PRESIDING CHAIRMEN: Senator Looney
COMMITTEE MEMBERS PRESENT:
SENATORS: Harp, McKinney, Prague, Williams
REPRESENTATIVES: Boukus, Dargan, Giegler, Graziani, Hamzy, Kehoe, Nafis, Piscopo, Roy
REPRESENTATIVE JANOWSKI: If everyone can please be seated, and if we can clear the aisles, I'd like to convene the public hearing of the Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee.
I'm Representative Claire Janowski with my Co-Chair, Senator Looney. And we are here, we have, where is my agenda. We have one item on the agenda, the DCF Commissioner, Susan Hamilton.
And before we start, I would like to point out emergency exits since we have a lot of people here today and a lot of children. In case of fire, there's two doors at the, my front, but it's really the front of the building, my rear.
In case of an emergency, just exit either of the doors, take a right, go to the main entrance here at the LOB, and it'll take you outside. And that's just in case of an emergency.
Also, I wanted to point out that we do have a very lengthy agenda in terms of people who have signed up to testify. We have 13 individuals of, members of the public who signed up to testify.
And our aim is to get everybody heard. We do have a Session, House Session scheduled for 1:00, which gives us approximately three hours to be able to get all the testimony in.
And hopefully that, the public hearing will be followed by a committee meeting where we do have the opportunity to vote on the nominee so that it can proceed to the House. And with that, I would like to, Senator Looney, do you have any other comments before we begin?
SEN. LOONEY: Not at this time, Madam Chair, if we just want to get under way with a statement from the nominee, and then the Committee Members will have questions.
REP. JANOWSKI: And with that, I would like to call on Susan Hamilton, Esquire, of West Hartford to be the Commissioner of Children and Families. Please raise your right hand. Do you swear to tell the truth, nothing but the truth, so help you God?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I do.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. You may be seated and provide us with a statement.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Good morning, Senator Looney, Representative Janowski, and distinguished Members of the Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee.
For the record, my name is Susan Hamilton, and I am here before you today as Governor Rell's nominee for Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families.
I am distinctly honored to have been nominated for this position, and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to talk with you today about my background, my commitment, and my vision for the future of the agency.
First let me say that I fully appreciate the vast responsibility that is vested in the leader of this agency, as well as the challenges I will face if confirmed.
For reasons that I hope are clear to you at the close of today's hearing, I am up to the challenge and I am committed to working with all of you in improving the lives of Connecticut's children and families.
I have had the opportunity to meet with some of you before today's hearing, so as some of you may know, I started my career at the agency back in 1993 as a front-line social worker in the Hartford regional office, one of the agency's largest offices, handling basically a child protection caseload similar to the types of caseloads that are handled today by our DCF staff.
I later served as both a supervisor and a manager in the Hartford regional office as well, overseeing social work operations within that office.
As part of that experience, I developed particular expertise in investigating and overseeing and managing investigations involving serious physical abuse, sexual abuse, and child fatalities.
In 1998, as some of you may know, the Legislature created funding to create an in-house legal department within the Department of Children and Families.
Prior to that time, the agency did not have an in-house legal division and had primarily relied on the support of the Assistant Attorney Generals in representing us in juvenile court proceedings.
I was given the opportunity at that time to serve as the director of the legal division and really to create the department, that new division from the ground up.
I held that position for a period of approximately eight years, and then in January of 2006, took the position of Undersecretary of Legislative Affairs at the Office of Policy and Management.
During my 13 years at the agency, I developed sound working relationships both internal to the agency as well as with some critical external partners that I believe will be an asset to me in leading the agency forward.
In addition, I have lots of experience working with the systems within which the agency operates and with which we need to collaborate as we move some of the key initiatives that we're focusing on into the future.
That includes the court system, the education system, our sister state agencies, and our provider community. And I do think that that experience will prove invaluable in getting things done.
That being said, I think I would be remiss if I didn't tackle head-on any question about my capacity to lead an agency of this size with a budget as large at DCF's budget.
I recognize that I have not, to date, had the opportunity to demonstrate my capacity to do the job. I firmly believe that my management skills and the principles I've adhered to throughout my career will translate to my role as Commissioner.
And part of those principles include setting clear and measurable and manageable expectations for staff, providing them with the tools they need to get the job done, ensuring accountability and oversight, as well as recognizing successes.
Sometimes I think we forget to highlight for ourselves and for our staff when things go well.
And I think while that may sound simplistic, I do believe that those principles translate to a larger organization so long as the managers and supervisors throughout the organization also practice those same principles, which I'm committed to ensuring occurs under my administration.
In addition, I firmly believe in the importance of providing front-line social work staff, facility staff, and the folks who actually do the job on a daily basis with staff meaningful opportunity to participate in the development of the agency's goals and setting the agency priorities for both its programs as well as its own internal policies.
We have a wealth of in-house expertise, knowledge, commitment that I firmly believe we need to tap into, recognize and consider when we're setting the future direction for the agency.
I have an inclusive but decisive management style that really is focused. I'm sort of a taskmaster, and I think it's important to, at the end of any meeting you have, there's clear goals for who's supposed to be doing what when, what are the timeframes, and I think to that end my focus [inaudible] getting the job done.
I recognize the importance of putting the right leadership team in place at the Department. And if I'm given the opportunity to do that, I will ensure that all of our mandate areas are covered, that we have the right expertise across those mandate areas, which is, as I'm sure you can recognize, impossible to find in just one person. And I'm committed to putting that team in place.
I'd like to turn now to my vision for the agency moving forward and what I believe are the top five priority areas that I see the need to focus on as we move forward.
As some of you may know, I'm sure you all know, the Department has been operating under a federal consent decree, called the Juan F. consent decree, for many years now.
The court monitor recently filed its quarterly report with the federal court for the first quarter of this year, and we have been making significant progress in achieving the outcomes that are set out in the exit plan.
The report notes that we have met 16 of the 22 outcome measures for children for two consecutive quarters or more, many of them for much longer than that.
So I want to continue to promote the forward movement on achieving those measures, while also focusing on the ones that remain outstanding.
The key primary areas that we still need to focus on, and we actually have already developed some concrete action plans to accomplish that, are in the areas of treatment planning and ensuring that children's needs are timely met.
That is one of the top priorities that I believe we need to continue focusing on in the coming year.
Second, I think we need to set a clear direction for the services we provide to children in our juvenile services, juvenile justice system.
We have made some progress in that regard, but I think in particular, given the focus on raising the age in the juvenile court, there's a continued need to ensure that we have the right array of services available to youth in that system, girls and boys, services that are gender-specific, trauma-informed, and provide the right level of safety for the kids but also teaches them the skills they need to stay out of the system and to be successful.
Third, the Department needs to continue focusing on the improvements that are under way at the Riverview Hospital.
As some of you may know, there was an internal quality assurance assessment that was done of the hospital that included staff from both our agency, the Office of the Child Advocate, as well as the Court Monitor's Office.
And the report noted some significant strengths in the hospital, but also some areas that require ongoing improvements, particularly across units, ensuring that we have the same therapeutic milieu across units in the facility, the need for stronger supervision and oversight and training for staff.
As a result of that report, we did identify and develop a strategic plan that has some clear outcome measures, 38 outcome measures to be specific, covering all of those areas, including ensuring appropriate treatment planning for kids that are at the facility and discharge planning.
In addition to the work with the current monitor that's in place at Riverview, along with the management at Riverview, I'm poised to continue focusing on that strategic plan and ensuring that we actually accomplish the objectives that are laid out in that plan.
Fourth, while significant progress has been made, in my view, on bringing to fruition the objectives and the goals of the KidCare philosophy and the Behavioral Health Partnership that we have worked on jointly with our agency, the Department of Social Services and the provider community, I think we have more work to do.
I think we need to begin to more effectively integrate the work of the administrative services organization into the work that our front-line staff do on a daily basis with children and families as well as staff that work with clients in our facilities.
I think we need to start utilizing the data that we are gleaning from the ASO to guide our decision-making on where we want to place resources.
We have data now that we can look to to see what services have been utilized, have they been effective, and I think we need to focus on using that information to ensure we're funding effective and appropriate services.
Lastly but certainly not least importantly, I am committed to integrating quality assurance and accountability across all of our mandate areas.
This includes assuring the quality not only of the services that we provide as an agency, but also the services that are provided by the contractors and the providers that serve our clients as well through contracts.
We have done some excellent work, I think, in recent months on trying to integrate that, but more work needs to be done, and that is also a priority in my view for the agency in the coming year.
I think it's important for me to note that while we are focusing on those priority areas, we have to continue to adhere to a strength-based model that really involves children, families, providers, and other key stakeholders in developing both individual and system capacities.
We need to be proactive and not reactive, particularly as we're looking at trying to promote prevention initiatives. You know, we need to be solution-oriented and identify opportunities in the face of what sometime seem to be insurmountable obstacles.
I think we owe that to the children and families we serve, and if given the opportunity, I am poised to lead the agency with that philosophy at the core.
I hope this information is helpful. I thank you for the opportunity to testify this morning, and I'd be happy to answer any questions that you might have.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you, and congratulations on your nomination. Just I do have a few questions for you that I would like you to clarify for the record.
We spoke about them when you met with me earlier during the week, and I do want your comments on record for those particular questions.
I was looking at your resume, and I noticed that you have an MSW from the University of Connecticut and a JD from the UConn.
Your degree, your BA in psychology was from the University of New Hampshire. Were you living in Connecticut at the time or, most of your schooling was in Connecticut. That's why I'm curious.
SUSAN HAMILTON: I grew up in New Hampshire, and I think moved here in 1988. So I went to the University of New Hampshire. That was my state school--
REP. JANOWSKI: So that was before you became a--
SUSAN HAMILTON: That's correct, yes.
REP. JANOWSKI: Okay. The first question I would like you to clarify for the record has to do with the juvenile justice facility in Middletown.
If you could expand or, as briefly as possible because we do have a lot of people here, what your role has been or had been with the construction of that facility, whether you were involved in any procurement, construction or its operations in any way, shape or form.
SUSAN HAMILTON: I was not involved in the procurement for that facility or the operation or implementation of the programming there. It was, my understanding was that it was a DPW procurement.
And really my only role in that was at the conclusion of, or as part of the overall investigation into the issues that arose in connection with that procurement process, as the Department's legal director, I was responsible for complying with all subpoenas and requests for information that came up in the course of that investigation.
And as part of that role, obviously I ensured that the Department responded in a timely fashion and very thoroughly with the requests for information and documents in connection with that investigation.
REP. JANOWSKI: And were you involved at all as part of your case management duties in recommending youth to be sent to that facility?
SUSAN HAMILTON: No, I was not.
REP. JANOWSKI: Okay. The other question has to do with, I was approached on a number of occasions by different people with regard to your role with DCF during the time that former Commissioner Ragaglia was the Commissioner.
And I would like you to expand on that a little bit and clarify what your role was during the time of that administration in your capacity as a legal counsel.
SUSAN HAMILTON: My primary role during that timeframe and subsequent to that when I was in the position of director of the legal division was really to oversee the area office attorneys and legal staff, including paralegals and support staff, that were providing the direct legal consultation and supervision of the area office social work cases.
So we really provided sort of day-to-day consultation, advice on the child abuse and neglect matters as they were bring brought before the juvenile court. So that was my primary role.
I also, as director of the legal division, would often respond to requests for legal advice on other more global areas regarding the Department's practice, including, you know, regulations.
I would review regulations to ensure that they were in compliance with what the statute called for depending on the subject matter. I would review policies to make sure that the policies that we were developing were consistent with the state law and our own regulations.
A myriad of issues, I would get questions often on our confidentiality statute when information was requested from the Department in terms of, you know, what types of information we could share or not share, whether it would be with the public or the media or other folks looking for information from child protection records.
So in that regard, sort of did general counsel type duties in response to requests from leadership in the agency on the areas of the Department's practice.
REP. JANOWSKI: Did you at any time report directly to the Commissioner?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I did not ever report directly to the Commissioner. I either reported to a deputy or to, we had some management changes during the eight years that I was there, but I either reported to a deputy or to, we had another general counsel, a government relations direction who I reported to as well at one point.
REP. JANOWSKI: So then the way I understand it, your involvement in providing legal consultation or advice had to do with general policy, department issues and those kinds of things or related to casework.
SUSAN HAMILTON: That's right.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. Before I go on to the next question, I've been advised by Capitol Police to make an announcement that there, I believe there are more people here than were initially expected.
And there is an overflow room in Room 1B, so that we'd like to keep the aisles clear if possible, and there is a monitor there that you can listen and watch the proceedings in Room 1B, which is right across the hall here. Thank you.
And the third question that I have, we talked a little bit about this because I had, some parents talked to me with regard to the home schooling issue that I spoke with you about.
And there were some issues with regard to parents getting involved in legal aspects because their children were not attending schools and that kind of thing.
And I was hoping you could elaborate on what has been done over the last, let's say, couple of months to try to alleviate that problem.
SUSAN HAMILTON: First I'd like to say that the Department is not in any way, shape or form opposed to home schooling.
Home schooling is I think relatively clearly addressed in our policies in terms of it not being a basis for an educational neglect substantiation of any kind.
We do receive reports sometimes from the local school districts and others alleging that children are not attending school, and we sometimes need to, if the report is accepted for investigation, to handle those.
But I would like to say at the outset that the Department's policy is not in any way, in my view, in opposition to or not supportive of home schooling.
And it came to my attention maybe within a few days of my starting, which was only a few weeks back, that there seemed to be some question about whether or not the Department's philosophy was different than that.
And as a result of that, we pulled together some folks and we met with some individuals to sort of hear from them about what their concerns were.
I thought the meeting went relatively well. We took back to the agency some concrete policy recommendations that came from the folks who had been raising some of the concerns.
That was, the policy was, the recommendations were reviewed, and I'm actually pleased they were brought to my attention because we will likely be including many of those recommendations into our policies to clarify, to clarify that principle.
So I'm actually, I hope we're going to move forward in that regard, and, you know, my obligation is to ensure that our staff are properly investigating those cases if they're even accepted for investigation and that we are following the law in that regard.
Home schooling is not, it's appropriate and the law does allow for that, and I just want to make sure that our agency is adhering to that philosophy.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. I have just a couple more general questions. One has to do with a change that we made recently, the Legislature made.
Sixteen- and 17-year-olds were treated as adults by the courts, and that has been changed so that they are now going to be treated as minors.
How, what impact will that have on your agency in terms of those individuals that are under the care of your organization?
SUSAN HAMILTON: The raising of the age of jurisdiction in juvenile court will result in additional children, older youth in that age range being committed to the Department through the juvenile court.
We've estimated, you know, there's, estimated that it could range, mid range about 135 perhaps additional youth that end up getting committed to the Department as a result of that change.
I think the change was obviously, as some know, I know there are Committee Members who participated on that committee, was aimed at ensuring that we provide appropriate and timely service to the older youth who arguably were not getting that in the adult system.
So the Department supports the philosophy behind the raising of the age and we've already begun to do some preliminary work to look at what are we going to need to actually infuse in our system to ensure that we can implement those changes effectively and in a coordinated fashion with the other involved agencies, the court system obviously, CSSD and others.
So it will have an impact on the agency, but I think we're geared up for that and moving along with implementing and setting up plans to accomplish the objectives of that legislation.
REP. JANOWSKI: Okay. And we spoke about this when I met with you. I supported that change. I did, however, have a concern that even though they will be treated as minors under 18, they can still quit school at 16.
And that's going to be a problem for, in my opinion, the school systems and so forth. I would have preferred that the schools, that we had changed the law, the education law to mandate that they stay in school until they're 18 years of age.
That, however, was not successful. How is that going to impact your agency? Are you going to be able to keep them in school? If parents can't keep their kids at school at 16, how are you going to do it?
SUSAN HAMILTON: Yeah, I think, obviously, that's a challenge that I think we all collectively have to kind of get our arms around.
Clearly everybody agrees that educational success and being able to be in school, stay in school and achieve in school is key to being successful into adulthood.
I think, you know, by some of the infusion of the community-based services that have been identified as being necessary to comply with that change, I'm hopeful that by involving working with families, working with the youth, we can encourage more compliance, I guess I would say, or participation in the educational process by the youth themselves and that they'll want to be there and that they are actually, you know, receiving the type of education and skill training that they need.
So I think it's an ongoing challenge, but I think you can't, we can't move ahead in a direction without recognizing that that is a key I think to being successful in working with these youth and helping prepare them for adulthood and to stay out of the system.
REP. JANOWSKI: One more question before I open it up to Senator Looney and other Members. I do have a number of questions, but I want to give everybody the opportunity to ask questions as well.
But I wanted to get your views on how, what you will do to assure that DCF fulfills its statutory requirements with regard to, especially since they are the lead agency for kids with mental health issues, what plans do you have to address that?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I think as I mentioned, one of the priorities I think, and we've done, there's been some success in implementing the goals and the philosophy of the Behavioral Health Partnership.
We have infused additional, I think in significant numbers, in-home community-based supports that will address some of the mental health needs of the children that we serve.
Again, though, I think that the, one of the keys is going to be integrating that. I think there's a lot of work being done, but I'm not sure that everybody is aware of how to access those services, what is the process for doing that, and looking at the data to see where are the gaps.
We have information now that we haven't had in the past that identify where are the unmet needs, what types of service categories are they in and make sure that we are making both budgetary and policy recommendations that are aimed at making sure those services are available.
I think the ongoing partnership with DSS and looking at strategies for continued collaboration with them on how to make the services available, number one, make them accessible, but also sort of the effectiveness component.
We don't want to continue in any way to fund programs that aren't working. So I think we really need to look at what we're getting from the services we are providing and build on that.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. Senator Looney.
SEN. LOONEY: Thank you, Madam Chair. Good morning, Commissioner. How are you?
SUSAN HAMILTON: Good morning. Thank you. Nice to see you.
SEN. LOONEY: In addition to our President Pro Tempore, Senator Williams, and our Senate Republican Leader, Senator McKinney, who are Members of the Committee, and the other Members who have questions, we have Senator Meyer, the Chair of the Children's Committee, and Representative Villano, the Chair of the Human Services Committee.
So we have a number of areas of cognizance present this morning, so I'll try to limit the number of questions, give everyone a chance.
One of the areas that I did want to focus on to some extent is the compliance with the Juan F. decree, since obviously the Department has been operating under a consent decree for a number of years.
And there was a recent report that the Court Monitor indicated that DCF is still failing in four of the most important outcome measures, having to do with treatment plans, needs met, repeat maltreatment, and reentry, and that often children remain in restrictive levels of care well beyond the time clinically appropriate or often wait-listed for community service, have specific mental health or educational needs not addressed in a timely manner.
Just what will be your approach to try to make sure that performance in that area improves, because that seems to be a critical lack at present?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I would agree with that. We, obviously the areas of treatment planning and needs met are, I think, going to be the most difficult of the outcomes to actually meet moving forward because it requires obviously that we have collectively an array of services at all levels, you know, both from foster homes all the way up through more restrictive levels of care, to address the issue of, you know, sort of what I refer to as kids being stuck in more restrictive settings than what their treatment needs call for, we, as some of you may know, we are in the process of implementing several therapeutic group homes throughout the state.
Part of the objective, obviously, of developing those programs was to help facilitate the discharge of kids who were in higher, more restrictive levels of care both in residential placement settings and sometimes in hospitals and emergency departments, so that we have an appropriate array, enough of a resource at the lower level to transition those kids out of those residential placements.
There are, there is a need, some children's treatment needs obviously require residential care, but that is obviously very restrictive. And to the extent that when children are ready for a lower level of care, we need to have the placement resources available to provide that to them.
The group, the development of the therapy in group homes I think will help us in that regard, and that is under way.
In addition, the Department has made a concerted effort and will continue doing that under my leadership, if given the opportunity, to continue to recruit and retain foster families for some of these kids.
There are children who are in perhaps group homes settings who could be transitioned into a foster home setting, and we, you know, we have fabulous foster parents who do tremendous work every day with the kids that we serve, but we need more.
We need help with that. The kids in our system have many issues, and we need to continue moving forward in supporting the foster parents and actually trying to recruit folks to help with that.
So those efforts will also, I think, address some of the issues that were raised in the most recent Monitor report.
SEN. LOONEY: Thank you. Another issue is the, I'd like to know what your priority is in terms of the need for a secure facility for girls. What is the, how high a priority should that be given and what would be your timetable on pushing for that?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I think that is an important priority. As most of you know, the ability to meet the needs of the girls in our juvenile justice system has been an ongoing challenge for the Department and for the other agencies that work with us in providing services to the girls in the system.
The need for a secure facility I think for girls, a small facility. Obviously we don't support the concept of developing a large congregate care setting for girls that require that.
But we're looking to develop a secure setting that's smaller, that will actually provide that level of, both safety for the girls as well as meeting their treatment needs.
But I would like to say that that would be in, and I think we should note that that would be in addition to, that would be in addition to other community-based supports.
Obviously the locked setting would be the outer ends and would be used hopefully for a smaller number of girls. We would prefer to be able to provide services to them in a less restrictive setting in the community.
