PRESIDING CHAIRMAN: Senator Meyer

VICE CHAIRMAN Representative Mioli
MEMBERS PRESENT:
SENATORS: Harris, Coleman,
Freedman, Prague, Kissel

REPRESENTATIVES: Abercrombie, Hamm,
Jarmoc, Orange,
Mushinsky, Thompson,
Ruwet, Villano, Butler,
Walker, Gonzalez


REP. VILLANO: Good morning, everybody.

VOICES: Good morning.

REP. VILLANO: And welcome to the LOB. All of you who are standing, please take your seats.


We're about to begin the fourth and final investigatory hearing of the operations of DCF, and we look forward to your testimony.

Before calling on Senator Meyer, Chair of the Select Committee on Children for his comments, I just want to remind you of the ground rules. You had the lottery, so you'll be called according to the number you drew in the lottery.

Each person has three minutes to make his or her comments so we recommend you condense your testimony. And after you conclude, committee members can ask you questions to elaborate on some of the things, some of the comments you made, and you're free to stay after that. You're free to stay the rest of the day.

And we welcome all of you, first of all, for your interest in this issue because our focus here is to improve the operations of DCF which -- whose mission, in the phrase of one person who testified is, literally, to save lives of children, and that's what we're focusing on.

So with that, I will ask Senator Meyer, any comments to make?

SENATOR MEYER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just want to thank you very personally and professionally for coming today. We've had a tremendous public interest in these hearings, and your input is very important. We're trying to make DCF a better agency, and your ideas and your input this morning will be very, very helpful to us, with that.

We want you to know that while all of the committee members are not here right now, your written statements will be distributed to all of them. And there will, of course, be a television record of this as well, so I want you to know that we're really hearing -- we're listening and hearing what you're saying, and we appreciate that input.

The Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families is Brian Mattiello. And he's given me a note which says that DCF has here today, a representative from the Ombudsman's Office, and if any family member wants to speak to the Ombudsman's Office, he will make that arrangement.

Brian, do you want to stand up wherever you are?

That's Brian Mattiello, Deputy Commissioner of DCF. And if you'd would like to speak to someone from the Ombudsman's Office, just see Brian and he will arrange that. And, hopefully, that will be a useful conversation.

So, thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I look forward to the hearing today.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Senator. And Senator Freedman has a comment to make before we get to the speakers.

SENATOR FREEDMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, both of you and to my co-ranking member.

I'm going to have to leave early today, but I just wanted to, before I depart, thank all of you for taking such a high and strong interest in this whole particular area because I think, as we've learned going through the series of public hearings, that a lot of things change but they don't change. And I think, hopefully, there will -- some very good things will come out of what we're hearing.

I will not be a participant, obviously, when the new Legislature meets to implement and go forward with those changes, but my fingers are crossed, that by everybody working together, those changes will benefit the children in the state of Connecticut.

It really has been a privilege to serve with Representative Ruwet and with the two cochairs who have been very cognizant and very sensitive to the needs of children in this state. And I would hope that as you go forward that will continue to be the focus of the Agency and all the other people that deal with children in the state of Connecticut. They are very precious to all of us, and they have our future in their hands, and we have to make that future brighter for all of them.

So I just want to say thank you, colleagues. It's been a pleasure. I will miss you because I think you really are intent on doing good things. But I will go forward, and I hope you will go forward in a very positive way. It's been a very, very engaging and enlightening experience for me.

Thank you.

SENATOR MEYER: Ladies and gentlemen, Senator Judy Freedman has been a member of the Children's Committee for a long time and has made an enormous contribution to moving things, and she's going to be leaving us, and Representative Anne Ruwet, similarly, has been a member of the Children's Committee, who's made an enormous contribution to the best interests of children in Connecticut, and she is also going to be leaving us.


And I just -- on behalf of both committees, I just want to thank them for such marvelous service and friendship as well.

Anne, is there anything you'd like to add?

REP. RUWET: Unlike Senator Meyer, it wasn't my choice not to return, but I actually have had six years serving on the Children's Committee as their ranking member. It has been a delight, my favorite committee in the Legislature. So you may not see me on this side of the Committee work, but I certainly -- that seat up front there, in testimony on behalf of children, I intend to continue that effort.

So I, too, thank the cochairs. They have been -- this is -- you may not know behind the scenes, but very amenable in terms of discussion. When you talk about bipartisan work, the Children's Committee probably has had the most impact on me in my six years, in terms of working together for the benefit of children. And so, I thank you, Senator, and appreciate the work.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Senator -- Representative Ruwet.

And now we'll turn to our list of speakers. Our first speaker is Michelle Chase. Would you also identify where you're from and if you have any affiliation with any group.

MICHELLE CHASE: Okay. Good morning. My name is Michelle Chase. I'm a parent. I live in Bloomfield, and I volunteer for AFCAMP, African Caribbean American Parents of Children with Disabilities as their Legislative Chairperson.


And I'm here today because my child is eight years old. She has had diagnoses of mental health issues since age four. In 2006, I had to leave my job, which was more than enough to provide for myself and my two children, to take care of her. That was my ultimatum. And I was reluctant to apply for DCF voluntary services because of her high-end needs, but I chose to do that for the best interests of her.

And in the last two years of receiving voluntary services, I just find that DCF is not accountable. They don't make themselves accountable for their mistakes or their errors that severely impact a family. I feel that if they're the Department of Children and Families, they should service the whole family not just the child in question.

And having a child with mental health issues and having my other child who is, you know, a student, when they don't service the whole family, very quickly can a child without the same issues become a Level III child and a child also with those issues. And it's just really difficult for the child in question to be receiving the services, which the services are supposed to help the family as a whole, and, you know, the family is connecting to different services and has to follow these different schedules. But it's not just the child in question. It's the whole family. And I think that DCF needs to be held more accountable for their actions and their services.

You know, the services are good when we're getting them, but when they stop, we go back into crisis. And when we go back into crisis, it's like you're reinventing the wheel all over again.

And when I went to the probate judge, he explained to me that, you know, my case unfortunately was caught up in DCF Never Never Land. That was his quote. And it just made me think that I could have done better by myself. I could have done better just dealing with the multicrisis on my own.

There's been several times that I've brought up different programs or different needs that my child or family has, and it always seems to come down to, we don't have the money. That's too much paperwork.

The worker changed five months ago when we were in transition from my child coming home from a permanency diagnostic center. I'm trying to find out from DCF now, why she was in a 90-day placement for seven and a half months. And because she was there for seven and a half months, and I have no answers, financially, emotionally, physically, mentally, our family has just fallen apart. And I'm left to pick up the pieces. And when you're overwhelmed like that, but you're still doing a good job being overwhelmed, you know, DCF then in turn, wants to come and take your child. They feel you're not competent.

So I thank you for hearing me.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Ms. Chase. Thank you for sharing your experiences with DCF with us. This is helpful to us when we put everything together. Questions from committee members? Senator Prague had her hand up.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I'm not a member of the Committee. I'm just on the Appropriations Subcommittee that looks at DCF's budget, so I'm here to learn what people are experiencing and where the shortfalls are in DCF. Apparently, your worker, from what I heard you say, didn't offer you family therapy?

MICHELLE CHASE: Well, the worker, first of all, has never met my child. It's been five months. She's never met my child, and she doesn't know my child.

SENATOR PRAGUE: And she's assigned to your --

MICHELLE CHASE: She's assigned to my case, yes. And I just think it's -- that's really important to know the child or to meet the child, to really decide what is the care plan for that child.

And the things that were offered to me, I just feel like everything should be family driven. The families should have a say in, okay, this is the program we're going to participate in. It works for me; it doesn't work for me. And, you know, when we go back to things being family driven, DCF does not involve, or in my case, has not involved the family to drive what's going to work for them and how they can function as a whole. They don't look at the family as a whole. They look at the child in question that's getting the services.

SENATOR PRAGUE: I tell you, I suggest you speak to the Deputy Commissioner who's sitting over there. That's outrageous. If a worker is assigned to your child and has never met your child and has not offered you family therapy, that is, by far --

MICHELLE CHASE: Well, in our discharge planning from the permanency diagnostic center recently, we have a family support team that comes in. But previous to her having to go to this permanency diagnostic center, we had an in-home therapy called "IICAPS." And if that worked properly, we wouldn't have been going through the same thing over again. And it just seems like a vicious cycle. I just feel like this is going to be my life for the next however long.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Well, we certainly need to get that corrected. And don't leave here until you get a chance to speak to either the Ombudsman or the Deputy Commissioner, and let us know how you make out. This is outrageous.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Senator Prague.

Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER:

Good morning. And thank you so much for coming to testify. I know -- I want to say to you and everybody else that testifies today, it's taken a lot, I'm sure, for you to do this. And one thing we want to make sure is that if anything happens because of your testimony, we need to know about it immediately. Because one of the things that we've all heard is that they're afraid -- people are afraid to testify -- but they have stories -- because they're afraid of retaliation. And we cannot tolerate retaliation. So that's my first comment, and that's to everybody.

I want to quickly pick up from what you just said. You said you had IICAPs that was provided to you in your home. And you said that it did not function the way it was either told to you or something. And IICAPS is one of the things that we fund a great deal. I know Senator Prague knows that. And it's one of the things people tout as being successful.

So, could you tell me, you know, briefly, what happened with IICAPS that you felt was just -- did not service you?

MICHELLE CHASE:

Well, what happened was, the program was explained to me and how it works. They come out --

REP. WALKER:

How was it -- what was explained to you?

MICHELLE CHASE: The IICAPS program.

REP. WALKER: No, but what were you told about it?

MICHELLE CHASE: I was told they were going to come out once a week to meet with myself, and discuss issues and things and concerns that were going on. And they would come out once a week for the family. And with the child, work with the child and try to prevent future crisis and work out different charting and things to take, you know, some of the disabilities that she had, to kind of work around them. And they were going to teach me tools.

But the problem with that program is they're not consistent. They're supposed to come certain days a week. As a parent, you know, and having to juggle all these things, you know, I have my book. I set everything. And they'll call and say, Well, we can't make it today. We can't reschedule. We have another family. Only one person would come out. It just was not consistent.

And when you have a child with high-end needs like that, that's the first thing they tell you. You have to be consistent. You have to have structure. And in dealing with DCF and their programs, I find that what they're trying to teach our families is not what they're showing. They're not following through with the consistency --

REP. WALKER: Do as I say, not as I do.

MICHELLE CHASE: -- and the structure.

REP. WALKER: Uh-huh.

MICHELLE CHASE: And so this time around, knowing it was voluntary and that I have my child's best interests at heart, I felt, and they kept telling me, at any time you don't want DCF services, you can call them up and cancel. Well they, in turn, told me they were making recommendations that my daughter stay longer at this program, longer at this program, when it was only supposed to be three months that she parted from the family.

And the discharge meeting, when they decided that again, they were going to move her discharge date out further, the DCF worker said to me -- as I was not going to take the recommendations. I felt I knew what was best for my child and she was coming home, and we would deal with outside services. They said, If you take her home against our recommendations, we can file 136 on neglect, that you neglected to take our recommendations and then take my child which, in turn, would take my other child.

So it makes you scared when you know you're doing the right thing and you know, you know, you have the child's best interests at heart.

They -- they really do say things in a way that scares you. And that's what initially prevented me from calling even earlier because of all the stories I heard about DCF voluntary --

REP. WALKER: Services.

MICHELLE CHASE: And so I go through the probate judge, and he's not happy. And DCF is not happy that I'm going through the probate judge, but I feel like that's the only person on my side that I can go to to make sure that they are accountable for what they're saying they will provide for my child.

REP. WALKER: Just for a lot of my Committee Members, just to let them know that IICAPS is one of the one services that we do get federal reimbursement for, and it has been touted as supposed to be very successful because it does work with the families.

But it has a very proscriptive plan that is supposed to be presented, so that makes it very concerning. Now when we go back and we start questioning these things, they're going to say that this might be an isolated incident.

MICHELLE CHASE: It might be. And I'm sure -- I'm sure myself that it would have worked wonderful, if they would have been consistent.

REP. WALKER: Okay.

MICHELLE CHASE: And that's why when she was being discharged recently from the program and the thought was, okay, we need more in-home services. I denied those services. And they told me, You cannot deny these services or your child will not come home. And I said, Well, I don't want to go through in-home services, if they're going to be like the last, so...

REP. WALKER: Okay. Thank you. And how old is your child? I didn't hear that.

MICHELLE CHASE: She's eight now.

REP. WALKER: She's eight. When did she get into -- when did you start getting involved with DCF?

MICHELLE CHASE:

When she was six.

REP. WALKER:

Six. Was this through a referral in school?

MICHELLE CHASE: I'm sorry?

REP. WALKER: Was this through a referral in school or --

MICHELLE CHASE: No.

REP. WALKER: This was on your own --

MICHELLE CHASE: This was on my own.

REP. WALKER: -- request.

MICHELLE CHASE: Yes.

REP. WALKER: Thank you, and I hope we will follow up with you. Thank you.

Did you provide any testimony at all?

MICHELLE CHASE: No.

REP. WALKER: Okay.

MICHELLE CHASE: Because like I --

REP. WALKER: But you're with AFCAMP so if we want to get in contact with you.

MICHELLE CHASE: Absolutely.

REP. WALKER: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Ms. Chase, just a second. Other questions from Committee members? If not, thank you again for your very able testimony. We appreciate it very much.

(Gap in tape.)

THERESA NICHOLSON: -- care for the community renewal team, but I'm here today as a DCF foster and adoptive parent of four children, ages seven, five, four, and one. I would like to thank you for this opportunity to testify before you today.

DCF has been a part of my professional life for over 15 years, and eight years ago it became a part of my personal life. For the first seven years of my professional dealings with DCF, I felt like many, that I needed to assist my clients in being protected from that agency so that their children could remain with them.

I had an opportunity, in 2001, to participate with DCF staff in a program called the Family Development Credentialing. And I trained side-by-side with DCF staff. I grew to respect and empathize for the work that they were charged with. It is through this experience that my partner and I decided to adopt through DCF. Eight years later, we have four children and are very grateful.

And I'm before you today to let you know that the system is flawed. I can tell you that my experience with the Department differs from office to office, from person to person. There are directors and managers in some areas that lean heavily towards reunifying families, and there are others that put more emphasis on protecting children. There are many times when these two missions are in direct conflict with one another.

I have had some workers that support family visits for my children with their siblings in alternative placements, and some that feel that once the rights of parents were terminated, the rights to visit any siblings was also terminated. Our family is refocused on keeping our children in touch with their birth siblings whenever possible.

Some of you may remember, in 2006, I gave testimony about a flawed system that removed the 18-month-old baby sister of my oldest daughter who had been in our home since two days old.

She was reunited with her mother and father. And I'm happy to tell you that she's doing well and, currently, we have a relationship with them. We're a resource for that family.

This is something that we did on our own. And my daughter, my oldest daughter who's seven, is getting to know her birth mother and they are -- they're really bonding and doing a great job.

In 2007, my son Anthony was placed in our home. We adopted him also in 2007. I'd like to talk with you about Anthony's birth -- his brother. Anthony has a 10-year-old brother that lives at Riverview Hospital and has been there for six months. Joey was removed from his mother at six years old. Since that time, he's been in 17 placements ranging from foster care to residential care, ultimately ending up at Riverview Hospital. Joey suffers from Reactive Attachment Disorder.

Reactive Attachment Disorder is a mental disorder that sometimes occurs when infants don't bond properly with their primary caregiver. How does this happen? We don't exactly know. Joey's a 10-year-old boy that lives in an institution. He comes to our home for dinner two times per month. When he comes over, we go swimming, ride bikes, play hide and seek.

Initially, he came with a worker. About two months -- after about two months of supervised visits, Joey is now dropped off at our home for two to three hours at a time. Keep in mind, Joey lives in a locked unit at Riverview. Every day we wish we could give him a home, but with four younger children and the unpredictability of his behavior, we struggle with the decision every day. It broke my heart to hear him say, Why can't you adopt me? Or can I call you mom?

For Joey, the last four years have been filled with unpredictable outcomes, 17 placements. To Joey, he thinks he's bad. So if I'm bad, and I know you're going to kick me out anyway, why don't I push you away first so I don't get hurt again? What a sad life for a little boy who did nothing wrong.

I'll have to skip here, but what I'd like to say is we -- and I have a couple requests. I believe that our kids deserve the very best. And you have the rest of my testimony.

In closing, I'll summarize by asking for the following: Better training and consistent messages for DCF staff. We shouldn't have unpredictability when we walk into the offices and have a different experience with each place, or each person. Close Riverview. Give more resources and training to therapeutic foster homes. Open Level II group homes to meet the needs of those kids ending up at Riverview. Let them be able to say, I'm going home, not I'm going back there. Create a reactive attachment institute in Connecticut and train DCF staff and community providers serving our children.

Thank you for your time.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you very much, Ms. Nicholson. Are there questions from Committee members? Senator Meyer?

SENATOR MEYER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your testimony, Ms. Nicholson. And let me follow up though on just one aspect. You made a very provocative suggestion about closing Riverview and using therapeutic foster care. Will you talk just a little bit more about therapeutic foster care, how it would work in your experience?

THERESA NICHOLSON: Well, I don't claim to be an expert. As I said today, although I have a background in behavioral health care, I'm not an expert in serving children, but I'm here to talk about my experience with Joey, who's ten.

I don't understand how -- Joey's been placed in so many different homes. If these are licensed, therapeutic foster homes, why do these homes not have the resources and the expertise to understand the challenges that he comes with so that he doesn't have to keep experiencing this loss after loss after loss, which just continues to feed his negative perception of himself, his shame.

These children, who we are not able to help often become our offenders of the future. We have to save them now. And our $863,000 per kid, per year has to give us more. These kids have to feel like they belong somewhere. And I believe that we can make these therapeutic foster homes much more welcoming, if we keep them to a size of four or five children, that there are professionals who are trained in dealing with these behaviors, so that the kids don't always experience the feeling of that, you know, I'm a bad person. They're not bad kids. They've been given a raw deal, and we've done wrong by them.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you. Yes, Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: Thank you for testifying. You're an assistant -- you're a Vice President of Behavioral Health at CRT.

THERESA NICHOLSON: Yeah.

REP. WALKER: Do you work with therapeutic foster homes in your team?

THERESA NICHOLSON: I do not right now. I work with adults. But that is an area --

REP. WALKER: But, does CRT work with any of the therapeutic group homes?

THERESA NICHOLSON: We do not right now, no.

REP. WALKER: Do you know if any of the therapeutic group homes get any support from any of the other behavioral health teams?

THERESA NICHOLSON: That's not something that I have information on right now.

REP. WALKER: Do you --

THERESA NICHOLSON: But I'm happy to research that and get that to you.

REP. WALKER: Would you? Do you know, when we set up therapeutic group homes, do they have any training or behavioral health services provided to them?

THERESA NICHOLSON: I can -- what I can tell you today is what I was informed yesterday when I was told that --

REP. WALKER: That's good. That's current enough.

THERESA NICHOLSON: -- Joey's placement, again, he was told he was going to a home, and as of yesterday it's no longer working out. Let's make it 18. And what I was told is that they're now going to look at a therapeutic group home. It's a Level II group home, and when I asked, are these folks trained and what type of training do they receive, the worker from Riverview informed me that they were kids.

Now, I do not have knowledge of whether or not that's true, I don't know, but I'd like to research that and let you know. But I truly believe that if we provide the proper training for people who work with our most damaged children that we can help change their lives. And I would like to work with the Committee to determine what that might be.

REP. WALKER: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Representative Ruwet.

REP. RUWET: Thank you. And I just want to tell you I remember your testimony a few years back and how compelling it was, for one, that your efforts in adopting a child that actually was in the judicial system or at least the judge making a decision on the child's placement. Your testimony lasted a long time with me, for a couple of reasons. And I know, in my opinion, the length of time that a child is in the foster care system was really the essence of your testimony.

I think you're unique in the fact that you tried very desperately, and still today, have a relationship with that child even though they're with the birth parents. That's so unique and unusual. My compliments to you.

But, I guess my question is, you know, we're talking about the therapeutic group home model, siting those homes is very difficult now in the state. But back to the -- really the origin of that child, if that child was not in 17 placements and there was adoption that was considered earlier on, you know, if the Legislature could pass, you know, some stronger language in our legislation that would actually expedite that adoption, do you think, you know, that child would have been better placed?

THERESA NICHOLSON: I absolutely think that that child would be better placed. And I struggle every day with not taking him home. But I do truly believe that if the training for these therapeutic foster homes was such that these families knew what to expect, and could have all the resources available to them to be able to keep their families safe -- I'm not saying that these kids don't come with some severe issues that really can be trying. That's why we haven't brought him home yet. I have to protect my other children, also.

But he also deserves the best care possible and the best placement possible. And I don't believe that should be an institution. But, I agree. Yes, I do think that would help.

REP. VILLANO: Senator Prague.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. So can we proceed with this therapeutic foster home? Are you aware of what kind of training constitutes a therapeutic foster home? I mean, there are foster homes, and then there are therapeutic foster homes.

THERESA NICHOLSON: I do not have that knowledge, but I will get that to you. I do know that there's extensive training that does go -- that does involve -- that's a different type of training than just a traditional foster home, but I'll have to get that for you.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Well something must be lacking if a child has gone to 17 different therapeutic foster homes.

THERESA NICHOLSON: Well, from therapeutic foster homes to residential homes, different placements.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Uh-huh. Okay. If you -- if that's okay for you to do, if it isn't, you know, we'll try to get it from the Department. But if you could get us the information of what you have learned constitutes a therapeutic foster home and what the Department's involvement is in establishing a therapeutic foster home.

THERESA NICHOLSON: Yes. I will be happy to get that for you, and I will send it by e-mail.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Thank you very much for coming here today.

THERESA NICHOLSON: Thank you, Senator Prague.

SENATOR PRAGUE: And, believe me, I admire your effort for these kids.

THERESA NICHOLSON: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Representative Thompson.

REP. THOMPSON: Good morning. Thank you for coming.

THERESA NICHOLSON: Good morning.

REP. THOMPSON: The issue you raise about Riverview was made an issue at our last Public Hearing when -- were you here?

THERESA NICHOLSON: Yes.

REP. THOMPSON: Okay. And you remember somebody said you know, close the place. And then we had testimony later on from a psychiatrist. And if I understand it, he had worked at Riverview at one time, but now he was administering a mental health facility.

THERESA NICHOLSON: Uh-huh.

REP. THOMPSON: And he said, not quoting him exactly right, but in essence what he said is, there is a place for Riverview. There are children so extremely ill that they need that kind of site, and it would be a mistake to close it. And he has seen results of children that they have referred to Riverview from his, I guess, intermediate site, who have been helped and aided. So is there any give in your position? You know, is it black and white, we ought to close it, or does he have an argument that you might sit down and have an intelligent conversation with him about?

THERESA NICHOLSON: I'd be happy to talk with him. And I think nothing is ever -- ever black and white. To me, it's about the structure and the environment where we put these children. We can take the same resources that are available to them in an institution setting and put it in a more home-like setting for those that may not be able to live in a therapeutic foster home.

And that's why I also mentioned a Level II group home where we could put those extensive resources, but it would be in a more home environment and not in an institution-type setting. I mean, I want these kids to be able to say, I'm going home. And that there's someone there who, you know, loves them, and is not just trained to care for them.

I mean, every day when Joey walks through the door, I say, We love you, buddy. How did it go this week? And you know, they need to hear this.

REP. THOMPSON: I think that what is important to me as a Legislator here is I lived through the closing of the Department of Mental Retardation and their institutions, and I witnessed some of the bad parts of that. And they have gone out into the community. It's community-based services now, as I understand it.

THERESA NICHOLSON: I work for the department, DDS, third shift on the weekends.

REP. THOMPSON: Oh, you do?

THERESA NICHOLSON: I've been doing group home work for 20 years.

REP. THOMPSON: For 20 years you worked?

THERESA NICHOLSON: Uh-huh.

REP. THOMPSON: Oh, okay. I once represented a client who had been discharged as a result of negligence leading to the death of a child.

And we convened the hearing at one of the training schools. And it was very clear that, you know, it was not the place for a child. We could -- we went in to it, one woman with two educable children -- this goes back 30 years -- and she was responsible for a number of children. And this one kid who had been restrained throughout the day, every day, and placed in a crib at night with a netting over her, and she was being fed by two, I guess, educable or trainable clients, and they loosened up the restraint. She swallowed, died and this woman was discharged. And everybody above her was punished at different levels of suspension.

When the hearing board saw the conditions, they reinstated the woman. And I think that was probably one of the cases that led to the closing of at least Mansfield. Southbury is still open, and it's run on a different level, I guess, but there always has been an argument that some kids or some patients with some kind of disease or condition, belong in some type of institution where they can get the care. I don't mean forever, like it was in those days. But it seems to me, he made a case for Riverview, in other words, not for everybody and certainly not for you.

But my question is, when we talk about $850,000 a child, there's a lot more to it than -- there's a lot of course there that are really unconscionable, because they just go on and on and on, no matter how many children you're treating.

