought by his office, including a partial breakup of DCF by removing the oversight and license division to another state agency. He urged lawmakers to commission an independent study to consider further restructuring of the agency’s administrative framework, policies and practices.
The attorney general said broader breakup steps would depend on the findings and recommendations of an outside comprehensive objective legislative study. In his remarks Monday, Blumenthal suggested establishing a separate juvenile justice agency and transferring DCF’s mental health responsibilities to another department such as the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
“Rearranging the deck chairs cannot right this leaking listing ship,” Blumenthal said. “Fundamental restructuring is necessary -- now -- to reform this massive and fundamentally conflicted state agency.
“I urge the General Assembly to use the power of the purse to require and enforce such vital reform measures as my office and the Child Advocate have recommended in seven separate reports since 2001. They are: remove from DCF and transfer to another agency the authority for licensing and oversight of state and state-funded facilities -- assuring their independence from the agency’s administration; create a clear, straightforward communications system for abuse and mismanagement reporting with checks to guarantee that all complaints are investigated, as well as strict procedures and rules to prevent such reports from being buried, ignored or neglected; establish a long-term planning unit that operates separately and independently from the agency’s administration.
“Additional steps toward splitting off other DCF functions may result from the comprehensive study I have recommended.
“I believe legislators share our deep concern for the fate of children in DCF’s care after DCF’s years of steadfast, staunch resistance to reform. It has placed at greater potential risk children who perhaps most need protection and assistance. I urge vital, vigorous legislative action to achieve: a partial breakup of the agency; a complete overhaul of existing management and other fundamental reforms recommended by my office and a comprehensive outside objective review.
“At the core of DCF’s problems and our recommendations is a fatal
dilemma. As we have repeatedly noted, a state agency contracting with private entities to provide appropriate services for abused and neglected children cannot effectively also regulate those private contractors. Doing both presents an inherent, inevitable conflict of interest. The agency cannot be both contractor and regulator.
“This fight is winnable. We have a common goal. DCF has many
extraordinary, dedicated, skilled, hardworking professionals whose hearts and minds are fully committed to its mission. Their public service is unsurpassed in its challenge and significance. The legislature should seize this opportunity to bring a new and better day at DCF.”