SEN. LOONEY: Thanks. One issue that we talked about when we met earlier in the week is the concern about overlapping agency responsibilities, and obviously there are times when different state agencies, whether it be DMHAS or DMR, and DCF have contact with the same client over time.
And there have been some concerns reported that they're concerned about young adults who are transitioning out of, into DMHAS or DMR systems, out of DCF, and just concerns about how they are tracked and provided for during that transition as they age out of DCF care.
Just your thoughts on how that can be made more effective so that people are not lost and fall between the cracks, you know, when there are concerns about whose bureaucracy should be paying attention at a given time.
SUSAN HAMILTON: I think that's a very valid concern, and I think in recent years, and actually maybe in the last year and a half in particular, I think the partnerships that our agency has had with both CSSD, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and DMR, have been really growing.
We have developed several MOUs with, interagency MOUs with those agencies to kind of address that very issue, so that it, you know, the youth transitioning from one system to the other are not sort of, you know, falling through the cracks and that there's planful transitioning on both ends so that the agency that may be handling, for example, an older youth who would be transitioning from DCF into the DMHAS system, that they're involved sooner than later in the development of what is that youth, that young adult going to need when they enter the DMHAS system and getting those services in place earlier than later.
That actually is one of the outcome measures that is contained in the exit plan that we've been doing relatively well on.
And I think that we need to continue to ensure that the current agreements we have with those agencies to sort of concretize those collaborates are clear and remain available, or remain amenable to amendment if we identify that they're not working properly.
But I'm actually quite pleased with the level of collaboration that we have with those agencies, and I'm really committed to keeping those relationships going.
CSSD, we actually have several initiatives that have been up and running now for some time, where DCF staff are actually co-located out in the various ports to address that very issue.
For youth that are being served by both our agency as well as CSSD, that there's involvement from both agencies in identifying treatment needs and sort of identifying, working with the family and identifying appropriate services in the community to meet their needs.
So I see a lot of that happening now, and I want that to continue and to improve on that to the extent we need to revise how that's working currently.
SEN. LOONEY: Thank you. One other question, just in terms of the agency itself. DCF is obviously a very large agency, operates throughout the state. It operates through a number of regional offices.
What is your management strategy in terms of as being the Commissioner to make sure that all of the regional offices are operating efficiently, that all are uniform in implementing policy and keeping track of that in a way that, it clearly is a management challenge for a statewide organization that operates, in effect, in a somewhat decentralized way through a number of regional headquarters.
SUSAN HAMILTON: It is a challenge. I think one of the assets that I bring to the table is the fact that I had worked in the, in a regional office for some time.
And having been on the other end, I kind of recognize that there are often things that somehow, you know, people sort of talking about going on in central office and all these great things that are happening, but, you know, at the front line you're saying, well, you know, I don't know what they're talking about because I don't know how to access that or I'm not sure exactly what's happening.
Communication obviously is key and being clear with the lines of communication both from the central office management team all the way down to the front line.
I have full faith in the leadership that we have in place right now in various capacities throughout the agency that I think recognize the importance of ensuring that the stuff that gets talked about at a macro level is actually drilled down to the front line, embedded in concrete policy so people know what their expectations are, they know what's out there and they know how to access the services that we are instituting and developing.
So I think a lot of it's communication and being clear and recognizing that when, at a macro level you're sitting around a conference table, you know, at a high-level leadership meeting that we need, there has to be a concrete strategy for taking that discussion and drilling it down to the front line in any clear way.
It doesn't happen by osmosis, and sometimes I think people assume that that it does. And being on the receiving end, I know it doesn't, and I'm committed to making sure that we, that those lines of communication work effectively.
SEN. LOONEY: Good. Thanks. Just one last question. What is the priority that you give personally and that the Department gives to finding a suitable relative caregiver in the situation where they, where the child is going to be removed either permanently or temporarily from their parental home?
What's your process and how important do you think it is to find a relative caregiver before somebody is placed in a group home or put into care of a non-relative or in foster care?
SUSAN HAMILTON: That's obviously one of the agency's top priorities. I mean, I'd like to say first that we try to prevent the removal from the home first.
That's really, in my view, the top priority. When we are involved in a family that is still intact, to the extent that we can prevent the removal from that child and wrap services around that child and that family in a way that is safe for the child to prevent the initial out-of-home placement, that's the goal first.
But to the extent that becomes necessary, we always look for a relative resource first. Obviously it's best to try to keep children in either with their home, with their parents or with relatives, so that is actually also one of the outcome measures that we have included in our exit plan because it's the right thing to do, not because it's a requirement of the consent decree, but we have always strived to do that in our work. And I would consider that, you know, a top priority.
SEN. LOONEY: Thank you, Commissioner. Madam Chair.
SUSAN HAMILTON: You're welcome.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. Before I go on, I believe Senator Williams is next. And I do want to mention that Representative Tom Reynolds is joining us to listen in.
As we can all see, this agency has far-reaching tentacles, and so I appreciate your being here. I also appreciate Senator Meyer and Representative Villano being here.
I would like to point out that we did send notices to the Children's Committee, Education, Public Health, and Human Services as well. I'm sorry.
Anne Ruwet is also joining us today. From here you look like part of the audience. I said, where is she? So thank you for joining us. Senator Williams.
SEN. WILLIAMS: Thank you, Chairman Janowski. Good morning Attorney Hamilton. Congratulations on your nomination as Commissioner.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Good morning, Senator. Nice to see you.
SEN. WILLIAMS: Thank you. I noted during your testimony you outlined five goals that you hope to achieve as Commissioner.
I'm wondering if you believe that those goals can be achieved with the existing management and service delivery structure at DCF, or if you foresee the need for significant change and reform of that structure?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I think some of those priority areas can be achieved with continued progress in the direction we're going. I wouldn't say in all of those areas we need to make radical management or systems change.
For example, I think the direction we're going with regards to the outcome measures on the Juan F. consent decree, a lot of good work is being done there. We've demonstrated success.
I think going in and shaking things up with regards to the work we're doing there would be ill advised.
I think that being said, the focus on our treatment planning work, for example, as I mentioned earlier, is one of the outstanding areas needs met, where we do need to make system changes from the perspective of how we handle our cases.
We have several initiatives that are being developed and implemented now, and the phrases might not make sense necessarily to everybody, but one of them is called structured decision-making, and also we have a differential response system that will actually allow us to handle initial investigations somewhat differently depending on the risk level of the case when it comes to the door.
So I think in that area would be an example of a situation where I think we need to focus our energies, stay the course with how we're handling some of the other measures we're doing well on, but really tailor or focus on the ones that remain outstanding.
In the area of juvenile services, I think there is, I think a need for more radical changes in terms of the system array that we have available to both the girls and the boys.
One of the things that there has been movement towards but I think we need to focus on in a more effective way is looking at evidence-based models of practice.
And I know people kind of tout that around as sort of a buzz phrase, but in reality, I think particularly in that area, if we're not evaluating, providing services that work, we're going to, we'll do a disservice to the youth we're serving there.
So I think that is an area that requires I think more work. In terms of management changes, I think that we have some very key positions that are not filled at the agency at this point, that, as I mentioned in my testimony, I believe we need to fill to ensure that we, quickly, to ensure that we have the right level of expertise in the Commissioner's Office at the leadership level to cover all of our mandate areas, including the behavioral health area, which is sort of, in my view, a more, I don't want to say unique, but perhaps a more, you need a different level of sophistication in terms of how the Medicaid managed care system works and how the Behavioral Health Partnership and the ASO is structured to continue implementing that initiative effectively.
So I don't know if that answers your question, but I think, you know, again, I've only been in there a few weeks now and I'm getting my feet wet and getting acclimated to what is working and what is not working.
And I can tell you that in the areas where things are not working and changes are needed, they will be made.
SEN. WILLIAMS: Thank you. You also mentioned in your testimony that, as a social worker and actually as a supervisor and manager in Hartford, that you developed expertise in overseeing investigations and cases involving physical abuse, child fatalities.
You were legal director at the time in 1998 that Tabitha B. committed suicide at Long Lane School. Did you participate in the resulting investigation that uncovered serious deficiencies in the care and treatment of children at Long Lane?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I did not participate in the review personally. I am aware of the investigation, as well as obviously the resulting report that identified, you know, areas requiring improvement in, well, in that facility but also just in terms of how we meet the older youth in DCF care.
SEN. WILLIAMS: Did you participate in the discussions about potential solutions to those problems at Long Lane?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I don't recall specific to that report. There were always ongoing discussions as part of our leadership team meetings about juvenile services and what would be needed to ensure that we have the right level of security as well as service for the youth. But I, it's been awhile, so I don't recall specific discussions about that report per se.
SEN. WILLIAMS: But when there were certain crises like that, was it your responsibility to be part of, I think you just mentioned the leader team, a leadership team discussion to talk about issues like that, and who was part of that team?
SUSAN HAMILTON: Yeah, it would be, generally speaking, it would be the Commissioner Office staff, the Commissioner or the Deputy Commissioner, the bureau chiefs that oversee the program areas that, depending on the issue, were responsible for the oversight, either child welfare or juvenile services.
I attended those meetings primarily with the legal division hat on. If there were legal issues that came up about a direction that the agency wanted to go in, for example, was that the right way to go, did the law allow for it, was there a need to change statute.
Part of my job every year while I was in that capacity was to identify, in conjunction with our program staff, any statutory or legislative proposals that we felt were needed to implement recommendations from reports like that.
SEN. WILLIAMS: Thank you. Now I know as to the construction of the Juvenile Training School, you had mentioned that that was a DPW project. And I wouldn't expect you'd be involved with the pouring of concrete and the bricks-and-mortar aspect of the project.
However, you were just, you just mentioned that you would be involved with the legal department in terms of analyzing statutes, legal processes, etc.
And before that construction actually began, it was certainly a Department of Children and Families' project, and I'm interested if, whether you participated in any discussions of the need for an emergency no-bid contract for the Training School.
And of course we know that that resulted in a $58 million no-bid contract with the Tomasso Brothers' company. Did you participate in those discussions about the fact that this was going to be an emergency contract, a no-bid contract?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I do not recall being involved in any discussions regarding the procurement of that facility, no-bid or otherwise.
SEN. WILLIAMS: Now you mentioned in terms of the future of the Department, you know, there's been proposals of alternatives to the Training School.
As Commissioner, in going forward with the construction of a new major project, and certainly the Training School was one of the most significant projects in the last 10 or 15 years for the Department of Children and Families.
Would it be your position that the head of your legal department should not be involved in discussions about whether to go forward if you needed to on an emergency basis, on a no-bid basis, and would you prefer that your, the head of your legal department actually be involved in reviewing some of the processes and procedures of how this would go forward on a contractual basis?
SUSAN HAMILTON: Yeah, I think that would be important, yes. I would involve them in that discussion.
SEN. WILLIAMS: What was your opinion? I mean, as legal counsel, you watched this unfold [Gap in testimony. Changing from Tape 1A to Tape 1B.]
--Training School as a, on a procedural basis in terms of how that contract was put out, and then in terms of on a policy basis how that was fashioned as a solution for a need for secure beds and other treatment for young people.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Yeah, you know, I, because I was not actively involved in the discussion around how the contract, I'm not real well versed in how the contract was developed for that facility in terms of the components of what went into, putting the construction aside, the policy direction the agency was going in, so I really can't speak to what I would have, should have or could have said in regards to that because I wasn't involved in it.
But I will tell you that I think I'm certainly aware of the concerns that were raised subsequent to the construction and the implementation and the use of that facility, of the concerns that were raised around the level of the, the level and the quality of the services that were provided to the youth in that facility, as well as the physical plant structure.
You know, obviously that turned out, in retrospect, to not be, from many people's perspectives, the most conducive environment to the treatment goals that we were trying to achieve when that program was instituted.
You know, I don't want to make the same mistakes, I guess is the point. If there are things that we do moving forward to address the concerns that were raised about that, I think we need to do that collaboratively.
I need to make sure we have the right people at the table. You know, I think we have more information now than perhaps we had back then about how to best meet the needs of these youth.
We are continuing to move forward with the approach of developing more community-based smaller programs for these kids that are, you know, in the community and provide the right level of training and education that apparently has been raised regarding the Training School.
So I don't know if that directly answers your question, but I really can only speak to what I believe we need to do moving forward on any future development of programs to meet the needs of those youth.
SEN. WILLIAMS: So you say that you were aware of some of the problems and issues in terms of the services and treatment being provided to children at the Training School, but you have no opinion as to the processes that led to a no-bid contract with the Tomasso Company?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I wasn't involved in the processes that were utilized to go to a no-bid contract, so I really can't speak to that. I don't think that's appropriate.
I can tell you, with my legal division hat on, when I was consulted on procurement issues, and folks at the agency can tell you, I always, and, you know, sometimes they didn't like the answer, promoted competitive procurement of all types of services, you know, and to the extent that anything related to, we didn't really do construction, per se, procurements, but, you know, I believe in the competitive bidding process.
And we need to follow the law in that regard. I think it's important. And you know, I guess that's as best I can answer your question about that particular contract.
SEN. WILLIAMS: I mean, from my point of view, it would be helpful if you could say it was wrong. I mean, I wasn't in the room. I wasn't employed by DCF. I certainly have an opinion about it.
I think most of us who investigated and looked into this realized that it was one of the great failings at the agency. It resulted, in part, in a resignation of the Governor of the State of Connecticut, and a very, very serious issue.
Now when you were legal director, Commissioner Ragaglia took a trip to the State of Ohio in the planning process of the Training School, and she was accompanied by William Tomasso.
Now in what we were able to, when this became public, folks realized this was a highly unethical, unfair advantage to a potential bidder on this project.
When did you become aware of this fact, and did you provide any advice or counsel to the Commissioner or anyone else in DCF after this matter?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I became aware of that at the time we received subpoenas for documents in connection with the investigation. One of the subpoenas requested documents regarding an Ohio trip.
At that point, I gathered the applicable relevant documents and supplied them. I was not aware of any trip prior to that. Obviously I would have not condoned that had I known about it or been asked to provide advice about it.
So that was, I think that's an answer to your question. I think, obviously that was not appropriate. I would have advised against it, and my knowledge of it really came at the end of the, or as part of the process of complying with the subpoenas.
SEN. WILLIAMS: Now also when you were the director of the legal division, Haddam Hills Academy was granted a provisional license. Did you participate in the decision to grant the license to Haddam Hills? And this would have been in 1998.
SUSAN HAMILTON: I did not participate in the decision to grant the license, no.
SEN. WILLIAMS: Almost immediately after this was granted, there were problems at Haddam Hills. The DCF hotline received numerous complaints.
There was information about a hit squad at the facility, where staff recruited children as enforcers and clinicians at the school began communicating their concerns.
Did you become aware of these complaints and concerns and did you have any role in addressing these?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I became aware of those concerns at the time the agency decided to take licensing action, but was not involved in the ongoing review of that facility or the licensing oversight.
As you probably are aware, we have internal licensing staff and a bureau that oversees that. I'm sure there were discussions amongst these licensing staff in the Commissioner's Office as that program was being reviewed and evaluated as part of their oversight.
But my involvement probably was later in time when they, you know, when they decided to take licensing action, which I think, as everybody kind of would recognize, happened too late in the game.
SEN. WILLIAMS: That's right. It was more than two years later that that action was taken, two years after the complaints, the red flags had been raised.
What would you do to correct this type of time lag in terms of the bureaucracy failing to communicate serious problems in a way where immediate action could be taken to protect the health and safety of children?
SUSAN HAMILTON: As a result of I think that issue as well as just recognition that we need to, again, going back to what I mentioned earlier, the recognition of the need for the Department to take more ownership and responsibility for accountability and oversight.
We've instituted regular meetings amongst the licensing staff, the program staff that oversee the cases and the youth that are actually placed in those facilities to make sure that we don't have a situation where issues like that are not timely addressed.
We are also in the process of taking a look at how our licensing activities are integrated with our program staff. I think that has been highlighted over the years as an issue.
There seems to be a gap in the way that communication happens, and it's not integrated. It's sort of, again, that issue when you have a large organization of silos and people kind of operating in their own individual areas without communicating with each other.
I think in part the structure we have set up to oversee the, any licensing action or any licensing concerns on these facilities will help, but again, I'm getting, I want to make sure that what we have in place is actually working, and we're in the process of looking at that.
But I appreciate the concern, and we need to ensure that we don't make those same mistakes moving forward.
SEN. WILLIAMS: Thank you. Now in September of 2000, you were still the director of the legal division at DCF, the Alex B. case came to light.
Alex B. was a three-year-old young man who was placed into the care of a family in the State of Florida. He had some serious medical complications. He had been in the care of a relative in the State of Maine. And Alex B. died three weeks after placement.
The Department of Children and Families issued a press release at 5:00 on Friday, very brief, saying that he had died of medical complications.
The Hartford Courant and others dug deeper into that, and as a result determined that in fact he died as a result of serious physical abuse, that the checking out, the background check of the parents had been nonexistent, that later the perpetrator in Florida was charged with first-degree felony murder, and the Child Advocate's Office determined that DCF failed in a number of different ways, but perhaps most importantly, that DCF violated the requirements of the interstate compact of the placement of children.
Now as director of the legal department of DCF, would it have been your responsibility to have ensured that the Department follow the interstate compact of the placement of children?
SUSAN HAMILTON: To the extent that any of my staff or myself personally were consulted on individual cases regarding the interstate compact, I absolutely, 100%, agree with you.
Part of the responsibility would be to ensure that staff know what the rules are, and to the extent that a case involves interstate compact issues, that they follow those.
As you know, and we've spoken several times today about the size of our organization, I was not personally consulted on that placement. To my knowledge, none of my staff were personally consulted on that particular placement.
Whether they had questions, they may not have had legal questions. Perhaps they thought they, what they were doing was in compliance with it.
I can tell you that as a result of that, obviously it became clear that not all of our staff understood the rules around the interstate compact, and there was a need to clarify that not only for the front-line social work staff but for the supervisors as well.
So it is the responsibility of the agency and the Commissioner's Office and the legal director in partnership to ensure that people know what the law is.
And, you know, that was a horrible tragedy, and, you know, I think we need to do better, obviously, in ensuring that all of the laws are following, including the interstate compact on children.
SEN. WILLIAMS: And I think if you go back and review the record there, you will find that DCF was in possession of information that the death was suspicious, that abuse was suspected at that time.
And the issuance of that press release at 5:00 on Friday had all the appearances of trying to, unfortunately, sweep this tragedy under the rug and not deal with it in a forthright way.
And I would hope as Commissioner you would deal with these types of matters in a forthright way.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Yeah. And I, one of the things I would like to see, and we've actually proposed it several times, and I think probably this might have been our fourth year, as an agency proposing revisions to our confidentiality statute.
As many of you may know, it is very prescriptive and precludes us from sharing information in a host of arenas, including with the media, except under very limited circumstances.
I think we need to revisit those provisions. I think there's a need to, from the Department's perspective, be able to be up front about our work with families, what we've done, what we haven't done, where the mistakes were made, where the successes are.
And sometimes we're precluded from doing that. I don't know in that particular case whether or not the law would have allowed further information being shared.
But I think that, you know, moving forward, I am committed to trying to look at what it is that we're able to share under what circumstances.
Obviously confidentiality with regards to at least family information is important, but I also don't think you can hide behind that. And we shouldn't be in a position of being perceived as hiding behind those provisions when issues come to light that the public needs to know about.
SEN. WILLIAMS: Now sometime thereafter, Larry Alibozek, who is a top official in the Governor's Office, became involved with certain issues within the Department of Children and Families.
He was concerned about the consent decree that's still in effect, and he made certain suggestions. He suggested that DCF could avoid hiring 300 additional caseworkers to meet the demands of the consent decree.
He outlined ways to reduce DCF caseloads and avert the need for additional staff. He suggested, and this is quoting from a memo that he provided to DCF, that reviewing current cases on the books to eliminate as many cases as possible was a goal and that to reduce the number of cases coming in the front end was a goal.
But he did acknowledge that that might not be in the best interest of children. Did you have as legal director at DCF any knowledge of the memo that Larry Alibozek sent to the Department?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I don't recall that memo specifically. I can tell you that we have always made a concerted effort of making sure that we are accepting the right cases for investigation, that we are transferring, if we are substantiating the cases requiring ongoing services, that we're doing it in the right cases, that we have open cases on those families that need our services, not those who may not, who may be appropriate for referral to the community.
We obviously try to maintain our caseloads but would never, you know, I would never condone or promote as Commissioner, nor with my legal division hat on, any directive that would have in any way, shape or form required staff to make decisions that were not in the best interest of children and simply to keep caseloads within a manageable cap. So--
SEN. WILLIAMS: So you did not have any knowledge of this memo or did not have a chance to review it.
SUSAN HAMILTON: I don't recall it specifically, no, but I, you know, I can tell you that I would not, in my role there or my current role, condone any direction to staff on that.