But I have a dilemma here. I listened to him. He seemed to be a very intelligent, well-trained and caring person. And he said, Yeah, there has to be a place like that. And people like he have certain credentials where, you know, you listen to them. You have great credentials, too, and we listen to you. But I'm trying hard to make a difference between what you're saying, what he's saying, because you are presenting it as black and white.

THERESA NICHOLSON: I don't mean for it to be black and white. For me, it's a quality-of-life issue, and I think that we can provide the same level of care that a facility such as Riverview can offer in a more home-like environment where these -- where these children, many of who, could benefit.

REP. THOMPSON: Well, when I was walking in here this morning I walked in with Senator Prague, and she said, Jack, we've got to go down and see Riverview again. And we will make that trip. I promised her.

THERESA NICHOLSON: Thank you.

REP. THOMPSON: As long as I will drive and she won't.

THERESA NICHOLSON: Let me know. I'm happy to meet you there. Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Our next speaker is Sebastian Zappulla.

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REP. VILLANO: Thank you. (Inaudible) Ms. Bernetta Henry.

BERNETTA HENRY:

Good morning. I would like to, first of all, thank you guys for hearing us out on this issue. My name is Bernetta Henry. I'm a parent of.

(gap in tape)



-- chair of the Hartford, West Hartford system of care.

I'm here to talk about transition. Also I've been hearing a lot about unification. I went through voluntary services, and as a parent who went through voluntary services, I just feel that it's a difficult thing for a parent. To seek for help and then sign up for voluntary services, I had to sign up for neglect, which is wrong.

Now, I have a neglect charge on me for going out seeking services. My son is 17. Within in the next three weeks he'll be turning 18 going into adult services. He was taken away from me, supposedly for two months, which ended up for three months. Okay. He has autism. I also have a 26-year-old with schizophrenia, so I'm dealing with two issues, which also threw me into crisis, that threw me into depression.

So, here I am in a depressive state trying to take care of a household with two mental health kids and now I have my grandkids with me. This issue doesn't only affect the child that is in question, it trickles down through the whole family.

Now I have to worry about what effects it has on my grandkids. And for me to sit in on a collaboration meeting on Monday and hear that care coordination as of the 31st of this year is at a halt until the new contract is up to oversee care coordination, it just appalls me.

We have families out there that are -- can't even be referred, families that are getting care coordination who are just going to be dropped because the new contract isn't up, so where does that leave our children? Now we're going to be looking at them going to the juvenile justice system, which is more money coming out of the budget. How can we leave our kids hanging out like that? And it's not just our kids, it's our families as well.

And, as you can see, it touches me, because I've lived it. I don't want to see another family go through what I went through. And that's what I have to say about the situation.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Ms. Henry. Are there questions from committee members? Yes, let's begin with Senator Prague.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. So care coordination involves what?

BERNETTA HENRY: Care coordination is a key component where families are -- and basically it's for a high-level kid. We offer -- my thing is, I wonder why there's no care coordination for Level I's and Level II's, if we're talking about prevention. Therefore, it should start at an early stage. Therefore, our kids won't have to get into the high-end level where they're going to need all this other quality of services.

Now, the care coordinator is mostly put in place to help the meet the family and services needs of the families and to just try to keep the whole -- and the holistic point, dealing with the school systems and everything else. It's a key component that works with DCF worker and the families. They're mainly and the families. And to see that that whole piece is being taken from a (inaudible) of them where if a parent isn't knowledgeable and isn't trying to know where to go and what to do, they're just left out of the loop. Our families are already scared to even apply for DCF services, and like I try to tell them, DCF is there to help you, not to hurt you. Now you need to train yourself on what the issues is that DCF has to offer you. And a lot -- nine times out of ten, some of the casewor -- some of the caseworkers that I had out of the four years that I went through voluntary services, the last caseworker that I had was the only caseworker that I didn't have to tell what services was out there.

They're not being trained properly. They don't know what services to link you with. If you don't know as a parent, you're just in a loop.

SENATOR PRAGUE: So, the little bit of help you got from care coordination is now going to be ending, this end of December?

BERNETTA HENRY: Until the new contract is awarded, which might be February. Then those care coordinators have to be retrained, so, you're talking about maybe four- to six-month span that our families are left without anything. So where do these kids go? Now you're looking at them, okay, they're going to be out and about, no mentor programs, no anything for them. And they're just out there in the streets. And now, you're looking for them to be involved in other things to be done. Families now can't call a care coordinator for help because there is no care coordination.

SENATOR PRAGUE: It's unbelievable.

BERNETTA HENRY: It's crazy. And if you know a contract is coming up, why not in six months in advance, have the RFP put out, decide on who's going to get the contract, then have a transitional plan from that contract to the next so our families won't be without. What is the hard part in doing that?

And that's why I'm grateful that the Deputy Commissioner is here to hear how our families are just going to be left out in the street. And, hopefully, there will be something in place that our families won't have to suffer because of the way that the system has been carried out.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Or maybe the department --

BERNETTA HENRY: The department.

SENATOR PRAGUE: -- to send the contract RFPs out early enough, so that there won't be --

BERNETTA HENRY: Correct.

SENATOR PRAGUE: -- in your services.

BERNETTA HENRY: Correct.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Now, maybe, because of your testimony, and I'm sure that our Deputy Commissioner will take this back to the agency, maybe they can do something to expedite this contract process.

BERNETTA HENRY: I would hope so because --

SENATOR PRAGUE: It's outrageous that care coordination is going to come to an end.

BERNETTA HENRY: Yes. And I really hope so because, I mean, as I say, my son is transitioning to adult services so, I'm -- it's not going to me that's going to be affected. It's other families out in my community that know what I went through and the struggle that I had to go through, and if they don't know, I'm here to try to help and support them in any way I can.

Our children are our future, and without them we have nothing. And the families come along with the children.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: Care coordinators are basically advocates for the families; am I correct?

BERNETTA HENRY: Yes.

REP. WALKER: You've been working with AFCAMP as a care coordinator in the past?

BERNETTA HENRY: No. I am a parent advocate for AFCAMP, in the private sector.

REP. WALKER: Okay. So they're separate things. Parent, parent advocate and care coordinator.

BERNETTA HENRY: Parent training, yes.

REP. WALKER: How long have you been a parent advocate?

BERNETTA HENRY: I (inaudible) AFCAMP when my son was ten years old, and I've been a part of it ever since.

REP. WALKER: Do you know, has there ever been a point where in engaging in a care coordinator there's been a break in the contract where there's been this type of gap?

BERNETTA HENRY: Not like this, no. No, knowing that they -- because since I've been a part of AFCAMP, Catholic Charities has serviced that contract, and now since it's being up for renegotiation or whatever it may be, Catholic Charities no longer have it. I mean, we have parents that have to have the collaborative meeting on Monday seeking help where we find out we can't even do a referral because it's -- the contract is just -- the referrals that we have sent over for care coordination, they're not even going to be looked at because it's on a halt until that new contract.

REP. WALKER: We have care coordinators contracted throughout the State. Correct?

BERNETTA HENRY: Yes.

REP. WALKER: So I guess the question is, is this just one location --

BERNETTA HENRY: (Inaudible).

REP. WALKER: -- that's being cited?

BERNETTA HENRY: Basically the Hartford, West Hartford area.

REP. WALKER: No, but my question is whether or not other care coordinator centers are having the same gap?

BERNETTA HENRY: No.

REP. WALKER: They are not?

BERNETTA HENRY: This is for this -- this region right here, the Hartford region.

REP. WALKER: So they're just identifying Hartford which --

BERNETTA HENRY: Right.

REP. WALKER: -- needs the most care coordination.

BERNETTA HENRY: And, as we know, the City of Hartford, the problems that we're going through with our kids already.

REP. WALKER: Uh-huh.

BERNETTA HENRY: Which is going to be a key, you're going to see a rise in a lot of things because of this one key factor.

REP. WALKER: Thank you very much.

BERNETTA HENRY: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Ms. Henry.

Our next speaker is Michelle Scarlett. Welcome.

MICHELLE SCARLETT: Good morning. My name is Michelle Scarlett, and I've been a therapeutic foster and adoptive parent since 1999. My initial placements were through Waterford Country School and that -- where I was first introduced to my son Kenan. He has been with me since he was four and a half, and he is now he is eleven years old. I learned early on that when you become an advocate for children, you do not win popularity contests.

It is time consuming, expensive and exhausting to try and pick up the pieces of shattered lives. My firm belief is that we must pay now or pay later. I do not wish to imply that children are commodities, rather, that they are fragile creatures and will not recover without caring intervention from competent individuals.

Like most children suffering from loss and trauma, Kenan had many obstacles to overcome. Many professionals held a rather bleak outlook for this child due to his extensive neglect and abuse. Thankfully, he had Jo-el Suroviak in his corner. Jo-el was the DCF social worker assigned to him and his siblings. She had a very realistic approach to his treatment, but remained positive and celebrated our small victories.

Through no fault of his own, Kenan was a very difficult child to reach. Jo-el went out of her way to find every opportunity available to him. If it wasn't for her, he would probably not be in public school. She pled her case to the DCF educational advocate at the time, Kate. I will always be thankful to Kate, Jo-el and his court appointed attorney, Bruce McIntyre for their extensive support during our darkest times.

Kenan is now an honor roll student at East Lyme Middle School. His strengths are in French, art and science. He wants to be an engineer or a basketball player when he grows up. He stops by his principal's office daily just to chat for a few minutes between classes. He's involved in after-school activities, basketball, and 4-H. He still trusts children more easily than adults, but the fact that he is able to trust anyone is an accomplishment. He was featured on the front page of The Day on January 1st, 2007. He was chosen by DCF as the child who has made the most progress in foster care.

I am extremely grateful for Jo-el and those like her, who put their lives in danger, face heartbreaking scenarios daily, and still find the inner strength to do their best to break the cycle of abuse.

On a final note, I would like the public to know that oftentimes when a child is returned to an abusive home, it is because a judge made that decision based on information available at the time. A social worker can only make recommendations, not the final call. Also, I have witnessed social workers being polite and respectful toward the very people who either hurt their children or put them in danger.

I feel DCF does not get enough credit for their professionalism in dealing with families in crisis.

Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to speak.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you Ms. Scarlett. Are there questions? Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: Thank you for your testimony, and I'm glad to hear something positive. We want to hear all the stories. How long have you been a therapeutic foster adoptive parent?

MICHELLE SCARLETT: Since 1999.

REP. WALKER: How many children have you worked with; can I ask?

MICHELLE SCARLETT: I've had three long-term placements, and I adopted my fourth.

REP. WALKER: And through another (inaudible). During that time, the three long placements that you had, were you -- did you participate in the care of the children? Did you do the health care and the education, coordination and everything like that?

MICHELLE SCARLETT: Absolutely.

REP. WALKER: Was that allowed or is that required of you?

MICHELLE SCARLETT: It is strongly encouraged.

REP. WALKER: It's strongly encouraged, okay. As a foster care, a therapeutic -- tell me, what is a therapeutic foster care parent? Because I -- we've heard therapeutic foster care facilities; now we're getting therapeutic foster care parent.

MICHELLE SCARLETT: I don't know the exact number of hours, but we receive more hours of training, quite a bit more than standard DCF training, and we have support available 24 hours a day. They have an emergency pager where someone will come to your home if your child is in crisis and out of control or to the school or whatever it may be.

REP. WALKER: Okay. When you say "training," what type of training? I mean, just give me a definition of one of the children why they had to be a therapeutic, some of the diagnosis of the child.

MICHELLE SCARLETT: That were in my care?

REP. WALKER: Uh-huh.

MICHELLE SCARLETT: One child was -- her mother signed her up -- for lack of a better word -- signed up a three-year contract for her two-year-old daughter to be in child pornography with the child and mother together. By the way, the photographer never spent any time in jail, neither did mom. So she's a very sexually reactive child. She had -- she was the perpetrator towards young boys, imitating acts that had been done to her by the photographer and mom's various boyfriends.

They felt it best that she be in a single-parent home with no children to protect herself, and to protect other people, that way she couldn't make allegations, and no one would -- you know, she would have constant supervision.

REP. WALKER: Have you had training in social work or any other things or educational training in order to provide the services for that individual young lady?

MICHELLE SCARLETT: They have -- with our training, they would have certain topics two to four hours maybe just on sexual reactive or reactive attachment disorder.

On my own, I've read everything I could read and done a lot of research to try to find ways to understand and get in their head, because I was fortunate to not have any of those awful things happen.

REP. WALKER: Do you feel that -- I mean, at first, when you first got the child, did you feel a little overwhelmed when the child was placed in your home?

MICHELLE SCARLETT: No, definitely not at first, because everything is great.

REP. WALKER: Yeah, well that's the honeymoon phase.

MICHELLE SCARLETT: First year, I am very hopeful that, you know, I can do this and we make a difference, but the longer the child is with you, their comfort level increases and their bad habits accelerate, then it gets more difficult and emotionally draining. And there are times I am overwhelmed, and that's when I pick up the phone and call somebody.

REP. WALKER: My last question. How did you decide to become a therapeutic foster care parent?

MICHELLE SCARLETT: My family, my aunt and uncle adopted a little boy when he was seven who had been in 14 homes before he was four. So, I knew him from age seven on, and that always made an impact on me. I'm thinking if he had had one family that was nice to him maybe he would be in better shape as an adult than he is right now.

REP. WALKER: And that was what precipitated you doing this?

MICHELLE SCARLETT: Yes.

REP. WALKER: Well, thank you very much for your commitment. Thank you for your testimony.

REP. VILLANO: Ms. Scarlett, thank you very much for your testimony.

MICHELLE SCARLETT: You're welcome.

REP. VILLANO: Our next speaker is Terry Edelstein.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Good morning. I'm Terry Edelstein. I'm President/CEO of the Connecticut Community Providers Association. I've provided written testimony, and I'll be very brief because I know you want to hear from the parents and families and advocates today, so I'll just hit on a few key points.

Our members provide all different levels of care within the DCF system, and we do work closely with DCF. We have a great deal of access to DCF. It does not mean that the relationships are perfect, but we do have the opportunity to discuss issues which could range from budget and legislative priorities, contracting policies, fiscal accountability and management, licensing, bonding, program development and contract reprocurement as a few examples.

One of the matters we focused a lot on, and I know your committee has discussed, is contract reprocurement. And just as an example of some of the struggles we have that I think were partially resolved, DCF determined that they were not able to discuss specific contract reprocurement provisions with the service providers because we were potential vendors. We maintain that we're the experts in provision of children's behavioral health services and that there should be an interchange in the dialogue prior to issuing contracts. We have resolved that in the sense that DCF is issuing requests for information and convening focus groups among service provision types, so that as new programs are structured, there has been input from existing service providers who know about behavioral health care for children.

Another matter that I wanted to talk about is behavioral health service delivery. We've reviewed the DCF restructuring plan on a number of occasions with the department, as have you, and key to us is that behavioral health services should be made an explicit part of the restructuring plan. We've been told that behavioral health services are embedded in the restructuring, but it is essential to us that behavioral health service provision is identified as a major function of the department, and that the structural arrangement for that service provision in administration be detailed.

And finally, I just wanted to talk about the financing of children's behavioral health services. The State, with very positive intent, is converting a number of grants and contracts to a fee-for-service arrangement, moving services to the behavioral health partnership for those HUSKY-eligible children and families. And we support the conversion to fee-for-service rates, realizing that any rate has to escalate based on medical inflation and also realizing that not every child is eligible for HUSKY and that it's important make sure that the grants the continue to exist to provide services for those children.

And, finally, you realize that the DCF system is underfunded. The zero percent cost-of-living adjustment is a no cost of living adjustment in FY '09 means that existing services are not being given the support they need to be able to provide adequate care to children and families. And we hope that you'll continue to look at that issue and address that issue.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you. Are there questions from committee members? Senator Freedman.

SENATOR FREEDMAN: (Inaudible.) Oh, I'm sorry. One question because it was mentioned a couple times earlier, in terms of the training that your providers have is there a standard, and is there a universal training that everybody must take before they can open up their doors?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: There -- it's a complicated question and complicated answer. There are many different levels of care within the DCF system. Some are licensed. So, for example, the Child Guidance Clinics, the organizations that provide psychiatric clinic services for children, have to be licensed by DCF, and the licensing standards require a certain kind of credentialing and training.

And that exists for just about every level of care, whether the services are licensed or they're funded. There's a lot of work, practice standards, best practices. Most of the staff in our agencies are licensed, credentialed, many are master's level so they've had significant training, as well, in addition to any requirements within the DCF system.

SENATOR FREEDMAN: And I'd just like to follow up, because I guess my concern is a lack of consistency, especially if a child is moved around from place to place to place and, you know, from a group home to a group home. Do you feel that there is a consistency built into the system or whether that is something we need to take a very careful look at in the future?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Well, I think one of the -- the issues you could look at is the issue of consistency among the DCF offices, and I think that it's fair to expect that kind of consistency so that a family, an individual, a service provider would have the same reaction and treatment among offices within the service provision, a therapeutic foster home would have the same requirements in whatever part of the state that a foster home was located -- or excuse me, therapeutic group home.

SENATOR FREEDMAN: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: Good morning, Terry.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Good morning.

REP. WALKER: Thank you for testifying. My first question. Do you represent the residential facilities?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Our members include residential treatment facilities, group homes.

REP. WALKER: Okay. One, we've been told that the number of placements in the residentials are down; is that correct?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: There are some issues, as I understand it, in timely placements.

REP. WALKER: Uh-huh.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: And I know that the individual providers have been working with their DCF contacts to make sure that placements occur on a timely basis. Basically if you're -- this gets to that issue of fee-for-service reimbursement. If you have empty beds, then you can't really afford to provide the services in an effective manner.

So, it's really crucial that you have appropriate, timely referrals with an emphasis on both. The referrals have to match the needs of the child and match the needs of the service provision.

REP. WALKER: One of the things that we've been talking about with DCF is addressing the number of kids who we have out-of-state. I think the number changes. It varies between 200 to 300 depending on what day of the week.

We asked the question whether we would be able to move all these children back into the state of Connecticut. One, because if we're paying state dollars, we would like to keep them in the state.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Uh-huh.

REP. WALKER: But, two, because it is closer for families to access those placements if they want to visit their children. Has that conversation and brought up in your provider's meetings?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Yeah, this has been a continual discussion over the past several years, and we fully support bringing the children back to Connecticut. We fully support being able to provide the services at all different levels of care. A lot of that does get to the point of being able to recognize what it costs to provide those services and to fund them adequately in state, but we're very willing to establish the services in the state.

As you know, siting has been an issue, and anything you can do at the legislative level to make it easier --

REP. WALKER: Is that a plug?

REP. VILLANO: -- to site residential services would be very helpful.

REP. WALKER: Well, I mean, many of the children, I may be wrong, but many of these children have a lot of issues.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Uh-huh, they do.

REP. WALKER: It's not just one issue.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Right.

REP. WALKER: So, my thought is that if we look at the diagnosis of why we place them in residential, couldn't it also be adjusted so that it would match what we were able to do here in the state?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: So, if you pay -- if the State is paying a certain dollar amount to provide for service out of State couldn't they provide that similar kind of service almost to per capita arrangement? I think that's a worth -- it's worth discussing to make sure that there really are wraparound services around the individual children's needs.

REP. WALKER: One of the questions was, in these residential placements, are we providing -- is it a requirement that the residential placement provide some supportive services for the child in their therapeutic setting?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: They do provide those services. It's really 24-hour care and support for the children both in the home, in the residence, in school settings and recreational settings.

REP. WALKER: And mental health settings.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Yes. These are services that include strong mental health and behavioral health components.

REP. WALKER: Now your discussion about behavior health --

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Uh-huh.

REP. WALKER: -- that's another thing that we've been looking at. One of your concerns is in the proposed -- and I want to emphasize, proposed restructuring of DCF -- you seem to find that behavioral health has been lost in that shuffle. We have -- we're still in negot -- no, in discussion with the agency about, you know, the reorganization. We thought that behavioral health was a major component because I mean, let's be honest, most of these children need behavioral health. So, in the answers, many of them have said that the behavioral health will be incorporated in that. Do you feel that that's a loss?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: We feel that there is a strong commitment from the Department to support behavior health services. We want to see the words. We want to see the language that behavioral health services need to be provided in all different, or available to children as needed in every kind of care setting, including whether the children are part of the juvenile justice system, whether they're in some kind of protective setting.

And so, you almost have to parse the plan right now to find the words. If the intent is there, I think it would be something that could be ameliorated fairly easily to just make it very clear that an underpinning of the Department's mission is to address the behavioral health needs of the children and then their families.

REP. WALKER: One of the -- just finally, one of the other things we had talked about in other groups is the fact that if we provided rehabilitation services and behavioral health services at most of these residential facilities, that would also align us with the ability of getting a match from Medicaid.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: I think that some of those services would be funded through the behavioral health partnership, and then there would be a match available. And that really is speaking to the issue of converting some of the services from grants to fee-for-service. As long as the programs are funded adequately, it makes sense to pick up a Medicaid match and be able to provide even more service to the children.

REP. WALKER: All right. I just want to say that I think as Legislators, we want to facilitate the conversation with the agency and the providers to talk about bringing our children home. Economically, it makes much more sense for us to employ the Connecticut residents, especially when they're Connecticut children, and keep those dollars here. So I hope that you and your colleagues are willing and prepared to go forward with that. I think that's going to be real important issue. Thank you.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: We absolutely agree with you.

REP. WALKER: Okay. Thank you.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Senator Meyer.

SENATOR MEYER: Thanks, Mr. Chairman.

Terry, do you have an opinion as to whether we could beneficially close Riverview Children's Hospital and allocate those kids to therapeutic group homes or therapeutic foster care?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: I thought you might ask that question. It is not an issue that we've discussed as a policy matter in our division except to say that we advocate strongly for community-based services close to home. So insofar as there are service models of any degree of intensity in local communities, we're very willing to provide those services. And I would put an emphasis on small is better. I think if you're able to provide those services locally, it's less disruptive to the families.

But I was present in the room when we heard differing opinions on the subject, and that isn't a position our association has taken.

SENATOR MEYER: So, you don't have a professional opinion as to whether or not therapeutic group homes or therapeutic foster care could competently care for the children who have acute mental illness?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: I don't have the answer to that. I know that too many children are cycling between community-based programs, emergency rooms, inpatient hospital bed --

SENATOR MEYER: Right.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: -- and back out to the community, and we really need to make sure that we're able to support all the community programs to keep the kids out of emergency rooms and out of any kind of long-term care setting. But there are times when the children need a huge amount of support which could be one-to-one, which could be provided in the community given adequate resources.

SENATOR MEYER: Okay. You know Jeanne Milstein has given us -- as a child advocate, has given us some financial information with respect to Riverview Children's Hospital. And she has indicated on the basis of her office's analysis that they're spending about $860,000 per child per year. And if there are 70 children right now at that hospital, the multiplication indicates that the cost to the State is $60,200,000 a year, and she has also questioned whether or not the treatment there is working well because of excessive restraints and seclusions in part.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Yeah.

SENATOR MEYER: So --

TERRY EDELSTEIN: You know, in -- in general, we have supported closing institutional settings or reducing the use of institutional settings to provide the services in the community. There is the significant issue of the funding. We can't develop, for example, a new model. The therapeutic group homes have been an excellent opportunity to provide services for children in a small setting. We have a great deal of other support, but if you then have to freeze your positions, you have to freeze your salaries because there's no cost-of-living adjustment, I don't how you could continue to provide the level of service needed. If you have to add the psychiatric hours, the coverage, it's expensive in the community as well as in institutional settings.

If you're able to explore some redirection, we would very much welcome that.

SENATOR MEYER: Good. Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Senator Prague.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Terry, can you give me an idea of why children are moved from 14 different foster homes? What creates that problem? Is it because the parents, the foster home folks can no longer handle these children? Is it because they don't have enough training, they don't have enough help, they don't have enough intervention? But for kids to be moved from 14 -- from one foster home to another so that they're in 14 to 17 different foster homes; why is that?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: There are huge issues, and probably the issues vary for each child. So, I don't have an answer for you except to say the component of services we provide is small community settings, whether they're residential settings or whether they're treatment settings. We're very involved in a number of services to support the children after school in a therapeutic setting, to support the services for children in home to keep the kids in home and assist the parents, whether they're natural parents or foster or adoptive parents to keep their kids in their homes.

Certainly there are system issues, and I'm just not as close to the foster care issues as to the community providers.

SENATOR PRAGUE: But you do do intervention with foster parents?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: We do. We do educational and supportive services.

SENATOR PRAGUE: And can these foster parents call you if they need additional services, if they feel they're having problems that they can't control themselves?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: They have the ability to talk to local community resources. Whether it's the psychiatric clinics for children or whether it's the emergency mobile psychiatric services, they have access to those kinds of services. I don't know enough about the linkage, about whether those calls are occurring.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Okay.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: But the goal should be that anyone who's serving the children who are the responsibility of the state should have access to those services.

