Location:
CHILDREN AND FAMILIES DEPT.;
Scope:
Connecticut laws/regulations; Program Description;

OLR Research Report


October 15, 2012

 

2012-R-0461

OLR BACKGROUNDER: JUAN F. CONSENT DECREE

By: Robin K. Cohen, Principal Analyst

This report provides general background information on the Juan F. consent decree, focusing specifically on the Department of Children and Families' (DCF) progress in freeing itself from court oversight.

SUMMARY

For over 20 years, DCF has been operating under a consent decree resulting from a lawsuit (Juan F.) brought in 1989. The suit charged that DCF's predecessor agency was failing to provide necessary services for children and youth who had been, or who would potentially become, abused or neglected. At the time, there was a wide belief that the agency was grossly underfunded to meet its mandates to protect children. The consent decree called for a number of reforms, including the establishment of a training academy for social workers. A court monitor would be responsible for overseeing the reforms.

Ten years ago, the parties to the decree suggested a way for the agency to remove itself from court monitoring. This included establishing an “exit plan,” which contained 22 outcome measures that DCF would have to satisfy in a sustained way. To date, DCF has met many of the benchmarks for these measures but has failed to meet others. The measures that have been successfully met include (1) starting investigations of alleged abuse or neglect within statutorily prescribed timeframes and (2) finding relatives to care for children who have been removed from their parents' custody. Conversely, the department has been unable to develop treatment plans expeditiously once cases are opened, and it has not been successful in ensuring that all of a child or family's medical needs that are specified in these plans are met, including mental health.

New state legislation that permits DCF to differentiate serious abuse reports from other reports appears to be helping the department (PA 11-240). And the monitor is using a pre-certification process that recognizes DCF's successes in meeting the outcome measures to streamline the exit plan process.

JUAN F.

Suit

In 1989, two children's advocacy groups filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the state broadly challenging the DCF's predecessor agency (Department of Children and Youth Services) with failing to (1) meet the reasonable efforts provisions under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act (e.g., provide services to prevent the removal of children from their homes) and (2) provide the “right to liberty and family integrity” protected by the 1st, 9th, and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs based these claims on the department being grossly underfunded and understaffed; not investigating child abuse neglect, in large part due to overwhelmed social workers; and failing to ensure an adequate supply of trained foster parents to care for these children.

Consent Decree

Shortly after the plaintiffs filed their suit, the court established a mediation panel to interview department employees, examine documents, and hold a public hearing to determine how best to solve the problems outlined in the suit.

The panel agreed on a settlement and in January 1991, lawyers for the children and the state signed a formal consent decree, known as Juan F., after one of the child plaintiffs. Among other things, the decree established staffing ratios the department had to meet, as well as a training academy for social workers. (See attached OLR report, 91-R-0178 for a summary of the decree.) Detailed manuals to guide implementation were incorporated into the consent decree in September 1992.

The decree also authorized the court to appoint a monitor to oversee the decree's implementation. Since 1992, three individuals have assumed the role, with the current monitor, Ray Mancuso, appointed in 2005.

Noncompliance, Corrections, and Exit Plan

Since the decree was signed, DCF has struggled to meet its terms, falling out of compliance a number of times and entering into corrective action agreements. Nevertheless, in 2002, the parties entered into a court-approved agreement that would allow DCF to exit the decree.

But in September 2003, lawyers for the children asked the court to place DCF in federal receivership. In response, DCF admitted its failure to comply with the decree and agreed to a stipulation that established a “transition task force” (consisting of the DCF commissioner, Office of Policy and Management secretary, and court monitor) to assume all decision-making authority that substantially would affect the safety and welfare of the Juan F. class (i.e., abused and neglected children or those at risk of abuse or neglect who are or become committed to DCF or come under its care or custody). The governor would make decisions when the task force could not agree. (DCF resumed its management authority in late 2005.)

The stipulation also required the court monitor, in consultation with the other two task force members, to develop a definitive exit plan, the provisions of which DCF would have to meet in order to be removed from the court's jurisdiction. The state challenged this provision given its lack of funds to make the required improvements, but the court was not moved.

The exit plan (approved by the court in early 2004) includes 22 measures with which DCF must comply for at least two quarters (six months). DCF must then maintain compliance through any decision the court makes to terminate its monitoring. (The plaintiffs asserted noncompliance with the plan in 2006 and 2008.)

The monitor has prepared quarterly reports on DCF's success in meeting the benchmarks: to date, DCF has met a majority of them. According to the latest report covering the second quarter of the 2012 calendar year, DCF has maintained compliance (two or more quarters, including the most recent two quarters) with 14 of the 22 measures, as shown in Table 1.