SEN. WILLIAMS: Now interestingly, around this same time that Larry Alibozek was talking about reducing the number of cases coming in and acknowledging that it might not be in the best interest of children, Commissioner Ragaglia put out a press release publicly claiming that child abuse and neglect in Connecticut had decreased by 50%.
Now it was one of those things that sounded too good to be true, and unfortunately, it was. The reality was that the number of abuse complaints coming in to DCF had actually increased.
But the Department of Children and Families had simply changed the definition of what they considered active and ongoing abuse cases.
Now were you as the legal, as the director of the legal division of the Department of Children and Families consulted or involved in any way in the discussion of the change of this definition?
SUSAN HAMILTON: The definition, to my knowledge, was not changed of abuse or neglect. The abuse and neglect definitions, as you all know, are statutorily defined.
We have operational definitions that provide guidance to staff on how to, because they're very broadly defined in statute, how to evaluate those on a case-by-case basis to determine what are the factors you should be looking at, for example, in determining whether or not a child's physical needs are being met, for example.
I don't recall, at one point the operational definitions were revised. I don't remember the exact timing of it.
I was involved in reviewing policies to ensure that the guidance we were giving the staff in policy was in compliance with what the statutory framework is for abuse and neglect and whether or not the substantiation rate, I don't know if the decline in the substantiation rate was because we were doing more effective investigations and not substantiating on cases that we shouldn't be substantiating on.
But I would have been involved and was involved in changes to our operational definitions. I would have been involved in any formal policy revisions that affected the Department's practice.
And my job was to ensure that it didn't conflict with the statutory framework that the policies were promoting.
SEN. WILLIAMS: Going forward, would it be your opinion that any change in an internal definition that would result in an impact on caseloads, either significantly increasing or significantly decreasing, should be something that the director of the legal department should be involved in reviewing?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I think if there are legal issues regarding the policy change, yes. We have actually instituted a policy now that all policy changes go through our legal division whether there are legal issues or not.
Sometimes program people wouldn't identify that there's a legal issue, so we thought it'd be safer to ensure that all policies go to the legal division for signoff before they're sent to the Commissioner for signature.
SEN. WILLIAMS: Thank you, Attorney Hamilton. You've been very patient, and I thank you for your thoughtful answers to these questions. I've looked at your resume. I think you are a skilled attorney.
I applaud your social work background. I anticipate that you will be confirmed shortly by the House.
I have to be honest, though, today, and when I take a look at the record that you have, even in a seemingly prominent position within the Department, to have not been, you know, in the room on key issues, like the Training School, to have no opinion as to the contracting process and whether it was right or wrong and to have been there within the Department during tremendous upheaval and significant problems such as Long Lane and the problems that were there, the Training School and its construction, the contracting issues, Haddam Hills and the two-year delay in taking action on complaints involving the health and safety of children, the Alex B. incident in Florida and not following our interstate compact, and the claim that we were, had reduced abuse cases by 50% in the State of Connecticut when really it was just reshuffling folks around.
The actual, we'd had an actual increase in the number of complaints, but it was an internal definition that had brought about that change.
And something we haven't talked about but you touched upon in your testimony, the need to do much better in terms of KidCare and addressing mental health needs for our children, I'm just being afraid, I'm just afraid that you're being set up for failure, and we need dynamic leadership, willing to reform the systems, willing to take on the bureaucracy that has been part of the problem in the past.
I'm hoping that you will be able to do that. That is my sincere hope as we go forward. But I look at this record, and I have serious reservations and fears.
SUSAN HAMILTON: I appreciate your comments. I think I am the person for the job. I wish, frankly, that I had been consulted on some of those matters earlier than later.
I think I am and will be a dynamic leader and I will make changes when changes are needed. I look forward to working with all of you, hopefully in a collaborative way, to accomplish that end.
I recognize that as one person I may not have, from some people's perspectives, the entire skill set that you need to run an organization of this size.
I'm committed to making sure my leadership team collectively has that level of expertise, the commitment and the same vision that I have.
So I respect your concerns. I hear what you're saying. And, you know, I hope I am confirmed because I'm looking forward to the challenge and being successful in that regard.
REP. JANOWSKI: Representative Nafis, followed by Senator Prague.
REP. NAFIS: Thank you, and welcome.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Thank you.
REP. NAFIS: I just, I have a few different issues that I wanted to just briefly touch on. Probably the first is the simplest.
I think we're all very, very pleased that the, we are dropping the age, the 16- and 17-year-old youth will be treated a little bit differently now than they have been in the past.
I also know there has been a lot of concern about the amount of money that it's going to cost. And I just wanted your opinion on whether you believe we're adequately funding, at least into the next year, the changes that we know are going to occur in that area.
SUSAN HAMILTON: I think that there are obviously startup costs that have been included in the budget, primarily in Judicial, to start gearing up for the change.
I think there will be a need for some additional resources as we move forward. I think it was appropriate to look at sort of when it, the timeframe for implementation of the change to ensure that we actually did have a good understanding of what the resource needs were going to be and that we could include them to the extent that becomes necessary.
So there will be resources needed. I think some of them have been included to date. And I think, you know, we'll see at the end of the day whether the, they'll need to be as large as they have originally been identified.
But I think the policy direction is the right way to go, so I'm confident that we'll get there.
REP. NAFIS: Thank you. I totally agree with the policy direction, and I just want to make sure that we don't put the policy forward without, you know, really, truly providing the resources that are needed to make a real difference in this area.
Another area you'd already touched on briefly was in the area of home schooling, and I believe I heard you say that you are very committed to working on reviewing and making changes, if necessary, to some of DCF's policies. Can you just elaborate again a little bit on that?
SUSAN HAMILTON: That's right. We, as I mentioned, we did have a meeting recently with some of the advocates for home schooling based on some concerns I had heard that there was, that the Department may not be compliant or could improve its ability or its response to educational neglect reports that come in in cases where parents are in fact appropriately home schooling their children.
There was some concrete and very helpful policy recommendations that were made by the advocates who do this day in and day out. They know the law.
They, I think, understand where some of the barriers might be and needs for clarification internally at least with regards to DCF policies.
And we're actually in the process of looking at those, and many of them, at least at, based on our preliminary review, will help to clarify our policies and will be included in our policy manual.
And then obviously in conjunction with that, you have to train staff so they know what, you know, they know what the changes are.
So I think, I'm actually happy that those concerns were brought to my attention, that I was able to follow up on them and we will, I hope, be able to work collaboratively with the folks who do home schooling and ensure that we're actually properly handling those cases if they do come to our door.
REP. NAFIS: Thank you for that. I also know that there are some concerns regarding SDE, and I'm assuming you all will be working together with SDE too as you integrate your policies with SDE's policies as well.
SUSAN HAMILTON: That's right. Actually I, I'm sorry to cut you off, we did actually, I believe it may have been last week, I met with the Commissioner of SDE, and this was one of the issues on my list of things to talk with him about in terms of areas where we need to make sure that we're all on the same page.
When I met with the advocates and when I've spoken to folks about the home schooling issue, it's very clear at the outset that there are concerns as well about sort of what reports are being made to us by the local school districts.
And perhaps as a way to better collaborate and educate folks about what types of cases ought to be referred so that we can avoid some of those cases at, you know, at the outset.
So it will require collaboration with them, but the Commissioner of SDE was also committed to working on that with me.
REP. NAFIS: Thank you. A third area I just wanted to touch on briefly is that I am on Appropriations also and we have been working on something called results-based accountability now for a few years.
And I just wanted to ask you if you have been brought up-to-speed on that and how that will integrate with many of the different programs that you're working on in DCF.
SUSAN HAMILTON: I am familiar with the results-based accountability work that's been done. I think it ties in very nicely with my hope to embed that philosophy into our accountability practices, both internally and with regards to the programs that we're funding.
So I'm actually excited to learn a little bit more about where we are with that and what we need to do to kind of really bring it to fruition.
I know a lot of work has been done in the past couple years on that framework, but I think, you know, as most of you know, you know, there's that next phase of sort of making sure that it actually, at the program level and at the agency level, that it's actually working.
REP. NAFIS: That would be true, and I know we're all looking very much forward to that happening, not only in your agency but across the board. I know some agencies have already been very involved in that.
Finally, just one other last question. You talked about the therapeutic group homes and moving youth into that type of a setting to deal with, I happen to know that one of those homes has been, I guess is being proposed in my community, which is, I've had residents come to me just very recently on this issue, and that's when I became aware of it.
Could you please explain a little bit about, A, how many therapeutic group homes are you envisioning, what type of youth are you expecting to be in the group homes, and the way I understand it, it's kind of a private partnership with the nonprofits, they're a part of this, but DCF is also very much involved in the vetting of that and the determination of suitability. If you could just talk just a little bit to that issue, I'd appreciate it.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Sure. The, and my understanding at this point, we've actually instituted it or actually developed 24 of these smaller group homes already to date.
There will be approximately, I believe, 20 more additional that are either in the works or close to being developed in the community.
The work with the providers, instead of identifying what types of youth can be served or should be served in these settings, was really derived from what are the unmet treatment needs or the needs of youth that are in more restrictive placement settings that really could be transitioned with the right level of support to the community.
So, you know, we're not talking about, and there's different program models for the group homes depending on the age of the youth, for example, that are served.
Many of them were identified as being geared towards the adolescent youth, but there are some that are also for younger kids.
Obviously for the younger kids, to the extent they can be met, their needs can be met in foster home settings, we prefer that to be the case, actually for all youth.
But it's really aimed at that age population and folks that do have, and youth that do have treatment needs but needs that we think can be safely met in the community, more smaller based programs with the right level of staffing and supervision.
So I don't know if that answers your question. Some of those youth will be juvenile, may have been involved in the juvenile justice system. Others may not.
But it really depends on the particular group home, but the therapeutic model was one really designed to ensure that it had the right level of support services as well as, you know, obviously the housing component, but that it would be a more comprehensive placement setting that had the service array around it as well.
REP. NAFIS: Yeah, I am actually I think going to be meeting with some of your staff a little bit later just to, we don't need to get into that level of detail. But thank you. I do appreciate what you've said right now.
And I do think coming from the bottom up and understanding the system is very important in leadership, and you certainly seem to have a very collaborative approach to how you intend to lead.
And your outlook on accountability is wonderful. I think that's something we all need throughout state government, so thank you for being here today.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Thank you. I appreciate that.
REP. JANOWSKI: Senator Prague.
SEN. PRAGUE: Thank you, Madam Chairman. Susan, how did you get here? Were you, did you apply for the job? Were you plucked from OPM? How did this happen?
SUSAN HAMILTON: Unfortunately, I actually gave it thoughtful consideration and actually applied. So yeah, that may cause people to question my mental health, but I, you know, and that would probably be right on.
But the, no, I really, when I left the agency to come to OPM, it was really an opportunity to kind of get a better, more experience on a macro level with the state government, the budget process.
I was ready for a change in terms of my professional development, so I came to OPM, really never thinking that there would be an opening at the Commissioner level at DCF at that time.
When it became available, I was told there was going to be a posting or I was aware of a posting for the position, and gave it thoughtful consideration and decided to throw my hat in the ring and apply.
And I sent my resume and cover letter to DAS, as called for in the notice, and somehow made it through the final vetting process I guess that was used and interviewed and ultimately was selected.
SEN. PRAGUE: So Susan, fill us in a little bit. Who interviewed you?
SUSAN HAMILTON: The interview I had was with a panel of folks representing both the Judicial Branch, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Governor's Office, and a DAS representative.
SEN. PRAGUE: Okay. And, you know, Commissioner Dunbar was also part of the agency for years and years and years, and she was out there as a social worker, a front-line social worker, as you are, and she worked herself up to being the Commissioner.
For some reason, and I don't have a clue as to what the reason is, she is no longer the Commissioner.
But I heard you say in answer to a question that you have full faith in the people in leadership positions in the Department, and yet they were in leadership positions under Commissioner Dunbar, and for some reason that didn't work and she is no longer there. What was wrong that you see that you need to correct with the agency under your direction?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I think that we have some excellent, qualified, committed staff in our leadership team currently that did in fact work under Commissioner Dunbar's leadership.
I can tell you I was very pleased and proud to work under Commissioner Dunbar's leadership. I think the fact that she did rise up through the ranks, had a good understanding of the Department's work was an asset to her, as I hope it is for me.
So I think there's a lot of things under her leadership and with some of the current structures we have in place at the Department that I think are working. There are some things that will require change. There may be management changes necessary, but--
SEN. PRAGUE: What are those things that require change?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I think, as I mentioned, we have a couple of key positions in the central office that are not yet filled. We had some folks retire that had some particular expertise in the behavioral health area.
I think there's a gap there now that we need to fill. We obviously have folks doing that work and doing it well every day, but, you know, when you look at the scope of the agency's mandate areas, I see that we need, I think, some additional staff to assist with the Behavioral Health Partnership and sort of, again, somebody with some expertise in managing, in collaboration with that team, a large organization such as DCF.
So I actually, I stand by my view that we have some solid managers in place in leadership positions in the Department. To the extent that there are folks that perhaps should be doing something differently or where changes are needed, I'm prepared to make those changes.
I, it would be premature for me to speak to that specifically today, just getting acclimated to the agency and getting a handle on what those changes are.
But I can tell you that I, you know, where there are strengths, I will continue to help facilitate those, and where changes are needed, I'm committed to making those changes.
SEN. PRAGUE: Susan, there had to be something wrong in the Department for Commissioner Dunbar to lose her job. There had to be something wrong, because here was a woman who came up through the ranks, was heading up this agency, and yet now, and yet she has now been replaced.
Whatever was wrong, you're going to have to correct, because you're going to now lead this agency. And I wonder if you're aware of what was wrong so that if you are confirmed as Commissioner, you can correct those things.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Yeah, I don't know I can speak to why the Commissioner Dunbar's position became available or what, you know, what decisions were involved.
And we all, as you know, appointed officials are, we all submit letters of resignation. Some are accepted. Some are not.
So I can't speak to that, but I can tell you, when I look at what I believe are the priority areas, I would perhaps characterize it slightly differently in terms of there being something wrong.
I think obviously there are areas that we need to change, we need to do better at. My priority--
SEN. PRAGUE: Such as?
SUSAN HAMILTON: Such as, again, the juvenile services area. We do not have, I don't think to date, the proper level of services in terms of an array for girls in that system in particular.
The continued focus on the exit plan measures that relate to treatment planning and needs met, that obviously dovetails with the mental health system we talked about earlier.
So I, you know, I identify priority areas based on where I believe the most need is in terms of the children and family that we're serving.
And that's what I intend to focus on. And as I mentioned, if I think there are things that were done under the previous administration that were wrong, I don't intend to continue perpetuating those things.
I will change them and hopefully continue to improve the outcomes for the kids that we're serving and for the families that we serve as well.
SEN. PRAGUE: So I take it you have some idea as to what was not being done properly and have some plan in mind as to how you will do it differently.
Susan, what do you envision the Department's interaction with our school systems? You know, the schools are a vital part in the life of children.
And I'm not sure that DCF has a lot of contact with the schools or that there is a process where the schools and DCF work together. And I'm wondering if you have a vision as to how you would handle that.
SUSAN HAMILTON: I would agree with that in terms of the importance of the collaboration that we have, particularly at the local level with the schools.
I think in the area of education in particular, while we certainly need to continue the partnerships at the, you know, at the leadership level with the State Department of Education and others, the, I think the key to success in working together effectively with the schools really takes place at the local level with the local school districts.
SEN. PRAGUE: I agree.
SUSAN HAMILTON: We actually do have connections at the local level with the school districts. I do think we need to take a look at how is that working and not working.
And we have some initiatives that have, I think, relatively new around trying to look at truancy issues and what we can do to partner with the schools to address that.
As we mentioned earlier, one of the keys to the youth being successful is to stay in school and do well in school and succeed.
And I think we need to be able to play a part in working with the schools to ensure that that happens, particularly for the kids that we see as well, so the kids that we sort of have in common.
SEN. PRAGUE: So would you have somebody in leadership in charge of the interaction between the Department and the local schools?
SUSAN HAMILTON: Yeah, we, right now our Division of Education falls under our larger Bureau of Behavioral Health.
I am looking at the overall organizational structure of the department to sort of see where, are there needs to sort of carve that out in a different way to help facilitate some of the initiatives that we're working on at the local level.
So I think it is important. I share your concern about that. And I think we just need to look at organizationally what is the best way to promote that.
And it may very well be through the local area directors and the initiatives they work on with their local school districts.
SEN. PRAGUE: From my vantage point, that's a big hole and needs to be filled and an important role for the Department to fill.
SUSAN HAMILTON: I would agree with you. I agree.
SEN. PRAGUE: Susan, just tell me one more thing. What did you do at OPM?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I served as Undersecretary for Legislative Affairs.
SEN. PRAGUE: What does that mean?
SUSAN HAMILTON: That is basically responsible for developing and drafting all of the legislation needed to implement the Governor's budget recommendations. I would participate in discussions around those budget recommendations and those priorities--
SEN. PRAGUE: For all agencies or for DCF?
SUSAN HAMILTON: For the Governor, for all agencies, for the Governor's budget, so any, you know, the entire Governor's package that gets put together, it was my responsibility.
So I think we had probably over 40 bills that I drafted in conjunction, obviously, with other folks this past Session to implement the Governor's budget recommendations.
And then I would work collectively with the Governor's legislative staff to sort of work those bills and, you know, monitor those through the legislative process.
SEN. PRAGUE: And what would you expect from your legal staff? You had a very limited role, from what I hear, as head of the legal staff at DCF. Would your expectations and your involving them in decision-making be different from what it was when you were head of that legal staff?
SUSAN HAMILTON: Yeah, I think that, as I think I mentioned earlier, that there are oftentimes issues that come up where perhaps non-legal staff may not recognize there's a need for legal consult.
So I felt that way when I was in that capacity, that there were often things that we should have probably been at the table for that we were not.
So I do intend to ensure that we have our director of the legal division at the table in any discussion that, and she should be part of the leadership team in any discussion that affects the agency's practice, particularly--
SEN. PRAGUE: And policy.
SUSAN HAMILTON: --and policy issues and, you know, regulation review. I think that needs to be much more effectively integrated into the overall structure of the agency.
SEN. PRAGUE: Well, Susan, I'm a little nervous about your lack of really administrative experience. I think you've given some good answers to the questions that were asked of you.
I think one of the big things, Susan, that you lack is that experience with a very big agency in administration. I'm an MSW. I graduated from the school of social work, like you do. It has prepared us to deal with people and prepared us well.
I feel, I still feel that there is that lack of administrative experience that is so desperately needed. But if you are confirmed by the House, I certainly wish you the best of luck.
I'm the Subcommittee Chair in Appropriations of the DSS budget, which also involves your budget. You have a $900 million, or darn close to it, budget, and it, tough job and a big responsibility.
There are a lot of kids in this state that are not being served well by DCF. I certainly hope to see improvements in that area.
And I'm encouraged by your interest in working with local schools, because that is a critically important area for DCF. Anyhow, thank you for being here today.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Thank you. I appreciate that. And, you know, as I mentioned earlier, I appreciate the, your comments, and I recognize, as I said, I have not had to date the opportunity to demonstrate my capacity to lead an organization of this size.
It takes the right team. I agree with that. I think I bring some very valuable expertise, knowledge, and management style to the table, and I am committed to making sure that, in conjunction with what I bring, that the team I put in place has the right level of expertise to accomplish the objectives that I think we all collectively share.
So I appreciate your comments, and I look forward to working with you if given the opportunity.
SEN. PRAGUE: Thank you.
REP. JANOWSKI: Representative Giegler, followed by Senator McKinney.
REP. GIEGLER: Thank you very much. Congratulations on your nomination.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Thank you.
REP. GIEGLER: My question has to do with Riverview Hospital again. You stated in your testimony that DCF needed to continue to focus on improvements at Riverview.
And one of the issues was concerning the culture of the facility. However, currently there is no permanent superintendent at Riverview.
Do you consider this position to be one of the more important positions which needs to be fulfilled in order to move forward with these necessary improvements?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I do. As some of you may know, we actually transferred one of our other superintendents to Riverview. She is on board.
Actually she's been an unbelievable asset, I think, in sort of not only developing the strategic plan, but gearing the facility up to actually implement the changes that are included there.
She brings to the table a lot of expertise running the other facilities and a commitment to getting the job done. She will be on board until the fall, at least until the fall of this year.
We will then be assessing whether or not she will remain in that capacity or whether we'll need to be recruiting for a permanent superintendent there in lieu of that.
But I will tell you that the expertise and the skill set that we will be looking for in the permanent superintendent are some of the things that the current superintendent actually has, and I think we'll continue to sort of promote the direction that the facility is moving in to date.
So I think it is a priority. To the extent that the current superintendent stays on, I think we'll be in good shape.
But if that turns out not to be the direction we go in, I'm confident that we will find somebody who has the right background and expertise to continue moving forward with the changes that are under way there.
REP. GIEGLER: In addition, the Child Advocate has described the state's children's mental health program as being badly broken.
And those individuals who work with children out regionally feel a really large frustration in the lack of referral facilities, whether they be in-house hospital beds or residential treatment facilities.