SENATOR PRAGUE: And I just have one more question. The programs that are being offered out of state that we're sending our children to, are you familiar with those programs?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: I am not. I'm familiar with the in-state services.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Okay. I need to ask somebody that, because it seems to me if they can offer these programs out of state, that there's no reason why Connecticut can't offer the same programs and treat our children here.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: And I would agree with you completely that however complex the needs are of the children, we should be able to develop those services in state.

SENATOR PRAGUE: So thank you very much.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Senator Harris.

SENATOR HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning, Terry.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Good morning.

SENATOR HARRIS: Just to follow up on what Senator Meyer asked you, I understand that if we put the resources, more resources, appropriate resources into home- and community-based care, there'd be more that your members could provide better services. And I know that you kind of said you didn't have a total level of expertise on some of what the Senator was asking, but I want it kind of clarified. In your level of expertise, are there certain services, a certain level of acuity of a child that would say you cannot deal with that child within the home- and community-based services? So for one or more children, is it necessary to have some sort of institutional care?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: I would say that with adequate support and resources, we could provide services for any child in the community.

SENATOR HARRIS: Okay. So, there's no one that's beyond your ability to be able to deal with?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: No. It's a resource issue.

SENATOR HARRIS: And in your experience with other states and in networking throughout the country, are there other models that we should be looking to that have been successful as a way that we can reconfigure?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: I think that Connecticut's direction, with the help of the Legislature has been moving toward community-based settings for a number of years, and I think it's a very positive direction. So, I think that's pretty much state of the art around the country.

There are different kinds of models to make sure that the children have access to a number of different kinds of services in the community, but the key is being able to locate the children as close to home as possible in as homelike a setting as possible if they can't be living in their own homes. It might require a huge staffing component to keep the children safe from -- for themselves, to protect other people as well. And I'm happy to review with some of our national sources, any other kind of national models that might be of help and bring those to you.

SENATOR HARRIS: That would be helpful. And along the lines of the more specific question as has been termed to children cycling throughout the system and bouncing back and forth, have there been any other states that have encountered that similar problem, and what did they do to successfully mitigate that issue?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: I will do the research from out of state. It's a huge issue around the country.

SENATOR HARRIS: Thank you.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: You know, these are very difficult and troubled children in difficult situations.

SENATOR HARRIS: Thank you very much.

REP. VILLANO: Representative Thompson.

REP. THOMPSON: Good morning, Terry.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Good morning.

REP. THOMPSON: If you would stretch that to the international, I would be very interested in going on in what is going on in France because their statistics on childcare and health care are just off the map, as far -- off the chart, rather, as far as I'm concerned, in comparison to America. But we have Birth to Three. You're familiar with Birth to Three?

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Sure.

REP. THOMPSON: Early identification of need.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Uh-huh.

REP. THOMPSON: And that, I would assume can be stretched to include mental services; it's a health care model. The statistics that they present --

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Uh-huh.

REP. THOMPSON: -- that if you identify a child at birth or early on, by the time -- half of those children, by the time they reach the school age are not -- do not require, I'm sorry, do not require special education.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Uh-huh.

REP. THOMPSON: And, of course, $7700 or something like that, the last time I saw it for a Birth to Three child it cost 16,000 for a special ed, another quarter of those kids that get beyond the need and have their needs met prior to school age, another 25 percent, I think, we'll be off in the next year or two, so -- and they could chart out for you, and they presented these figures at different hearings, they'll chart out for you the, you know, the multimillion dollar savings, but the quality of life for the child and the family, and it's exactly what you say, it's community based.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: That's right. We're very close to the Birth to Three system. A number of our members provide those services. As you know, it's -- it runs through the Department of Developmental Services, and there is a behavioral health component that's required in Birth to Three services. So that early invention is essential. And some children will need added supports for many years, maybe for their whole lifetime, but if they get those supports early on, they're more likely to have success.

So, we would fully endorse that model. I think part of this goes to the whole debate about health care reform, as well, and to make sure that behavioral health services are available to children, whether they're on the HUSKY program or whether they're through -- funded through private insurers or whether their families don't have adequate insurance, and that's where you come in in terms of crafting a health care design that covers every individual in the state.

REP. THOMPSON: The weakness, however, in that approach, I think, is what happened, well, now five years ago in the interim, is 2003 budget, when we cut back on that early intervention, we actually cut back on the Birth to Three program, making it more difficult for a child.

Now it's restored, but there is a gap there. And it seems we, as a society, don't understand the value of providing these types of services early on. We'd rather build stadiums than fund programs for children. So there are models here. And Healthy Families, now nurturing Connecticut, is another one which is health based, which identifies families at risk, which provides a community service, a comprehensive community, intensive home visitation. That's exactly what you folks do.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: That's right.

REP. THOMPSON: So, investing our money there rather than some of the other things we invest our money in makes a lot of sense.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: I think it is an offset. If you can start early on and through Birth to Three, through the DCF system, through the Behavioral Health Partnership, I think that we could be much more successful moving forward.

REP. THOMPSON: But, as I say, the weakness appears to be kids falling through the system, and if kids don't have access to health care, they're not going to be identified unless they're lucky. And there are some lucky stories we heard here today. But as far as the system, you're exactly right, the community-based system is the way to go.

Thank you.

TERRY EDELSTEIN: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Terry. Appreciate your testimony and your patience. Our next speaker is Trina Porter.

Good morning.

TRINA PORTER: Good morning. My name is Trina Porter. Thank you very much for allowing me to go. I've traveled very far. I reside in Maryland, and I've flown up here to give my testimony, which is very near and dear to my heart. I'm a nonpracticing attorney, and I have been fighting for over two years for my niece. I want to show you a picture of her, because it helps to have a picture to identify with.

Okay. She's now four. She was two when she was seized by DCF. Okay. I have traveled far with due expense and speak on behalf of my family and my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, the Massey's who desire to adopt my Isabella. The Massey's are extended family connected to me by marriage. There's a half blood connection through my son. My niece was seized by the caseworker, Ms. Gargiulo of Middletown DCF around November 4th. Upon hearing that she had been seized, I immediately contacted the office to find out how we could get her back. Okay. I was told that I'd have to file on behalf of the family an ICPC, an interstate compact agreement. We completed -- that includes an extensive psychological, financial home check by our own caseworkers in Maryland, and then that information, along with approval or disapproval plus background fingerprinting, state and federal, is submitted to the State of Connecticut. And then the State of Connecticut then reviews that paperwork to determine whether or not the Massey's were considered good foster parents. They were.

I have also provided for your look -- your review, a chronology of all the steps that I have taken which is only a brief synopsis of what I've gone through emotionally and the time and funds expended cannot ever be replaced, and most of all, our niece which is -- is no longer available to the family by determination of the court in Willimantic, Connecticut.

During this -- the time that she was seized, the birth parents were going through various rehabilitative programs, and there was -- Isabella was doing fine in her foster care home. During that time, I also continued to ask whether or not Isabella was going to be adopted, and I was constantly and consistently told, no, that she was just going to be in foster care.

I'm going to skip some of -- some of the things that I've talked about, but I'll tell you that upon completion of the ICPC and submittal to the State of Connecticut by the State of Maryland, a sister state, the DCF caseworkers had a meeting amongst themselves the following month, knowing that we had been -- plus with a written letter: We're very much interested in obtaining Isabella back -- and they had a meeting and determined, without the completion of rehabilitative programs by the birth parents, that they were going to have Isabella adopted by the foster parents --

(Gap in tape.)

TRINA PORTER: -- in five months of being with the present foster parents. That was heart-rending, after we've been trying to get her back for more than seven months up to that time. Paperwork was filed.

Basically DCF ignored our pleas throughout the entire process for family visits. There are over seven documented visits plus telephone calls to the caseworkers. It took 90 days for them to even return a call concerning even one visit, and I only found out that those so-called two visits were a setup for a psychological interaction study on Isabella's reaction with the foster parents versus the Massey's, which was totally unfair. Because as an infant, she may not have the same cognizance to remember the family versus those that she's been in the daily care of. I argued this point. It was a moot issue.

DCF allowed the Massey's only two supervised visits. DCF knew that the two visits to be held, would not allow for a relationship that could be compared against the present foster parents. DCF failed to comply with federal law, and your own statute, Section 45(a). I could go on and on, but the federal statutes also deal with it's in the best interest of our child to be given to its family or relatives or extended family. And you also have on your books a Baby Z case in which the courts extended, extended that opinion to deal with same-sex parents fighting for the right to adopt their partner's child.

Surely, the State of Connecticut, in seeing this type of case law and precedence, should have given us the same, since we are related, 25 years of marriage and half-blood connection. There is a degree of consanguinity that's recognized in other states but not Connecticut.

I've also done some analysis and study. New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and quite a few other states that I've checked through ACF, while having similar laws on the state have extended that to include even family members and neighbors and friends that are very much inclusive in the family unit, but Connecticut does not.

DCF's Ombudsman's Office failed to respond to any of my queries, and after 89 days I finally received a call from Ms. Flowers. It took her an additional five days to even receive responses as to tell me she doesn't have an answer; sorry.

I waited 90 days in vain for nothing, so I don't have much faith in the Ombudsman's Office. DC failed to honor the birth parents desires that Isabella remain with her family and be adopted, despite that being part of their desire when terminating their parental rights.

The court determination recognized that the Massey's had been unfairly prejudiced throughout the process, but still favored giving the child to the present foster parents by justifying that it was in the best interest of the child to place the family -- with the foster family that she developed ties with.

I argued that a child that age would probably adjust with the family, because you -- she -- pictures clearly refute that she did recall a lot of things. We brought down a lot of her toys and things to create some -- some thread of a relationship. On two visits, you're asking for a miracle.

DCF explicitly misled the Massey's and myself as to the true desires of the foster parents. Why was Isabella placed in a -- we call in Maryland, an at-risk home when knowing that we wanted to get her back. Why would you place her in a prospective adoptive home knowing that the family is fighting to get her back?

We were set up from the get-go. Nothing that we did legally, internally or externally helped us in trying to get Isabella back. Even after the case and determination by the courts in Willimantic, we were denied a final visit, a final meeting even from my mother. This is our only niece and granddaughter in the family.

Okay. My -- my only thing is that how would Connecticut justify their treating Isabella like an orphan, taking her from her family without any true or fair justification and simply giving her to a nonrelated caregiver?

I speak on behalf of Isabella's family and for Isabella who has no true voice. We seek justice so that other families will not suffer as we have suffered and will continue to suffer.

This Legislature needs to revise the laws to give families like us a chance without loopholes to retrieve our children from being falsely designated orphans without a voice, without a chance to grow up.

REP. VILLANO: Ms. Porter.

TRINA PORTER: Yes.

REP. VILLANO: I just wanted to ask you if you would please wrap up so that --

TRINA PORTER: Well, I had three more words, but I'm finished. Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: And thank you for your testimony.

Are there questions from committee members? Senator Meyer.

SENATOR MEYER: Thanks for coming out, Ms. Porter.

TRINA PORTER: Thank you.

SENATOR MEYER: I gather that the court here in Connecticut has determined this situation, and so I'm trying to understand if there's anything we can do now in your case. And it seemed to me that the court has directed where Isabella is going to go. And the Massey's are not going to be involved in that. But I hear you, in effect, saying that you and the Massey's would like the opportunity to visit Isabella.

TRINA PORTER: We would like some communication, but that's a small -- that's just a very small issue. The major issue is for the laws and DCF to be changed. I think it's pretty obvious.

SENATOR MEYER: I understand that, and that's why we're holding these hearings, but I just wanted to look at your situation and see the Deputy Commissioner of DCF, Brian Mattiello is here today, and he's sitting right over there in the front row, the blue shirt and the red necktie. And if you were looking for some communication with Isabella, I'm going to urge that before you leave and go back to Maryland, that you have a chat with him about that.

TRINA PORTER: Sir, I thank you very much for that information. I want you to know that I've also spoken with just about everyone. I've spoken with your Attorney General for DCF, for whatever -- I forgot her name -- Sally Kramer, Ms. Kramer. Ms. Kramer was looking into that. We had some correspondence by e-mail. I want you to know I've never received a final response as to whether or not we could reunify with Isabella. Okay. So I have very little faith in DCF right now.

I've contacted your Governor. I've contacted Oprah. I've contacted 7 On Your Side. I've contacted -- I talked with your newspeople outside. I've tried to contact Colin Poitras of your Hartford Courant, but he was removed from the -- moved to another desk and no longer working there. After the Talickson's case, and they waited one year, we started immediately upon seizure. I have very little faith in DCF, very little.

Your Attorney General didn't even respond back to me, your Attorney General. I then contacted and worked on the federal side, ACF Region One, Mr. Cavanagh, just to even find out if she had been adopted. There's no avenue for discourse, because the caseworker has become quite hostile to any questions that we might have.

And have you heard of the word "blacklisted?" Well, after speaking with several other caseworkers, I found out there's a hidden word called "blacklisting." If they don't like you, they find you an irritant, a thorn in their side, they refuse to respond to you. They have given -- given my family a run around for what little monies we have.

This is my Christmas present, to come up here so that you can understand -- this is my money, my last cent, my vacation day, so you can understand how people out of state have been treated and people in state have been treated. We have not had a representation and a chance to a voice our opinions through the court system. There have been legal loopholes in the name of what's in the best interests of your child.

How are you going to face Isabella when she's 15 or 16, who comes of age and says, I wasn't an orphan. What happened to my family? Why wasn't I given to them? And you're telling me psychologically that she might be imbalanced later. At four years old, I don't think so. Well, two years was what she was then. She was still an infant. She would have adapted.

And we had plans and medical care from our caseworkers lined up at Johns Hopkins, just up the road from me, to take care of any and every psychological need that child has had. And I was told -- if I had been told and not let on from the get-go, from day one, that only blood-related relatives were going to get any due respect, and a sister state representative from Maryland was never going to be given that sense of respect and family that I myself would have personally adopted her. But I'm on my way out towards retirement, and my sister and brother-in-law have no children, and they very much wanted to care for her as they've given up their time before to do so.

It was even implied, why didn't I just sieze her? Oh, it's okay for Connecticut to tell me to kidnap my -- my sister's child. Whether she's in good care or not, it's not the issue. I still must comply with the laws. I also know that federal monies are given to DCF. This is a cottage industry. A cottage industry. Money is given and they don't want to let it out of -- most of the time to the states. I didn't even ask for a cent. We just wanted Isabella back. Okay. We just wanted our baby back. The last granddaughter, the only granddaughter my mother will ever have.

How -- I had to tell her this that we lost the case. Incredulous. There's no amount of prayers that I could have said to change the mind of the judge or anyone else, no plea. I have very little chance for a voice, and now my voice is gone. It's a moot issue since the parental rights have been seized.

And you tell me to talk to an individual whose offices have failed to respond to me time and time again. I have no faith in Connecticut.

Any other questions?

REP. VILLANO: Are there any other questions of committee members?

TRINA PORTER: Yes, ma'am.

REP. VILLANO: Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: I can only start with an apology.

TRINA PORTER: Thank you.

REP. WALKER: This has got to be one of the hardest things you've ever done.

TRINA PORTER: Yes, ma'am.

REP. WALKER: We, as a state, have failed miserably in this situation. We beg you to stop the other Isabellas and help us close those loopholes. Work with us. Give us the insight. Even help us get the language.

I have an Isabella that's a granddaughter too, and I would be devastated.

TRINA PORTER: I understand how you feel. It's heart-rending. I cried all the way up here driving. I've cried. I have still more tears from the bottom -- from my whole family, because she wasn't an orphan, you understand? She was seized. They had due knowledge.

They had knowledge from day one with written confirmation. No one listened to us, no one. No one cared. And then you tell me, Well, DCF is in the best interests of the child. What was in the best interest at five months after the ICPC had been sent that you couldn't have turned her over?

And I'll tell you something, I tried to get statistics how that child has been; she's multiracial, but okay. She's -- if that child had been a little darker complected, I'm going to tell you the truth, I don't think she would have been so readily adopted. And that's the truth. I've done research.

Thank you. There is nothing in the ACF records that shows the children of color, and she's a child of many colors in my family, that are so readily adopted as Isabella. What was the reason to push it? And then stick a psychologist there and tell me -- tell me that he's going to refute that there's no connection.

We have tons of pictures proving the point. Even the judge said, No, that's not right. I've seen her playing with them. Sticking stickers all over their face. She's being carried. She's -- she's intermingling. You can't expect an infant to make a decision for her own life by her very little actions that she's run over here and she's run over there. She's going to be scared of us, of course, after only being allowed two visits.

And then to be denied the chance to send out presents I've got for two years in my closet, and my mother has got earings for her. Little things, little trivial things. And I've wrote a letter to explain our family history. How are they going to recognize if she has mental illness in the family later? Because the present foster parent is not the same as blood relations. They do not know, but we know.

And it would have been no money or cost to the State of Connecticut. I asked for no money; I just asked for Isabella back.

Please go on with your questions.

REP. VILLANO: Representative Walker, are you finished?

REP. WALKER: No. I just -- I'm sorry. And I really do hope that you will work with us. We have failed you. We failed Isabella and we cannot continue to do this. Because a family, one part of the family is not functioning. There are many others. We all have people in our family that had issues, but the one thing we want to do is we want the family circle to get closer, not to be broken up. So please, please stay in touch with us and help us.

Thank you.

TRINA PORTER: I will.

REP. WALKER: Thank you very much.

TRINA PORTER: I will. Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Ms. Porter -- Representative Hamm.

REP. HAMM: Hi. Thank you very much. I'm an attorney working in the courts to try and assist parents who were exactly in your circumstance. And the hard part is that best interest standard which is so subjective that you can drive a truck through. And it's very difficult for us as Legislators to change the law that would require your phone calls to be returned, for you to be treated with respect. And, in fact, we have currently laws that said our policy in Connecticut is family first, biology first, reunification first, keep siblings together, and it doesn't happen, which is why after all this time, we are trying to figure out how and what we can do to change the way it works.

But, I don't think the laws are the problem. We can change your suggestion to include the expanded definition of family. That's an easy fix for us to do legislatively. It's not going to solve the bigger problem that we have inside that agency.

The cottage industry you're talking about, dead on. I see it every day. People come here from the Department of Children and Families and testify that they keep siblings together, and I go into court and have motions denied for sibling visits, so I hear you, and I will do anything I can to assist.

I hope you will give me your e-mail address, phone number and any contact information, because this is the year that we're going to try to really do something.

TRINA PORTER: Representative Hamm, you have a law already in existence. You have Section 45(a) 727(a) through Subsection 3, okay. You have the law already in place. All it needs is to be acted upon. Educate your staff in DCF to understand this. The mantra within DCF and its court-appointed attorneys and private consultants is that -- is to the negative of that law. In fact, we recorded, constantly told by the mother's lawyer, the birth mother's lawyer that, you're going to lose. You're going to lose. You're going to lose, because it's not the policies or practices of DCF to give their children outside of state, and/or to extended family members that are not fully blood related.

You have it in your laws. That baby Z case -- continued precedents by the courts would help, but if you're not going to practice what you've written down and as you're preaching to me now, it's useless. It's on your books.

And last but not least, you're receiving federal funds. I'm from Washington DC and I know for a fact if you receive federal funds, your laws must be in compliance with federal statutes. Federal statutes have been written to include extended families, and even friends of -- family friends who often help raise children, babysit for them for many years, and establish that. You've had them on your record. You had a law, HB-5908 that you were -- I don't know the status right now, but you were trying to work on it. And there were a lot of loopholes. There were so many loopholes that again, a truck could be driven through it, and it negates any rights that we might have acquired, we, meaning all of us that have not gotten our children back, be they nonrelated or related or otherwise caregivers; grandparents, aunts, uncles, et cetera.

Pass the law without the loopholes. Educate your DCF so that they understand, really, the ramifications and the original intent behind the law. You've forgotten that.

REP. VILLANO: Ms. Porter, I'm going to ask you to conclude now, because we deeply appreciate all your testimony and the experience you've had with them. We do have a number of speakers who have to be heard this afternoon. And we value what you've told us, and we look forward from hearing from you, whatever you care to share with the committee in the future.

Again, thank you for your testimony, and we're going to return now to the list of speakers. Thank you again.

SENATOR MEYER: Deborah Ericksen.

DEBORAH ERICKSEN: Good afternoon.

REP. VILLANO: Good afternoon.

DEBORAH ERICKSEN: Distinguished Chairs of the Human Services Committee and the Select Committee on Children. My name is Deborah Ericksen. I am before you today to testify to the fact that my husband and I have first-hand knowledge of how dysfunctional the Department of Children and Families really is in attempting to treat children in our state.

We filed for voluntary services, in April 2004, in the Meriden office for help with our teenage son who is diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder and intermittent explosive disorder. Our son Kyle exhibited oppositional and even violent behavior in our home starting around age 11. At one point, in 2004, we were calling the police every week, because Kyle was so out-of-control. We have three other children who are 3 and a half, 2 and 8 months old at the time.

During these past four years with DCF we have been subjected to the overarching philosophy in the agency that the parents are at fault for the child's behavior. While a majority of DCF cases are the result of children being abused and neglected by their parents, we were not the typical DCF family.

My husband and I are married, both college-educated. We care deeply for our children, and we do anything to help them. My husband owns his own business. I am a stay-at-home mom, and our son Kyle was extremely bright.

After several years of exhausting and a wide range of community-based programs and a private residential facility that we paid for by selling our house, we were forced to ask DCF to take temporary custody of our son in order to get him more intensive services out of our home. In the State of Connecticut, a parent must sign a document stating that they are basically abandoning their child, because they cannot meet their mental health needs. DCF considers this neglect. But this is the only gateway to DCF's funding once voluntary services are exhausted.

As parents, this was the most heart-wrenching decision we ever had to make. But to protect our younger children and get Kyle the help he needed. We did it. As a result, our DCF caseworker actually accused us of abandoning our son and told us ours was an abuse and neglect case. This thinking pervaded the Meriden office right on up to the area director who told us that her entire office believed this. No parent should have to suffer through this and sign a court document stating they are abandoning their child because they need services from DCF. This must change.

At a family treatment planning meeting in 2005, the clinical social worker actually yelled at us across the table, telling us that we abandoned our child, that we were guilty of neglect, that the case wasn't about Kyle, but was actually about my husband and I, and even had his facts wrong about our case, and on it went.

We had never been so rudely treated in all our lives. We wrote several letters to the DCF Commissioner calling for this man to be fired, but nothing ever happened to him. We even had a friend with us in the room who, at the time, sat on the DCF advisory board. He was appalled at the outrageous and unprofessional actions of this man. In an e-mail that we acquired through the Freedom of Information Act concerning our case, we found that another DCF employee in the room at the time actually wrote an e-mail within the agency, lying about the facts of the incident. It was outrageous.

Another problem is caseworker incompetence and mismanagement. DCF caseworkers are required to submit treatment planning reports every six months. The caseworker we had was extremely incompetent, as was his supervisor. He continually wrote treatment plan reports about our family that were distorting, misleading and outright lies. The caseworker shifted the focus of the reports to blame us, Kyle's parents, for creating Kyle's oppositional defiant disorder and intermittent explosive disorder, and accused us of perpetuating these problems in our son. This shift in focus delayed progress in Kyle's treatment as new treatment providers had to then sift through the inaccuracies, information omissions and biased views that the caseworker presented to them.

We spent hours upon hours going over these treatment planning reports and submitting corrections for all the errors that were made. We went up the administration -- administrative line in the Meriden office and then took our case to Hartford in July 2006, eventually sending a 14-page letter to the DCF Commissioner, documented why we wanted our caseworker and his supervisor removed from our case. We got nowhere. You do have a copy of that letter and there are copies with the clerk that I filed.

At one point, we filed a complaint with the Ombudsman's Office. Unfortunately, this office consists of DCF employees hired to oversee complaints from families. Because we had documented our case so well, the office did help us to move our case out of Meriden to the Middletown office. Leading up to this, however, we were disconcerted to find out that the Ombudsman director was on a friendly first name basis with our local area director. How can a dysfunctional agency like DCF monitor itself?

DCF complaints need to be monitored by an independent body of professionals. The one bright spot was the Yale Child Study Center Program, ICARS, Intensive In-home Child and Adolescent Reintegration Services. In June 2006, they started visiting our home several times a week, and eventually saw Kyle's aggressive behaviors. They really advocated for a treatment plan that was in Kyle's best interests and stuck to the facts of the case, even when DCF staff continued their it's-the-parents-fault comments. They were instrumental in helping us push DCF to seek continual care for our son.

DCF staff often went against recommendations of the professionals working closely with us and our son. In one case, our son was in a psychiatric hospital after a crisis, and both ICARS and the hospital recommended a therapeutic boarding school. DCF said they knew of no such service. But they were actually the ones who suggested it in one of the meetings at the hospital, and then they turned around to say there was no such thing as that service. I went online and found two therapeutic boarding schools in the state of Connecticut who said they are DCF approved.

So -- and at that meeting, DCF threatened us in that meeting in front of the psychiatric hospital staff and the ICARS team, that if we did not take our son home when he was going to be released from the hospital that week, they would file custody and take him away from us.