TABLE 1: DCF SUCCESS IN MEETING EXIT PLAN BENCHMARKS

Measures

Measure #

Benchmark

Baseline

# Consecutive Quarters Benchmark Met

Investigation commenced within certain timeframes

1

>=90%

None indicated (NI)

31

Investigation completed within 45 days of Hotline acceptance

2

>=85%

73.7%

31

Search for relative or other familiar person for placement

4

>=85%

58%

26

Repeat maltreatment of children who remain in their home

5

<=7%

9.3%

21

Maltreatment of children in out-of-home care

6

<=2%

1.2%

34

Transfer of guardianship of children whose custody is legally transferred within 24 months of most recent removal from home

9

>=70%

60.5%

14

Re-entry into DCF custody within 12 months of prior out-of-home placement

11

<=7%

6.9%

3

No more than three placements during a 12-month period

12

>=85%

NI

16

Most foster or pre-adoptive parents offered 45 hours of post-licensing training within 18 months of initial licensure and nine hours each subsequent year

13

100%

NI

16

Social worker visits all children placed out-of-home (except probate, interstate, voluntary) at least monthly, with quarterly visits by DCF social worker

16

>=85% M

>=100% Q

NI

27

Reduction in number of children placed in privately operated residential care (i.e., mental health facilities)

19

<=11%

13.5%

25

Children age 18 or older achieve certain education or employment benchmarks

20

>=85

NI

2

Discharge plans for children transitioning to DMHAS or DDS

21

100%

NI

3

Multi-disciplinary exam of children within 30 days of placement

22

>=85%

5.6%

26

Source: Juan F. v. Malloy Exit Plan (April 1-June 30, 2012), Juan F. v. Rowland exit plan

Although DCF met many benchmarks, it failed to do so for eight measures during the latest two quarters reported. (For several of these, the department came very close to meeting the benchmark, or successfully met them in previous consecutive quarters.) Table 2 shows those measures that fell short according to the monitor's exit plan report for the second quarter of 2012.

TABLE 2: MEASURE BENCHMARK NOT MET

Measure

Measure #

Benchmark

Q2 Results

Q1 Results

Treatment plans developed and approved by DCF supervisor within earlier of 60 days of case opening in treatment unit or child placed out of home and each subsequent six months

3

>=90%

63%

39.6%

Children reunited with their parents or guardians within 12 months [1]

7

>=60

61.1

58.9

Adoptions finalized within 24 months of most recent removal [2]

8

>=32.0

34.3

23.7

Siblings placed together unless documented therapeutic reason

10

>=95.0

89.2

88.5

Children in foster care must be in homes operating within licensed capacity unless necessary to accommodate sibling groups [3]

14

>=96.0

95.0

97.7

Families and children must have all medical, dental, and mental health needs met as specified in the treatment plan

15

>=80.0

61.1

60.4

DCF visit in-home family cases at least twice monthly [4]

17

>=85.0

85.8

84.8

Meet various caseload standards [5]

18

100

99.7

99.8

Source: Juan F. v. Malloy Exit Plan (April 1-June 30, 2012), Juan F. v. Rowland exit plan

[1] Although it did not meet the benchmark for the first two quarters of 2012, DCF met it for nine consecutive quarters though the end of 2011.

[2] The department met this benchmark in most of the quarters, including eight consecutive quarters starting in the last quarter of 2006.

[3] For 15 consecutive quarters, beginning with the third quarter of 2006, DCF met this benchmark.

[4] The first quarter of 2012 was the only quarter since the 3rd quarter of 2006 that DCF failed to meet this benchmark.

[5] Ratio of workers to cases maximums are: investigators (1:17), in-home treatment (1:15), adoption and adolescent specialty (1:20), probate (1:35, 1:20 for workers also providing services), in-home voluntary and interstate compact (1:49).

Current Status

Although DCF has made considerable progress meeting and sustaining many of the outcome measure benchmarks, (1) the plaintiffs have initiated contempt proceedings and (2) DCF filed a motion to vacate the decree, only to have the court deny it.

In his latest quarterly report, court monitor Mancuso acknowledges the progress DCF has made, especially in the area of placing fewer children in congregate care settings and placing more children in family foster care. He points specifically to the department's new Differential Response System, authorized by the legislature in 2011 (PA 11-240, codified in CGS 17a-101g(g)). This system has enabled the department to respond to certain abuse or neglect reports without an investigation, but instead make referrals to community providers.

Additionally, the parties and court monitor have recently created a “Pre-Certification” review process that allows the monitor to forego a full review (called for in the exit plan) of certain measures when DCF asserts that it is in sustained compliance with all outcome measures. According to the latest exit plan quarterly report, the monitor undertook seven pre-certification reviews and determined that five of these had met the quantitative and qualitative standards set forth for each, thus making them pre-certified. These include outcome measures 12, 14, 16, 20, and 21. The other two (7, 8) were in progress. (Since the plan was submitted, measure 7 was pre-certified, according to Mancuso.)

The quarterly report also discusses remaining challenges, such as the unavailability of, or wait-listing for, core services and variations among social workers with regards to their skill sets and proficiency.

OTHER RESOURCES

Hartford Courant, DCF Moves Closer to Ending Court Oversight, September 20, 2012

Juan F. quarterly report for April through June 2012

RC:ts

ATTACHMENT 1