There still is a really large number of children that are spending too much time in hospital emergency rooms because of lack of placement. And it particularly becomes a problem with those facilities that are holding children that are so far away from Riverview.
Having worked in the mental health field for like 20-some years, at that time it was always difficult to place children, but the state reduced the number of hospital beds since that time for children.
What do you consider to be, how can we move forward to correct this issue, because before when it was an issue, we reduced what was available and we did not increase availability?
What resources do you have and what kind of timeline do you have for making improvements in this area?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I think one of the challenges that we face is, and I think you touched on it, is sort of, I call it sort of the logjam sort of in some of the higher-end hospital-based placement settings, residential programs, where you have children who are ready for discharge but there's not an available lower level sort of of care, whether it be a group home or a foster home.
I think that the institution development of some of the therapeutic [Gap in testimony. Changing from Tape 1B to Tape 2A.]
--work we're doing to develop more foster families for some of these children is going to be helpful in addressing that issue.
The, when I spoke earlier about the need to more effectively integrate the administrative services organization into the work that we do at the front line, I think I hear that too, that again, it's sort of, there's a lot of discussion about what's available.
But I'm not sure that all of the folks who handle these cases at the front line are actually aware of how to access the service, what's the process.
And I think that's work that we need to focus on so that they know what's available and that folks are referred to the right level of care at the outset.
So I think part of it is developing the system capacity and that we have the right kids in the right level of care.
So it is a priority of the administrative services organization and the work we're doing with the partnership is helping in that regard, but it's got to be combined with the development of smaller, more community-based and hopefully foster family settings for many of the children that we serve.
REP. GIEGLER: And just kind of touching upon the foster families, and I know you made mention that it's the right thing to do to have children with parents and relatives.
However, if you speak to certain foster families, there's a large frustration from them in that they've had children, the same child multiple times, that they've been in the system, they've been in their homes, they've been returned to their families.
It didn't work out well, and then they're returned back to them, and at some point they said enough and they didn't take them back again.
My question to you is, how much time is really spent on evaluating whether the family really is prepared to take a child back?
And I know they have visits, the families, but I've also heard stories where Mom takes them out in the course of the day and all they had was snack food in the three hours she may have visited with them.
But how, what can we do to prevent this swinging door where this child, I mean, I know in the mental health field, we'd often say we wouldn't have this child if it wasn't for the parent. So what are we doing to strengthen that problem?
SUSAN HAMILTON: Well, I think one of the things is, and I mentioned it briefly earlier, is to the extent that we can prevent the initial removal at the outset, that's the number one priority.
I think we have many more in-home support services now than we had in the past to kind of wrap around that family to prevent the initial removal.
But to the extent that a removal becomes necessary, there's a lot of work that's done to try to determine when and if it's safe for that child to return home.
That involves obviously the treatment planning component, making sure that both the, that the parents as well as the children receive whatever services have been identified as necessary for them to accomplish that.
Reunification with family, if a removal is necessary, is the paramount goal. Unless that's determined at the outset that it's, that it's not reasonable to move in that direction.
Obviously the juvenile courts are involved in that process. Once we remove a child, obviously it's brought before the court for purposes of actually identifying what, you know, what are the services that are needed and what are the timeframes for seeking reunification.
And the court ultimately, we develop our own permanency plans, but the court ultimately needs to approve the final plan of reunification in the event that a child is going to be returned home.
So a lot of work is done to not do that precipitously, to ensure that we do have the right level of transition in place, whether it be through supervised visitation.
We, you know, consult regularly with the providers that are working with the family to make sure that they think the family is ready to receive the child back.
We've actually done quite well in reducing the number of kids who actually reenter care. That's one of the outcome measures that we have successfully accomplished.
But not to say that, you know, we shouldn't continue to improve on that, but I think we are doing better there.
And we won't ever probably be able to 100% prevent reentry, but I think it's really around making sure we're doing thorough assessments and putting services in as quickly as we can and ensuring that they were actually working before we effectuate the reunification.
REP. GIEGLER: Well, I thank you for your answers. And, you know, having been a part of DCF and realizing what a comprehensive agency it is, I commend you for your willingness to step up to this challenge, and I wish you the best of luck in your position.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Thank you. I appreciate that.
REP. JANOWSKI: Senator McKinney.
SEN. MCKINNEY: Thank you, Madam Chair. If I could, Commissioner, just a few comments before I ask you a couple of brief questions. And first comment is in response to Senator Williams' last comment.
You said that perhaps you didn't have all of the skill sets or people didn't think you had all the skill sets to manage DCF. And I would say to you that I don't know if that one person does exist.
I can't think of, and I can't speak for other colleagues, but I can't think of a more difficult job to do in all of state government.
And so I hope we're not looking for the perfect candidate, because I don't know if there is one to deal with all the problems that your department has.
The second is that, you know, I was on the first search committee, national search committee that Governor Rell put together to find a commissioner for DEP.
And at the time, we looked for someone who had run an agency, and there were some who had interviewed who had, but we had thought at the time that then Gina McCarthy, who had not run an entire agency, had the better skill set, had the better environmental vision.
And as it turns out, without having the experience of running an agency, I think she's turned out to be a fantastic commissioner.
I know one of the people here to testify on your behalf, Secretary Genuario, a former colleague of mine, also had not had the administrative practice of running an entire agency, and he too I think we would all agree has done an excellent job. So I don't think that that is a necessary requirement.
And my last comment regarding that is, for my colleagues, is that I recently served on helping a local homeless shelter in our town find a new leader.
And all of the individuals who worked at the homeless shelter, all said that the one requirement they had is that the person who led them had a degree in social work, had some, been someone who had been in the trenches where they were.
And my hope is that the people in your agency, knowing that you have been on the front lines, will be, feel better about their new leader and that you can sympathize with the very difficult decisions that they have to make.
The idea of ending and terminating parental rights is perhaps the most difficult decision anyone could ever be involved in, so the fact that you've been on those front lines I think is very important for your agency.
Having said that, it seems to me that there are two issues I'd like you to address, and I'll ask them both at the same time.
The first is you mentioned there are a number of important vacancies in your agency. So I'd like to know how you plan on filling those. Would you look at a national search or a regional search, would you look from within, what would your criteria be.
And the second is with respect to the silo mentality. I think that's a problem throughout state government. It's a problem not just intra-agency but interagency.
And so I would like your thoughts on how you would end a silo mentality, not only within DCF but within all of state government since there are so many other departments that have an impact on your organization.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Thank you. Thank you for your preliminary comments as well. I appreciate that. And I do think bringing some front-line experience to the table will be helpful to me.
The search process for the positions that I need to fill I think in my view immediately include both a chief of staff position, as well as a position that was previously held, the title of the position was chief of program operations.
But the person who held that position, I referenced briefly earlier, had some specific background in the Behavioral Health Partnership and mental health area, and that's an area where I don't, I think we need to fill the gap.
Her departure, while probably very good for her and we are, she actually is now serving as a court monitor in Massachusetts on issues similar to that, in the Rosie D. case.
But that position, and I believe as well the chief of staff, I am considering doing a more national search or at least a, you know, a recruitment process that will allow for a broad-based solicitation for folks who would be interested in serving in those capacities.
In addition, however, I am looking for, and have, for particular folks who have in-state expertise. I think particularly in regards to the Behavioral Health Partnership, so much work has been done in state already on that.
While there are federal rules that apply to it, there's a lot of state specificity in how that is being managed that I think brings someone who's been involved in that and has knowledge of it would be an asset.
So I, you know, I want to make the selection process as inclusive as I can, but those are the two key positions that I see, and I, you know, I am taking particular references, but also hope to kind of expand the scope of the search for those as well.
The second part of your question around the silo issue I think is well taken. The, both internally and externally, when you have large organizations that have a multitude of mandates as we do, there's always a challenge in making sure the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.
I am looking at the current structure that we have in place at the agency both organizationally as well as sort of the leadership team meetings that I mentioned earlier, do we have the right people at the table, do we have the right agendas for those meetings.
Sometimes, you know, I've never been a big fan of meeting for the sake of meeting. And I don't want to perpetuate folks coming around the table to talk about things when there's nothing that results from the discussion.
So what I'm, I am in the process of looking at that and making sure that to the extent that we do have people operating in that fashion where it's not integrated internally in the agency, coming up with some concrete strategies to kind of ensure that that communication is actually happening.
Similar to how it works internally, when you talk about the work that we're doing collectively with other agencies, we do have I think some good partnerships that are working.
There seems to me to be less of a focus now on that's not my, you know, it's not our case, it's yours, as opposed to we are, we're collectively involved in, whether it's with this youth or with this family and how can we best transition that case if it's a transition situation.
Or if it's a case where we're both involved, how can we make sure that we are not, the left, you know, again, the left hand knows what the right hand's doing and that we're not duplicating efforts.
So I think those types of arrangements, and actually concretizing them in an actual document as opposed to just sort of talking about it helped to provide some framework for continuing those.
So I think we're on the right path. I want to continue to promote that, both interagency as well as intra-agency.
SEN. MCKINNEY: My last question, I appreciate the Chair's indulgence. There was mention made earlier of our recent legislation regarding the change the age, as we call it.
And certainly it's something that I've dug into recently, and as part of our discussions towards the end of the budget negotiations, realized that really the key to the success of this is that services, important services will be provided to youthful offenders that are not provided in an adult system.
And that's perhaps key to preventing them from offending in the future. And it became clear to me that while the Judicial Department may be prepared for this change, that perhaps DCF and the Department of Corrections are not.
Can you expand on your answer as to how the Department is going to get up-to-speed with providing the necessary services to these new groups of people?
SUSAN HAMILTON: Sure. We actually have, both during the course of the work on that committee, as well as subsequent to the inclusion of that in the final budget, taking a look at not only the number of additional youth that we think will come into our system, but in addition, based on what we know about the population, what are the service categories that are going to be needed for that.
Again, we hope that the bulk of the services will be infused in community-based programs for these youth to, you know, to hopefully keep theme out of the more restrictive placement settings.
But I think it's going to be an array of both in-home support services. There's particular programs that have been used for youth in the juvenile justice system that have proven effective.
We want to add slots to those particular programs. We've identified what we believe at least at this point to be the anticipated number of slots that we'll need in each of those programs.
We mentioned earlier that the potential need to look at the number of secure beds we were assessing for the girls in the system.
And so we're, and we have been working also collectively with CSSD because, you know, we really can't do this without both of us being at the table.
CSSD has, obviously we've been working with them, developed a program for family support centers.
It kind of deals with the FWSN issue, which was also part of that overall piece of legislation, so that the youth who can no longer be detained, effective October 1st, under a FWSN adjudication, will be able to be referred and triaged through family support centers and referred to community programs to meet their needs.
So I think that's going to help us. Those are already, I believe either the RFP has been issued and those will be available to us as well.
So I think we're prepared in terms of at least identifying what, where we think the resource needs will be and in which level of care.
SEN. MCKINNEY: Great. Thank you, Commissioner, and I certainly wish you all the best in your future.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Thank you, appreciate it.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. Before I call the next speaker, I do want to mention that the House is expected to go into Session around 1:00 or so. I got them to extend the time by a few minutes.
And I want to give everybody the opportunity to comment and ask questions, and we have 13 members of the public who have signed up to testify.
So I just wanted Members to be aware of that. If we could keep our comments and questions brief and avoid asking the same questions, that would be great. And with that, Representative Roy, and that was no reflection on you, by the way.
REP. ROY: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I certainly feel better now. Susan, good morning.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Good morning.
REP. ROY: DCF has been described, quote, as a longtime troubled state agency. How would you begin to change that perception and/or reality?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I think, I sort of touched on it a little bit earlier. One of the things that we, we sort of tend to hear a lot about what's not working at the Department.
And I think we don't, internally and perhaps externally, speak enough about the successes and the things that are working. You know, we, from a, even just from an agency perspective, internally, I think we need to start there.
I think, as I think, I hope I've spoken to today, I see a lot of strengths a lot of commitment and a lot of just good work on a day-to-day basis that gets done in our agency.
The scope of what we need to do obviously is vast. It is challenging. We are dealing with, you know, I always use the analogy we're not making widgets. It is complicated work. We wear multiple hats.
I think, you know, we, I'm proud to, I was proud to be there when I worked there at all levels, and I, you know, I'm proud to be there now.
And I think we need to internally feel good about ourselves first and what we're doing, and that hopefully can translate through, whether we're talking from a media standpoint in our discussions with the private providers and with the Legislature and the like.
So you know, I don't have today a concrete strategy for how to kind of address sort of the perception that the agency has. I think some of the concerns that get raised and criticisms are legitimate.
You know, we all know we're not, you know, we're not, not everything is going the way it needs to go, and we need to improve. But I think we need to target those improvements in the areas that really require it most.
And you have, I think you want to couple that with touting some of the successes that we see every day.
REP. ROY: Thank you. There are a number of people in the room who are wearing a stop the abuse patch. I'm sure you've seen that. So I inquired what was going on, and these are parents who are home schooling their kids, for the most part.
They have had a problem with whatever school they're in. The Department of Education sends you a complaint, not about abuse but the fact that the student is not attending classes regularly.
The parents feel that you come to them immediately with that complaint and perhaps bully them a little bit as to why the students are not there without getting substantiation from the Department of Education first as to what is going on. How would you address that?
SUSAN HAMILTON: That's obviously not something that we want to condone. I took a look at the policies that we do have in effect right now to sort of take a look at whether it's clear how we should be handling investigations and reports of educational neglect.
Typically a report of, comes to us from the local school districts typically, saying that a child has missed X number of days of school and is sort of, so it comes in through that door.
I want to make sure, and as I mentioned, we're looking at some of the policy recommendations that came from folks who do home schooling and some of their advocates to see whether or not the way we're handling those cases is appropriate.
And to the extent that we need to clarify not only what we accept for purposes of investigation, but also how we investigate those, who do we talk to at this school, how do we work with the school, is to make sure the right cases are being reported.
We're looking at the recommendations that actually came from those folks who do this and will hopefully be able to incorporate many of those into our policies.
I think we need to also couple that with the right level of training so that both, but both internally and I think externally with the reporter community, when we, you know, when we educate folks about what is appropriate for referral to the Department, particularly in educational neglect situations.
REP. ROY: Thank you. We know the Training School is going to close in 2008. It's going to be a couple of years before the smaller units are available. How is the state going to handle the children who are currently housed at the Training School?
SUSAN HAMILTON: Yeah, I think that we need to look at the overall timeline for the development of the new programs, as well as the planful closure of the facility so that we don't have a situation where we prematurely close the doors without having the right level of community support.
So you know, I think what I can say to that in response to your question is that I don't want to replicate mistakes that have been made in the past by not having the right level of service available before we stop admission.
So, you know, as you probably know, we're in the process of moving in the direction of more localized, they're call TREC centers, treatment, rehabilitation and educational centers, to serve these youth that are currently at CJTS.
So we just need to I think look at the overall timeline and also the impact that the raise the age issue will have on the overall service needs and the populations that are served by our system.
REP. ROY: Thank you. And one final question. The Governor's proposed budget did not provide COLA for any of the nonprofit agencies that do so much of the work and service for the state.
Given all the talk about the partnership between DCF and these nonprofits, if you were Commissioner, what would you have recommended with regard to the COLA?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I think that I need to get a better handle on what are the, sort of what went into the decision ultimately to recommend or not the private provider COLAs.
I have met with the heads of the associations actually that oversee many of our private provider groups. That is obviously one of the issues that was on their agenda.
I think that it requires some ongoing discussion and attention as part of the overall budget process. We obviously need to work in partnership with them to make sure that, you know, we can't do this work alone without them.
And I recognize the importance of the issue to them, and, you know, I'm committed to kind of getting a handle on where we are with that and how we can address those concerns moving forward.
So I'm not sure I can say what I would recommend at this juncture. I need to see where we are and how does it, how does the funding for the providers fall in line with all of the other budget priorities that we have as an agency as well as a state.
REP. ROY: Thank you. And thank you for your answers. I do share some of the concerns of my colleagues. It's quite possible that this morning I will vote no. I don't want you to be surprised if that happens.
If nothing else, to get my colleagues to think before they vote to make sure they're comfortable with what they decide. And again, thank you, Susan.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Thank you very much.
REP. JANOWSKI: Representative Kehoe, followed by Representative Harp.
REP. KEHOE: Thank you, Madam Chair.
REP. JANOWSKI: Senator Harp.
REP. KEHOE: Good morning, Susan.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Good morning.
REP. KEHOE: I enjoyed the opportunity to meet with you earlier and had a number of my questions answered and so on. But there was one area I wanted to explore with you today.
And in my limited time here, as bills are making their way through the system, we either seek opinions from agencies or agencies come and tell us their views on it.
And we had a bill in the House which passed by a wide majority, as it did in the Senate, and that was to allow undocumented children to go to college here, community college or the universities, at in-state tuition rates.
And the logic behind the bill was that these children, you know, didn't choose to come here and be undocumented. They've been in our system. They play on our soccer teams.
And that a lot of them, when they, the first time they realize that they may be undocumented is when they go to apply for colleges and ask for that Social Security number to fill out for the FAFSA form and find out they're not.
And as you may know, they're then not entitled to student aid or tuition, scholarships or grants and so on. And so for many of them, the difference of going to college or not going to college is the ability to get in-service rates.
And one of the things I was very impressed with earlier is that you indicated that educational success is the key to being successful in adulthood.
And I was wondering what you thought of the logic of that bill and had I asked you when we met, you know, do you support this bill or not, what your view was.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Well, let me tell you a little bit about sort of how, and I know it's, I know that the, it's actually now afternoon, so I probably, I will try not to go into too much detail.
But when we are involved with a family or a child who has entered DCF care, who does not have legal, the proper legal status, we are, we take immediate steps to ensure that that youth does achieve the right level of status.
And we have a private contractor that helps us do that. I think that to the extent we have youth in our system anyway who is ready to and prepared to attend higher education, we treat all of the children in our custody and that we are working with similarly, regardless of their status.
So I think, from a DCF perspective, you know, again recognizing the importance of education, we would treat all of those youth the same.
With regards to, so I guess that would be my answer to your question. I think that it's important to ensure that youth have access to education.
I'm not sure I have an opinion per se as Commissioner of our agency whether they should, whether they, the tuition rates and what they should be entitled to there.
But I know our kids would be eligible for that and would be entitled to it the same as anybody else, and I think that's important.
REP. KEHOE: So, I mean, that would seem to suggest that if they have an opportunity to go to college or not, based on whether they could get in-state tuition or not, would you be supportive of that?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I, yes, I mean, I think that we, you know, we have a program that actually pays for college, as some of you may know. Actually I have, and speaking of, I promise I won't, I'm just going to show you the title.
This was actually a story of DCF success, I hope we see more of these, in the New Britain Herald just a couple of weeks ago that actually touted our success in helping kids further their education through tuition assistance and payments for, to college tuition at various colleges throughout the state.
So I guess that's, you know, I don't know if that answers you directly, but I think that they should, we need to give them access to that and support their success there.
REP. KEHOE: Great. Thank you very much for your candor and your answers, and I will be supporting you. I'm sure you're going to be very successful.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Thank you. I appreciate that.
REP. JANOWSKI: Senator Harp.
SEN. HARP: Thank you. Good afternoon.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Good afternoon.
SEN. HARP: And congratulations on being nominated by the Governor for this very, very important position. I guess I've sat here and I've listened a lot.
I was going to ask you a little bit about juvenile justice. But I wanted to say that the Department has what I would consider to be an awesome responsibility in four areas.
And maybe there are more. You can tell me if there are. One is child protection. The other one is behavioral health. The other one is juvenile justice, and the other one is prevention.
It's clear to me, based upon consent decree after consent decree after consent decree that we put a lot of resources and attention into child protection.
Because we've carved out behavioral health, we're doing a little more there, but again, for a very limited population and certainly not in any way that reflects your overall statutorial responsibility.
On prevention we're doing little or nothing. So if it was a building that needed four, these four pillars to stand up, the building probably wouldn't stand up.
And I guess I want to know what your vision is for addressing the strength of all of the other pillars besides child protection, where basically we're doing what the court tell us to do. So what is your vision?
SUSAN HAMILTON: The, first of all, with regards to prevention, I think that is pivotal. When you look at our overall budget, I think it's a little bit deceiving.
In terms of looking at the primary prevention sort of line item, it looks in the scope of our overall budget that very, you know, that you mentioned it appears very little is being done in the area of prevention.
There's actually a lot more being done in the area of prevention than what that one line item actually speaks to.
We, most of the, I would say, I would think it would be fair to say that many of the contracts, if not most of the contracts that we have with providers who are working with our families have a prevention component, whether that's a primary prevention or secondary prevention, there is a lot of work going on in that regard.
That being said, I agree with you on the need to make that a, at least visibly anyway, a higher priority.
There's a lot of work that we do collectively with the Children's Trust Fund. They obviously as well now have a, the sort of mandate, co-mandate with us to provide services in that area, education in that area.