REP. VILLANO: Ms. Ericksen, can you wrap up please?

DEBORAH ERICKSEN: Sure.

REP. VILLANO: We're trying to --

DEBORAH ERICKSEN: Yeah. With alternative, we took him home and within a month he was back in a psychiatric hospital after another crisis, just what we and the ICARS team predicted would happen.

A few years earlier, an intensive outpatient program also recommended Kyle be placed in a residential facility, and again, DCF ignored their recommendation.

After continued pressure from us and the ICARS team, DCF finally relented and approved an out-of-state, therapeutic boarding school last year where our son graduated high school from this past June. He still had problems that he would not work on, but the time away gave us and our other children the respite we needed from the continual chaos in our home.

Because Kyle's angry behaviors were still present, we couldn't safely have him home after graduation. Again, instead of helping us to find a place to stay for a month until he turned 18, DCF stepped in and they took custody of him, three weeks before his 18th birthday. They paid for him to go to an expensive college in Pennsylvania, but he wasn't ready to be on his own. DCF set him up for failure again.

They failed to provide the emotional support he needed in a big city all alone, and failed to provide him necessary asthma medication for months. He has since been kicked out of college for drug use that started in college, and walked away from DCF because he doesn't want to live under their rules either. And desperately trying to find services for our out-of-control son, we allowed agencies, including DCF into our home and allowed our parenting style to be put under a microscope. We tried everything that multiple therapists suggested.

That's the end of my testimony, and I have supporting documents.

REP. VILLANO: Yes, I was about to say, we do have your written testimony, and it's available to all the committee members and we'll go over it carefully, but right now we'll wrap it up and ask committee members if there are any questions for you.

There are none. So thank you, again for your testimony.

DEBORAH ERICKSEN: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: We appreciate you coming here today.


Our next speaker, Margie Gillis.

We'll skip over Margie Gillis and go to Maria Zappulla.

MARIA ZAPPULLA: Good afternoon. My name is Maria Zappulla.

In January 2006, we found out that our daughter had been drinking with her cheerleading friends at sleepovers. She was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. She was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning and an overdose of Tylenol tablets, and spent three days at the Institute of Living.

She attended Rushford Center every week for nine months where we brought her. She was also going to a psychiatrist every week, and her pediatrician was also seeing her every month. In March, 2007, we started family counseling, because we felt that maybe that would be more beneficial than individual counseling.

In January, 2007, she was arrested for shoplifting, and in May of 2007, she was arrested for threatening her brother with a knife. She was very hostile towards the family and threatening. We had to put locks on our bedroom doors because she would -- she said she would kill us in our sleep.

When DCF became involved, we thought that they would help our family, but instead they tore it apart. They helped alienate our daughter from us and misled us every step of the way.

Here is a 16 year old that stole from her parents, grandparents and neighbors. She drank, took drugs, defecated in a plastic basin in our home and left it on the banister, and also urinated in a plastic bag in the basement. Her grades deteriorated, and she killed her brother's fish on his birthday. She forged notes at school and lied to the teachers. She is a great manipulator, and when people catch on to her tricks, she moves on. DCF didn't think anything was wrong with any of her behavior.

We wanted our daughter to stay with my sister, but DCF said that there was a case against her in their office. The supervisor talked to my sister at a meeting at my home, and realized, and told her that it was a case of mistaken identity with another family, which took months to correct until my sister threatened libel. What kind of background checks do they run?

When the family that my daughter was staying with went out of town for five days, they allowed her to stay at a neighbors home without completing a background check on the neighbors. But for her to stay with my parents for one day, we were told that a background check on them was necessary. Where's the consistency in the rules that they abide by? DCF stopped family therapy after three sessions. They told us that they saw that her behavior was bizarre and that she needed help, but they never gave her any help.

They told us that they were going to file for a child with special needs that can't be cared for in the home, which wouldn't be accusing us of anything, but they filed for everything, but that. That was a ploy on their part to make sure that we signed her over. They essentially blackmailed us into signing her over to the Department.

In March, 2007, they set up a meeting under false pretenses indicating it was to reunite the family when, in fact, it wasn't that at all, as the therapist from Wheeler Clinic was never told that the goal was family unification. Reunification was never DCF's goal.

The first foster family that she was with requested that she be removed because they couldn't tolerate her behavior. We were not told she was moved to another home in a different town. The DCF social worker, my daughter, and the foster mother called the police in a new town to report that my husband was parked outside their home, understand when, in fact, we had no idea she had been moved.

REP. VILLANO: Would you sum up, please.

MARIA ZAPPULLA: Okay. Throughout this whole ordeal we feel that they have lied to us and given us false hopes about reunification. Our daughter is a disturbed, out-of-control girl, as demonstrated by her behavior in our home and the homes she has been placed in. She desperately needs psychological and emotional help which DCF has failed to provide. The emotional abuse that we have had to endure from this agency is totally reprehensible, and the people that allow this kind of treatment to go on should be ashamed of themselves. There should be some sort of accountability or reprimands.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you very much, Ms. Zappulla.

Are there questions from committee members? If not, again, thank you for your testimony.

MARIA ZAPPULLA: Thank you.

SENATOR MEYER: One of the prior witnesses, Bernetta Henry indicated that there has been a suspension, or termination of care coordination in the Hartford area. And DCF has just given us a notice saying that it will continue to fund this care coordination until a new provider can take up the service. There's not going to be any disruption of the care coordination services, and DCF wanted us to know that, and I'm just giving you notice of that fact. If anybody wants to take it up again with the Deputy Commissioner Brian Mattiello -- he is not here. He was here. He'll be back. Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Senator Meyer.

Our next speaker is Mark Schaefer. Good afternoon.

MARK SCHAEFER: Good afternoon. Good morning -- yes, good afternoon at this point. Good afternoon, Senator Harris, Representative Villano and members of the Human Services Committee. My name is Mark Schaefer and I'm the Director of Medical Policy and Behavioral Health for the Department of Social Services.

You've been hearing valuable, I think invaluable and important testimony about the weaknesses, or specific failures of the system. And what I'd like to do, at this point, is share my thoughts about some of the successes of DCF, and particularly, its behavioral health division.

My agency has collaborated with DCF on behavioral health services for more than ten years. The collaboration was strengthened under legislation establishing Connecticut Community Kid Care in 2001, and the Connecticut Behavioral Health Partnership in 2005, which brought us closer to the creation, a realization of an integrated system of public behavioral health services for Husky-enrolled children and families.

I'm here today to talk about the leadership role that the Department of Children and Families has played in this initiative. DCF can be credited with laying out the original vision for systems of care and community services that exist outside of walls of clinics and private offices. They have established an array of home-based services, more than five distinct models to date along with a network of emergency mobile psychiatric services. They have also recognized the essential role of evidence-based practice. This is reflected in the fact that three of the five home-based models are evidence based. Moreover, evidence-based practice will be an essential element to the new enhanced care clinic standards. Evidence-based practice in behavioral health is unquestionably the way of the future, and DCF is helping to take us there.

DCF is the lead agency for clinical management under the behavioral health partnership. They direct the administrative service organization and its conduct of utilization management and quality management, and play a major role in the administration of the enhanced care clinic initiative. They have served as the lead in developing medical necessity guidelines under the statutorily established Clinical Management Committee, and have done so with the active participation of providers and parents.

DCF has focused the resources of the partnership on some of the most intractable -- intractable problems of child mental health in Connecticut, including inpatient psychiatric discharge delays and boarding and hospital EDs. In the past year alone, the number of inpatient delay days has dropped by more than 40 percent over the past four quarters. The average length of stay in hospital EDs has also dropped by more than 30 percent since 2007.

Through the behavioral health partnership, DCF is using performance dollars to reward reduced lengths of stay in hospitals. In the coming years, the departments will continue their work with community providers and the Connecticut Hospital Association to establish performance initiatives, focus on reducing pediatric psychiatric ED admissions, and increasing ED diversion to community services.

DCF has recently undertaken other initiatives that focus on the quality of the care and length of stay in DCF and DSS funded residential facilities.

DCF continues to focus on the improvement of existing service models. Though controversial, the reprocurement of the mobile psychiatric system will bring a number of needed enhancements to this essential service. DCF is undertaking similar initiatives in their extended day treatment and care coordination programs. They are working to incorporate the best and latest thinking in these enhancements. They're evaluating new approaches to care coordination at Bridgeport and the Bristol/Farmington collaboratives. Care coordination, which remains an essential component in the delivery of wraparound services.

Access has improved, waiting lists have been eliminated in most of the states freestanding psychiatric clinics. And the great -- great majority of children are able to get appointments within two weeks or sooner.

With your permission, I'd like to finish up, if that's okay.

REP. VILLANO: Yes, please finish up. Wrap up as soon as you can.

MARK SCHAEFER: All right. As all of you know, child-welfare and juvenile-justice involved children have exceptional needs. Nowhere is this more evident than the fact that child welfare involved children use more than 30 times as many hospital inpatient days per capita when compared to nonchild welfare-involved children.

We have always suspected this, but could never measure it until DCF developed an indicator which, combined with DSS eligibility data allows us to understand the needs of various DCF populations, but also to monitor our progress in serving these populations.

Related to those, DCF has introduced performance initiatives focused on foster care disruption which has been an important topic today. This initiative promises to take advantage of the interdependence of child welfare and behavioral health services, and to focus resources early after placement to those at greatest risk in order to prevent or break the cycle of disruption that leads to lengthy or repeated stays in hospitals, residential settings.

Finally, in closing, these achievements are possible because of DCF's leadership and their strong and capable behavioral health management team. I've worked with DCF now for three years and an MOU through a joint contract with value options, the administrative service organization for the BHP. It's a credit to the collaborative spirit that they bring, that we have never had a disagreement amongst senior managers that could not be resolved through discussion and debate. They bring mutual respect for our different -- differing areas of expertise and authority.

The inherent tension that arises from administering a multiagency initiative has resulted in ways that leads to better policy and better administration beyond what either agency could accomplish on its own. This is transformative leadership and transformative action of exactly the kind called for in the president's new freedom commission of mental health and that is promoted through Connecticut's DMHAS led transformation grant.

I appreciate having had the opportunity to testify, and I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you Dr. Schaefer.

Are there questions from committee members? Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: Good afternoon, Mark. How are you?

MARK SCHAEFER: Good afternoon.

REP. WALKER: You heard the conversations that people had earlier about the behavioral health partnership and with the proposed changes that DCF is making to their administrative structure. They are talking about behavioral health becoming, I guess, blending in or something. Are you familiar with this?

MARK SCHAEFER: I'm not familiar with how behavioral health administration would change within DCF as a result of the proposed restructuring.

REP. WALKER: Okay. You do work with behavioral health, correct? How do you evaluate when -- we had testimony earlier also about IICAPS --

MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah.

REP. WALKER: -- and the inconsistency. It was one of the testimonies that we had earlier. And they said the inconsistency of acting on the treatment plan. How do you get -- how do you evaluate teams in IICAPS or any of the other teams in behavioral health?

MARK SCHAEFER: Well, the -- what we've been able to do through the partnership is basically to double the number of families who have had access to IICAPS, but the issue of quality which is an issue throughout any child welfare system or behavioral health system is a -- is a constant challenge. There's invariably going to be variations in quality based on the clinicians who are doing the work and that sort of thing.

REP. WALKER: Uh-huh.

MARK SCHAEFER: To get to better and more consistent quality, you have to have providers who are using models that allow you to assess fidelity to the treatment model over time. A lot of what happens in clinics right now does not follow any particular model and so there's quite a bit of variability.

In the home-based service programs, despite the -- I think the comment on that service this morning, we have credentialing entities, one for the multisystemic therapy program, another for IICAPS. The credentialing authorities are supposed to be monitoring fidelity to make sure that clinicians don't drift and that they all use similar practices. But those aren't perfect systems. I think it's better when you have fidelity-driven models that you're financing, not just whatever happens in the home, but really following a particular plan. But there are going to be -- there are going to be missteps and there's going to be some variation.

REP. WALKER: I hear you on the fidelity, and I hear you on the credentialing. How are the consumers voices being incorporated in an evaluation of the services that they receive?

MARK SCHAEFER: We do in a few different ways. One is that on an annual basis, we do a survey around numbers who use hospital services, day programs and also the home-based services. So, we have been surveying families about their impressions of these services, and I don't have with me the data on their feedback, but I could provide that.

We also just routinely include parents' perspectives through a parent advisory group, a 15- or 16-member parent advisory group that's overseen by the value options.

REP. WALKER: Uh-huh.

MARK SCHAEFER: And they participate in many of the oversight council, the behavioral health partnership's oversight council, which is really essential for our accountability, both participating in the oversight council itself and on some of the subcommittees. Although not to the extent that we would like to see, and that's become a focus of discussion in recent months.

REP. WALKER: I understand the advisory council, the oversight council. My concern is that the advisory council and the oversight council are kind of picked by the agency that's being managed or overseen, or watched, so it's kind of like the fox watching the henhouse in some regards.

So I'm looking at -- I understand everybody is really into the conversations, but we -- please be respectful of the gentleman, so that he can finish. It's really important. Okay. This is very heated, and we all know that, but we're trying to get down to some of the issues. So, thank you for your commitment and everything, but we really need the respect of everybody.

But how do we get to -- and maybe we put it in legislation, but how do we make sure that when a person receives services from the agency that they are given an opportunity to respond to the services? Do we do that? We did not do that now, currently; correct?

MARK SCHAEFER: We do it for some number of families that receive services, but not as much as we could --
REP. WALKER: Okay.

MARK SCHAEFER: -- for the kids and families at greatest risk who are trying to succeed in the community. I do believe that there are ways, and I'd be happy to discuss with you, that we could expand our ability to monitor the kind of work on in systems of care or for DCF kids who have significant behavioral health challenges.

It's been a -- it's a phase of the initiative that basically hasn't really been incorporated fully, and I think ought to be.

REP. WALKER: If you think about it, anytime anybody receives services, if they want to improve the services, they make sure that the consumer fills out a questionnaire of some sort, so that they can have an understanding of how was it received.

It's very hard. Sometimes, when I work with my kids, I have to get them to understand that their facial expressions sometimes don't equal what they feel in their heart and what they're delivering. And I think the same thing goes for our services. We may, on paper, have the services, but what we are actually delivering, that's something that we have to make sure that we're doing it and doing it adequately so our consumers participate.

Just one other thing. On our federal match reimbursements. We talked about therapeutic group homes. And when, I think Terry from the partnership came up and talked, we talked about the services --

(Gap in tape.)

REP. WALKER: -- and qualify for a federal matching.

MARK SCHAEFER: The therapeutic group homes are already included in our federal and matching initiative as a rehabilitation option service.

REP. WALKER: We are using the federal?

MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah.

REP. WALKER: Okay. So, they're part of --

MARK SCHAEFER: There's three levels of residential care.

REP. WALKER: Right.

MARK SCHAEFER: The large, larger-size residential treatment centers. There's the Level II or therapeutic group homes. Both of those are covered under the Medicaid rehabilitation option, and we claim about as much as we can.

REP. WALKER: There's the caveat, "as much as we can." we probably have more that we could do if we redefined it; is that correct?

MARK SCHAEFER: The -- within therapeutic group homes, I think that there is a question as to whether we're claiming for all the therapeutic group homes that we could.

REP. WALKER: Right.

MARK SCHAEFER: So, I think, in that respect, I see your point.

REP. WALKER: We have room for growth.

MARK SCHAEFER: Uh-huh.

REP. WALKER: Thank you, Mark.

MARK SCHAEFER: You're welcome.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Dr. Schaefer. No other questions. Then thank you, again, for your testimony.

Oh, I'm sorry. Senator Harris.

SENATOR HARRIS: Sorry, Mr. Chairman. Dr. Schaefer, thank you. Inpatient delay days, can you just define that just to make sure I'm on the same page as you?

MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah. The -- when a youngster goes into the hospital, they stay there, there's a -- what's called the acute period, when they're actively being treated and the get to the point where they're ready to leave. They could go to a residential or a therapeutic foster home or back to the home of origin.

If the youngster can't go back timely to the next place they could go, we call that a delay day, and we count the number of days, and we've been counting the number of days for about a year and a half now so that we can figure out whether kids are leaving timely. So we use -- really use that as a measure of whether kids are -- are getting effectively and time -- effective and timely service in transition to the community.

SENATOR HARRIS: And just as a general question, as a follow-up, hopefully you can follow up some information on some of the statistics, you know, they look favorable, obviously. You know, the length of stay in hospital EDs also, but since we really want to ensure positive outcomes, have you been tracking, or are others tracking kind of what occurs to the child and the family once there is a discharge? Do they bounce back? Do they go to an appropriate place? I mean are we moving children back towards unification or another a home setting, and what are the success rates? I'd like to just not be able to look at percentages of dropping numbers which, again, on their face, seemed positive without being able to track the end result which is a child better off. So, if you can somehow in the future put some shape on that for us, it would be appreciated.

MARK SCHAEFER: All right.

SENATOR HARRIS: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: (Inaudible) Schaefer. (Inaudible) ask to remind people in the audience to keep their conversations to a minimum and listen to the speakers, so we can benefit from their testimony, all of it.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: Good afternoon.

REP. VILLANO: Good afternoon.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: I'm Deborah Stevenson. I'm an attorney in private practice. And as an attorney, I routinely represent parents and children who've been reported to the Department of Children and Families and Juvenile Court.

It's been my experience that DCF staff routinely violate the constitutional, statutory and administrative rights of children and parents in the state with absolute impunity. As a result, parents and children suffer unnecessary trauma, sometimes for months and even for years as a result of the improper actions of DCF. DCF wastes thousands of dollars in unnecessary litigation, and DCF staff are rarely, if at all, held accountable for their actions.

The following are just some examples of improprieties and recommendations for change. As a matter of policy, DCF refuses to provide the accused parent with any written notice of the charges against them until after the investigation is completed. As a matter of policy and regulation, DCF refuses to allow any administrative appeal of a substantiation of a complaint until after the matter is referred to and acted upon by the court. DCF will -- these particular truancy cases where DCF will open an investigation of parents before receiving written verification from school personnel that the child actually had any unexcused absences.

DCF staff routinely tell parents that they must meet with DCF staff, answer DCF questions, and allow DCF staff to see and to interview the children when, in fact, parents and children are not required to speak to DCF by our Constitution. DCF staff routinely tell parents they must sign releases for DCF staff to speak with the children's physicians and therapists when, in fact, parents are not required to do so. DCF staff routinely assume parents are guilty of the allegation until proven otherwise.

When parents and/or attorneys report improprieties of DCF staff to DCF supervisors, and even to the Commissioner, staff are not held accountable. No investigation is undertaken and staff suffer no consequences whatsoever.

DCF staff routinely accept false complaints, and when notified the complaint is false, fail to file any complaint against the person who filed the false complaint, and refuse to take any action whatsoever against that person. It would also appear that those who have the least training and experience are placed in the field to conduct the investigations. DCF staff routinely consult with the therapist who are caring for troubled children, thereby breaching the confidentiality between the therapist and the children, and routinely improperly try to influence the therapy provided to the children.

Therapists who are paid by DCF intentionally or not often feel obligated to provide information and reports that favor DCF to the detriment of objectivity and privacy for the children being served. State's attorneys in the juvenile courts often have offices also that are physically located immediately adjacent to the judges chambers, thereby breeding familiarity that has the appearance of impropriety.

These are only a few of the many serious problems that could be listed, but for the sake of brevity, have not been listed.

The following are also only a few of the recommendations this committee must implement in order for this agency to uphold the law and to improve its function: Number one, direct all DCF staff to implement the long-standing policy in law of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty; direct DCF staff not to accept any complaints or begin any investigation unless and until the reporter provides for written verification of the allegation, i.e., copies of attendance records verifying truancy, for example; direct DCF to provide a copy of the written complaint to the accused parent immediately upon receipt and initiation of an investigation; train DCF staff in the rights of parents and children under the Constitution and under our statutes; direct only trained, experienced staff to conduct the investigation; direct staff to investigate and prosecute all those accused of filing false complaints, and implement, most importantly, monetary sanctions for DCF staff members who violate constitutional and statutory rights of parents, including the firing of such staff.

And I just would like to deviate from my draft one second to talk about Isabella. Because in my opinion, there is something that you can do. You can direct DCF to correct their error, to make the -- the staff members follow the law, admit that they didn't where they didn't, file a motion to vacate that order, and help Isabella get back to her parents. You could also fire the caseworkers involved. Direct DCF Commissioner to fire the caseworkers involved for any wrongdoing they committed, fine them, and most importantly of all, renew governmental and sovereign immunity, so that they can be sued.

The bottom line here is that unless and until DCF staff know that they will suffer actual consequences for their improper behavior, nothing will change.

DCF must understand that they, too, are subject to the rule of law, and to constitutional principles, and they cannot abuse their authority whether or not they have good intentions. DCF must understand it is part of the problem, and if DCF continues to be part of the problem, there where be a price to pay.

Thank you very much.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Ms. Stevenson.

Are there questions? Senator Meyer.

SENATOR MEYER: Good afternoon, Deborah. Nice to see you again.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: Good seeing you.

SENATOR MEYER: Can you inform our committees a little bit about what your professional experience actually is with DCF? Because you've gone through a number of very specific charges and recommendations, and I think it's important that you -- we are well informed as to your foundation, your professional foundation for doing that.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: Again, as I stated in the beginning, I am an attorney in private practice. I deal in education law, primarily. As a result of my involvement with educational law, I receive calls from parents who are involved with DCF primarily through the school district reporting them to DCF for truancy, educational neglect, or just for other matters of abuse and neglect, generally speaking. It runs the gamut from children who were involved in all sorts of educational -- manner of educating their children.

But, in addition to the educational aspect, as I say, I do receive complaints from parents who have been involved as a -- as a result of other types of the neglect, medical neglect, abuse and neglect; issues where parents have the right to the medical services of their own providers, whether it's mental health or whether it's physical health.

And when they choose their own providers, for example, and DCF objects, then they either get substantiated for that. Or another big area is predictive neglect, where DCF staff will say, Well, we have to get involved with this family, because five years down the road they may have some neglect issue.

It runs the gamut. I could go on and on. The length and the stories that I have been involved with with all types of parents on all types of abuse and neglect issues, but primarily, it's DCF that is causing a large part of the neglect and abuse, and abuse of families of when they don't follow the law and cause more anxiety than is necessary.

SENATOR MEYER: I'm familiar with your work on concerning homeschooling. And you and I have communicated on that and are the observations you've made here, do they go beyond the question of truancy from school?

DEBORAH STEVENSON: Absolutely.

SENATOR MEYER: They do. They go to a wide range of DCF practices?

DEBORAH STEVENSON: Absolutely.

SENATOR MEYER: Okay. In Paragraph 3 of your testimony, Number 3, you say, I'm quoting: "DCF staff routinely accept complaints and begin investigation of the parents before receiving any verification."

I'm not sure that I find that abusive. It seems to me that DCF should, as a matter of responsibility, accept complaints and then do an investigation to verify.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: Well, there are -- there is a criteria that I believe DCF already has in its policy manual and/or regulations, wherein their determinations -- when someone calls in to the hotline, there's criteria for accepting a complaint through the hotline. And part of that criteria, I think it may be a statutory provision as well, is to verify the allegation, and that is not put into practice.

Quite -- I had a case just last week where the same thing happened. The -- the allegation was accepted from the hotline. Social worker comes out of the house. Simple verification of the attendance records from the school would have shown the caseworker or the hotline reporter that there were no unexcused absences.

And I find that happening quite frequently where a school, public school staff will have a dispute with a public school-enrolled person over the education of the child, whether it's for medical absences or not.

In this case, what happened was the school district decided it didn't like the doctor that was providing the service to the child, and, so refused to continue to accept continue -- to accept doctor's notes that were supplied to the school, and then reported the parents to the Department of Children and Families for truancy when they were, in fact, looking at the attendance records, no unexcused absences, because the absences were excused by the doctor's notes.

Simple verification at the beginning would have -- would have eliminated the trauma to the family, the cost to the state of the social worker going out there and investigating when, in fact, I just heard today that that was an unsubstantiated complaint. Because why? The social worker looked at the records.

Now that could have been resolved without that waste of time, expense, money and trauma to the family by simply asking for faxed verification at the hotline level that there were unexcused absences. And it does not happen, and that's not the only case that I've had like that.

REP. VILLANO: Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: Thank you for your testimony. You said that routinely parents are told to sign the releases. When you start to work with the parents and inform them that they did not have to sign the releases, do you take actions to recoup those releases?

DEBORAH STEVENSON: If they have signed them?

REP. WALKER: Uh-huh.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: Yes. Yes, I advise the parents to rescind their previous signature on the releases once they have counsel. Sometimes the damage is done, however, by, you know, anything that is -- can be used against the parents rightfully or wrongfully before they get legal assistance.

REP. WALKER: You also talk about the fact that DCF consults with the therapist. Are these therapists that DCF has contracted and that's what the open-ended issue is?