And we work in partnership with them regularly. So there's resources there that I think, you know, when you look at the, all of the players at the table that are responsible for prevention initiatives, it's us in conjunction with others.
And I think it's extremely important. More needs to be done. But I think there are a lot of initiatives that perhaps aren't reflected when you look at the overall percentage of the budget, of DCF's budget.
The child protection area obviously, as you said, is very well resourced, part of it connected with the consent decree, the behavioral health area as well.
I don't look at those two as being distinct areas, and as I know you don't either. I mean, in order for us to, again, meet children's needs and do appropriate treatment planning, we have to have the service array and the mental health services particularly available to us as part of that partnership to actually accomplish those objectives.
In the area of juvenile services, as I mentioned, that is a priority area. I don't think we've been doing enough there.
I think we need to look at our overall resource allocation that we do across our mandates and infuse more resources into the populations that are served through that mandate area.
So I would agree with you on the fact that it looks as though the attention is not evenly distributed. And I think in part prevention and juvenile services have been areas that haven't given rise to the level of attention that perhaps they deserve.
SEN. HARP: And I guess another area, because, in all reality from a statutorial point of view, you're responsible for mental health for 16- and 17-year-olds.
But it's my sense that if you don't get into your system before you're 16, that you won't get services at 16. So what are you going to do about that?
That has nothing to do with the age of juvenile jurisdiction. It has to do with the fact that we have a whole adolescent population and a whole service set that just doesn't exist for Connecticut children. What is your vision for filling that gap?
SUSAN HAMILTON: Not long after I left the agency, the, part of, I think there was a recognition of the fact that some of our adolescent services were not given a level of priority perhaps that they deserved.
We actually now have a separate Bureau of Adolescent Services. It used to be run sort of as a separate division or a unit that was integrated into the local area offices, but it did not have a bureau-level leader overseeing the initiatives.
So I think, and again, that covers the youth who perhaps either, some are already in our system at the time they're 16, but it can also accommodate youth who perhaps aren't known to us until they're older.
There's a lot of good work being done there. Dr. Brett Rayford is our bureau chief over that bureau. And the fact that we've elevated it to the level of a bureau chief and actually infused I think more focused attention and resources to those activities will help.
The access to voluntary services, that's not necessarily unique to older youth, but again, having an opportunity to come through DCF's door prior to an abuse and neglect report is what we want to promote.
You know, historically we've been involved sometimes I think too late in the game, and there's a lot we can do through that door as well for older youth that will hopefully prevent them from having to enter through the child protection door.
SEN. HARP: And from the basis, from an evidence practice basis, sort of looking at your population, what happens to your population, on the juvenile justice side, a lot of the kids that go into our adult prisons ultimately are kids that were either in your care and custody, that were in the voluntary program, that were in the, your juvenile justice program, a lot of those children.
So have you, you already know this because you've got staff that sort of look at this. What kind of programming are you going to be doing to address how to short-circuit those pathways, because frankly, if they're in your system, there ought to be things that you're doing and working on to assure that they don't go on to sort of like to the criminal justice pipeline. So what are you proposed to do? What is currently going on regarding that?
SUSAN HAMILTON: There's actually quite a few, as we talked about earlier, and I think you just mentioned it, Senator, as well.
Community-based programs that are evidence-based, that really are targeted towards dealing with youth of this age, we talk a lot about sort of, and not to in any way minimize the importance of being gender-specific and sort of, you know, trauma-informed treatment services, but it also has to be age-specific.
Services obviously that would work on our younger youth are not going to be effective in dealing with some of the older youth that we serve.
And under our Bureau of Juvenile Services, we are evaluating the services that have been provided there so that we are successful in reentering youth to the community with a goal of measuring sort of, you know, are we successfully transitioning kids to the community through support services there, skill-based training and education, and are we in fact successfully keeping them in the community and not having them reenter the juvenile or the adult criminal justice system.
So we have increased the types of services for those youth, as well as the number of slots in those, but again, sort of based on what we have found through evidence base actually works.
So I think, you know, and again, I think, when we talk about targeting the older kids, it's sort of, you know, part of it involves identifying and helping them develop skill sets to success into adulthood.
And that's wrapped around with also any mental health services that might be needed. So it's kind of a combination approach, and there's various models that we have found effective in working with them specifically.
SEN. HARP: And I guess to sort of understand what goes on now with, in terms of your kids, the kids that are under your care and custody. And what happens to them when they do go into the adult criminal justice system now?
What's your responsibility as their legal parent? Do you represent them? Do you bail them out? Do you continue to provide treatment services?
Do you provide unification services? What does the Department as the parent do once a child in their care and custody is in the adult criminal justice system?
SUSAN HAMILTON: In part, depending on the legal status of the youth at the time they turn 18, we have some youth who are--
SEN. HARP: I'm talking about 16- and 17-year-olds who are currently considered adults and will be until 2010.
SUSAN HAMILTON: We actually have, in my view at least, again, only sort of being back at the table for the last couple of weeks, have partnerships with the youth at Manson and York.
We actually have staff that we have out-posted to those facilities so that we can ensure that, not only for our own kids, but, you know, other kids that are there, that the right level of service is being provided there to hopefully prevent when they are discharged reentry into the system.
So I think part of it is understanding, first of all, working in conjunction with the staff in those facilities, but also understanding what services are available at those facilities and through the Department of Corrections so that we can provide those earlier than later to hopefully prevent, as I said, when they are discharged, reentry back into the system. So it's really a collaboration with DOC that I think is necessary for those older youth.
SEN. HARP: I know, but what is going on right now? I mean, do you bail these kids out? They're your kids. They're in your care and custody.
So how, if I were a parent and my child was 16 and got arrested as an adult in the state, then I would have a decision to make, am I going to bail he or she out, am I going to provide them with legal counsel, what am I going to do. You're their parent. What do you do now as DCF?
SUSAN HAMILTON: If a child is committed to DCF on the neglect or abuse side, those are the circumstances within which we are the child's legal guardian, as you know.
We I think have a responsibility to make sure that the child's legal interests are represented in that role as parent--
SEN. HARP: So do you intervene and do that then?
SUSAN HAMILTON: Yeah, we would, we don't, we, the agency does not provide, our legal division, for example, does not provide the legal representation for the youth, which would be a conflict.
But we do take steps to ensure that they are represented, that they, you know, have access to legal counsel.
SEN. HARP: And is that done through contract? Is it done through the public defender's office? Who does that?
SUSAN HAMILTON: It's usually if the person, if the youth is eligible for legal representation to the public defender's office, it's provided through that fashion.
Some, I don't know, I'd have to check to see how frequently we actually engage private counsel in situations like that, but primarily it's through, my understanding anyway, it's through the public defender's office that representation is provided to youth in that situation.
SEN. HARP: Okay. It sounds to me that there's a lot of work to do, even for the kids that are your kids who are 16- and 17-year-olds and get into trouble. It seems like there's some policy areas to explore and develop. That's what it sounds like to me.
SUSAN HAMILTON: I would agree.
SEN. HARP: You said on the Juvenile Juris Planning and Implementation Committee, I believe that you represented OPM on that committee. I'm told that we met for 300 hours during that time.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Oh, my.
SEN. HARP: And I went to most of those meetings, and I believe that you attended those as well. What was your responsibility as a representative to the Office of Policy and Management?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I think it was really to keep the Secretary informed about the status of the discussions where the committee was going with the proposed changes, if there were fiscal implications to the proposals, to keep him in the loop on those implications. So it was really as, you know, to serve in that capacity.
SEN. HARP: Okay. And so did you make those reports orally or did you make them in writing?
SUSAN HAMILTON: We, I think primarily orally, I would say. Yeah.
SEN. HARP: Okay. Now I want to go back to contracting. My office was informed, you say that you're moving into evidence-based contracting and evidence-based programming.
What is the process that you use to make a decision to no longer continue a certain program? How do you make the decision that it's not evidence-based?
What process do you go through to do that? And how do you determine whether or not to eliminate a program, to adjust it, and can you explain what kind of process you go through to do that?
SUSAN HAMILTON: I'm actually, as we speak, trying to get a handle on how do we do those decisions at the Department now. As some of you probably know, we as, you know, in addition to other agencies, have embedded sort of performance measures into our contracts.
It's been my experience, at least in the previous sort of work I had done at the agency, that there hadn't always been an effective way of monitoring whether or not programs were actually complying with those outcome measures, not really an effective way of measuring across program types who was meeting the measure and who wasn't.
So I need to get a handle on how we are doing that now, because I can't answer that today for you. I just can tell you that my experience had been it wasn't working well.
And while we have more I think data and information available to us, I'm not sure, I think we need to take a look at how we do make those decisions now across programs and make sure we're making the decision based on those performance-based standards rather than using the information we have to make those resources decisions, I guess I would say.
SEN. HARP: Thank you. I just want to say just generally speaking, I don't have an opportunity to either vote for you or against you. I think that it's admirable that you'd like to take on this responsibility.
I have some deep concerns about the way the Department is configured. I have had those concerns for many years now. I believe that it is a system of providing services across vast areas that is almost impossible to achieve.
And so I'm hoping that this Legislature will take another look at this department and reconfiguring it, because I don't believe that it works.
And I believe that all of the complexity that we've built into it make it almost impossible for it to work on behalf of the children of this state.
So if you're confirmed, I wish you the best of luck because our children need for you to succeed, but I think that we've given you a system that absolutely is at cross-purposes to itself.
And if you do it, you would evidence, ultimately in doing it, skills that so far no other commissioner has had. So if you are confirmed, best of luck to you, basically because we need you to be successful for our kids.
But I believe this Legislature needs to take a strong look at this department and reconfigure it because it hasn't worked for the 16 years I've been in the Legislature. My expectation is that it won't work in the future, unfortunately.
SUSAN HAMILTON: I appreciate that and obviously would be interested in sitting down with folks and participating in those discussions as they move forward.
I think we collectively have the same goal in mind in trying to improve how we deliver the services that we deliver, and to the extent that there are discussions about how to do that in a more effective way, I'm looking forward to working with you in that regard.
REP. JANOWSKI: Are you done? Thank you. Representative Graziani, followed by Representative Boukus.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you very much, Madam Chair. Good afternoon, Commissioner.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Good afternoon.
REP. GRAZIANI: I know we had the opportunity to talk last week, and you addressed my concerns quite satisfactorily, and I liked your philosophy.
But this agency, as I can elaborate what Senator Harp just said, it's so big. It's so complex. You interface with so many different types of needs, services. You interface with DMR, DSS.
You have a whole multitude of a range of needs. Just trying to get your hands around the problems, to me, I don't care who's sitting here, has an enormous, enormous problem.
By that I mean it's problems that cannot be solved given the time. I like your management of style. You use words, like in your testimony, measurable goals, benchmarking, milestones, you know, performance-based, right on down the line.
You cannot tell where you're going unless you can document and quantify those results. But my concern is there are so many different priorities that are just as important as others, I don't want to see you be in a position to fail.
Because if you have 35 or 40 pressing priorities and they just linger on and keep going and going because everybody's touching a little bit of one, we'll never get there. We'll never get there.
So that's where your management style, you lead the direction, you set the agenda for your people, and you come back to us with those milestones, whether it be your top four priorities.
And the others, yes, they're important, but you can't be all things to all people and reach things in six months or a year, because it takes resources, it takes personnel. So you have the whole game plan, which is quite an undertaking.
And the other thing I look at, how did you get here. You worked 13 years, and you didn't survive 13 years by luck or by chance. It was based on [Gap in testimony. Changing from Tape 2A to Tape 2B.]
--now I don't know how many applicants, but I'm sure when it came through the committee, the interviewing committee or the human resource committee, whatever, they sort those applications, those resumes, these are the ones that I pursue, and these are the ones that we won't, you made it.
And collectively, collectively, the people that interviewed you chose you. Now think about it. What they're doing, when they recommended you, they're putting their reputation on the line as well. It's just like the rest of us.
When we have constituents perhaps ask us, can I have a letter of recommendations for XYZ, you know, we have to think hard and long about that, because when I sign a letter of recommendation, my reputation is at stake.
And we don't, none of us here pass them out like popcorn, I'm sure. So in some cases, we have to think about it, say not at this particular time. You know the point I'm driving at.
You have such an enormous task ahead of you, and it's incumbent upon this Legislator to give you the tools, the resources to do that, because lip service will not get us there.
And it'll be borne out by your benchmarking on how we're progressing. Gaps, usually gaps means resources. How are you going to accomplish that? How are you going to get from A to Z if we can't give you the resources? You don't have the manpower.
And what I was very impressed with is that you plan on meeting with the people who you work with. They're the ones that are in the trenches, hear their concerns.
And sometimes there could be an underlying theme to what the problem is, and this way you'll have a chance to address that problem. Will you make everybody happy? Absolutely not.
But you're not in the business of making people happy. It's like negotiating a deal. If both parties walk away disappointed, then you know you succeeded.
One other thing. Just let me say this. I admire you taking the step forward. You have the expertise. You have the managerial skills to do it.
But more importantly, I've heard you use the word time and time again, it's the best interest of the child, and that's what it's about. And thank you very much, and I look forward to voting for you.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Thank you very much. I really appreciate your comments. Thank you.
REP. JANOWSKI: Representative Boukus.
REP. BOUKUS: Thank you, Madam Chair, and I really shouldn't follow Representative Graziani because he was just wonderful. But I will--
REP. GRAZIANI: [inaudible - microphone not on]
REP. BOUKUS: It is now formally on record. But I will say that I have to agree with this entire Committee and especially Senator Harp when she recently just said we need you to be successful.
The children of the State of Connecticut need you to be successful. It's a daunting job, I know. But you've mentioned words like collaboration, communication, whether it be good or not too good.
I don't think you used this word, but I think the intent was there, follow-up, how important it is to keep going and making sure, especially with the youth that we're dealing with in many cases.
I think we have to develop more in the mentoring programs and inside and outside the Department.
And I'd like to also suggest, maybe it has happened, I just haven't been there, but you need to open some of the facilities for us to visit, for the Legislators to visit to see what's going on, even just to have that recollection of what that facility is providing or to have access to young people, to talk to them about what they think should be happening.
I've always been amazed at what young people can offer us. Your testimony here this morning these two and a half hours has been excellent in providing me with more insight as to what you have in front of you in the years to come, the various agencies and the many, many people out there.
But you referenced a newspaper article, and I happen to live in that area where the newspaper article was printed.
And one of the things I remember in that article, where there were in excess of 500-some-odd students from the DCF program that are now attending two-year or four-year colleges.
The young people that were written about, the one thing that I was always happy to hear, and no matter what profession you're in, is that this young person had the ability to stay with a caseworker for more than one year, four, five years.
And the final thing that she said is, when I get out of college, I want to come back to DCF and work in DCF. And I think that is so important and a reflection of, maybe it's only a small reflection, but maybe it's an enormous reflection we just don't hear about.
So reconfiguration, all of these things we need to address outside this forum, it can't stop here, this Committee meeting. And if we can help you in any way, please let us know, and I wish you the very best and success.
And I hope that it becomes a very fascinating position for you and one in which the children will be the ones that benefit from it. And if there's anything that I can do personally, I'm offering that service.
So Madam Commissioner, congratulations if you should be confirmed. Thank you. Was that short enough, Madam Chair?
REP. JANOWSKI: Very good. You get a gold star. We will now go to the portion of the meeting where I will open it up to questions from Committee Chairs.
We have three Chairs here. And hopefully we will go to the public testimony very shortly, and I'd like to start with Senator Meyer from the Children's Committee.
SEN. MEYER: Thank you, Madam Chairman. Commissioner, it's nice to see you again. I enjoyed our visit several weeks ago. I think the visit was actually the very day you were first nominated by Governor Rell.
SUSAN HAMILTON: I think you're right. Thank you, Senator.
SEN. MEYER: Just a comment on your testimony today. I, the Children's Committee, we have several Members here today. The House Chair is here, Faith McMahon. The Ranking Member is here, Anne Ruwet. Senator Harp is a Member of the Children's Committee.
The Children's Committee is the repository of lots of concerns around the state about DCF, and we enjoyed a good communication relationship with Darlene Dunbar, and we look forward to having that with you if you're confirmed.
One sort of comment I would make as I heard your testimony this morning would be don't be afraid about making management changes. Don't just look at filling vacancies.
But this is an agency that is in, it's perceived to be in some disarray. Management, changes in management structure, even changes in the management itself could be very positive for it, and I urge you to really keep an open mind as you go forward with that.
You and I talked briefly about the fact that the Program Review and Investigations Committee of the General Assembly is going to be taking another look at the agency and with respect to possible restructuring, strengthening, streamlining, making more efficient.
And I thank you for your offer to cooperate with that study because that's going to be very important for the future.
I just want to ask you a couple of questions. First of all, I was given the other day a request for a proposal by DCF that surprised me.
It's a recent RFP, as we call it, that asks for proposals concerning the creation of a residential treatment center for youth with mental retardation or development disabilities or other behavioral problems.
And it's a fairly large treatment center of about 65 beds. And this is coming at the same time that DCF advised me a month ago, through Brian Mattiello and Dr. Mendelson, Peter Mendelson, that you were closing down DCF's relationship with Lake Grove in Durham, which is a very comparable facility, as I view it, to this request for proposal that DCF has just issued.
And as I talked to Deputy Commissioner Mattiello and Acting Commissioner at that time Mattiello and Dr. Mendelson, they told me that they were closing down DCF's relationship with Lake Grove because they wanted to downsize, they wanted to have more of a group home, smaller group home kind of approach.
This looks to me as though it's going just in the opposite direction, and I wondered if you'd been part of the dialogue about this and what is the message that DCF is giving with respect to this new request for proposal as against closing down Lake Grove.
SUSAN HAMILTON: I have not seen that particular RFP. I can support the information that Brian Mattiello and perhaps Peter Mendelson had shared with you about our intent to move to smaller, more community-based programs for the youth that we're serving.
So I really would have to go back to take a look at what that program was, what need that program was designed to meet. But I'd be happy to set up some time to talk with you more about that philosophy.
I am familiar with our decision to discontinue admitting DCF children to the Lake Grove program, and we can certainly speak to that as well.
So I'd be happy to have that discussion with you, because our philosophy, and that may be a necessary placement resource depending on the whole array that we're looking to create in the community.
But it, you know, it has to be coupled with, again, our efforts to try to develop smaller programs. But I need to take a look at that and maybe perhaps do a follow-up discussion with you and the staff involved in that RFP.
SEN. MEYER: Okay. That would be helpful. I want to tell you that dozens of staff at Lake Grove have called my office this week and have asked me to meet with them this afternoon because they are aware of this.
It looks inconsistent with the direction that Brian Mattiello and Dr. Mendelson advised, and they've asked to meet with me this afternoon in Durham to talk about why they're being fired.
So we have a pretty immediate problem there, and I think I'm probably going to delay that meeting until I hear from you or your office and better understand it.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Okay. I think that would be helpful so we can have a full understanding of what the issues are.
SEN. MEYER: The last question I wanted to ask you relates to two institutions that are very dear to the heart of the Children's Committee, and that is Riverview Hospital and Children's Hospital and the Juvenile Training School.
We have visited those facilities. We've held actually committee meetings at those facilities.
And we have been alarmed by therapy issues there, staff and management conflicts, and also by the remarkable amount that it's costing the State of Connecticut.
I don't know if you're yet familiar with those costs, but we're talking about a low, on the lower range of $350,000 per child per year, and on the upper range, what was given to me at Riverview recently was $585,000 per child per year.
And yet with that enormous financial commitment, you know, we have had very mixed results from those two facilities. The recidivist rate at the Juvenile Training School is over 60%.
There's a real question about the program. Riverview is, you know, there's a feeling that there's a mix of the juvenile delinquent population with the mental health population. Do you have any direction with respect to either of those institutions?
SUSAN HAMILTON: As I mentioned a little bit earlier, the Riverview Hospital strategic plan that was really developed following a very comprehensive, in my view, interagency quality assurance that are review, improvement review of the facility includes some very, in my view, concrete time-limited objectives that the facility management is working on instituting and implementing throughout the facility.
I have read through the strategic plan. I think it's focused. I think it's measurable. I think it identifies and targets the areas that came out in that review, particularly with regards to the concerns around sort of the climate at the facility, the sort of supervision and training and the need to have sort of consistency across units in the way services are provided to the youth that are there and the children that are there.
So I am confident that we're moving forward in the right direction to address the Riverview concerns.
I do welcome, you know, the continued involvement of, with the Legislature on sort of, you know, continuing to take a look at that and, you know, monitoring that, making sure we're moving in the right direction.
So I'm, I think we're doing some good work there in addressing those concerns. Similarly, I think with regards to the Training School, one of the issues that we've talked about in various ways this morning is the need to make sure that we have the right kids in the right placement settings.
I think because we are developing more targeted appropriate community-based services for youth, there will be fewer kids that are going to need that level of security to meet their needs.
We do have a relatively new bureau chief over juvenile services who is, brings a wealth of experience.
He has been an asset, a fabulous asset to the agency since he came on board, lots of experience in working directly with these youth in various capacities in his career.