DEBORAH STEVENSON: Yes. That is a major problem that I see and that other attorneys see. When you have DCF involvement, DCF pays the provider. The provider, whether intentionally or not, feels obligated than because they're being paid by DCF to provide information to DCF which is used against the parent and/or the child, when therapy should be objective and private between the therapist and the child for the benefit of the child.

And routinely, the -- the people who are providing the therapy, or they provide the information to DCF, DCF will use that to tell the therapist, No, we want you to do X, Y and Z. Then, again, because the therapist is continuing to get paid, will feel obligated to do X, Y and Z. DCF is a state agency. They're working for the state and it may or may not be in the best interests of the child, but certainly, the parent has absolutely no say in that; doesn't even know that it's happening. And then they -- both DCF and the therapist, then make a report to the court, and it's based totally one-sided improperly when therapy should the objective and just for the person who is receiving the therapy.

If the therapist needs to make a report, then it can be made totally objectively, what is in the best interest of the child at the time, without being influenced by one side or the other. Certainly the parents do not have any access to the therapist, but DCF does. That, in itself, is unconstitutional and unfair.

REP. WALKER: Have you been keeping track of all these circumstances? I'm sure you have with your clients that you represent, currently. I know several of my colleagues, especially Representative Hamm has been fighting very hard form conf -- maintaining confidentiality for the clients, and I know some of the other lawyers that have worked on that.

So it would be very beneficial if you have some records on some of the violations on confidentiality, that you share it with us.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: I would like to also say one other thing about confidentiality, because many attorneys feel that they cannot go forward and provide you with even the information that I've provided you with today, which is not to identify any one, but they feel very hamstrung by the current statute in that -- and it's my understanding from the law, and you are the people who are making the law, and I'm suggesting to you is one area where you can clarify the law to say that the law as it stands is meant to protect the child and the parents from any intrusive problems.

So -- but, when a parent needs to make that public, and when the attorney for the parent needs to make that information public, they should not be sanctioned or in any way feel that they cannot make it public.

It's -- the law as it stands is made to protect the parent and the child, but when it's in the best interests of the child and the parent to release that information, it should be clarified that they absolutely have a right to release that information.

REP. WALKER: I'm confused. You're saying that sanctions are brought against the parent if they provide, maybe any of us, information on violations of confidentiality.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: There are threats to do precisely that. And the threats are not just felt by the parents. The threats are felt by the attorneys, and I know, I can -- dozens of attorneys. When I have said, Look, this is the parents right to bring this information forth. They will say, No, no. The law says we can't do it. And they don't do it, because they are fearful of their license.

And I know looking -- having looked this up quite carefully before I had mentioned anything to anyone, to the press, that is the Legislative intent was to protect the child and the parent from unnecessary intrusion. But when the parent and child need to make that public, that needs to be clarified to everyone, that they absolutely have a right to do so, and that the attorneys should not feel hamstrung, and neither should the parents, and no one should be threatening them to keep that private.

REP. WALKER: I guess that's a no-cost bill.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: Absolutely.

REP. WALKER: I guess those are things that we want to look at this year.

Thank you very much.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: You're welcome. Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Representative Hamm.

REP. HAMM: Good afternoon.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: Good afternoon.

REP. HAMM: Thanks for coming in. Number one on your list of recommendations, how would you respond to DCF's reply about their staff not needing to know about innocent until proven guilty, because removal of children is, in fact, a civil matter and not a criminal matter and, therefore, all of those rights do not attach. How would you respond to them?

DEBORAH STEVENSON: I would say that, first of all, if anyone of them has had this happen to them, they would feel that it is worse than a criminal matter.

REP. HAMM: And, in truth, it is very close to a police action.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: Absolutely it is. The heavy hand of the State -- it is a fundamental, constitutional right in our United States Constitution and our Connecticut Constitution that we have -- parents have the right to the upbringing and education of their children, period. It is a fundamental constitutional right. Strict scrutiny should be applied, and also, the presumption of innocence should be applied.

REP. HAMM: I think that would be true, do you agree, regardless of the removal? It needn't just be education.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: Absolutely. For any issue, any time the State has the authority and power to come in and potentially take away your child, they -- absolutely, a parent should be given the benefit of the presumption of innocence and the full benefit of the statutes and constitutional rights.

And the most important of that is to be notified as to what the allegation is.

I cannot tell you how many times, despite -- I sat here when Commissioner Hamilton said in response to the commission at the very first hearing, Oh, we provide them with the information. Absolutely false. It happens continually. It happened again last week when -- when the -- an attorney cannot represent a parent, and the parent cannot represent themselves if they do not know what the allegation is.

And what happens is the social worker will tell the parent, Oh, it's truancy, or it's emotional neglect or -- generically. Well, when was the truancy? Well, you know, we don't have to tell you that. Well, can I have a copy of what was reported to you by the mandatory reporter? No. You can get that after the case is closed.

REP. HAMM: I have a follow-up, if you would think about it. Many of us have been -- and I think Senator Meyer will recall, that for the last couple of years we've had legislation in the kid's committee to actually, at the time that the worker shows up to remove the child, that they have to advise the parents of why they're there but, more importantly, of what the rights of the parent are including that they don't have to talk.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: Well --

REP. HAMM: And that bill has not been able to get out of committee, quite frankly, because of the opposition of DCF.

And so I'm wondering -- DCF always responds that they hand the pamphlet to the parent on their way out, which I find very interesting.

DEBORAH ERICKSEN: Well --

REP. HAMM: After they've gotten all of those incriminating statements, and after they've gotten the child, oftentimes, then on the way out they had a pamphlet to the workers.

Sometimes it's not in the right language. Sometimes it's not brought at all, and as you say, most times it doesn't happen. And I'm wondering if you would think that would make progress with having parents have a more level playing field as it relates to their rights to talk.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: It would be progress, but I would also say that it's not just handing them the pamphlet or letting them know their rights. It's letting them know what the specific allegations are that the reporter called in about. That document also needs to be handed immediately to the parent, to the attorney.

Right now, what happens sometimes, the social worker will read the report, but will refuse to provide it. So, if you're not quick enough in taking notes, or you can't verify what's being read to you, you still don't know. But the other thing I would say to you is, Yes that would be progress, but not without some teeth to it.

REP. HAMM: Well the other problem is that parents -- court-appointed parents, don't have -- I mean, court-appointed attorneys for parents are not appointed until the trial, at the hearing, as you will on the order of temporary custody which is long after the parents have had the workers show up, the investigator in tow, and talked, and given all of these statements without any benefit of understanding of what their rights were.

And so, many of us think that the attorneys are appointed too late, and the process is currently being changed so that attorneys for the children are appointed rather quickly prior to the OTC hearing, but that attorneys for parents are not.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: I would agree with that, that that needs to happen earlier on. I would also say it's been my experience that when I have been the hired attorney for a child, what also happens is the court will automatically appoint another attorney for the child instead of myself, or whoever has been hired by the parent. I also think you could easily change that, that if the child already has an attorney, the attorney should not be supplanted by a court-appointed attorney.

And the other problem with the court-appointed attorneys, although I admire their integrity, I'm not impugning their integrity at all, but financially speaking in this world, if you are only given -- I don't know what the cost is, but if you're only given $250 per case, and the case you have in front of you lasts months and even years, you know, your tendency is going to be -- have to be for the sake of your own family to plea, make a plea, or bargain it out somehow instead of standing up for the rights of that child and continuing in the best interests of that child. I don't know what the answer to that is, but I think it needs -- it needs to be considered seriously by this committee.

REP. HAMM: I want you to know that the progress in that regard, it's now $40 an hour, which is still, as we know in the legal business woefully insignificant and inadequate. But it's not 250 a case.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: I would hope not. But in any event, I agree with you that the attorneys need to be involved immediately in order to protect the rights of parents. Not that I am all --

REP. HAMM: And the parents do need to be advised at the time people show up to take their kids, right?

DEBORAH STEVENSON: Absolutely. Absolutely, without a doubt. Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Ms. Stevenson. We do appreciate your testimony -- oh, wait a minute. Oh, I'm sorry. Senator Coleman.

SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just wanted to make a brief follow-up to the line of questioning of Representative Walker. And I would first state I have limited experience with respect to DCF neglect matters, but the few that I have been involved in, I've encountered situations where psychological evaluations have been conducted.

And the parent that was the subject of the psychological evaluation, may have had very limited opportunity to choose who the evaluator was going to be. And it seems as if the Attorney General or the agency had a lot of influence in the selection of the evaluator. In fact, was selecting from a list of psychologists that have received, over the course, millions of dollars in any fiscal year from the agency. And it seemed to me to be somewhat of a conflict that this psychologist was going to conduct the evaluation, especially after having access to review the social studies that may have been conducted in connection with the matter.

And I was just wondering if you share my concern about conflict of interest in these situations. In the one instance I'm involved in, I did think that the evaluator went out of his or her way to sort of give validity to allegations that the agency was making against the parent.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: Absolutely, I share your concerns. Without a doubt. What happens -- in the juvenile courts, we do have a list of evaluators. The parents do not get a choice in who -- who the evaluator will be. You're quite right in that they are paid by DCF and DCF does have familiarity, and that's why I allude to -- there wasn't time enough to explain everything. But if you physically go into a juvenile court, quite often they're very small and the location of the state's attorney behind the clerk's office, next to the judge's office, where the lists are kept by the clerks, where they're all having lunch together at lunch time and communicating and, you know, have all this camaraderie, parties, whatever, I've seen it all. And the parents' attorney sits on the outside of the glass watching all of this happen, having absolutely no ability, not to mention the parents. Parents don't even get as far as the attorneys get up to the glass, but -- but seeing all this happen, and then having an evaluator being provided every document from DCF and the court, where you may or may not have any documents to provide yet even for the evaluator, don't get an opportunity to speak to the evaluator ahead of time before the evaluation takes place, and then have this report come back.

Not even -- I've seen reports being made when the evaluator, knowing they'll get paid, will only see the parent 15 minutes here, 15 minutes there, and then do his report; may or may not have seen the child for any longer than half an hour. And on that basis, they can report as to where this child will go for the next several years maybe of the child's life.

The parent has no opportunity to correct the mistakes other than during cross-examination during a trial, if you have an attorney who's willing to do that, who has the knowledge to do that, or ability to do that, time consuming and everything. And it's just so one-sided that I cannot begin to tell you how one-sided it is, and how badly I feel for these parents.

And how -- how -- there are several attorneys out there who try their best, but are up against tremendous odds in trying to defend anyone, particularly when they've already -- parents have already made statements. They've already gotten access to other providers without even being represented by an attorney at that point. I definitely share your concerns.

SENATOR COLEMAN: And I appreciate your response. Just go a step further. It's my specific concern was the fact that becoming aware that some of the psychologists were being paid very handsomely because of their contract with DCF, it seemed to me almost human nature that it would be foolhardy on their part to make any findings or recommendations that were contrary to where they perceived DCF to want them to go.

And I think the perception could easily have been gained through review of the social studies that they have access to. If they -- even if they weren't given all the material, pleadings and so on and so forth, in connection with the file, I think there was probably a good ability to make some determination concerning what the agency's position was with respect to this particular family.

And, like I say, in the case that I was involved in, it did seem to me, being as objective as I could possibly be, it did seem that the psychologist was inclined to make a report that was consistent with the allegations that DCF was making against, in this case, a parent. It just seemed to be a system that was wrought with potential conflict to me.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: Absolutely. I wholeheartedly agree with that. It is, and it does happen and it is one-sided, and the -- in that alone there could be legislation as far as allowing the parent not necessarily to choose, but there should be some discussion about how an evaluator is chosen. Whether it's at random or -- I don't know what the answer is, but it definitely has not only the appearance of impropriety, but it has ramifications of bias that you saw in that one case.

I see it routinely. I see it and other attorneys see it routinely. And the only way to deal with that is after the fact, in court, trying to rebut, and that's not -- it's not a viable solution.

SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Ms. Stevenson. Any other recommendations that you would like to share with the committee we would welcome in addressing the issues that we've been discussing for the last 20 minutes or so, particularly the statutory changes which will address those shortcomings that you've experienced yourself and witnessed.

DEBORAH STEVENSON: I'll be happy to provide that to the committee.

REP. VILLANO: Both committees.

Our next speaker is Darcy Lowell. She was initially misrepresented as Margie Gillis on the sign-up sheet. We corrected the error. You are -- you swear you're Darcy?

DARCY LOWELL: Hi. I'm sure I'm Darcy. Hi. Good afternoon. Thank you so much. It's very good to be here and I -- I'm happy to be able to talk about my experience with DCF and, specifically, with young children.

My name is Dr. Darcy Lowell, I am the Section Chief of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Bridgeport Hospital. I'm Associate Clinical Professor at the Yale University School of Medicine. And I have been listening carefully to the stories of our families here, and I think that it is certainly possible that we could have prevented many of the devastating kind of stories that we've heard.

The message that is most important to me is that we have to find children early, and we have to provide the kinds of supports and services, especially early mental health services that children and families desperately need.

Our very highest risk young children are known to DCF, and we have an opportunity here for restructuring existing DCF services to create an early childhood integrated system of care that would prevent child abuse and neglect, severe emotional disturbance, learning disabilities and health problems, while at the same time, producing state expenditures and leveraging substantial federal and foundation dollars for implementation.

I think the scientific research is absolutely clear at this point. The first three years of life are the time of the most rapid brain development. High-risk environments, including the environments with maternal depression, domestic violence, substance-abuse, homelessness, lead to levels of stretch which are now known to be toxic to the developing brain. Much like we think about lead or mercury or alcohol as toxic, this is really a toxic poison to the brain.

The results are long-term damage creating a weak foundation for all future learning, behavior and health. And attempts at latent repair are extremely expensive and often of very limited benefit. Children who are at high risk need a system, a new system which combines two strategies. First, is supporting families, decreasing environmental risk by coordinating the many, many excellent services that are extremely fragmented in the State. Services that include, health, mental health, early care and education, family support home visiting, that ensure that our highest risk children and their families are connected to the services.

This is what we call an early childhood integrated system of care. It is a family-driven system and is virtual one-stop shopping. And simultaneously, we have to buffer and protect that developing brain, and strengthen the early nurturing environment through intensive, home-based, clinical parent-child intervention provided by a Master's level mental health clinician.

Many of these children are already showing us that they have significant emotional and behavioral problems. We cannot ignore them. We can find these children when they're under three years of age.

We already have such a system here in Bridgeport. It has clear evidence-based outcomes including over four fold decrease in DCF involvement, fourfold. A decrease of four fold in child aggressive behaviors and language problems, mothers with significantly decreased levels of depression and over 90 percent access to services, and the fiscal impact is very substantial. The average cost for a family of four is less than $5,000. Compare this to $850,000 for psychiatric hospitalization for one child for one year.

And, in addition, there's opportunity to leverage Medicaid reimbursement here with existing DCF dollars and restructuring, we could leverage substantial federal money coming in, and at the same time have excellent services that are clearly effective with good outcomes.

I also have to tell you that we have the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation interested in supporting such a new system. The early childhood education cabinet has endorsed the system, and Ziegler has endorsed the system, and DCF is interested very much, both programmatically and fiscally, but there has to be some broad reorganization within DCF to take their internally fragmented services, which are across multiple bureaus and put it together into a seamless system, which has clear focus on very young children and the protective impact of focusing on early nurturing relationships.

Thank you, so much.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Dr. Lowell.

Are there questions? Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: Good afternoon. Thank you for your testimony. What do we need to change to fit into what you are describing, please?

DARCY LOWELL: I think that we have -- we have a model now. We have a model now that's been tested. There was a randomized trial, so the outcomes that I'm talking about are very well vetted. As a matter of fact, to the degree we are now getting reimbursement through DSS through these kinds of services, that this is only operating in Bridgeport, but there's --

REP. WALKER: This is under what agency?

DARCY LOWELL: This is -- it's called Child First.

REP. WALKER: It is Child First. Okay.

DARCY LOWELL: Yes, it's called Child First and it is at Bridgeport Hospital, which is the fiduciary, but it is really a community-based program, or -- or system as I really see it.

What we need to do is I think there are two major things. One is think about reorganizing existing state services and monies, so there are monies within DCF that are being used for these families that are not used effectively. There are monies sometimes in the parent aid system.

REP. WALKER: So, you're suggesting that we have one point of entry.

DARCY LOWELL: I think that there are multiple -- there are multiple points of entry in the sense that you can have multiple service providers anywhere identifying your children and families. That's what happens now. We get referrals from maybe 70 different providers.

And -- and the provider that makes the referral stays very much in contact with family. It's not as if -- it's really about maximizing the use of services in the community. It's about identifying, through very careful assessment, what does this child and this family, these individuals, not ones, you know, one size doesn't fit all. Who -- who is this child? Who is this family? What are the challenges this family is experiencing? What's going to make a difference in their lives? It's very much of a family-driven system, really listening carefully to what families need, and then connecting them to the services and supports in the community.

REP. WALKER: Okay.

DARCY LOWELL: So I --

REP. WALKER: Wait. You talk fast.

DARCY LOWELL: I'm from New York, originally.

REP. WALKER: Okay. I guess I need more coffee. Dr. Lowell, can you explain to me then the way we do our services and everything, obviously is not in the same breadth that you described here. What we do is more reactionary, more prices driven.

DARCY LOWELL: Right.

REP. WALKER: But you're suggesting -- but part of the reason why we have the kids here in DCF is because there's a crisis that pushes them into their care -- the services.

DARCY LOWELL: Yes.

REP. WALKER: But when we do corrective services to address the crisis, we are only identifying one of the crises, and we're only addressing that one instead of looking at the whole family itself?

DARCY LOWELL: Yes.

REP. WALKER: But we have -- I don't know all the alphabet soup, but -- BFFT, or what is it? Brief Family Functional Therapy and in Multidimensional Functional Therapy, and there's another one -- something else.

DARCY LOWELL: Yeah.

REP. WALKER: But anyhow, and supposedly not -- I've read the description because I wanted to make sure that, because I understand that these are all Medicaid qualified -- they're all supposed to be family centered, so if we are supposedly practicing these therapies in our -- with our contracted agencies, then we are not doing what is described in the therapy; is that what you're saying?

DARCY LOWELL: No. Actually, because the differences these are for very young children. All of our home-based models, there are five of them, are for older children. They really start pretty much at age five. Occasionally, a younger child is -- is served. What is really very unique about this model that we have started in Bridgeport is that children under age five, we serve two-year-olds, we serve one-year-olds, we serve mothers and infants, so that we can't get reimbursement for all of those. We can only get reimbursement for diagnosed children.

REP. WALKER: Right.

DARCY LOWELL: But it really is a prevention approach. It saying, let's find these children and families who've got problems before they get in the DCF system. They don't even have to. Let's find them in their pediatric settings. Let's find them for -- in their early care and education settings, in family resource centers, through nurturing home visiting. Let's find where the children are that have the kind of -- of risk and problems where there are multiple challenges and families.

REP. WALKER: I feel like I'm hearing Dr. Grundell in here, she must be in the room right now.

DARCY LOWELL: Oh, yes. Well, no, see we have the same --

REP. WALKER: I wouldn't think that any of us would disagree with you.

DARCY LOWELL: Yeah.

REP. WALKER: I mean, we have an early childhood cabinet that is going to --

DARCY LOWELL: Exactly, and they have endorsed this.

REP. WALKER: And they've endorsed it and I think we're doing some milestones. I'm not -- but what I will say to them, and what I will say to you, is that we also -- we have more of a crisis situations with the children over five.

DARCY LOWELL: Right.

REP. WALKER: And I'm not sure why we should make a different, between -- have five as the line of demarcation for, you know, whether what we do, as opposed to just establishing these types of therapeutic models for all ages of children in the State of Connecticut. Because if it works for under five -- you remember your child, was is Child Psych 101, a child at three and a child at 16 are the same. So I'm confused why we would not want to use this model throughout and not just for under five.

DARCY LOWELL: Well, because of the developmental differences for different ages, different kinds of therapeutic approaches are more appropriate at different ages, so this therapeutic approach that we use is really a relationship-based approach that works on the attachment between the parent and child.

REP. WALKER: Okay.

DARCY LOWELL: And helps parents --

REP. WALKER: So Birth to Three.

DARCY LOWELL: Well, Birth to Three, but Birth to Three doesn't actually do this kind of psychotherapeutic services.

REP. WALKER: Ah, okay.

DARCY LOWELL: See, in our state, we really have very little opportunity for psychotherapeutic services for very young children. They -- they really do not exist, except in very small pockets around the state.

REP. WALKER: I was told the reason that was happening is because we have very few doctors that -- psychiatrists that work with this population because of our poor reimbursement, and because of their desire to do more individual practice, because the dollars are there.

DARCY LOWELL: I think that it's more of a training -- one, a training issue and also a reimbursement issue. Because if you can't get reimbursed for services for children of this age, then it really doesn't encourage practitioners to develop an expertise here. If we could expand the model and get the same kind of reimbursement that we have in Bridgeport and other cities. Hartford is very interested. New Haven, Waterbury, Middletown -- have all been calling and saying we need this for our families. We have this very depressed mother and this young child, and we see this child is not speaking. The child is withdrawn, you know, what are we supposed to do?

And I think this is the kind of problem we have throughout the state, especially with our families who have multiple issues and challenges, domestic violence, homelessness.

REP. WALKER: Okay. I --

DARCY LOWELL: You know what they are.

REP. WALKER: I agree with you.

DARCY LOWELL: I don't have to --

REP. WALKER: I think the one thing that's a stumbling block is the reimbursement rate, and we all know that, and this -- that's going to be something that may not be able to be resolved in this --

DARCY LOWELL: We have already established a reimbursement. It's with DSS.

REP. WALKER: Okay. All right.

DARCY LOWELL: So, that -- what we're really talking about is we can reorganize some of the DCF system, so that some of the existing state money can be used towards a model like this and, in addition, get the reimbursement from DSS which we've established. Then we have a system without adding state expenditure. That's really what we're talking about.

REP. WALKER: We need that.

DARCY LOWELL: Yeah.

REP. WALKER: Thank you.

(Gap in tape.)

SENATOR MEYER: -- bringing us the essence of prevention, and the Children's Committee is all about prevention, as you know.

Would you mind elaborating a bit upon the components of the model, the Child First Model in Bridgeport, exactly how it works, so we get a better understanding of --

DARCY LOWELL: Sure.

SENATOR MEYER: -- the details of the steps that are taken?

DARCY LOWELL: Sure. Children are either identified through a screening process in pediatric primary care center, early care and education, or through any community provider, or parent who feels that they either have a child who already has emotional behavioral problems, developmental delays or learning problems, or any provider who feels that a family has multiple challenges and stresses, and that the child's development is at risk. So, they, any of those are reasons that they may be referred. And they can get referred in to a centralized, a central number.


At that point, a team of a mental health clinician, who's Masters level and a care coordinator who is either Associate's level, or Bachelor's level with very significant experience in early childhood issues -- calls the parent, makes an appointment, goes out to the home. This is a home-based model, as long as the parent wants it there. But it's very much of a family-driven model. So, that it's really a matter of going and listening to the parents about what is important to them, what's going to make a difference in their lives, what are their challenges? And addressing those very directly.

We do everything from getting couches and, you know, and finding new housing to doing -- getting early care and education settings, referring to Birth to Three, getting nurturing home visiting involved, and getting psychotherapeutic -- really providing psychotherapeutic services right there in the home to the parent and child. It's basically what -- it's a two-generation model in many ways, because not only do we have very significant outcomes in terms of the child's emotional development and behavior, and language development, which we've documented very well, but we also have parents who have had their depression lifted, have psychological problems really ameliorated, and, again, have very clear data from a randomized trial to show that this is impacting all members of the family.

So, we also do consultation for any provider in the community who says -- who's already working with a family and just wants some extra help around, how do I think about this? How do I think about the mental health issues of the child and the family?

The parents are people we get services for as much as the child. So, if a parent needs services, we are going to find those services by them as well. It's why we call it a system of care, rep services and supports around the whole child and the family.

SENATOR MEYER: Okay. Have you considered whether or not this model might be stronger if, instead of it being based on referrals, because nothing happens unless there's a referral, you, in effect, intervene without waiting for a referral? I mean, you and I are both originally from New York and we're covered back here, right?

New York, I was on the Board of Regents in New York, and one of the things the regions do in New York is that they've mandated that any time a child enters the public school system, whether it be in pre-K, or in 12th grade, that child goes through a system of tests, physical and mental tests. And we find out if there are any disabilities very, very quickly; we start applying ourselves.

Now you're doing something earlier, which is better, better than -- you're doing before pre-K. You're doing it anywhere from one to three, but I am concerned that if you're dependent upon a referral and that, you know, that it's not going to work as effectively.

DARCY LOWELL: We actually -- we have actually gone that next step. You're exactly right. And now what we do is we -- we're working. We have four mental health clinicians embedded in our Head Start Programs where we see probably around 800 children. And, so that we are -- we are working with the head start programs to screen every child in those classrooms. There are, I think 40 classrooms that we're in the this time, so that we can find these children early before problems arise that are so serious that need a referral.