And he, in the short time that he's been here, is actually, in my view, made some strides, great strides in changing some of the philosophies and sort of the atmosphere at that facility.
So I think under his leadership that we will see improvements there as well. But again, we look forward to, you know, working with you on that.
SEN. MEYER: Okay. Thank you, Commissioner. And I just want to say in closing that upon your confirmation, the Children's Committee really looks forward to being your partner for the children of Connecticut, your rooter, and occasionally your constructive critic.
SUSAN HAMILTON: I appreciate that, and I look forward to that opportunity as well.
SEN. MEYER: Thank you, Madam Chairman.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. Representative Ruwet.
REP. RUWET: Thank you, Madam Chair, and welcome. I look around the room at all the children and I really want to see the notes that they've taken over the last few hours and, you know, wonder what the heck we're doing here.
But you are right now going forward with hopeful confirmation from the Legislature for one of the largest jobs, I think, you know, in state agency business.
I look at it sort of a wheel with many, many spokes on it, and I think was mentioned earlier, we'll be actually getting opinions from the Child Advocate's Office, the Commission on Children, the Children's Trust Fund, the Probate Court, the Victim's Advocate, DCF, DMR, DMHAS, Judicial, Department of Ed, and ultimately, your decision in terms of what's best for children in the State of Connecticut, particularly in protecting those children.
So I'm not going to be repetitive certainly as a part of the Children's Committee and certainly look forward to working with you.
I do want to make one plug, and that is for foster and adoptive care. We have very little resources within the Department that actually focus on that.
We've passed some good legislation I think this year that's going to hopefully expedite children out of the foster care system and into adoption, and I think the Department has done, with very few resources, an excellent job in that area.
But we need to do better. We cannot have children in those, in the foster care system for seven to eight years. It's, in my opinion, horrific that our state doesn't do better in that.
And it does mean some difficult decisions. The reunification, of which you said is a priority, there are times in fact that I might challenge you on that when in fact siblings are sent back to abusive situations in their normal family.
Community-based services, I'm all for it. The challenge that you have is our communities, the 169 municipalities within the State of Connecticut.
When you have therapeutic group homes or smaller living environments for children that you're obligated to protect, within those communities, the resources are limited.
The communication with hospitals in terms of the intermittent needs that they might need for psychiatric care, that has to improve in preparation for the siting of those homes. It can just be the neighborhood.
It needs to be the hospitals in particular, knowing that most children that are placed in those homes need extensive psychiatric support, of which sometimes the provider is not able to give.
I look forward to working with you. Did I do it quick enough, Madam Chair? And I appreciate your interest in serving in this position, God willing.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Thank you.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. Representative McMahon.
REP. MCMAHON: Thank you. I too want to join my colleagues in thanking you for your service and welcoming you in your new position.
I guess I'm very proud to be in this position now because this year, along with Representative Amann, our House Speaker, and Senator Williams, we have begun a very preventative program.
We're doing some landmark work in healthcare for children's healthcare and prevention. And I would very much like to work with you on prevention to help children before they become involved in the DCF system.
So once again, you have an awesome job ahead of you, and I congratulate you and really open my office and my heart to getting the work accomplished.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Thank you. And I look forward to working with you as well. I appreciate your comments, particularly on the prevention, the importance of prevention.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. Any other questions from Committee Members before we go to the public segment of the testimony? Seeing none, I do have one final question for you.
And I would ask you to stay in case questions do come up during the public segment of it. I would like to make a final comment before we go to the public testimony, and that is that, first of all, I thank you for answering a lot of the questions that were brought to my attention both in my office and here.
And I appreciate and agree with a lot of the comments that were made by Senator Williams with regard to things that have happened in the past.
That, however, was a very dysfunctional, what I consider a dysfunctional administration at the time, and it would not be, I would not find it difficult to believe that certain information that should have gone to the attention of department heads and so forth probably did not.
And so I do want to basically comment that I am impressed with your approach to a collaborative, creating a collaborative atmosphere and your focus on accountability.
And as Senator Harp has indicated, you need to be successful. It's important for the children. And should you be, should your nomination be accepted, I do wish you my best and will provide my support.
Thank you. And with that, Senator, did you have any other comments, Senator Looney, before I open it up to the public?
SEN. LOONEY: Yes, just briefly. Thank you, Commissioner, for your thorough presentation here today and certainly wish you well in what is a very challenging assignment.
Just one thing following up briefly on Senator Harp's question regarding direction between DCF and the court system especially, where you have the public defender's office often representing 16- and 17-year-old DCF clients.
I had heard recently through some of the public defender's offices that in some cases there's difficulty getting a DCF representative to show up in court in those cases, because obviously those cases cannot go forward without a parent representative or someone designated in that capacity for the 16- and 17-year-olds.
So I'd appreciate your looking into that issue of interaction, because in most cases, as you said, the DCF clients or DCF wards are in fact represented by the public defender's office in those situations. And I think that would help facilitate that representation in those cases.
SUSAN HAMILTON: I will look into that for you. Thank you.
SEN. LOONEY: Again, thank you, Commissioner.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Thank you.
REP. JANOWSKI: One final question. And we ask this of all our nominees, and that is, is there anything in your background that could prove embarrassing to the Governor, yourself, Members of the General Assembly or this Body?
SUSAN HAMILTON: No, there is not.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you very much.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Can I make one final comment? I wanted to actually acknowledge all of the kids who sat here for this long and how well they did, and I just wanted to recognize them.
I don't know if my kids, I have a 12-year-old and a 9-year-old, and I'm not sure that they would have been as well behaved. So thank you.
REP. JANOWSKI: I would say that's very much appreciated because my kids are older and they still make more noise than these kids have made, so they're very well behaved.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Due to home-school rearing.
REP. JANOWSKI: Very good. And with that, I would like to open the public segment of the testimony and would like to call on Bob Genuario, the Secretary of OPM.
And I would also comment that Members are given about three minutes with regard to their testimony. But if they can just capture instead of reading and reduce it, that would be wonderful.
This way everybody can have an opportunity to comment before we need to close the public hearing. Good afternoon.
SEC. ROBERT GENUARIO: Thank you, Chairman Janowski.
REP. JANOWSKI: Please raise your right hand. Do you swear to tell the truth, nothing but the truth, so help you God?
SEC. ROBERT GENUARIO: I do.
REP. JANOWSKI: Very good. Thank you.
SEC. ROBERT GENUARIO: Thank you, Chairman Janowski and Chairman Looney and Members of the Committee. My name is Robert Genuario. I am the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management.
You have my written testimony, and in deference to the time constraints, I will, of course, not read it.
I've gotten to know Sue Hamilton fairly well over the last 18 months as she undertook her responsibilities as an Undersecretary in the Office of Policy and Management, and I'd like to spend my time with you this morning or this afternoon talking about Sue Hamilton the person.
You have her resume. You've heard her testimony. You know that she has insights and knowledge concerning the Department and the abilities that she has.
In the 18 months that I've had the pleasure to work with Sue, I have to tell you that she brings a wonderful array of personal qualities to any task that she performs.
She is honest. She is thorough. She sees issues and picks up on issues more quickly than most. She brings a high degree of intelligence to the issues she has to address.
But more than that, she brings a certain intensity that may well not appear at first blush. She is very intense about what she does. She's very thorough. She works long hours and is insistent upon getting the job done right.
Those qualities will serve her well. Some have asked about her managerial experience, and I can appreciate those questions.
While she did not manage the Office of Policy and Management, she did manage our legislative agenda. She had a number of people reporting to her, but as you know, at the end of Session, there are a variety of issues and a variety of things that need to be done.
And to say efforts need to be juggled and decisions have to be made about the priority of importance, the priority and importance of certain issues, come at us at the Office of Policy and Management as they do to all of you very, very quickly.
We have that at two ends of the spectrum. We have that at January and February when we're preparing the Governor's proposals, and then we have it at the end when we are helping to shepherd them through the final month of Legislative Session.
And dealing with that and managing that array of issues was something that fell on Sue Hamilton's plate. And in my view, she did a wonderful job in the Sessions that she worked at the office and the Sessions that she worked at the office in doing that.
I'm going to stop there, and I'd be happy to answer any questions about Sue and her performance, but as I said, I was privileged to work with her, to learn from her, to appreciate the sincerity with which she approaches issues and particularly those involving Human Services.
And I think she'll be a great Commissioner. I hope that you will see it through to her approval.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. Any questions from Committee Members? Seeing none, thank you very much.
The next speaker is Bill Carbone, executive director of Support Services, Judicial Branch. Can you please raise your right hand? Do you swear to tell the truth, nothing but the truth?
DIR. WILLIAM CARBONE: I do.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you very much. You may proceed.
DIR. WILLIAM CARBONE: Good afternoon. It's my pleasure to be here today. As you can imagine, the cases within the court system and the cases of DCF intersect every day.
The children who are in DCF are often also children who are part of our juvenile probation system, our juvenile detention centers. They're also the children of whose parents often are in our family relations cases and often on our adult probation caseloads.
For this reason, we have a keen interest in who is Commissioner because that person truthfully sets the tone for how the rest of the Department relates to the courts. And we need someone whose tone will be partnership and collaboration.
I can say to you that I have known Sue Hamilton well for the last three years. I've worked with her on the Juvenile Jurisdiction Committee, on the Family With Service Needs Committee, and most importantly, on the joint strategic plan between the Branch and DCF.
I always found her to be creative, to be resourceful, and to be focused. And I know that she will be a good Commissioner.
My other reason for being here today is that I did serve on the interview panel that interviewed the three final candidates for the DCF Commissioner's job, and it was my conclusion at the end of the interviews that she should be the person who is recommended to Governor Rell.
And I will tell you that my reasoning rested in three or four different areas. First, I thought it was valuable and an asset to have been an insider in Connecticut.
To have brought an outside person in for this job would take, and I've had experience with commissioners who come from out of state.
There is a learning curve to learn who's who both within the Department, within the Legislative, within the Judicial Branch, within the private agencies.
She doesn't need any on-the-job training. She already knows who's who. Secondly, I think it's a real asset to take someone who's been a social worker in the trenches of DCF, a supervisor of a local office, and have that person rise to the top of the Department.
I think it's a great way to build morale among the employees and to build support ultimately for the agency's policies and initiatives.
My main reason for supporting her, however, was that I think she shares the vision that we have in the Judicial Department for what needs to be done.
The need for improvement in the community mental health system so that we do not have children waiting in detention for Riverview, for example, the need to deal with the issues of the future of CJTS, the need that I think is very important for us to promote among all of our field staff, the importance of working together, whether the child is on probation but also in the DCF abuse and neglect system, the need for their social workers and our employees to work together on the family that they have in common and to bring the resources of both agencies together.
So she shares our view that we have to cut across the different silos both within DCF, as well as among the different agencies of state government and foster a climate where our staff look creatively at this family that many agencies are trying to improve.
The final reason is her commitment to outcome measures and to accountability and to taking all the different aspects of DCF and converting them to both process and performance outcomes so that we can be sure we're getting the best services for the money that is being spent.
So having sat through the interviews and having heard her answers, it was my strong conclusion that she should be the candidate recommended to Governor Rell. And I look forward, on behalf of the Judicial Branch, to working with her as Commissioner.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. Any questions from Committee Members? Senator Looney.
SEN. LOONEY: Thank you, Madam Chair. Welcome, Bill. I just wanted to welcome Mr. Carbone. We've been friends for many years, grew up in the same neighborhood in New Haven.
And his twin brother was my predecessor as State Representative at the start of our political careers. I just, just one question, Bill. Who were the other members, if you recall, of the interview panel?
DIR. WILLIAM CARBONE: Commissioner Kirk and the Governor's Chief of Staff.
SEN. LOONEY: Good. Well, thank you very much, and again, thanks so much for being with us today.
DIR. WILLIAM CARBONE: Thank you, Senator.
REP. JANOWSKI: Senator Harp.
SEN. HARP: Thank you. I guess we're all really proud of you. You're my constituent. And yet I think the thing that makes me most proud of you is that you do an excellent job at CSSD.
And I've got to say that, in your sort of constellation of what it is that Ms. Hamilton brought to the table, I thought that it was really frankly what really needs to be the vision of the director herself.
So, and I'm somewhat troubled by that, but I guess the question that I asked around the adult criminal justice system, which you largely in terms of services provide services to.
Is it your sense that we can improve upon the relationship between DCF and the kinds of, their sense of what their responsibility is for providing services to those children who are in their care and custody but also in the adult criminal justice system.
I guess I've, I sense that there are gaps here, that, at least in the interim, until we raise the age and even beyond that, need to be met. Is it your sense that there are gaps or do you think that we're doing a good job?
DIR. WILLIAM CARBONE: Oh, no. I think there are definitely gaps, and I'm convinced that she also, Commissioner Hamilton recognizes that there are gaps on which we need to work together.
I will just give you this example. In the juvenile system we now have DCF workers in all of our detention centers, and we have them in all of the courts.
So where we have child protection cases that intersect with delinquency and status offender cases, we now have points persons that can bring together the social workers and the officers so that we get the best outcomes in terms of the casework.
Similarly, we need to work on the children who are, who will be in juvenile court in a couple of years, once the age jurisdiction takes place.
She also shares very importantly the need for us to bring education to the table. We continue to find academic failure as the most common denominator among our juvenile offenders, and most of these kids are not going to school.
They may have dropped out. They may just have stopped going. They may not be getting encouraged to go.
So we know the impact in the adult criminal system, when someone doesn't have a high school diploma and we know the effect of that on employment, the vast majority of people who start adult probation in Connecticut start unemployed.
So we need to bring education to the table so that they can think more creatively about how to handle these difficult youngsters who come into the juvenile system. There are many gaps, and I'm convinced we can work together on them.
SEN. HARP: And I guess, is there a way then for the two departments to figure out who needs to be responsible for assessing the adolescent and then responsible for putting into place the services that need to go there?
I mean, because I can see departments, and I know this would never happen in Connecticut, but sort of arguing over who ought to provide what, and your sense is that the working relationship, the memorandums of understanding are there to figure out which department ought to do what on behalf of these kids that seem to have a dual jurisdiction.
DIR. WILLIAM CARBONE: Yes, I think the statutes are in place, the memorandums of agreement are in place. We are steadily making more and more progress at defining who does what and making sure there isn't duplication.
We are making significant progress, and I know that will continue with Sue Hamilton as Commissioner.
SEN. HARP: And I guess I didn't say it at the time, but I'm a little disturbed that the DCF kids ultimately, I'm sorry, it's almost 1:00, I'll mention it later, but I think that public defenders, maybe there should be another way to handle these kids besides public defenders. Thank you.
REP. JANOWSKI: Any other questions? Seeing none, thank you very much.
DIR. WILLIAM CARBONE: Thank you.
REP. JANOWSKI: The next person listed on the public list is Paul Chill, dean of UConn Law. Can you please raise your right hand? Do you swear to tell the truth, nothing but the truth?
PAUL CHILL: I do.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you very much.
PAUL CHILL: Thank you, Madam Chairman. I would just note for the record that thankfully I am not the dean of UConn Law School. I am the associate dean of UConn Law School. I need to find that person.
I'm also a member of the State Commission on Child Protection, and I would also note that I happen to be the proud parent of four home-schooled children, although I'm here today neither in any official capacity nor in my capacity as a parent, but in a private capacity to urge you to confirm Sue Hamilton as DCF Commissioner.
I've known Sue since 1991 when she was a student in my clinical program during her third year of law school. She was pursuing dual degrees in law and social work and was an exceptional student, bright, poised beyond her years and a fast learner.
Her client's case, which happened to be a child protection matter brought by what was then DCYS wound up going to trial late in the year. Sue's preparation for and conduct of that trial vaulted her into my own personal record book.
She demonstrated a level of determination and focus under pressure both in preparing for trial and in the courtroom that I've seldom seen in experienced lawyers, let alone in law students.
Her overall performance in the clinic so impressed me that a year later, when she decided she'd had enough of private law practice and applied to become a DCYS social worker, I wrote in a reference letter that I was, quote, absolutely confident that if Sue chose to, she would advance quickly through the ranks and become Deputy Commissioner or higher someday, unquote.
Nothing has happened in the last 15 years to change my view that that would be a very good thing.
Clearly managing an agency of the size, complexity and chronic dysfunction of DCF will be challenging for Sue. She does not bring a proven track record in that regard.
But Connecticut has not always done so well in the past when bringing in outsiders with supposedly proven track records to manage DCF.
What worked well in one state may not work well in another, and with hindsight, what appeared to have worked well in one place may not really have worked at all.
Furthermore, I believe it is folly to think that experience managing a smaller, simpler public or private agency necessarily prepares someone to run an agency like DCF that is beset with an indeed literally built upon structural contradictions.
What Sue Hamilton does bring, as you have already heard, is a deep top-to-bottom knowledge of the agency, a non-ideological, pragmatic and open-minded approach to solving problems and a sincere commitment to improving the safety and welfare of children.
I say this as someone who has represented parents in child protection cases for nearly 20 years, both in garden variety trial court matters as well as major appellate and class-action litigation resulting in significant law reform.
I have the highest regard for Sue's intelligence, integrity, and humanity. As the saying goes, the devil you know may be better than the devil you don't know.
In the world of child welfare, where history demonstrates that great harm can often result from misguided efforts to do good, doing no harm can be quite an accomplishment.
Indeed, doing no harm is the ethical precept that guides the social work profession. And if Sue Hamilton can accomplish that, she will have fulfilled a lofty aspiration for any child protection agency. I thank you for your time and attention.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. I just want to make a comment that when you signed up your name was very familiar to me, and the reason for that is--
DIR. WILLIAM CARBONE: Do I need counsel, Madam Chairman?
REP. JANOWSKI: No. I had one or two constituents in my district who submitted your name to me as a very qualified individual to be appointed to a future commission, board or state appointment.
So your name and your resume has been submitted, whether you know it or not. It's in the file somewhere.
DIR. WILLIAM CARBONE: I think I should thank you.
REP. JANOWSKI: Any other comments or questions? Yes.
SEN. LOONEY: Yes, thank you, Madam Chair. I just wanted to welcome Dean Chill, who was my classmate at UConn Law School, and you've done great work in the last 22 years, Paul, both, first in running the clinic as an advocate and now as a dean at the Law School. So good to see you today.
DIR. WILLIAM CARBONE: Thank you, Sir.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. The next nominee, or the next person to, no, he's already been nominated and he's all set. Mike Starkowski.
COMM. MICHAEL STARKOWSKI: I decline the nomination.
REP. JANOWSKI: Mike Starkowski, Commissioner of DSS. Please raise your right hand. Do you swear to tell the truth, nothing but the truth, so help you God?
COMM. MICHAEL STARKOWSKI: I do.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you.
COMM. MICHAEL STARKOWSKI: Thank you for being here today, for letting me be here today to testify in support of Governor Rell's nomination of Susan Hamilton for the Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families.
I did hand in written testimony, but I think I'll just say a couple of off-the-cuff remarks instead.
I've listened to most of the testimony today. I've worked with Susan in a number of different arenas throughout the last 12 years of her career in state service.
I think she's done a fantastic job. I think she's very conscientious. I think Bob Genuario described her without using the word workaholic, but she is a workaholic.
She is an individual that, and I take pride in being the same sometimes, you wouldn't be surprised if you got an e-mail from her at 10:00 at night or you got a response or a phone call at 10:00 at night to try to resolve an issue.
She's an individual who really has children's interest at heart. When she was nominated by the Governor, she put a call into me and we've already had a meeting that lasted quite a few hours to talk about our relationship, to talk about the common goals we have, to talk about enhancing the relationship and the services we provide to the kids in the State of Connecticut.
I think she's very qualified for the job. It's a job that there's not a lot of people who would like to be put in that position, as far as I can tell.
It's probably the hardest job in the State of Connecticut. I applaud her for accepting the nomination. I think she'll be a great Commissioner, and I look forward to working with her to make sure that we take care of the children's interests in the State of Connecticut.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. Thank you for being so brief. I do want to publicly thank you for coming out to Vernon recently to speak with, on senior issues.
You were very effective and certainly you made my job a lot easier, so thank you very much. Any other comments or questions from Committee Members? Seeing none, thank you.
The, before I call the next person, I do want to mention that Tom Kirk, Commissioner of DMHAS, had been here but had to leave in support of Susan Hamilton. And with that, I will go to the next member of the public, Abelardo Arias, attorney.
ABELARDO ARIAS: Good morning, Members of the Committee. Good afternoon. Do I need to be sworn in?
REP. JANOWSKI: We generally do that for staff and--
ABELARDO ARIAS: No problem. Good morning. I'm Attorney Abelardo J. Arias. I'm a member of the public. I respectfully ask the Committee to not approve Susan Hamilton as DCF Commissioner.
Some of you might recognize me. I worked as an intern in the Governor's Legislative Office and later as an associate in the legal office.
I now manage my own law firm in Hamden. I'm proud to be a business owner and a member of the greater New Haven community. I also assist with the Democratic Freedom Caucus, which advocates civil liberties and social responsibility.