And we've also done the same in pediatric primary care and Bridgeport Hospital, where every child who comes through who's under age six years gets screened not only for emotional and behavioral problems, and developmental issues, but also for risk in the environment. And we have found families who never would have identified themselves, but who were mothers who were absolutely despondent and felt, I can't go on anymore.

And where we were able to go in there and really make a dramatic difference by, again, following the family, really letting the family drive the needs and really paying close attention to how they feel about what's important to them.

So, you're right, and that is exactly what our -- our step has been.

SENATOR MEYER: Okay. I think it's your -- really your first recommendation that that this be a new initiative of DCF, is that -- am I correct in understanding that?

DARCY LOWELL: Yes.

SENATOR MEYER: I've got a problem in doing -- with DCF, until we know, we make this agency more efficient.

DARCY LOWELL: Yeah.

SENATOR MEYER: And, but, the concept in the model is so good, that whether it's DCF or some other agency, some other resource, we must do it.

I'm just not convinced yet that it should be DCF. And DCF's current mission, you know, is not preventative.

DARCY LOWELL: Right. Well, we want -- you know, I think that there is -- at least what I'm seeing is a real effort on DCF's part, at least in the interactions I've had as a presence at all the cabinet meetings at the state-level. They really want to do a better job in terms of prevention.

There is a lot of eagerness to be able to take this the next step. And because many of the children in their care fall into this, you know, this category -- these are the children in our state who are at highest risk.

My concern would be if we take it out of DCF that our -- all of the DCF children are going to be able to get this kind of level of intensive services, which is what they need. I'm especially concerned about those -- those young minds that we've already identified, because they are in a sense, they're there. They're right there in the system, and if we can develop a much more comprehensive way of working with those children and families, it's a wonderful opportunity to prevent a lot of these very serious problems that we're finding later on around mental health, you know, academic failure, juvenile justice, et cetera, because we can find them when they're so, so young.

SENATOR MEYER: Okay. We do have an office called Children's Council Prevention Council.

DARCY LOWELL: Yeah.

SENATOR MEYER: Are you familiar with that?

DARCY LOWELL: I am familiar with that, yes.

SENATOR MEYER: Yes. And they have testified before our two committees last week, and talked about new initiatives they would like to take with respect to prevention, and this may be a very good fit for them.

DARCY LOWELL: Uh-huh. Well, I would be very happy to work with them in any way -- in any way to give them information or to really think about how a system like this could be developed.

SENATOR MEYER: Okay. Thank you.

DARCY LOWELL: You're welcome.

SENATOR MEYER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

REP. VILLANO: Senator Prague.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Dr. Lowell, thank you very much for your very interesting testimony. It gives us something to think about.

All the birthing hospitals in Connecticut have a nurturing families program.

DARCY LOWELL: Right.

SENATOR PRAGUE: I'm assuming that Bridgeport Hospital is involved in the nurturing families program.

DARCY LOWELL: Yes. Actually, I was the director for quite a while.

SENATOR PRAGUE: So -- and the purpose of nurturing families is to go out to the homes of parents that are at risk, and help them with parenting skills, and help them with their babies. I think that nurturing families continues at intervention. What is it up to, three or five?

DARCY LOWELL: No. It's -- well, it can be up to five years actually in terms of if you're part of the nurturing home visiting program.

SENATOR PRAGUE: So do you work with that program?

DARCY LOWELL: Yes, we were very closely with them.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Okay.

DARCY LOWELL: And I think that the difference here is that nurturing, which is a wonderful program, but it's these first-time mothers. And it's these mothers who are not involved with DCF, and mothers who don't have substance abuse issues, and mothers who don't have severe psychiatric problems.

They do a lot of wonderful work, and that's why we work with them if they identify a family who has a greater level of need, we partner together, and that's, I think, one of the wonderful things, it's a partnership.

But there are other children who are not eligible for nurturing, because they're DCF, they have substance abuse issues, it's a second child, they're identified after three months of age, and that's a vast -- the vast majority of children we're talking about who don't fall into that category. So we -- Ed Ziegler said to me, you know, We need a triad here. We need the home visiting. We need this kind of intensive system of care model, and we need early care and education. And if we put three together, we've really covered our bases in terms of developing a strong, robust, preventive model, and, so, I -- I think that's a great combination.

SENATOR PRAGUE: So how long have you been operating?

DARCY LOWELL: The system of care?

SENATOR PRAGUE: Yes.

DARCY LOWELL: For almost ten years now. We started tiny, and in 2001 we got money from SAMHSA and OJJDP, and have really -- it kind of accelerated from that time.

SENATOR PRAGUE: And isn't that interesting that it's still only in Bridgeport, it has not spread to other communities.

DARCY LOWELL: Well, it takes funding. And it takes one, being willing to -- at least, at this point, we are really 90 percent grant funded. So, it is riding multiple grants that's brought the money in to be able to have this kind of service, and only in the past year have we had some significant Medicaid funding. So we are at the point now where -- we're really ready to take off.

The other thing that I think that's very different is that we needed to prove that this was effective. This is a model that now, it's not just, we think we're doing good work. We've done a randomized trial. We have really excellent, high-quality data that Mark Schaefer, himself, and I have discussed the data, because he's very rigorous in terms of who's going to get DSS funding, and the data now speaks for itself.

That's why the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is so interested. They have said, if the state of Connecticut is interested in this model and replicating it, we will help you. But, we need leadership. We're not coming in, telling you, you should do this. But, if your leadership says, this is a model we want, we will come in and we will help and give you substantial dollars to make this happen.

What we're hoping is a combination of that coupled with Medicaid reimbursement, coupled with perhaps reorganization of existing state dollars, would be able to -- to give us a, you know, pot of money for replication in, at least two cities in the next year, and -- and perhaps more. Certainly, there are many more cities that are asking for this service for their children.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Well, that gives us some hope. So thank you.

DARCY LOWELL: You're very welcome. Okay. Thank you very much.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Dr. Lowell for your testimony.

Our next speaker is Patricia Sabato. Good afternoon.

PATRICIA SABATO: Good afternoon. Thank you for letting me speak today. My name is Patricia Sabato. I'm a parent of four. I'm from Newtown.

The question is that the committee is asking if families are better off being involved with DCF, I'm here to answer that for you.

My family was going through an unfortunate time. It began as a simple school referral, actually due to a school issue. We were then led into the involvement with DCF, and over their failed programs that kept our family in crisis for years. This was for then, my seven-year-old son. He was referred to Family and Children's Aid of Danbury, where Dr. Irvin Jennings who, actually was here last session, the third hearing, prescribed him Dexedrine. The adverse side effects landed him in a psychiatric hospital. He witnessed things no child should have.

From there he went to out-of-state residential treatment facility. His DCF placement was not safe. When he returned, he was returned damaged. The drugs that followed were -- that followed the Dexedrine were Wellbutrin, Prozac, Colonadine, Thorazine and Conserta. This is a seven-, eight-year-old child.

I'm speaking today also for those who have been victims of the system. Many are here today. I welcome their courage. Those afraid to come forward in fear of bringing DCF back into their lives, or not getting them out, afraid of the threat of having their children taken away, or having them kept in custody. Also because DCF controls the records created on the families. The families feel that they are not credible and they remain quiet.

If there is an open case the family usually is given a treatment plan. The evaluations are done by DCF contracted psychologists and psychiatrists. Counseling is mandated. Also, psychiatric drugs are usually prescribed. All the treatment is ordered and never offered. It's ordered. There are no advocates, no effective legal representation. I had to hire a very expensive private attorney and provide my own independent evaluations. I had also hired my own doctors.

There are no alternative methods ever offered. There are a few, if any community resources or educational programs not based on or around behavioral health.

I went to a DCF forum facilitated by FAVOR in 2006, and learned that this is still happening. I've advocated for families and joined the DCF FAVOR Citizens Review Panel to try to help change DCF. I have some thoughts and ideas, the things that helped our family.

It's funny, because DCF did not have a clue about -- I can list those later for you. So, my answer to you is, no, families are not better off with DCF.

Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you very much, Ms. Sabato.

Are there questions from committee members? Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: Thank you. I'm sorry, I missed the first couple of -- how old was the child when they entered the system?

PATRICIA SABATO: Seven.

REP. WALKER: How old is the child now?

PATRICIA SABATO: He's 19.

REP. WALKER: He's 19.

PATRICIA SABATO: And he's still struggling because of the -- the damage that he had to go through with DCF, our whole entire family. It affects the whole family, and it goes on and on. A lot of these kids are transitioning into juvenile justice and going into jails and prisons.

REP. WALKER: Yes, I know that.

PATRICIA SABATO: Because they were this high, something could have been done, and it wasn't. And this was a school issue. This wasn't even -- he has no mental health issues. He does not need mental health. This was a school issue.

REP. WALKER: What was the school issue? I'm sorry.

PATRICIA SABATO: He has a writing disability and he was acting out a little bit in the school. Also, I was going through family divorce. So, he was a little bit edgy about that.

And they sent right away for the psych evaluation to Family and Children's Aid, where Dr. Jennings wrote a prescription of Dexedrine. He was seven. He saw him for five or ten minutes. And he flipped out and ended up in a psych hospital, and that's where the nightmare began. It just went on and on and on.

REP. WALKER: How many placements did he have during that time?

PATRICIA SABATO: He had three hospitalizations, and he was sent to a residential treatment facility in New York for one full year. I had to fight like hell to get him out; hire lawyers, hire doctors. I had to really fight. And I did get him out of. And he was abused in their care and no one ever compensated us or did anything about it. And this was an out-of-state facility. It wasn't even in Connecticut.

REP. WALKER: The other out-of-state facility was in New York.

PATRICIA SABATO: It was in New York. It was Green Chimneys in Brewster, New York.

REP. WALKER: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Any other questions from committee members? If not, thank you very much, Ms. Sabato.

One -- do you have a comment you'd like to share with the committee before you --

SHEILA MATTHEWS: Well, if you want to push my testimony up, I'm number 43, it be happy to offer it now. I'm here to support her, and she's an able child parent. I'm a nonprofit organization. She asked me to come out to support her. So, I'll wait my turn.

REP. VILLANO: Okay. Thank you very much. We appreciate that.

Elizabeth Slezak.

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: Good afternoon. My name is Elizabeth Slezak. I come here as a former Department of Children and Families social worker trainee. I was hired on January 18th, and was let go by the department on October 31, 2008.

My ten month working test period was due to end on November 17, however, due to one unsatisfactory, fabricated evaluation by my supervisor, I was -- they call it dropped from state service. I was fired from state service. I had previously received three satisfactory evaluations in April, May, and July with no concerns noted at that time.

Prior to coming to the Department of Children and Families, I was employed as a Care Coordination Supervisor for System of Care. That background, I felt, gave me a wealth of experience that would help me in a very difficult job. I also have over 20 years prior state service, having worked for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Department of Social Services, and within the Judicial Department. I had hoped to return to state service at a later date and did come back in January with the hopes of ending my career with the Department of Children and Families. In fact, I had wanted to become involved with differential response system, if it was implemented next year, as I felt, my care coordination experience with my strength-based background, my family-driven background would be an asset to the department.

To summarize, the evaluation I received was fabricated and could have been proven untrue if I had been given the opportunity. However, like these families here, I was ignored by the program supervisor. I was ignored by human resources. They refused to speak with me. The only thing they did, because when they do fire you, they give you a chance to have administrative review, I was given that review on November 10th, and I was told I would have an answer if they would be able to reinstate me by one week. I thought that was a bit quick, but six weeks later, I'm here today to tell you, I still don't have an answer and they are not returning my voice mails.

I can only imagine what these families here today go through, because here I am, I'm hesitant to testify because I don't know if I still have a chance to get my job back. If they are investigating it and seeing that I would have been an asset to the department.

I was a good social worker and my family said that suddenly, one day did not have me, it's a total injustice. I've also written to the Commissioner six weeks ago and I have not heard back from them.

So your question: Are the children and families better off with their involvement with the Department of Children and Families? I would say no. My experience gave me insight into how these families must feel when they go up the chain of command and they are ignored. I was ignored.

In closing, I would like to state that to facilitate any changes within the department, you do need to clean house and get the right people with the right skills in place or nothing will ever change.

Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Ms. Slezak.

Are there questions? Questions from committee members? Representative Walker and then Senator Prague.

REP. WALKER: Yes, hi. Can you just tell me what was the reason for their -- for them to release you?

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: They said I had late paperwork, and that I had -- I had not made the visitation standards for two times, but I also had no supervision. I was left -- my supervisor told me not to bother him because he didn't -- he couldn't get his work done if I was interrupting. I was told to go to my coworkers or to figure it out. And I had to figure it out.

So, yes, I made a couple of visitation errors, and yes, I was late on some paperwork, but I had to remove some children, that causes all your paperwork to be late. If they let go everybody who had late paperwork, there would be nobody working there.

REP. WALKER: What do you think -- besides what they said they felt, what was your feeling on why they released you?

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: My supervisor starting in August, this is only my belief, I can't say it's a fact.

REP. WALKER: Okay.

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: I think it was found out, because I had made a couple of visitation errors that he wasn't supervising me, because suddenly in August I started getting weekly supervision. But that supervision was very intimidating. It was trying to catch me in a visitation error; trying to catch me -- or even fabricating that I needed -- Oh, you can have more time on the social study because you just did a removal, and then denying that he ever said that, and said that that social study is late. I don't know if because of all my experience, and I worked for a younger supervisor that perhaps I was too good a social worker and I've got a -- not to pat myself on the back, I was in juvenile court.

The attorneys there don't give compliments to social workers too often. My out-of-home family that I was dealing with, the attorney said to my supervisor, You've got a good social worker. I was a good social worker. And why was I fired?

REP. WALKER: Thank you.

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Yes, Senator Prague.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. So when you initially started with DCF, they didn't give you any kind of help to begin with --

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: No.

SENATOR PRAGUE: -- as to what the procedure should be, how you should interact with the family?

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: Not at the local office. I must say, the training unit was wonderful. They -- they -- I attended all 35 training classes --

SENATOR PRAGUE: Okay.

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: -- and I scored an 82 on my test. It had been many a year since I took a test, so I was pleased. They even let me take the test knowing they were firing me because the test was two weeks before I got fired.

So my class, who had known I have had issues all along, they were thrilled to see me on October 17th. We all thought I had made it. I was thrilled, you know, I took the test -- why nobody would let me go -- why would they have me take the test?

Well, because I had treatment plans due all through October. They wanted to get me through the month and on October -- well, three days before they fired me my supervisor told me I was being fired. I came to work each day. My coworkers and families said, What are you nuts? You're being fired in three days. I said, I am going to be professional to the end. I'm going to do my work. I'm going to -- I even did all my filing because I was behind, but that is the way my work ethic is.

So for me to be fired, these last six weeks have been -- and nobody will listen to me. You people today, with the exception of that administrative hearing, which I haven't heard back, are the only people I've been able to tell my story because my voice mails go unanswered.

SENATOR PRAGUE: I'm going to ask you a question, if you don't want to answer, it's perfectly okay.

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: Uh-huh.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Who is your supervisor?

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: I'd rather not say his name, but I will say, because you come from Norwich, that's the office I worked in.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Okay. Were you a --

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: Nothing personal, but --

SENATOR PRAGUE: Were you a union member?

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: Yes. But they know when you're in your working test period -- I had a wonderful union person, and she was a supervisor, so I'm not saying she was wonderful, but she told me, Until you're done with your working test period, we can't help you, because -- and they know that and that's why they did it two weeks before my November 17th -- after November 17th, they could not have fired me because I would have Union to -- because there was no reason to fire me.

They said I needed help with attendance and tardiness. I had perfect attendance and, I -- not only was I never tardy, I was there 15 minutes early every day, and the program supervisor saw that, and said to me at one meeting, Well, we know you can't do the job because you come in early. You stay late. You work through lunch, so you can't do it in 40 hours. We have a problem.

I said, I just removed a child and it caused all my paperwork to go behind, so I'm trying to play catch-up. So instead of being, thank you for trying to catch up on my own time. I get, see, your late paperwork. She believed what the supervisor told her in that was it.

SENATOR PRAGUE: What were the two errors you made in the home visits?

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: There were two different -- I don't want to get specific because of confidentiality.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Okay.

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: There were two different cases that were very different from the normal case, and I didn't -- in the -- you're supposed to see the child twice a month. I didn't see the child for three or four weeks, but it wasn't a normal situation, and because I was new and I had no guidance, I didn't realize and I made a mistake.


There was no harm done and these were children that weren't living with the mother, so I was visiting the mother and I don't really want to say anything more.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Okay. Well, thank you for coming in and testifying.

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: Well, thank you for listening.

SENATOR PRAGUE: It gives us another perspective of some of the issues in DCF.

REP. VILLANO: Representative Hamm.

REP. HAMM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Can we talk candidly about the phone? Because I hear all the time, and experience it rather frequently that you cannot reach a social worker in the Department of Children and Families.

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: That is true. And I must say I used to answer the phone and people would be shocked to hear my voice, because I tried so hard, because of my system of care experience and my frustration that I made sure -- and I wasn't perfect either because they give you so much to work -- work to do. It's hard to get every phone call returned, but I would be in the field, I would check my messages and I would call. It was a big effort to keep up with it.

REP. HAMM: I guess what I'm trying to get to is; what the culture inside the office was as it related to the priority of responding to phone calls, either picking up the phone when it rings, or returning phone calls because, you know, it makes no difference that I'm a child attorney at all.

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: Uh-huh.

REP. HAMM: Nobody calls back from DCF. And my parent clients tell me the same thing for months that they cannot reach their worker.

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: Uh-huh.

REP. HAMM: And I'm just wondering, is there a policy? Is it just kind of the culture of the offices? What -- how would you characterize what the expectation is of how you're to respond to clients?

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: Well, we are told in the training unit to respond within one or two days. I mean, the expectation is always there to respond.

REP. HAMM: But that's the training unit. How about --

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: The training unit.

REP. HAMM: How about in the office? How many of your colleagues were calling back within one to two days, from what you observed?

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: Yeah. I don't really know, because we're all out in the field and that could be part of the problem. Because you have so many families and you have to meet those standards, and you have to do those treatment plans, and, oh, you're late on that. Part of it isn't because they're just not doing their job, part of it is they're not following -- they're not having time.

I've got to tell you, the Norwich office is a wonderful office. The front-line staff there, I have never worked for a better group of people for having to do the difficult job that we do. The camaraderie and the teamwork -- I'm talking front-line, and even some social workers, I didn't know that many of them -- but I felt more comfortable there than any other state job I had. I mean, that -- they're lucky to have the type of people they have at their office.

Obviously, my issue is a supervisor who's not doing their job, nobody higher up wants to deal with it, so they ignore it.

REP. HAMM: And now, they're not returning your calls either.

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: Now, I'm not getting my -- I was excited at human resources.

REP. HAMM: Welcome to the club.

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: Right. And she told me -- she took my cell phone number and said, I'll call you in a week. I was real excited. Well, it didn't happen. And I called Tuesday saying, I'm hesitant about testifying because if I still have a chance to get my job back, which I may, I don't want to blow it. And this could be me blowing it because I'm speaking out. But, if I don't testify and I don't get my job back I felt I needed to do this.

REP. HAMM: Thank you.

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: Well, thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Yes, Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: Yes. I just have a quick question. I'm sorry. You said you were a social work trainee.

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: Yes.

REP. WALKER: How many cases did you carry?

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: At four months, I had 15 families. I was at 90 percent.

REP. WALKER: You were at 90 percent at four months?

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: Uh-huh. Not everyone is up that high at four months. That was another thing amongst the training unit that I seem to have the higher percentage most of the time, and I still did my job, so...

REP. WALKER: And you basically were given this full load or whatever, with very limited supervision.

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: Directives, you know, the directives that tell you what to do. Uh-huh, very limited.

REP. WALKER: So that's -- so if we don't have any -- if we have somebody straight out of college going into those positions --

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: We did.

REP. WALKER: -- and they have --

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: He resigned the week after I left, in my office.

REP. WALKER: Okay. Thank you very much.

ELIZABETH SLEZAK: Thank you all very much.

REP. VILLANO: Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to depart, with your indulgence, from the list of speakers as we have it now to accommodate the speakers who have brought their children with them. I see the children are a little bit sleepy. If they're signed up to speak, we're going to move you up. Would you come forward and testify so that you can depart at an appropriate time.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Good afternoon.

REP. VILLANO: Good afternoon.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Yes.

REP. VILLANO: Your name -- is your name on the list?

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Yes, sir, I'm on the list.

REP. VILLANO: What number are you?

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: I don't know, sir.

REP. VILLANO: Identify yourself by name.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Dagoberto Santa Maria. If you want them, I'll bring them up front.

JEANIE PHILLIP: Mr. Chairman, he's number 108. You've skipped two.

REP. VILLANO: 108.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: And being involved with DCF for currently over 19 years, you know, and never being in charge made overly -- but meanwhile, they have ruined my record, you know, police record. Which, you know, now they intend to do the same with my kids.

You know, my 19-year-old just left for the Marines, thank God for that, which, you know, in this last case, they tried to get him arrested, or intervene in there, and they say they keep, you know, trying to charge of this stuff. And they're like, Lucky we didn't lock him up, just like that.

Okay. This is my grandchildren Ethan, and this is Maia. They got removed and placed with one of the DCF worker's family member, which she's got four under her custody. Okay. And Maia was being hit by the foster parent, which now, the traumatize is so bad that Ethan and Maia used to be like drinking water together, you know, as a brother and sister sharing stuff. Now, with Ethan, the last time I've seen him was about, before my son left December 8th for boot camp, that's the only time I have seen him since they've removed him, because, you know, they put it as like I'm at risk to them, which I never got arrested with my son or nothing. And then, you know, they -- she is so traumatized that when Ethan is going to give her juice, that day, she ran to the corner and covered her face and cried. So, you know, and this is the kind of help that DCF said they've given.

I've got a paper here to, you know, they made me sign. They told me, we will not remove you kids if you sign this paper, which is my 12-year-old, when she got surgery, she got a tumor removed, you know, cancer -- removed from his head, for my 13-year-old which is Gerald.

REP. VILLANO: Mr. Santa Maria, where do you live?

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: In Norwalk.

REP. VILLANO: In Norwalk.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Yes, sir.

REP. VILLANO: Okay. Thank you.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Then -- then they told me, if you sign this paper which I have here, she goes, We will not remove your family. If you don't sign it, we'll remove it right away. And I said to my son, my son goes, Dad, don't sign it. And they says, you know, which I was involved in domestic violence, which was not true, you know and everything, and I signed it.

A week and a half later, they removed them to the shelter over here at Hartford. That was my two children. Then I told them my concerns to the worker, I said, They're being picked on by the rest of, you know, people staying in the shelter. She goes, I'll check on that. So my wife goes, Send me money, you know, I'm out of here. So I sent her money and she -- she ran away to Vermont with the two children.

Two weeks later, two weeks later after talking to the worker about the concern, she calls me up, Mr. Santa Maria, you know where your children are? And I go, Wait a minute. You're the one who removed them. How come you don't know where they are?

And even -- even the court, you know, the prosecutor for the court asked me the same thing. And then, Andrew -- before that, Andrew and Gerald were removed and placed in a dangerous environment where there was drug involvement. They had a drug dealer watching to make sure they don't escape. They had my son on the second-floor apartment just in underwears.

I went there with the police department, because my lawyer called them up, and he said, What's the charge? And they said, None. And then they told me, Go get your kids, without any DCF worker coming, they pulled my kid's arrest. They put myself arrest, and they put the police officers' arrest, because, you know, when I got there, they had Gerald upstairs. Then he had a chance to get him dressed, but the other, Andrew, they took him in the car and took off with him.

And the police officers had a big chase, you know, call him up, find him, chasing down to bring them back. And this is how DCF works. Just last week, you know, I'm involved with Lehman and Harmony, which is working very well with the kids. My son Andrew has been involved with the ROTC, which he's never been involved with anything. He's doing very well. My son, Demetri, the same thing. All of them are staying -- I make, you know, like about -- my two last checks is 80 something dollars. The first one, and the other one, $100. I show that to the worker and I told her, you made me move to a $1700 apartment a month, okay. And she goes, Well, you should -- you know, you should have known that you shouldn't be able to cover. I said, You guys have a WRAP program. She goes, I never heard of it. Okay.

I have a signature here that day. This day was last week, which, you know, they were supposed to help me with the first month's rent. I had to fight with her actually in court because she said, You haven't given the money to the landlord. I went and got the landlord and testified there. You know, yes, he did. He paid me the money. And they wouldn't help me with the first month's rent if it didn't jump on the case like that.

This is another one. All day I spent last Thursday, or whatever day it's signed, you know, to get this. They told me to go get a hair test done and a drug evaluation, which I'm welcome to it. You know, I set up meetings and personal system for AA. I went through all that. I'm clean and sober. My family don't use drugs. I gave it to her. So, I get the answer yesterday. I called her up, and she goes, Oh, you know, you cut your hair. I saw her the day before that. And I said, I didn't cut my hair. My urine is clean. I said, if you want a blood test, I'll give it to you. Oh, we'll see about that.