I must come before you today not just as an attorney and an activist but as a husband and a parent of four young children. My wife, Michelle, and I educate our boys in the context of our home, our friends, and our multicultural neighborhood.
We sincerely believe that parent-led education is the best option for our children. I do have grave concerns about Ms. Hamilton's recent record, despite the very positive testimony that you heard today.
I believe that record shows that she does fail to uphold Connecticut law when it comes to home schooling. There are currently families that are under investigation, I believe unlawfully.
She fails to hold accountable those school districts or other individuals who knowingly make false reports of truancy and educational neglect against home-schoolers.
DCF should focus its very generous resources on real child abuse. It should not harass law-abiding families who choose a different educational path.
Some of you saw this year's televised National Spelling Bee contest on the television, and we had a local Connecticut spelling bee hero from Avon.
And unfortunately, I can only conclude that Ms. Hamilton might believe that home-schoolers who leave government schools are actually truants. Such a perspective to fighting real child abuse is unwarranted and it's unlawful.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled consistently over the last 90 years that parents have a fundamental constitutional right to control the education of their children. And for decades in this state [Gap in testimony. Changing from Tape 2B to Tape 3A.]
--recreation, college dream or successful careers. Unfortunately, as of today's date, Ms. Hamilton has not responded to the advocates of home-schooling families. I believe she has failed to redress the grievances of your home-schooling constituents, including myself and my children.
As an attorney and a home-schooling parent, I believe in upholding the law. Therefore, I respectfully and sincerely oppose Ms. Hamilton's confirmation.
I urge the Committee or any other committees to investigate the recent questionable actions of DCF under her temporary watch, as well as any departmental written policies repugnant to state law and our constitutional rights. Thank you.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. Any questions or comments? Representative Hamzy.
REP. HAMZY: Thank you, Madam Chair. I wasn't here for the beginning of the hearing because I, my full-time job interfered and I was in court in New Haven.
Was there testimony earlier from the nominee that she, that indicated that she does not support your right to home school your children?
ABELARDO ARIAS: Actually, Representative, the testimony that I heard from Ms. Hamilton this morning was the opposite.
Her language was specifically that home schooling is legal and that the Department of Children and Families is going to review its policies to make sure that it upholds the law. And that is very positive testimony, and I personally appreciate that.
However, as a home-schooling parent who believes that parenting is the hardest job in the State of Connecticut, not being the commissioner of an agency, I believe that I must be in a position to presently oppose her nomination. But to answer your question, she did use language that was very positive.
REP. JANOWSKI: If I can interject, there's a number of people here that would like to speak and probably will be speaking on the home schooling issue, and the Commissioner is here and I would like to reserve a few minutes at the end of the public testimony so that the Commissioner can respond and reiterate what she has already said. Thank you. [inaudible - microphone not on]
ABELARDO ARIAS: Thank you for your time.
REP. JANOWSKI: The next speaker is, I believe I have this right, Deborah Stevenson. Please proceed.
DEBORAH STEVENSON: Good afternoon. My name is Deborah Stevenson. I am an executive director of National Home Education Legal Defense. I also have a private practice in Southbury where I work on education and appellate cases.
I'm here today to speak against the nomination of Susan Hamilton as Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families.
I want you to know that I struggled with this decision to speak out against Ms. Hamilton today, mainly because yesterday I was confronted by friends of Ms. Hamilton's who urged me not to do so.
The implication was that if we spoke out against this nomination, we may regret doing so because Ms. Hamilton or others in government may not be inclined to assist us in the future.
Perhaps they're right. Perhaps this is not the politically astute way of doing things. But it is an honest way. It is the right way, in my opinion.
It's the purpose of this hearing to hear all points of view, and I bring you one point of view. I speak out because the parents I represent have asked me to do so. They need leadership within our government. We all need leadership in our government.
They need people who are not afraid to stand up and to act when wrongdoing is brought to their attention. We need leaders who are willing to do the right thing, and we need leaders who will actually lead.
I hope we have such leadership now and in the future, but I fear that Ms. Hamilton will not bring us that kind of leadership. I fear that for a couple of reasons.
One, I have been doing this for a long time, and I have brought policy changes to DCF officials for a number of years.
One year I brought it, in 2004, and I believe that was the time when Ms. Hamilton was in charge of the legal affairs department within DCF. We had absolutely no response at that time.
I had an opportunity a couple of weeks ago to meet with Attorney Hamilton, thanks to the initiation of the meeting by Governor Rell's office.
While I was hopeful that the meeting would result in action by the new Commissioner to resolve what we have seen as a growing problem of false complaints filed against parents who withdraw their children from public school to home school, regrettably, I was disappointed with the outcome of that meeting.
At that meeting, we brought documentation to the Commissioner to show that in the past three months alone more than 25 families were reported or threatened to be reported to DCF after withdrawing their children from public school to home school.
In those instances, school officials made those reports improperly and falsely. Also in many of those instances, DCF accepted the complaint before checking the accuracy of the facts relating to the allegation or sent social workers to the family's home who berated parents into compliance with demands of the public school officials, demands with which the parents had a legal right to refuse to comply.
The social workers threatened if these demands were not complied with, DCF would take further steps, leading to the loss of custody of their children.
While no one can be expected to resolve severe systemic problems at one meeting, I certainly expected the Commissioner to be open-minded, to listen to what the problem was, to carefully review documents provided to her, to acknowledge receipt of documents sent to her following the meeting, to carefully, thoroughly and objectively investigate allegations of wrongdoing brought to her attention, to respond in some fashion to those who brought the allegations to her attention in the timeframe she promised to respond, and to act accordingly to end any wrongdoing uncovered.
I'm disappointed to say that Ms. Hamilton did none of these things. In fact, I was extremely disappointed to hear at that meeting, to hear her say that DCF routinely does not follow through on prosecuting anyone who files a false complaint with DCF.
After the meeting, Ms. Hamilton acknowledged, I was also disappointed to say that after the meeting, I have not had an acknowledgement of receipt of any of the documents that I sent to her, and she has otherwise not responded to indicate what if anything she as Commissioner will do to investigate or to resolve the issues brought to her attention. The first time I heard any response was at today's hearing.
I only have one more sentence. Well, if Attorney Hamilton is confirmed at DCF Commissioner, it is my hope that she will rise to the occasion and assume her duties to root out any wrongdoing in that agency.
But at this particular moment, I'm afraid I do not have confidence that this will happen, and therefore, I respectfully request that you vote against her confirmation. Thank you.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. Any questions or comments? Seeing none, the next speaker is Judy Aron, parent.
JUDY ARON: Good afternoon. It's been a long morning. Anyway, good morning. My name is Judy Aron. I'm research director of National Home Education Legal Defense.
I successful home-schooled my three children through K to 12. One is graduated from Boston University and currently works in New Haven as a transportation analyst.
One is entering his junior year at Wentworth Institute of Technology studying computer networking, and my youngest is 15, who recently made the dean's list at Tunxis Community College.
I'm here today to speak against the nomination, regrettably, of Susan Hamilton as Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families.
On June 11, I initially met with Susan Hamilton as a result of a meeting that was arranged by Governor Rell's office in conjunction with Representative O'Neill's office, probably as a result of some recent unflattering press that the DCF has received.
[inaudible] of whom I belong, had initially been trying to get some problems resolved through Josh Holroyd of DCF a few months ago, as well as with Representative O'Neill's office.
Those problems had to do with the fact that there's been an ongoing issue of school superintendents and administrators reporting families to DCF after those families had withdrawn from school in order to home school their children.
And we made specific recommendations to DCF about how they could make some policy changes to stop the practice of the Department of Education and their school administrators using DCF as an attack dog on innocent families.
The false and purposeful referrals have caused families much strife, upset and financial consequences, and they have also caused unnecessary cost and time and use of human resources on the part of DCF to go on wild goose chases, all at the behest of the school superintendents who wish to scare and coerce parents into signing forms or submitted to some other demands which have no basis in statute.
When I attended this meeting with Ms. Hamilton, I was so looking forward to meeting someone who could take action, see that there was an obvious problem, and then be willing to act swiftly to resolve the issue.
We even gave her the policy changes to apply to her agency that would have helped fix the problem. All she said was that she would review them and get back to us.
To say that I was disappointed with the outcome of that meeting is an understatement. She seemed unwilling to even set a time and date for a response to us.
Getting her to commit to a timeframe to address this problem of families who are currently being threatened with removal of their children was like pulling teeth.
Unfortunately, I also found her to be a bit condescending and aloof, and I basically felt like she didn't want to deal with this issue.
She barely wanted to review the files which we wanted to give her for review. Her disinterest in the families which were being harassed by her agency was startling, but even more than that was her statement that she would not consider prosecuting school administrators that purposefully made false reports and referrals to DCF.
Ladies and gentlemen, the law clearly states that this is a crime. I do not see how this person to be named DCF agency head would think that school administrators are above the law. I was shocked.
While I recognize that this one meeting may not have fixed all of the issues, I knew in my heart that the date that she claimed to get back to us, June 25th, this past Monday, was merely lip service, which unfortunately was just more of what we have received from these agencies in the past years.
We need someone to head DCF who's willing to make the changes to fix the gigantic tidal wave of problems that have plagued this agency. One problem, our problem, is one of many.
But it not rocket science, and we even gave her the policies to implement which would make it easier to match what DCF does with what the law requires.
I have nothing personally against Ms. Hamilton. She's very likable. However, based on her attitude and lack of action even in these past two weeks, I don't see someone who is capable of making the changes that this agency so very much needs.
If she trivializes this issue and allows people to break the law without prosecution, which in turn causes her agency to waste time and taxpayer money, then you seriously need to think of another candidate.
I want to tell you too that I hesitated to come to speak today, to speak my mind, because I believe that if she is confirmed then home-schoolers may suffer retribution from her as a result.
I sincerely hope that if you confirm her that she will prove me wrong in that respect. I do not come to speak against her confirmation lightly, but I have to tell you that as a citizen and as a taxpayer and as a parent, I was not impressed by your nominee after meeting her.
All she had to do within a two-week period was to give us a phone call, let us know how she was going to deal with this current crisis affecting many innocent families, families who are in the position of losing their children. She did nothing. I respectfully ask that you consider someone else. Thank you very much.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. Any questions or comments? Representative Hamzy.
REP. HAMZY: Thank you, Madam Chair. Just a couple questions with regard to this issue. I don't, I'm not familiar with how this process works. If a parent wants to remove their child from a public school, what does that process involve?
JUDY ARON: Well, normally what happens is a parent will write a letter withdrawing their child from school and submit it to the school, and they're supposed to be withdrawn. I mean, it's the way it's always been.
But what has been happening is that schools have been keeping these kids on the enrollment lists and then calling DCF, saying that these kids are truant or saying, or reporting them as being, you know, the families are being educationally neglectful, just so, for whatever reasons.
I don't know why these school administrators are, you know, maybe they want to threaten these parents to sign certain documents or to, you know, have them reconsider and have the kids be put back into school. But clearly, these school administrators have been filing false complaints.
And the proof to that is that of the 25 or so families that have been threatened thus far this year, 23 of them, I believe, have been unsubstantiated, and many of the DCF workers come out and say, gee whiz, this was a waste of my time, why am I doing this, why am I investigating you.
REP. HAMZY: So there's a report that's made by a school administrator to DCF.
JUDY ARON: Yeah. Ms. Stevenson can clarify too.
DEBORAH STEVENSON: I'm the attorney in a lot of these--
REP. HAMZY: Can you speak into the microphone?
DEBORAH STEVENSON: Sure. I'm the attorney for a lot of these parents who have had this problem, and I'm sorry, what was your specific question again?
REP. HAMZY: Well, my question was more of the process that's involved when this, when a parent decides to remove their child and home school them.
DEBORAH STEVENSON: The process that is involved, there is a, to withdraw is one process. To home school is a separate process. To withdraw, all, there is not a specific procedure in the statutes per se to withdraw except when we come to certain age groups.
If there is a 16- or 17-year-old, the statute, who wants to leave the school system, the statute says that the parent is required to come into the school system in person to sign the paperwork to withdraw the child.
For the other age groups, there is nothing in the statutes that says the parent has to come in or do anything.
Traditionally parents have had the right to do this even verbally, but we have never recommended verbally. We always say write a letter.
We recommend sending it certified return receipt so everyone knows that everyone has received a copy. That has been the process of withdrawal.
The process for home instruction, again, is not specified in the statutes other than the statute does say, 10-184 says all parents shall bring up their child in some lawful employment and instruct them or cause them to be instructed in, and then it lists certain subjects.
That is the extent of what the statutes say with regard to home schooling, what we call home schooling today.
There is a procedure that was adopted in 1990 by the State Board of Education, which is known as the C-14 Guidelines, and that includes a notice of intent.
And that the problem, a lot of the problem has resulted from this notice of intent procedure, this suggested procedure for home instruction, is its title, and that's because under the suggested procedure for home instruction, the language exists, you must file a notice of intent or you may be considered truant.
Now neither of those phrases comports with existing law. This was a document that was adopted in 1990 as a compromise to superintendents and a compromise to home-schooling parents at the time, and it was never adopted as a statute or a regulation. Therefore, it remains a suggestion only.
But the school districts have misinterpreted that, thanks to now specific clarification from the State Department of Education, who has left it there intentionally.
And they use that to try to compel parents to do whatever the school districts wants specifically. Filing the notice of intent is one of the things, but now it is many other things that have been--
REP. JANOWSKI: If I can just interject, we're getting off the subject, only because it is an inter, multiple department agency conflict. It is being looked into.
And as I indicated before, because of time restraints that we have, I would appreciate it if we could have the other public testimony, and then I will have the Commissioner come up and answer and respond to those issues that have been raised.
REP. HAMZY: Madam Chair, I only wanted to inquire as to how this relates to DCF. The answer got off that, but I would like to know how these concerns that they're raising about the Commissioner are, impact the DCF agency. That's where I was going with this.
REP. JANOWSKI: And I appreciate that, and hopefully, I don't think it's something that can be resolved here today.
REP. HAMZY: No, I know that, but I would like at least them to answer the question, my question of why they're opposing the Commissioner of DCF when it doesn't appear to me that this has anything to do with DCF. It's more Department of Education or--
REP. JANOWSKI: Well, that's what I'm getting at. It's a multi-departmental problem, which includes some kind of misinterpretation or lack of guidance on the part of the local school systems, principals and whatever.
You know, it's a multi, it's a problem, and I think the Commissioner can elaborate on that in a few minutes.
REP. HAMZY: Well, I know, but I just wanted their, I wanted to ask their opinion--
REP. JANOWSKI: Yes. Did you get that?
REP. HAMZY: No, not yet. But that's--
REP. JANOWSKI: If it can be done in a few minutes, that would be great, because--
REP. HAMZY: I haven't asked any questions at this hearing today.
REP. JANOWSKI: I understand that. I understand that. When the Commissioner came before us earlier, that question about home schooling was out several times, and we have a Session going in shortly, so we have to make a decision on whether to continue this hearing or be able to take up all the testimony and be able to proceed. It's the choice of this Committee at some point.
REP. HAMZY: If I can ask them to be very brief as to why they--
REP. JANOWSKI: Proceed. Thank you.
REP. HAMZY: Okay.
DEBORAH STEVENSON: Very briefly--
REP. HAMZY: Very briefly.
DEBORAH STEVENSON: --the problem is the school districts report the families to DCF for either truancy or neglect, and that involves DCF and that is why we have gone to DCF repeatedly over this issue to resolve that, because these complaints are made falsely in nine times out of ten. When there is no truancy and there is no neglect, that's the problem, and DCF has not fixed it.
REP. JANOWSKI: The next person--
DEBORAH STEVENSON: Thank you, Madam Chair.
REP. JANOWSKI: You're welcome. Thank you. Is Christine Garfield. I hope I, Canfield. I hope I said that right. I guess not. Please proceed.
CHRISTINE CANFIELD: Good afternoon. Thank you. My name is Christine Canfield. My family and I live in Rocky Hill. We've been in Rocky Hill all of our lives.
I'm here to speak against the nomination of Susan Hamilton. Our daughter has numerous underlying medical conditions resulting in numerous absences from school.
We've provided documentation of her illnesses to school, requesting they be kept sealed. It's our right under HIPAA. School officials insisted that we sign medical releases allowing them access to her medical files.
We didn't do this. They reported us to DCF. We chose to withdraw our daughter from the Rocky Hill school system.
Forty-eight hours later, I had a DCF social worker standing on my door, telling me that I had been reported anonymously on a charge based of negligency due to truancy.
An investigation, if you could call it an investigation, followed, with no verification of the facts on the part of DCF. They substantiated the school's claims of educational neglect.
Since we've chose to become home-schooling parents, we have been subject to harassment, coercion, threatening, and out and out lied to.
The state prosecuted us based on one phone call made by one social worker in the school system. Up until the day that he made that call, he didn't even know who we were, myself, my child nor my husband.
DCF then took the ball and ran with it. They investigated us based on incomplete documentation. They never reviewed the elementary school policy, the town policy, State Board of Education policy or Rocky Hill Board of Education policies regarding absences. That's what we were being reported on.
We complied with all of their policies. The DCF social worker openly bullied me, threatened me, and out and out lied. He told me that by not turning over the medical records, I would be considered uncooperative and stood to lose custody of my child.
He also lied when he told me about his long-term care plan for our family. It was going to involve his intervention and once-a-week meetings.
When we got to the court level, we were told that his plan was to remove the child and commit her to DCF due to educational neglect, which was never, once again, properly investigated.
This same person stood on my doorstep and told me he was a marriage and family social worker, he was different than all the other people I might get at DCF.
His goal was to keep family units intact, as a whole, never remove children from the setting. Yet two weeks later, he was presenting to the court that this child needed to be taken away.
The timeframes, a long story very short is that our case has since been withdrawn by the state with prejudice.
My questions today, had time been permitting, how is this going to be addressed. This individual social worker's unprofessional conduct apparently is not going to be addressed, as we found out when my attorney spoke with Attorney Hamilton.
What will be done to correct the flippant ignorance of parental rights, my right to home school my child, my right not to be bullied, threatened, lied to.
Will an investigation be made into the threats that this investigator, this social worker made to me? He threatened me, told me I'd lose her if I didn't sign her medical records, sign medical release forms so that he could have her medical records.
I never signed them. They withdrew their case. He lied to me. He coerced me. He threatened me. He intimidated my family, scared my nine-year-old daughter over there to death with the fear, he'd come to the door, I need to look at you, I need to see that you're okay, I need to see that you're okay today, to a nine-year-old child.
My question is, as the new Commissioner, if Susan Hamilton is confirmed, how will these issues be addressed. Thank you.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. The next speaker is David, I hope I say this right, Preusch.
DAVID PREUSCH: Good job. Do I have to raise my hand?
REP. JANOWSKI: [inaudible - microphone not on] of the public.
DAVID PREUSCH: I see. I actually wasn't planning on speaking, but having listened to and thought about it, I decided to speak for a few minutes today.
As I said, my name is David Preusch. I've lived in this state since 1963 when I moved here when I was ten years old. I have chosen to live in Connecticut. I work in Connecticut. I have raised my family in Connecticut. I vote. I pay taxes in Connecticut.
And I have felt that this issue is important enough that I have driven all the way up from Trumbull, Connecticut, today.
Up until a year ago, the DCF was something that other people dealt with, certainly not families like us.
And I've heard people talk today about the front lines and the trenches, and I am on the front line of parenting. I am in the trenches of parenting, and I can tell you that about a year ago I had a collision with the front line of the DCF.
You know, we're all parents here probably, most of us. I have two older children who went all through the school system because they are fine. But it turns out I have a third son with a disability.
And that disability manifested itself in physical illness, started by bullying in the schools, and we all know about all of the laws that have, and policies that have been enacted for that.
However, it became evident to us that we were going to, my son was not going to be able to continue to attend school.
The school made a false report to the DCF. Prior to our pulling him out, we were not home school families at the time. They falsely reported unexcused absences. They violated their own board of education policies and state statutes regarding truancy.
What I'm here to tell you today is that our school system, and from talking to other parents, I would have to add other school systems are using the DCF as a weapon and the DCF is allowing itself to be used as a weapon, as a hammer for school systems to gain control over parents and children.
This report was accepted without any, even the simplest checking of any validity or basis for any facts of the report.
We talk about confusion in the policies, having to check the policies. Well, the DCF policies, as far as I can tell, are very, very clear regarding home schooling.
If a guy like me can in a 60-second Google search find out what the policy is that clearly refers to State Statute 10-184, I certainly would think that a DCF social worker can find the same thing.
We were, we withdrew our child on a Wednesday. We had been reported on a Tuesday, which is three days after having a meeting about special education, in clear violation of state law regarding parents' rights in special education.
The social worker came up to my door, and I heard a characterization of attack dog a few minutes ago, and I would say that that is quite apt. I was going to say female Rambo, but I think attack dog is better.
She came to our door. She grabbed my wife's hand. She shoved a pamphlet that we found out later was about parents' rights, and I learned later that that means an investigation is open.
I learned that that is a tactic that DCF investigators use. She was mean. She was angry. She said we were in big trouble. When we said that we were home schooling, she said that we needed state certification to home school and what were our qualifications.
Home-schoolers get no socialization, and we had no right to be doing that, that he should be in school. This woman came to our door having checked none of the facts, not even looked at his attendance record.
She had little knowledge, no knowledge of the most basic of educational laws, the most basic of truancy laws, and the most basic, it would seem to me, of DCF policy regarding educational neglect.
Even though we had a right to an attorney, she demanded a meeting at 12:00 the next day. Fortunately, we were able to engage an attorney in less than 24 hours.
When she was an hour late, we tracked her down at the DCF headquarters having lunch. I was told I had to give my, I had to voluntarily sign letters allowing her to speak to medical providers, which is why she wouldn't close the investigation after we showed her school documentation that every single one of his absences had been excused.
We learned later on that the school had reported that my wife was suffering from Munchausen's syndrome by proxy. Many of you probably know what that is, but it would indicate that we were poisoning our child to make him ill.
I'll try to complete this. I will say that I hear that the DCF has to, even if there's the slightest suspicion, people have to make a report and the DCF must investigate.
Well, this worker was so concerned about my son's health that it was over 30 days before she contacted any medical provider.
And when she called our pediatrician, after having written documentation of his absences, told our pediatrician that he had 54 unexcused absences, a fact that was loudly announced to us in the waiting room of the doctor's office full of people.
What I'm getting at today is that this has got to stop. This, I heard Senator Williams talking about changes being made.
I know that what I'm talking about is a very small part of a department with a $900 million budget that I hear is almost impossible to run, but I have to say that I don't know Ms. Hamilton, but I have heard say that reforms and changes have got to be made.
And I suggest that the person in this job has got to be someone who can grab this job by the throat and do something about it, because the more families I meet who are being falsely reported that DCF is being used. Yes, it is a school issue--
REP. JANOWSKI: If you could wrap it up so others can testify, that would be great.
DAVID PREUSCH: I'm wrapping it up. The DCF is an agency that is being used. It is a combination of things.
They're going, and if this is being condoned in the DCF, it is being presided over, and the status quo is just going to continue, I would have to think long and hard if I were you about confirming this applicant.
But I agree with Senator Williams that somebody has to be able to come here who has the ability and the guts to make some changes. Thank you.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. The next speaker is Donna Valliere. Is she here? Thank you.
DONNA VALLIERE: Hi. My name is Donna Valliere, and I'm a successful home-schooling mother of three beautiful children, ages ten, eight and five.
Last month I was shocked to find two DCF agents unexpectedly at my door regarding an anonymous claim made against my family. Apparently somebody reported us to the school superintendent, Paula Schwartz.
After hearing these false claims, the superintendent encouraged this person to report us to the DCF. The claim stated that my children were socially reserved, that we used the computer for educational purposes, and that my children are academically behind.
Even the agents from the DCF agree that these claims were ridiculous and were unsure how to proceed. Yet still, these claims were accepted by them and we're under a full investigation.
I informed the superintendent that I knew my legal rights according to the Statute 10-184. This seemed to anger her, and she claimed that by her actions she was only protecting my children.
The truth of it was that my children were scared and worried. The DCF agent who later came to interview my family had no true understanding of home school education.
I later received a letter from the school threatening me that if I didn't sign the notice of intent, my children would be considered truant and that the proper authorities would be notified.
I sent them a letter stating that I respectfully declined signing this notice. Since my children have never been enrolled in the school system, they could not be considered truant. I have not heard back from them.
On Monday, June 25th, I received a call from DCF stating that the claim was found to be unsubstantiated and would be dropped.
The DCF read the law, Statute 10-184, and compared it to the policy the schools had adopted, and I was told, and I quote, that I am well within my rights to home school my children without filing this notice, that I am following the Connecticut Home Schooling Law as it was written and that the schools need to become clear about the actual law, because this case was a waste of their time and money.
I would like to say that unless Susan Hamilton is going to act to stop the schools from using DCF to threaten and bully our families and unless she is willing to make serious changes to protect all home-schoolers, I do not support her nomination. Thank you.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. The next person is Anita Formichella. Just say your name when you--
ANITA FORMICHELLA: My name is Anita Formichella.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you.
ANITA FORMICHELLA: Hi. It is obvious that you have many bigger fish to fry after sitting through four and a half hours of this hearing, but I urge you to take quick action to implement the suggestions of our home school representatives to save time and all of the waste that is going on today.
Today I speak to you as a parent. I love my children with all of my heart and feel the utmost responsibility to provide for them.
As such, while my children were in public school, I was an active parent. I volunteered weekly in the classroom. I spearheaded a fundraiser to support art education in the schools.
I taught art appreciation on an ongoing basis for the four years that my child was in school, providing materials and lesson plans.
I was well known as a contributor by the teachers and administrators of my school. I didn't have a lot of complaints about my children's school, and my husband and I just wanted something better for our children, which we thought we could provide by home schooling.
Today I speak to you as a parent, well, sorry. Within a short time, sorry. I lost my place. When my husband and I made a difficult decision to withdraw our children from public school in order to home school, we notified our school district in writing to fulfill our responsibility as parents to educate our children.
Within a short time, we were asked to file a notice of intent. We informed our superintendent that an NOI is a suggested procedure and not required by law.
We were then sent a letter threatening us, and I quote, the school district would not, the school district would not have sufficient evidence to show that your children are not being educationally neglected unless I receive from you the NOI or equivalent information.
I would be required, my superintendent said, to make a report of possible neglect to the State Department of Children and Families. At this point, our attorney, Deborah Stevenson, kindly informed the district of the law.
But I now live in fear of DCF coming to my door to investigate me. This is not justice. This is coercion and the direct result of inaccurate information being disseminated by the State Board of Ed.
This is an issue for all parents, not just home school parents. We are only the people who have been made aware of this awful situation, as our right as parents are being eroded.
The control of our children lies in our hands, not the hands of the state. My children are not wards of the state or my local school board, and my husband and I take full responsibility for their well being.
So unless Susan Hamilton is planning to take quick action, I do not support her nomination because this a huge, huge waste of everybody's time and money, as you can see.
We are legal, upstanding citizens doing what we think is best for our children, and there are many, many, many bigger fish to fry by DCF. And the fact that they are wasting their time, money and abusing their power in such a way I think is criminal.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you very much. I have two additional names, Jeff Kain and Connie Kain, and I would prefer that they come up together, if possible, and combine their testimony.
JEFF KAIN: I apologize. I broke my tibia--
REP. JANOWSKI: That's okay. I know the feeling. It happens to a lot of us.
JEFF KAIN: Thank you.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you.
JEFF KAIN: Thank you very much for having us here, and thank Deborah Stevenson for inviting us, and our girls for waiting a long time to have lunch. We're going to have a big lunch when we're done.
My name is Jeff Kain. This is, somewhere special. This is my wife, Connie Kain. We're originally from Wisconsin. We moved to Connecticut, this great state, in '81 by choice.
We moved here to pursue our careers, and I worked in Hartford briefly at the Institute of Living in a mental health capacity. My wife is currently a senior corporate communications expert with a global financial firm in New York. We live in Ridgefield.
We decided in 2002 to adopt children from Russia. Our daughters know. They know about their histories. Our eldest daughter was seven at the time, and our youngest was 18 months old.
We were misrepresented by the Russian bureaucracy who did not inform us about our daughters' post-institutionalized serious conditions. I won't go into those now because our daughters are present, but they're aware of them.
Following their adoption in 2002, we elected to move back to Ridgefield, Connecticut, where we had lived during the '90s as a childless couple.
Long story short, we moved there in 2004 and went to the Ridgefield Public School District and honored their Connecticut Health Assessment Record, which mandates that parents disclose medical histories on their children before their children can attend the school.
We would have done that anyway, because we're forthright people and we were misled in Russia and we weren't going to do that to other people in America.
So we knew that we would go to the school and inform the school not just on behalf of our children's special needs, but as a courtesy to the teachers, because we wanted to work in unison with the teachers to have a triangle of healing, so to speak, for our children's special emotional needs.
Over the course of two years, the school officials decided to ignore those issues, despite their school dictum being educating everyone takes everyone.
Educating everyone takes everyone. That's their school dictum, and that's what we attempted to do over the course of two years, to no avail.
We suddenly decided, after Connie and I felt that our children were pushed out of the school system due to lack of concern, indifference, ineffective reluctance of any communication.
We were always attempting to try to raise the level of dialogue with the school to utter resistance.
That the best thing to do for our children, our daughter was in fifth grade in December of last year, was to, and we had given the school system in, both in Illinois and in Connecticut the benefit of the doubt to communicate with us about our special daughter's needs, which neither did.
We decided it was in our best interests, and especially our children's best interests, to home school them.
We didn't want to play into the cottage industry in Ridgefield of advocates, lawyers, no offense, Deborah, lawyers and other people preying upon families that can't get their children properly educated in the school system while we go broke in the process.
CONNIE KAIN: And the children fall through the cracks.
JEFF KAIN: So we decided, after speaking with Deborah, gaining informed information from an astute attorney in Connecticut, to home school our children because we thought it was our fundamental privilege and right.
We did that. We informed the school in writing on December 8th. Withdrew our children December 11th, and on January 10th, a month later, as an afterthought, which clearly, in my opinion, smacks of retribution, the school officials notified DCF that not only were we educationally negligent, but emotionally negligent.
And the reason they said we were emotionally negligent is they took all the information that we had educated them about regarding our post-institutionalized children's needs, which by the way, are psychologically, developmentally, and educationally tested for and affirmed, reaffirmed by many psychologists and psychiatrists in two states, they took that information out of context and reported us to DCF as being emotionally neglectful parents for informing them about their behaviors.
We can substantiate that, and we intend to do it nationally. This is the first stop. We are outraged, devastated. Our nerves are singed.
My poor wife, who has a four-hour daily commute and goes in to work a full-time position like respectfully all of you do and comes home and has rocked our children for five consecutive years at bedtime to develop trust issues that these poor children were deprived of as they laid in third-world-condition orphanages, weren't fed on time, weren't touched, weren't coddled.
We tried to convey this to the school system. We didn't expect the school system to be therapists. We expected them to impart important information that we knew was occurring in our children, even corroborated.
Can you believe a seven-year-old would corroborate difficulty she's having and a school principal would not do that? That's devastating.
And Donna, I thank you so much for doing that, being honest about your issues. Home schooling has benefited our children beyond compare. They've been home schooled for eight months, and it's been the best thing for them.
They're attaching to us. They have reactive detachment disorder. It's a legitimate DSM TR4 disorder. It's as real as autism. And that's all. I'll just let my wife speak now.
We're devastated by the fact that the school never dialogued with us, clandestinely and covertly over the course of two and a half years took our information, went behind our backs to the DCF. DCF, I might add, did not substantiate it, not because they didn't want to. We didn't allow them to.
We have been checked for three years nationally, had extensive background checks in order to adopt our children. We're about at the end of our rope of being the victims of witch hunts.
We did allow it to occur for the first three years, but this was an unfounded witch hunt. Go ahead, sweetheart.
CONNIE KAIN: I have to say, for the appointment of Susan Hamilton, I had no decision for or against prior to coming into this meeting.
I have to say, as an executive of a global firm in New York, I would never hire her. In fact, I would probably let her go. She was the head of legal. She was not involved. She was not accountable. She doesn't recall anything.
How can you be the head of legal and not be involved? She says she wants to be proactive. I only heard reactive out of her, what she's done has been reactive.
I just find it unconscionable that someone acting like this would be the head of DCF. DCF is coercive, does lie, does not want you to know your rights.
They were very, very angry that we knew our rights, very, very angry, and put in the report that we were uncooperative. We were not uncooperative.
JEFF KAIN: And considered our testimony as ranting.
CONNIE KAIN: Speaking to them was ranting.
JEFF KAIN: This is ranting.
CONNIE KAIN: And being uncooperative.
JEFF KAIN: This is--
CONNIE KAIN: DCF is a disgrace to the State of Connecticut.
JEFF KAIN: This needs to be--
REP. JANOWSKI: Does this--
JEFF KAIN: I'm sorry, go ahead.
REP. JANOWSKI: No, that's okay. Does this conclude your testimony at this point, because we would like to wrap it up and have the Commissioner come back up.
JEFF KAIN: This is a very involved case because it's multi-jurisdictional and it involves an international issue. But the school was aware. We made them aware.
I want to say one other thing. We respect you. You have a tough job. I don't know you. But I will say this. I've never touted this in my life.
Twenty years ago, I was in a lowly position at Fairfield Hills Hospital as a mental health worker, not in a professional position, not an RN, not a social worker. There was abuse at that hospital.
I was compelled to come to the State of Connecticut in Hartford alone and make a complaint about the abuse at Fairfield Hills. They closed the unit down, fired the nurse and the attendant who was abusing the patient, due to my testimony.
They soon made a movie thereafter with Robert De Niro. I don't know if that had anything to do with my testimony. It doesn't exist anymore.
My point is, I did not need consultation to come [Gap in testimony. Changing from Tape 3A to Tape 3B.]
--divulged, and it didn't require me, I wasn't looking for a new position. In fact, I never tried to achieve status from that, from doing that.
My point is, is that, does one, have we become so jaded as a society that we have to be consulted before we go forward and step up to the plate?
CONNIE KAIN: You don't wait for people to come to you when you're in a leadership position. You don't wait. You go out and find out what needs to be done, and you get involved.
And this nonsense about, jeez, I wasn't, oh, I was the head of legal, but I wasn't involved, I don't recall, oh, no, somebody, oh, no, they didn't come to me. Nonsense.
JEFF KAIN: And it's the Department of Children and Families, not the Department of Children.
CONNIE KAIN: They're supposed to be working for families.
JEFF KAIN: Thank you for your time.
REP. JANOWSKI: Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that.
JEFF KAIN: I do apologize for my vigor--
REP. JANOWSKI: That's okay. Don't worry about it. This, we have no others, no other individuals listed. This concludes the public testimony.
And at this point, I would like to have the Commissioner come back up and specifically address a couple, some of the issues that were raised.
I realize that you're faced with two segments of issues with regard to the home schooling. One has to do with individual cases that are coming or have been coming before you, and the other has to do with the policy changes because it appears that there's a multifaceted involvement with not only other state agencies but the local school systems.
I also understand based on my own experiences with the local school systems that when a complaint is filed with the state on just about any issue, there is an obligation that it has to be investigated and it has to be taken seriously.
So I don't envy DCF and their role, just as I don't envy the dilemma that the home school parents are faced with every day and they're real issues.
And I would appreciate if you could address the case issues, how many there are, what the timetable is for resolving those issues, as well as the policy change issues and how long it will take to make policy changes that will address those concerns.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Thank you. I first want to say that I appreciate all of the public comments that were made today and bringing some of these issues to my attention.
I don't, I want to be very clear, I do not trivialize the issue. I, as I think was discussed earlier, we did have a very early meeting not long after I came on board because I do think the issue is important and it was the first I was learning that there were issues concerning how the Department was actually investigating and handling these cases.
I regret that the outcome of the meeting, I felt the meeting was actually very productive. We did, as Attorney Stevenson noted, we did receive at that meeting, which was two weeks ago, some concrete and I will say very helpful recommendations from her regarding policy changes that would help I think inform our staff in a more effective way of how to handle the cases that do come to our door.
I think I mentioned earlier that many of those, I did immediately transmit those to our legal folks to take a look at. Many of those recommendations will in fact be incorporated.
And I do need to say that in terms of follow-up, I think I've always been a person of my word, and at the meeting, the, we agreed to pull together a follow-up meeting within a couple of weeks.
And I believe the Governor's Office did reach out Wednesday, which is two days after the two-week timeframe to set up a follow-up meeting, and I am prepared, I hope we do have the opportunity to have that meeting because I am prepared to follow up on the recommendations that they had on our policies.
So I think, I don't know if that addresses your policy question, but we do plan to make some changes there that will impact how we investigate cases.
But as you noted, in part, it's a, there's a multitude of agencies involved in this issue, and that is also why at my initial meeting with the Commissioner of SDE, I had this on my very short agenda as an area that appears to be, appears to require better coordination.
It sounds to me like there are reports coming in from the school districts that perhaps either shouldn't be coming in, or perhaps if they do come in, should be handled differently by our department.
And I'm committed to working on that issue. So I just, I want to personally say I don't trivialize it, and I recognize not only the right of folks to home school their children, but the importance of ensuring that we in fact understand what the law and our staff understands what the law allows in that regard and that we treat families appropriately when and if we have to conduct investigations into these cases.
The individual cases that came, that were discussed today, there was one case actually at our meeting that I was asked to follow up on, which in fact I did do, and there will be follow-up information in regards to that that I will, you know, be communicating separately to the parties involved.
But we do have a process for raising and addressing individual case concerns such as you heard today.
If as part of my role as Commissioner, I identify that there is a pattern of inappropriate intervention, particularly in cases of educational neglect, they will be attended to.
And I hope that answers your question. I'm committed. I heard a couple of comments saying that they hope that I am committed to working on these issues, and I am. And if changes are needed in how we handle these cases, I will implement those changes.
REP. JANOWSKI: And I thank you because, you know, I would appreciate if, not just based on what is being said here, but I sense from the testimony that there's really a lot of frustration among a lot of the home school parents that were here in terms of the response from DCF, how they were treated.
And those are all things that I believe are very important to address and I would appreciate if that could be given a great deal of priority at DCF so that, you know, they could be addressed.
I'd like to see a lot of that frustration not be here, and apparently it still is, and I would appreciate it.
SUSAN HAMILTON: I would too, and I appreciate the comment.
REP. JANOWSKI: Senator Looney.
SEN. LOONEY: Yes, thank you. Thank you, Madam Chair. Commissioner, it's obvious from the testimony of these parents and advocates that they're concerned that there is a presumption of invalidity on the part of both the school systems and DCF regarding their decision to home school, that somehow that very decision makes them suspect and puts the burden of proof on them.
And just, I think that's really what you need to address and that they're, and because it is a dual agency problem, apparently this is something that's happening in some school districts.
I don't know if there's evidence that it's uniform throughout the state, in other words, do all school districts handle a decision by parents to withdraw with a high degree of suspicion and report it to DCF, or does that differ from area to area. I wonder if you know.
SUSAN HAMILTON: I don't know the variants across area offices on how at the front line these individual cases are investigated.
But given the information that I've heard today, I do want to go back and track the cases that have been accepted under the category of educational neglect.
We have the capacity to look at that across area offices, as well as which cases and, you know, by volume percentage and then drilling that down, ultimately are substantiated for educational neglect and see if any of those are, fall into the category of being inappropriately either investigated or substantiated.
So I don't know today if there is disproportionate treatment of these cases across the area offices, but I plan to look into that further.
SEN. LOONEY: Good. Thank you, because it seems that the statutory right of parents to exercise that option seems to be not accorded a uniform degree of respect, both in terms of the initial investigation by the school districts and then also by DCF being in effect called in by the school districts with the course of power that it has. Thank you, Commissioner.
SUSAN HAMILTON: You're welcome.
SEN. LOONEY: Yes, Representative Boukus.
REP. BOUKUS: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Just a quick follow-up. When I was speaking to you earlier, you know, one of my places of concern is follow-up.
And if there was a meeting scheduled for the 25th of June and for some reason could not, or rather communication, that needs to be communicated to people I think immediately.
If it were me or a member of my family were in a situation of such an intense nature and I had a date that I was going to be working on, I would want to know why.
And I can kind of see, you're in, I don't want to make excuses here, but you're in between being confirmed and not and things you can do and cannot do.
But the point of the issue is, when a date is given or any kind of information is given, I don't care who gives it, the follow-up is so important.
Secondly, you've got to, I would encourage you to meet with the Commissioner of Education and get through to these superintendents and it be a signed-off paper from the superintendents exactly what is expected of them and what needs to be done so it's accountable in that area.
And I don't want to take up any more time, but it seems to me we need some follow-up.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Thank you.
SEN. LOONEY: Representative Nafis.
REP. NAFIS: Yeah, just quickly, quickly following that too. I think that this issue has been around for a while. I think we're hearing from you a commitment today that you are definitely going to delve into this. You are going to do what you can to fix this problem at DCF.
The issue is definitely bigger. It is an SDE issue that has to be communicated to our communities. The policies that are in place now need to be clearly defined and changed, and I know many of us are aware of that.
I would like to say that I believe that many of us will also follow up, whether we do this possibly through Program Review.
That was something that was, we had been talking quietly amongst ourselves, to really clearly understand what the issues are so that in this upcoming Session that we have in February we can really clearly address the bigger picture, which is out there.
I know we all know it's out there. It's been out there for many years, and I think it's time that we really take some action on it. Thank you.
SUSAN HAMILTON: Thank you.
REP. JANOWSKI: Any other questions or comments? Okay, seeing none, we thank you, and this concludes the public segment of the testimony.
We will close the public hearing, and we will convene the Committee meeting as soon as, did we make the announcement already? Okay. We'll convene the Committee meeting in about one minute. Thank you.
[Whereupon, the hearing was adjourned.]