And still, this is two months rent that I paid because I told them, you know, I said, it's all about kids. It's not about me. I told them I can live in the back of my car. It's no big deal. I said, It's about the kids. You guys aren't concerned about the kids?

The supervisors sign it after, you know, I signed all this, I asked about help with the house. And she goes, Oh, no, you can't do it. It's got to be your wife. I said, why not? I said I'm the parent. I'm the one fighting for them all the time. I'm the one getting arrested all the time, you know, I'm the one who's being humiliated to the point where, you know, the police got to come and get involved. They don't even listen to them no more, you know, when they hear my name, because it's -- everything is a lie.

I'm sitting next to the investigator last time and her cousin called up, my wife's cousin called up. Oh yeah, he's drug dealing on the corner. I can see him right there. And I'm sitting right next to the investigator. And he's like, Oh, my God, you know, Grab your kids and take off. That's what his -- what his words were.

And I took off to Texas. Came back, and I get my grandchildren taken and abused. And that's the abuse I've been going through -- through 19 years. When is it going to stop?

The investigator they've got sitting on the courtroom, she had two classes for domestic violence. Before Thanksgiving we were supposed to get the grandchildren back. And they said, No, because you've got to finish the two classes, which the investigator never investigated nothing, because he's in a DCF worker by day, and an alcoholic by night. They call him Smiley in the bar in Stamford. That's what represents the court, a DCF worker.

He don't investigate nothing. He don't read nothing. He just do the paper, you know, what do they call that, creative bookkeeping. You know, let's do this and let's make up for this. And that's the way it's been going on for 19 years.

You know, there is my AA letters, you know. I don't know what to do. How do you stop this abuse? This day, one of the workers told me, Not even God can help you, straight to my face. That was the words out of her mouth. Okay. Not even God can help you. And the same worker, I have a 12-year-old and her mother living at my home, you know, where were staying at the apartment, because they were supposed to help them, too. And she's ready to get an apartment and everything. And the same worker that said that to me said she did no one of my family members was there, and she listened to her go, Hey, I'm not going to help that family. I don't even like them. Just like that.

You know, so there ain't nobody going to touch these people because they've got that badge, and they can abuse it anytime they want. They've got the police behind them. They've got everybody behind them.

She even bothered to call the courthouse, to the probation officer on my son, which is involved with all this stuff that he's got to be involved, he's, you know, compliant. The probation officer said, The Next DCF worker. And she told me, Oh no, I'm the probation officer. They listen to me. I can do whatever I want, okay.

And this is the kind of stuff, you know, I'm trying to avoid getting my son a record. If my son didn't leave to the Marines, he would probably already be in jail by now because that's what they do. They ruin your life and nobody listens, because DCF, you know, that name, that abuse of power.

I've seen this in my country when the families we're being killed and nobody could do nothing about it, and that's what's going on. I looked for a lawyer to tell them, you know, How can you -- can you do something for me? Because they haven't taken to court. And I'm like, what can I do? Thank God you guys are here to listen, but I don't know, you know, what anybody can do against these people, against the abuse.

These workers are not doing their job. And if family members are involved, you know, they protect them, because I didn't see these people, you know, she's got four other children. My two-year-old was getting beat up. What's going on with the rest of them that aren't in good care of that foster parent? But since it's a member, you know, the family working for DCF, they keep it covered, they keep it under the rocks.

No, my concerns are that, you know, retaliation, I know I'm going to have it. It's 19 years of that, you know.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: But I'll let you know if this happens.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Mr. Santa Maria.

Are there questions? Yes, Senator Prague.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Do your children go to school?

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Yes, ma'am.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Okay. And they're doing okay in school?

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Yes, that's another one. We had an incident with about 60 kids attacked my son, they took his bike. And they send my mother to the hospital for about a week, because they punched her in the back of the head, she's 70 years old. We called the police three times.

The next day I go, because I didn't want him to think, you know, it was something due to domestic violence. I talked to the supervisor and she goes, Oh, it's domestic violence. You know, and I go, but I wasn't involved. I say, I called the police three times. I said, 60 people sent my mother to the hospital. You're telling me it's domestic violence? You know, that was another one.

They good -- doing real good in school now.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Is this young lady --

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Yes, she's going to start college next month.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Good. Good for you. This your daughter?

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Yes, ma'am, my 18-year-old.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Okay. And so, DCF is still on your back?

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Yes, ma'am. And I got the paper that says that --

SENATOR PRAGUE: What do they want you to do?

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: That they -- I don't know. They just -- I think it's personal, because too many years, you know, I didn't let them get away with it. I always went into the homes and take my kids out, wherever they had them. They have marijuana selling, crack selling, you know, and all that. And now the people that were saying that stuff to me, they're in court for their own problem.

SENATOR PRAGUE: So, your kids aren't doing that?

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Oh, no, ma'am. None of my kids. We all --

SENATOR PRAGUE: Okay.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Zero tolerance to that. No drugs there. That's how come my boy is in the Marines, you know.

SENATOR PRAGUE: So, you would like us to get DCF off your back?

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Well, you know, yes, ma'am. I mean --

SENATOR PRAGUE: Okay. Okay. We'll try and help you.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: I mean, I just, you know, I just -- I'm tired of their lies.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Tell us your name again.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Dagoberto Santa Maria.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Do we have your address?

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Forty-three Concourse Street, Apartment 3.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Where is that?

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: In Norwalk.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Forty-three.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Uh-huh.

SENATOR PRAGUE: Okay.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: And, you know, right now we're not getting help with the house. You know, because she said it's going to take a while, and I said the next month is coming. And this -- this I started to ask them or since they got involved with my life again. I said, how about housing? Because they talk about, you know, housing. We paid for everything. You know, my kids had to go to work to get clothes. Because I asked her, Don't you guys give some kind of help for clothes? Oh no, we don't have that. Nothing. They don't have nothing. So, I don't know when the -- when the, you know, the lady that was speaking here last time was talking about a WRAP program, unification of the family. I had to go with the recruiting sergeant to the courthouse to talk to the DCF worker to let Tony see the kids --

A VOICE: Before he left.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: -- before he left to boot camp.

A VOICE: And they wouldn't let him see them.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: And they only let him see him for two hours. And this has been going on since the summer ain't no reunification, that's a lie.

You know, it's all lies.

And I'm tired of it. And I would have bring you a bus full of people, you know, they just don't have the means to get up here, and they're -- some of them are afraid, very afraid. You know, I'm not afraid no more, so...

SENATOR PRAGUE: Good for you. Thank you for coming.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: And the kids are here to speak out, too, because now they can talk, you know, and that what's all about.

REP. VILLANO: Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: Thank you. Right now, you have five children under custody?

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Five children, yes.

REP. WALKER: Five children. And one of the issues was your housing?

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Yes, ma'am.

REP. WALKER: And they said that they would pay for the --

(Gap in tape.)


REP. WALKER: -- first and last month's rent.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Yes -- no. They -- the two months that I'm behind because I show them, the department, you know, how much I make a week --

REP. WALKER: Uh-huh.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: And they, you know, this was -- I mean, I had to fight with them and tell them I was talking to Channel 3 News, and that's when they told me, Not even God can help you, you know.

REP. WALKER: So they said that they could -- they helped you at that point?

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Yes.

REP. WALKER: But there was not going to be any continuation of help.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: No, but --

REP. WALKER: And if you don't have an apartment that they're going to take the children.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: No, they haven't told me that part yet.

REP. WALKER: Oh.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Because, you know, not yet. I got until the end of the month. You know, they told me they have this program which is going to help us with housing.

REP. WALKER: Uh-huh.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: But how do they get involved with, you know, drug testing in all that.

REP. WALKER: Have you ever had a history of -- can I ask, have you ever had a history of drugs?

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Oh, yes. That was about 15 years ago.

REP. WALKER: And you haven't had it since?

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: No, ma'am, no.

REP. WALKER: Okay. Really good. Thank you.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: Thank God -- radio that.

REP. WALKER: Thank you. Thank you very much for coming to testify. And senator Prague, I know, is going to do some strong questioning and everything. Okay.

DAGOBERTO SANTA MARIA: All right. Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Next on the list is Sheila Matthews.

SHEILA MATTHEWS: Good afternoon. My name is Sheila Matthews, co-founder of Able Child, a nonprofit that focuses on full informed consent and the right to refuse psychiatric treatment.

Able Child petitioned Connecticut and had two psychotropic drugs, Effexor and Paxil removed from the DCF psychotropic drug formula due to their link to suicide ideation in children. Able Child also participated in the Connecticut's $13 million mental health transformation grant.

There we met strong resistance upon requesting oversight to avoid conflict of interest with state vendors; and, secondly, when promoting drug-free alternatives to mental health. On February 21, 2007, I personally provided Attorney General Blumenthal documents that demonstrated a drug company was covering up adverse events which linked their drugs to suicide and hostility in adolescents.

Further, we identified two DCF cases in which children were forced onto multiple psychiatric drugs and held by the state with no legal standing. We also reported these two cases to the Child Advocate's Office.

In response, on April 12, 2007, rather than holding the state vendors responsible, the Attorney General simply put out a joint press release with the child advocate Jeane Milstein stating, If you have a problem accessing a psychiatrist for care, please call this 800 number.

We requested the procedures a family would follow in reporting a psychiatric abuse case with DCF from Rudy Brooks, of prevention and external affairs, who is slated to oversee the Ombudsman's Office. He could only reply, We acknowledge that this is not an exact science.

It appears as though there's a clear policy to administer drugs, but none when it comes to dealing with adverse side affects.

In closing, we would like to point out that the SSRI dosing guideline the state of Connecticut is relying on are the same SSRI dosing guidelines of the Texas Algorithm Program, which has been deemed unscientific and are under legal challenge in the courts. Therefore, we urge this committee to abandon this model immediately.

I have attached to my testimony five recommendations for the State to incorporate into any DCF reorganization plan to achieve meaningful reforms. I have also attached documents that substantiate the problems associated with the dosing guidelines.

Thank you very much. I look forward to helping this committee in any way possible.

I do believe that the Attorney General, being the legal guardian, the legal enforcer in bringing these charges against these parents has a conflict of interest with the Child Advocate working on behalf of the children. It's unconstitutional what's going on here. This committee has funded DCF over and over again.

Able Child had a bill in the -- in this committee, not this particular committee, on informed consent and it failed to pass, year after year.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you.

Are there questions from committee members? Representative Hamm.

REP. HAMM: Thank you. The question you've raised, we've talked a lot about which is, does the Attorney General represent the citizens of the State of Connecticut or does he represent the agencies, the state agencies of the State of Connecticut? And I know in the juvenile court context, we certainly have always queried about it. I think the legal answer is, he is the Attorney for the state agencies of the State of Connecticut, and there should be a separate, private attorney firm, I would think, if the AG's office is directly involved.

So I think a lot of people in our state believe that his responsibility is to represent them individually as citizens, and I don't think that's technically true.

SHEILA MATTHEWS: What disturbed me about the Attorney General was that after I provided him with internal documentation from drug companies, he turned around and sued the drug companies, which was very impressive. However, the two cases that I provided to him on abuse of forced drugging by the vendors were left.

And he actually turned around with the child advocate before the Committee on Behavioral Health and said, We don't have enough access. And, to me, I feel that that is such a failure of justice to actually take the opposite approach when you have knowledge of two children that have been forced on multiple drugs, and held in custody by the state, and you fail to mention that to any of the behavioral health vendors.

I do believe that this is a RICO case. I believe that -- that this agency is so fraught with corruption and it goes right to the top to the Attorney General's office. I believe that the Governor has failed to administer her responsibilities. I think this committee has funded this agency, and holds a certain amount of responsibility for continuing the types of laws that you've allowed to process these children through, is a holocaust.

I really do believe to hold these children in a facility like Riverview, in locked conditioned, forced, drugged, restrained, needs to be completely abandoned. And to look at children, Representative Thompson, particularly of -- of children's year old to three now, looking for more access to more children when you can't even deal with the ones that you have now is severely lacking in ethics.

That's how I feel. I feel that the behavioral health vendors hold a huge, huge price tag on every one of these children. And the -- the screening is subjective. How can you tell me that a three month old can be screened for mental health? How? They haven't even learned to cry.

REP. THOMPSON: A three-month-old can be screened earlier than that. It's by weight in some cases. And it's not necessarily for mental health screening. It's for general health, general birth defects, and so on. And that program has received national attention. And it's a program nationally. And it has done so much good. In all due respect, I think you should research that subject before you criticize it. Thank you.

SHEILA MATTHEWS: Actually, there's a federal bill that was tried to be passed called the Mothers Act, and it failed based on the subjectivity. So I have done a lot of research on it, and in all due respect, obviously, we disagree.

My recommendations is to fully fund Public Act 04-238, which is to track how many children in state care are on psychiatric drugs; to establish electronic records for each child in state custody to include, science based, nonpsychiatric services to address behavioral concerns, including educational strategies, nutrition, allergy testing, vision, hearing testing, and a complete medical checkup.

The most important thing this committee can do is to educate the DCF workers on the Medwatch Program to report adverse events to the Federal Department of Health through the Medwatch Forum. It's a program already established on the federal level. It would allow DCF workers and their families to track, to record adverse events of psychiatric drugs.

So, I think you have your work cut out. I'd be more than happy to help you, but honestly, the Attorney General really needs to be held account. What I see is the commissioner -- I don't know how many commissioners you've had over the period of time, I think three or four. What stays consistent is the Attorney General's position, and he's prosecuting these children for neglect.

There's a Supreme Court case right now pending on the 1-800 number that DCF uses, the hotline. That's unconstitutional, not to be able to face your accuser. What is missing from the eight -- 1-800 number is the fact that there's no police record. These families are being charged for neglect, medical neglect, educational neglect, abuse, but, yet, there's no police reports.

REP. VILANNO: Ms. Matthews, we're going to have to have you wrap up.

SHEILA MATTHEWS: Okay. I've wrapped up.

REP. VILLANO: No other questions, so thank you. We welcome your testimony.

SHEILA MATTHEWS: Oh, great. Thanks. Have a great holiday. Merry Christmas.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you.

Our next speaker is Dr. Alesia Maltz.

DR. ALESIA MALTZ: I'd like to thank the cochairs and members of the Citizens and Human Services Committee for providing an opportunity for citizens to speak at this hearing. My name is Dr. Alesia Maltz. I've been licensed as a foster parent for four years and have served as a pre-adoptive foster parent for the last two-and-a-half years.

There's been ample evidence already presented at this hearing that DCF is compliant, neither what the Human Convention on the Rights of Children, nor the Adoption and State Families Act of 1997. When the focus of the -- while the focus of this investigation has been on the most egregious offenses, I believe that the logjam of problems associated with DCF can best be broken by focusing --

JEANIE PHILLIPS: Could you speak louder, please?

DR. ALESIA MALTZ: I believe -- better? -- that the logjam of problems associated with DCF can best be broken by focusing on the best interest of the child and clarifying what that means within the State.

DCF cannot be permitted to repeat the same mistakes. Decisions need to be taken by DCF and the courts in a timely and decisive manner. I know of children who are sent back to foster parents five times from failed attempts at reunification. This has devastating effects on the psychological welfare of the child.

In my review of the academic and policy literature, I have found that, one, the Connecticut definition of best interest of the child is inadequate in many respects when compared with the definition of other states. And I've provided a website that gives a synopsis of those definitions state by state.

Two, the academic research shows that children do best when they are not returned to birth parents, but remain either with foster parents or adoptive parents. And I have provided a packet to Representative Anne Ruwet that illustrates some of that literature.

Three, the laws, policies and procedures at DCF sometimes require reunification with the birth parents even when it is not in the best interest of the child.

The Connecticut Legislature can address the important issue of streamlining the adoption process by maintaining a clear focus on the child.

I propose the following changes be made. One, the Connecticut Legislature should review and redefine best interest of the child in terms of the latest research and in light of the best practices of other states, so we have a clear understanding of what the best interests of the child means.

Two, the Connecticut Legislature should review the laws, policies and procedures between the courts and DCF.

Three, while the rights of parents should be respected, there should always be limits and consequences on the number of chances birth parents have. If the birth parent fails to demonstrate the necessary improvements after the requisite 15-month period, they should not be given an infinite number of chances.

At this point, the best interests of the child should be weighed more fully. These changes will save many children from getting stuck in the DCF system.

In closing, I wish to thank the DCF workers who are dedicated to our children, and thank you for consideration of my testimony.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Dr. Maltz.

Are there questions from members? Senator Meyer.

SENATOR MEYER: Dr. Maltz, thanks for your testimony and it's a pleasure to meet you, earlier today.

In three minutes you can't say everything you want to, but could you tell us what you think should be the most significant criteria in -- incorporated within the concept of the best interests of the child?

DR. ALESIA MALTZ: It's a national discussion. But about what those criteria are, I think that there are implications for the criteria that we already have. If length of time, for example, with the adoptive parent sounds like a great idea, but in practice, what that means is that the social workers are telling the foster parents, It's okay if there's, you know, it's to your advantage that this is taking so long, you know, which is not good for the child.

And the -- I think there are some states that have better policies and procedures. It would be reasonable to talk with the -- the people involved, directors in those other states, find out how those policies work in practice on the ground, and -- and review the ones that -- consider the ones that make the best sense.

SENATOR MEYER: So, in other words, in your experience, both as a foster parent, pre-adoptive parent, and your practice, you don't have any particular significant factors that are in your mind as to what constitutes the best interests of the child?

DR. ALESIA MALTZ: Well, the criteria laid out in Connecticut's definition are sort of jambalaya, they're all in a pile. It's hard to figure out which one is prioritized, yet, when you go to court, the rights of the parents are prioritized.

And in cases that I know of -- I'm hearing a whole set of cases here -- the -- the length of time with the adoptive parent, the psychological evaluations, in terms of who is the psychological parent of the child, all of these things are not clarified or prioritized in a good way. And -- and it's left up to the courts to decide which one becomes the primary factor in each case. That's the way I understand it's -- it is now.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Dr. Maltz.

Representative Gonzales.

REP. GONZALEZ: Thank you very much for allowing me to ask some questions, and thank you, for you being here.

When you said, foster parents, and when they take a lot of time, they drag the case and drag the case, and by the time that you have, I think, the 18 months with DCF -- and by the time that they reach the 18 months, what they do is they totally take the case away from the parents and that ends up with a foster parent.

Do you think that we should have like, some time, like, let's say that they removed the case from whom? And they should have, like, let's say, 92, 72 hours, some time to find out if really they have got probable cause, if something really is going on. And then you agree with me, that I think that's what I really believe, that if they drag the case and they go to court and they continue to go to court, most of the time, what I believe is that they do that on purpose so they can leave the kids to the foster parents.

And I think that sometimes the workers, they fell in love with the foster parents, and they do that. By the time they reach the 18 months, that kid is out of home. And it's very hard then for the parents to try to take the kids back because he's going to cost a lot of money, money that they don't have.

So do you believe that we should, instead of just leaving the case until they decide they will finish the case, we should pass legislation, that we should say, like, after 72 hours, 92 hours, certain time, you don't have probable cause, you can't prove that something is going on, you at the return the kid home.

DR. ALESIA MALTZ: I feel that there are many examples of the rights of the parents being violated here, and there are also examples of -- foster parents have no rights. And, yet, the foster parent has not 18 months, but it may be two, or three, or seven years of a relationship with the child --

REP. GONZALEZ: Right.

DR. ALESIA MALTZ: -- and then the child is taken away.

Now, where, of what does this do to the child? So what I feel is that we are putting our children in a very bad position by creating these conflicts, these adversarial relationships between the foster parents and the adoptive parents.

And the rights of the -- of the rights of the birth parents need to be honored and they need to be given the services they need, but the primary thing is that the child should not be torn in this process. That is really the most difficult thing to see.

REP. GONZALEZ: Right. I have another question. When you said, the rights of the parent have been violated, and I really agree 200 percent. And I would say that when DCF receives a complaint, and they go and do the home visit, the first -- one of the first things they do is they get into the house. They think they own that apartment. And they -- what they do is they snatch that kid away from the parents, go into a room and ask questions without the parents involved. How -- what can you say about that?

DR. ALESIA MALTZ: I am privy to very little about that process, but I have sat with children who are telling me the abuses that they have experienced, and those abuses are extraordinary, and I -- and that requires -- took and required tremendous amount of trust and courage on the part of the child.

So what is the best situation for the child to reveal the truth as they see it and understand it? I don't know if being put in a room with somebody they don't know is the best way, but let's think about what the best way is for the child.

REP. GONZALEZ: And you believe that after they interview that kid and they move the kid around, they yell, they scream at the kid, and they start moving that kid, that in a way that kid feels pressure, and you, you know, my opinion is that that really is going to affect that kid; do you agree?

DR. ALESIA MALTZ: I do not know what the DCF workers do.

REP. GONZALEZ: But if it that happened, that case, is, they do something like that, that they remove the child, they yell, they scream and they grab the kid, they move him around because they want to get to say something that they really want, and, yeah, that kid is going to be really affected.

DR. ALESIA MALTZ: I think the whole thing must be terrifying for the child.

REP. GONZALEZ: Thank you very much.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you. Are there questions from other committee members? If not, Dr. Maltz, thank you very much for your testimony.

DR. ALESIA MALTZ: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Our next speaker on the list is Curley Stephens.

A VOICE: Move to the next one. They will be here in another half an hour. Curley and Kelly.

REP. VILLANO: Okay.

A VOICE: They're on their way here now.

REP. WALKER: Put them on hold, and to be followed by Tom Gillman.

THOMAS GILMAN: Good afternoon, Representative Villano, Senator Meyer, Senator Harris, members of the committee, my name is Thomas Gilman.

I've spent my entire career working in the area of human services. In 19 -- in 2003, rather, I retired after 28 years in DCF. Five of those years was Deputy Commissioner. I have a Master's degree in child welfare. I'm a member of the Board of Directors of FAVOR, Family Advocacy Agency, and I'm a member of the Southeastern Connecticut Mental Health System of Care.

I come here today, however, speaking as a private citizen. I'd like to commend the committee for the amount of time and energy that you're putting into this very important issue. And I've watched parts of the three days of previous testimony. All of the information you've heard in those days, that you've heard from people here today, I think is extremely important.

It's mostly anecdotal information. And I would suggest to you that in addition to that you get some information that gives you some analytical information, things that you can analyze on a systems basis. I would also suggest that you're missing any insight that you couldn't have gotten from commissioners or directors of child welfare in other jurisdictions, other states, other counties around the country.

Usually when an organization is evaluated, it is either judged against an industry standard or it is compared with like organizations. I really haven't seen any evidence that that is the method that's being employed. It seems, instead, that there is a standard that's very vague, that has not really been written or elucidated, and yet one which is out there.

It doesn't surprise me that we're holding hearings today. In the 28 years that I worked for the Department, I don't remember one time when the Department wasn't being reviewed or scrutinized, the Department or its Commissioners. And I look around other states that jurisdictions and that's pretty much constant around the country.

As a matter of fact, in the couple of minutes that I went on the Internet looking for information, in just about every state that I looked at, if you look down the list there were federal lawsuits, state legislative investigations, on and on and on, so this certainly isn't unique to Connecticut. As a matter of fact, in the 1990s I believe, around the country, the average length of time in which a commission was employed was 19 months, hardly enough time to even learn the job.

I don't disagree that this committee's job is to help improve the lives of children in Connecticut. I think you can talk to other people below the headlines who might also give you some thoughts. I would also, if you would, offer some suggestions and, respectfully, a few suggestions. Again, talk with commissioners and others, both inside and outside Connecticut who have actually done the job on a day-to-day basis. They've all been fired, so they'll have time to talk to you and presumably, they'll have a lot to say.

Your root-cause analysis, if you pick out a problem, go back to the root of it. Unfortunately, you're going to go find poverty, housing, institutional racism, all of these general societal problems you will find at the root of some of these issues.

Look at the advantages that you have in the consolidated agency in Connecticut. Indeed, most of the youngsters that come in to Connecticut's program, regardless of entry point, mental health, child protection, or juvenile justice really require the same services.

I would caution you before you start breaking that up into separate entities. Learn more about DCF and its daily challenges, not just its hearings. Go to your local office. Meet the people who work there. Believe me, I will tell you my experience is, by and large, they're a group of very dedicated, hard-working people who put in much more than the 40 hours for which they get paid.

Understand that there are miracles at DCF as well as tragedies. Learn what some of those are. Don't just look at one side of things.

And, finally, we will be here every year, or you will, not me. You will be here every year unless there is some agreed upon, realistic set of standards by which you will judge success. You have none. No one has given me any of that I've heard, This is what we agree upon is success. This is failure. This is how we know if we're where we want to be. Because of what it is tasked to do, DCF will never, never be an agency that the public naturally embraces, or perhaps the Legislature even.

But if we are realistic in our expectations and objective in our assessment, the Department and the children they care for will be better served.

Thank you, and I'd answer any question that you might have.

REP. VILLANO: Yes, Representative Gonzalez.

THOMAS GILMAN: Good afternoon, Representative.

REP. GONZALEZ: Good afternoon. You said that you worked for DCF how many years; 28 years?

THOMAS GILMAN: I worked for 28 years, 1975 to 2003.

REP. GONZALEZ: And you still -- no, 2003. Okay.

THOMAS GILMAN: That's correct.

REP. GONZALEZ: And being from an employee of DCF, I think that you will defend DCF, that department.

THOMAS GILMAN: I will defend parts of that, yes.

REP. GONZALEZ: Okay. So if nothing -- if so many complaints out there, people complain about, you know, the verbal abuse, the abuse of power, so many complaints out there, and we have to go ahead and check and double-check. And most of the time, when we call the worker at DCF and we want to check a complaint, most of the time is, No, that's not true. The parents are lying. That didn't happen. They are doing that. And they will give us 20 reasons why that didn't happen. When the reality is that really happened, but they are covering their back.


And I would say that I have family that called me, looking for help because they want to keep the granddaughter, because the daughter was a little bit slow, she was not a bad person, she was not involved in drugs, but she was a little bit slow. And they called for help; they called me. And it was my mistake. I recommended to call DCF. And you know that is -- I regret it, every single day of my life after that. You know why? Because instead of that worker go and ask, and check how they can have these people, they went to the hospital and they take the baby away from the hospital, and when they left the hospital, they called the police just in case the family would come around here, because they are Latinos, they would have started big problems.

Those are bad people because those are Latinos. And that happens to Latinos and the African-American community alike. So you tell me that I was involved in that case, I work in my community and I get involved in my community, because that's why (inaudible) like me to get involved, and I get involved with DCF so many times, and DCF is not doing the work.

So, this public hearing is a very good idea, and I give a lot of credit, and I congratulate every person in this public hearing because this is what we need. I think this is time.

When I tell you my story that I recommended these people to call DCF. And up to today, they are still fighting for that baby; up to today, they are still fighting for that baby. You're telling me that we have -- Mr., with all due respect, I tell you, DCF has been -- I think that it was our fault. It is our fault. That we have to decide to move along time ago, because I think that with all the powers that we have in our community, and people complain, losing their kids, just because DCF is not doing the job, I think that is, you know, is past.

I think that instead of -- and with all due respect -- instead of here trying to defend a department be here to defend the kids. That's what we need to do.

THOMAS GILMAN: If -- if I might, Representative, and I don't get paid to do this any longer, but if I might, I don't know the particular situation you're talking about. I can tell you a couple of things.

First of all, in the type of situation you're talking about, this Legislature established through laws checks and balances. And if that child was removed from the hospital, the court ruled on that.

And so, you know, one of the -- one of the tunnel vision problems is, if we're going to look at the system -- and I didn't come here to defend DCF -- If you listen to my comments, they were comments on how this committee might look on improving the system. I didn't say once, DCF is a great institution, doesn't need any change. It's always evolving. It's dynamic. You ask any police officer what the most difficult problem they will encounter in the course of their work, and they will tell you a domestic case.

Now it probably makes up 5 to 10 percent of their work. It makes up a hundred percent of DCF's work. And, so, none of these are easy cases. None of these have easy answers. You can get different people. You can change the language. The emotional response of these situations will remain the same. It will be extraordinarily difficult. Each person's perspective in the drama will be different. You know that looking at your own family, regardless of what it is.

All I'm saying is, take a hard, systematic look. It's very important to hear individual stories. It's also important to look at how those individual stories fit within the system, and how that system works. That's all I'm saying.

REP. GONZALEZ: And when you said that this case, you know, they have to go to court and the court decide, when a DCF worker moves a child, remove a child from home, they have to prove that they did everything in their power to maintain that family together.

So, they go to court -- they go to court and they give the judge a report like they did everything in their power, but 99 percent of the times, they didn't do that, and that families are in court waiting to see what happened, because what if these families -- they want to take the kids, because they are a member of the family. But, they go to court and they hand to that judge a report saying they did everything in their power, when in reality that didn't happen.

And most defendants are there to complain about it.

THOMAS GILMAN: The court is the finder of fact to make that determination. Whether what they said, who, whatever. And I'm not here to argue that point. I don't know in that case any of the facts.

REP. GONZALEZ: But --

THOMAS GILMAN: All I did is come here today, tell you what my experience has been and make a couple of suggestions as to what the committee might look at. I don't know an individual case.

REP. GONZALEZ: Can you suggest then if a worker has to go to court, and shows a report saying, I did everything in my power to maintain this family together, and the judge right away, they sign, even if they don't check. Can you say we can try to pass legislation here that when that happens, when a kid is being removed to a house, they had to prove in court, in front of families that they did everything in their power, because it's not -- they're not going to get paid that fast -- they're not going to pay for that case. Can you recommend that?

THOMAS GILMAN: What I would recommend is if anyone goes before the court and perjures themselves, that they be held to the extent of the law. I don't know how else to answer your question.

REP. GONZALEZ: Then we have to remove all the workers from DCF. Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Senator Meyer.

SENATOR MEYER: Mr. Gilman, in all candor, I'm disappointed in your testimony --

THOMAS GILMAN: Okay.

SENATOR MEYER: -- and let me tell you why.

THOMAS GILMAN: Okay.

SENATOR MEYER: You sit in that chair today as a person who -- for 28 years who was on the staff of DCF, five of those years you were a deputy commissioner.

THOMAS GILMAN: Correct.

SENATOR MEYER: You've got a Master's degree in Child Welfare.

THOMAS GILMAN: Right.

SENATOR MEYER: And you come here today to tell us only one thing, and that is we're not asking the right questions.

THOMAS GILMAN: Okay.

SENATOR MEYER: That's what you said. And I'm surprised and disappointed, frankly --

THOMAS GILMAN: Okay.

SENATOR MEYER: -- that with the experience you've had and that you bring as you sit here today, that you're not able to tell us from that experience the strengths and weaknesses of DCF as you view it.

In fact, with the experience you've had, you go through each of DCF's jurisdictions; Child Protective Services, Juvenile Justice, Behavioral Health, you should be able to give us a critique. I can't think of anybody in the four days of hearings we've had, who is more qualified to do that than you and, yet, you've ignored it. You've ignored it and just talked about us asking a different set of questions.

THOMAS GILMAN: Well, I think the different set of questions gets you to that information.

SENATOR MEYER: Don't play games. I'm sorry sir, don't play a game with me.

THOMAS GILMAN: You don't think it gets you to that information?

SENATOR MEYER: Don't play a game with us. That's a game. We not here -- you're trying to have a puzzle. I figured out some questions and then you get the answers, but I'm not going to give you the answers is what you're saying. I don't like that.

THOMAS GILMAN: No, I can -- if you ask the question, what do I think the strengths and weaknesses are? I would try to answer that question, but what I'm -- okay. I think if you look from a -- from a national point of view that start with child protection, I think Connecticut probably has the broadest reporting law, and the per capita probably next to Rhode Island investigates -- and this, again, I have to go back a few years -- probably investigates a higher number per capita next to Rhode Island of any state in the country. The law is very broad. The staffing vis-a-vis number of reports is probably among the best in the country.

The -- the substantiation rate, which, again, you have to understand I haven't been there for five years -- the substantiation rate in the high 20 percents I believe pretty much mirrors the substantiation rate of any state in the country.

REP. VILLANO: Mr. Gilman, to conclude, we've got a number of other speakers.

THOMAS GILMAN: Okay.

REP. VILLANO: All right.

THOMAS GILMAN: I guess I would -- I mean, I'd be happy, Senator Meyer to talk to you at any point, and I didn't come here to play this. I came here to say, I think you also have to talk with other people who've been on the other side of that. I had three minutes. That's what I claim -- came to say.

REP. VILLANO: Mr. Gilman, we have been doing that. We've had four --

THOMAS GILMAN: I understand.

REP. VILLANO: -- four hearings.

THOMAS GILMAN: I understand.

REP. VILLANO: You said a while ago that it's our job to compile the facts and --

THOMAS GILMAN: Right.

REP. VILLANO: -- look at the system, and find a way to make it better. That's why we're here today.

THOMAS GILMAN: Exactly.

REP. VILLANO: And that's why Representative Walker has another question for you.

REP. WALKER: Good afternoon, sir. I want to talk about just your testimonies and everything.

THOMAS GILMAN: Okay.

REP. WALKER: You talked about, one, about DCF, find it's daily challenges and field staff. I did that.

THOMAS GILMAN: Good.

REP. WALKER: I went out and worked with the staff and work -- and met with several. Now, part of the problem is that most of the staff was afraid to talk to us because of the intimidation that is pressured on them from the administration about sharing any information. That is one of -- and as you talk about it, you say, do a root-cause analysis. The root-cause analysis says that they are blocking us from getting any information.

Now you were at DCF for 28 years.

THOMAS GILMAN: Right.

REP. WALKER: Of these 28 years, what direct services did you oversee, can I ask?

THOMAS GILMAN: I was a social worker.

REP. WALKER: Uh-huh.

THOMAS GILMAN: I was a social work supervisor.

REP. WALKER: Uh-huh.

THOMAS GILMAN: I ran a small office. I ran two large regions.

REP. WALKER: Uh-huh.

THOMAS GILMAN: I ran the child welfare regional system.

REP. WALKER: Uh-huh.

THOMAS GILMAN: And as Deputy Commissioner, I was in charge of all the program parts of the agency.

REP. WALKER: So you basically helped to design the system that we have now?

THOMAS GILMAN: Some parts of it. Believe me, that's okay. I'm --

REP. WALKER: No, I -- really, I'm trying to be -- understand what you're saying, because --

THOMAS GILMAN: I'm saying it's an extraordinary, difficult and complex job. If you look around the country.

REP. WALKER: Okay. I'm not --

THOMAS GILMAN: That there aren't easy answers.

REP. WALKER: Just to understand, also, I understand that there are issues all around the country and we are saying that our wel -- child welfare system is broken. But because everybody has a broken system doesn't mean that we become very lax in the way we address it.

THOMAS GILMAN: I agree.

REP. WALKER: So --

THOMAS GILMAN: I agree.

REP. WALKER: So what I'm trying to find out is a lot of the system that probably 108 people here came today to tell us, is broken, are many of the designs that you created; am I wrong in that?

SENATOR HARRIS: Representative Walker. If I -- I'm listening here and I'm learning a lot, and I really appreciate these incredibly important and emotional issues, and especially when it's your kid and your family, and that's what it means. I mean, I'm glad that I have not had to go through that, and my heart goes out to all that have.

But the problem that I'm encountering here is that with the reactions that we're getting and the things that I'm hearing, in particular some of the negatives, it's disturbing, because we need to be able to hear from people that we disagree with also, so we can get an idea of what to do to keep your children and your family safe.

So I implore you, well, stay engaged and do the right thing and be direct with us, to please allow even those that you have a problem with to speak and be respectful. Because if we're not civil, there's no way we're fixing this thing.

REP. WALKER: If we are not able to get and talk to the people, the staff that you applaud and say that they're doing a great job, there's a problem; am I correct in that, sir?

THOMAS GILMAN: Certainly.

REP. WALKER: So as we try to get the information, granted, the hearings have been -- granted each hearing is a specified group of a population that we're working on.

THOMAS GILMAN: Right.

REP. WALKER: So we are trying very hard to look at the root issues. But what we also are finding, more disturbing than ever, is that there is an agency that is not allowing us to get that information. And that agency is -- has to report to us at the General Assembly.

So out of -- even though the stories are disturbing, more disturbing is the fact that somebody that is supposed to report to us is having a problem allowing the people to talk to us.

THOMAS GILMAN: Okay.

REP. WALKER: So we appreciate -- I appreciate your beliefs, and I also appreciate the fact that you feel that this is a chronic problem nationwide. In Connecticut, sometimes we, you know, the problems that the nation has we feel here, but we also feel very committed to making those changes and trying to address it.

So thank you for your testimony.

THOMAS GILMAN: I agree with you, and I don't disagree with any of that.

REP. WALKER: Thank you for your testimony.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you very much, Mr. Gilman. We have your testimony. We appreciate you coming here and sharing those comments, additional comments with us.

The next speaker will be -- oh, I'm sorry. Representative Hamm.

REP. HAMM: Thanks for coming, bearing up so well. Can I just zero in on this phone issue, because I think, even though it is a small thing, it is so symbolic of the culture that is inside the agency, that we can't legislate our way out of, that's a --

(Gap in tape.)


REP. HAMM: -- and I can't get my calls returned. When my clients are involved, I can't get my calls returned. I don't understand that every time a new Commissioner comes they say, Well, I'm sending a new directive out to my workers to tell them that this is the -- and your policy manual says, within one to two days, they should be replying.

TOM GILMAN: Right.

REP. HAMM: You're training people that it's one to two days. But systemically, the way to communicate and build rapport among all parts of the system is communication. And if you can't have that happen, I don't know how to fix it.

So -- I mean you were there all that time.

TOM GILMAN: Right.

REP. HAMM: How do we make it --

TOM GILMAN: I used to answer phone calls, too, Representative.

REP. HAMM: You did? Within one to two days?

TOM GILMAN: Sometimes even faster than that.

REP. HAMM: When you were a social worker?

TOM GILMAN: When I was a social worker.

REP. HAMM: And a social work supervisor?

TOM GILMAN: Yes. I think that's an important part of the job. And you say it's a small piece, but I think it is a very important part of the job.

REP. HAMM: It is very symbolic of how we fix the integrity and the respect we have for each other.

TOM GILMAN: Right.

REP. HAMM: And a lot of what the people are saying to us today is they're being disrespected.

TOM GILMAN: Right.

REP. HAMM: That workers are hostile; that they're not talking to them; that they're ignoring what they're saying. That's a very human issue.

TOM GILMAN: I agree.

REP. HAMM: And how do we fix it? We haven't been able to fix it, something as simple as that. How do we make people care about the clients they work with on the other side, you know? Workers are protecting kids; that's their priority. We all understand that, but they still have to deal with more than the psychologists.

TOM GILMAN: Right.

REP. HAMM: -- and more than the DCF providers and more than the school people. They have to deal with the family members, the relatives, the siblings, the lawyers. And it isn't happening. Do you have any ideas? Because it's a management issue. And it's Commissioner after Commissioners, says I send it out, I tell them they've got to do it, and so it doesn't happen. There has to be a remedy. Maybe we've got to fire people.

REP. VILLANO: Any additional suggestion you can -- care to share with the committee would be welcome.

We're going to get on with the --

TOM GILMAN: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: We're going to get on with the -- Representative Thompson wanted to -- another shot at it.

REP. THOMPSON: Commissioner Gilman --

TOM GILMAN: Mr. Gilman, please.

REP. THOMPSON: Our paths have crossed before, but may I make a request of you. As I understood it, you were saying a broader, analytical look at this operation of the department would be in our best interest.

You were around when, I think, DMR began its evolution into what is now a developmental disabilities --

TOM GILMAN: Right.

REP. THOMPSON: -- and granted there was a lot more sympathy for that department than it is for your department.

TOM GILMAN: My old department.

REP. THOMPSON: Your old department. Well, I just wondered, if you were around or knew what was going on in DDS or in DMR at the time: They went outside, and I believe they got private services to take a hard look at the department. And I think they tapped a lot of the people around the state -- around the country for that information, and they came back and they did make a radical change, closed institutions. I think we're much more community oriented after they made their change.

I wonder if you might suggest, from your experience as an observer of that or even just as a person new to it, how we might go about doing that? You have, I would think -- in touch with professional organizations and everything around the country and trends around the country who have gone through this before, so I would welcome any advice and direction you have there. And you ought to come back and talk to us, maybe not in a big meeting like this, but somewhere off the -- outside the hearing room. So that -- your experience would be appreciated.

TOM GILMAN: Thank you.

REP. THOMPSON: You're welcome.

A VOICE: I would hope that you could just draw some balance then from that.

TOM GILMAN: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Our next speaker is Mr. Curley Stevens. Is Mr. Stevens here? Have a seat.

CURLEY STEVENS: How are you doing? Well, you know, I just wanted to just stress, you know --

A VOICE: Excuse me. Could you introduce yourself, too?

CURLEY STEVENS: Excuse me.

A VOICE: You need to speak up. You're too low. You're not registering.

CURLEY STEVENS: Oh, okay. I'm sorry.

I just wanted just --

A VOICE: Could you introduce yourself, sir, please.

CURLEY STEVENS: Curley Stevens. And I just wanted, you know, to stress concern, you know, what DCF is not doing, you know, because I do have a brother that's -- that went through -- that's going through some situation with DCF concerning, you know, trying to get his child back. And it's just a whole lot of stuff that they're doing as far as their opinions and building their opinions around, you know, the statutes and stuff like that.

And I just feel like, you know, it's -- I think it's wrong as far as them putting a lot of strain on the relationship between, you know, a child and the parent. And I just want to know, you know, why are they allowing this to happen, you know, through DCF? I don't understand this, you know. And the thing that comes to me as far as what they're doing -- what's motivating these people, it's money, basically. It's money that's motivating these people to do what they're doing, you know. And they don't care about these children. They don't care about them at all, you know. And this is, you know -- this is my -- that's my concern, you know, concerning that. And I think there's something -- something needs to happen here with DCF, you know. And I don't -- it's just something needs to be done about it. It's being going on for too long, you know. And it's crazy because, you know, a lot of the stuff that they say and these parents are doing, you know, they jump through cartwheels and all this kind of stuff. It doesn't make any sense.

I don't under -- you know, it's just crazy. I don't understand it. I just don't understand, you know. I just -- that's, basically, you know, that's my concern right now.

REP. VILLANO: Well, thank you, Mr. Stevens, and we hear you.

CURLEY STEVENS: Yeah, because I means this is crazy. I mean something has to be done about DCF. I'm serious.

REP. VILLANO: That's why we're holding these hearings. If you heard my comment earlier, this is the fourth public hearing we've had, but the first one where we heard from the people themselves, the recipients of the services that DCF provides for better or for worse. And we're trying to find what the weak links are and getting recommendations from you and speakers from previous meetings about how we can improve the system and make it more effective and more responsive to the needs of the children and their families. And all this is helpful.

Your testimony will be part of the record.

CURLEY STEVENS: Yeah, because how would they feel if, you know, if the shoe was on the other foot? Would they like to have someone do that to their child? You know, would they like that? Would they appreciate that, you know?

REP. VILLANO: Right.

CURLEY STEVENS: And I don't believe half of them do have any kids to be honest with you.

REP. VILLANO: We're very sensitive about the impact on children, especially, very young children that you've heard this afternoon, children, two and three and four years old.

CURLEY STEVENS: Yeah, I mean, you don't need -- I mean --

REP. VILLANO: How they're affected --

CURLEY STEVENS: You don't need a manual to raise a child. That's just basic instinct, you know.

REP. VILLANO: Right. Are there any questions of Mr. Stevens from committee members?

If not, we hear you, Mr. Stevens, and we appreciate you coming here and sharing your comments with us.

CURLEY STEVENS: Okay. I appreciate that.

REP. VILLANO: Our next listed speaker is Alicia Woodsby?

ALICIA WOODSBY: Good afternoon, distinguished chairs and members of the Human Services Committee and the Select Committee on Children.

My name is Alicia Woodsby. I'm the public policy director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Connecticut, or NAMI Connecticut. I'm here today to speak on behalf of our 3,000 members across the state in 13 state affiliates. I'm also speaking on behalf of the family members and consumers and providers who frequently call our office and share their stories and concerns related to the Department of Children and Families.

We do want to say that much progress has been made at DCF over the past several years, particularly related to reducing out-of-state placements and increasing the community-based service capacity. Despite this progress, however, I want to just highlight three areas of concern as our organization sees it. These remain real areas of concern, and that is a lack of an adequate continuum of community services and the continued use of out-of-state placements for our children with serious mental health needs -- I think right now we have over 300 kids who are out of state; the lack of appropriate services in transition planning for youth and young adults transitioning into the adult mental health system; and the secondary status of the department's behavioral health charge, and the daily culture and structure of the DCF system.

The lack of an appropriate and accessible continuum of community-based behavioral health and substance abuse services for kids has resulted in significant numbers utilizing in-patient and residential services and being sent out of state. And I know you've heard over and over again that over $800,000 per year figure for one child. I also included an example of the residential costs, over $440,000 per year per child for residential. And also point out that the State has 104 beds at Cedarcrest, many of them filled with young people who have come from DCF and have no community housing or programming to which they can be discharged. This costs over $430,000 per year per child.

So NAMI Connecticut is urging the State to spend DCF money differently and more productively through specialized services that wrap around the child and the family and are based on their individual need. We continually hear stories of children who are placed in a particular service type or level, not because it's actually what they need, but because there is a slot available. And we hear this from providers staff, as well, who are frustrated that they have to place a child in an inappropriate level of care.

Our second and major area of concern is the crisis in services for youth and young adults with mental illnesses. Just from '98 to '07, the referrals from DCF to DMHAS central office rose at an increase of almost 4500 percent. These figures do not include new young adult cases that were accepted directly into the adult system. And DMHAS says that young adults coming into the system account for 35 percent of new incoming clients.

We believe there's a scarcity of individualized age-appropriate mental health and support services, and this had led them -- many youth and young adults become trapped in a cycle of homelessness and get involved with the criminal justice system, and DCF echos that concern in their budget options, which is interesting to see under their Priority 8 budget option, they say that this often results in homelessness, arrests, hospitalization, ER visits, and return to a family from which they were removed.

We also -- I got testimony from a provider, who wasn't able to come today, who shared the fact that the staff does not feel equipped to deal with this population. They don't feel well trained. They don't feel that there are clear standards or guidelines for staff on how to transition. So I thought that that was an interesting point I wanted to share.

And I have some quotes in here directly from DMHAS. They say that currently the State does not provide the levels of care, assessments, informed recovery plans or the staffing competencies required to treat the complex and often significantly disorders facing our young adults. They also say that that the referral trends through the central office -- and this is a quote -- threaten to thoroughly overwhelm our system of care, elevating what has already been observed to represent heightened risks for critical incidents affecting both our clients and the community.

We often hear from families that their children are simply cut off from services from DCF and then left to find their way through the adult system, if at all. They have young people sitting at Cedarcrest and C V H as we continue to staff beds in in-patient settings for services that could be provided in the community.

And, lastly, the last point we want to make is that the broader mandate of DCF, as the children's public behavioral health services system, has been buried in child welfare needs at the expense of families and children in the state. DCF -- or the role of managing behavioral health services should hold a central upper-echelon focus within the agency -- and I think I've heard that from a few other testifiers today.

It's our experience that this mandate is not a primary focus of the agency, is not embedded in the overall culture or orientation of staff. And this is evidenced by their interactions with families and children -- and we've definitely heard that today -- and in critical services decisions. I know there were several parents that I knew of that were coming today to talk about those concerns so you've heard that and you have that testimony before you.

I know I skipped over some of the data and information in my testimony, but you have it before you, and I know it's been a very long day. So if you have any questions?

REP. VILLANO: Yes, Senator Meyer.

SENATOR MEYER: Thank you.

I really appreciate your testimony. It's what you've said about some of the costs is particularly timely for us to hear. We just got, today, another deficit mitigation plan from the executive branch, cutting another 300 million. You make some suggestions here in that regard that I find constructive.

ALICIA WOODSBY: Right. Thank you.

SENATOR MEYER: I also wanted to say that there was a very strong confirmation yesterday in the General Assembly's performance -- program review and investigations committee with respect to what you're saying about DMHAS. And we got a report yesterday that indicated that we already knew that over half our prison population have drug problems that related to the crimes which they've been convicted and, yet, the finding was made by the committee's staff that DMHAS really is not providing rehabilitation programs, and so you've got this enormous recidivous rate in Connecticut, like 60 percent, at great cost. You know to incarcerate a man or woman costs about $40,000 per inmate per year. It's been estimated that if we have proper drug rehab programs, we could be saving that huge prison population which has grown from 6,000 to 20,000 in Connecticut.

ALICIA WOODSBY: Right.

REP. VILLANO: So, you know, I just want to give you some confirmation about what you're saying concerning the enormous referrals to DMHAS that have gone on in the last nine or ten years.

ALICIA WOODSBY: Yes. And, you know, I'm more familiar with the mental health service side of the system than the substance abuse, and I would say the same is true for the number of people with serious psychiatric disabilities cycling in and out of the prison system. And with the mental health treatment, we spend upwards -- we can spend up to $60,000 a year for people at Garner, who could be, you know, engaging in recovery in the community for $19,000. Estimates go from 19 to 24,000 for supportive housing, and we just stopped, you know, the production of 150 units that really would have been used for young adults, children and families, veterans, and so it's something else to think about related to this and cost-effectiveness.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you. Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: Good afternoon, Alicia. You know that we started -- that I started talking earlier about bringing the kids back from out of state.

ALICIA WOODSBY: Yes.

REP. WALKER: Part of the issue is that they're saying that we do not have the availability for services to do that. What is your response?

ALICIA WOODSBY: The way that it's been explained to me is that we don't have the right -- we have the right number of residential and group homes and other types of beds, but they're not the right type. So to me it would seem that we need to get the right continuum of services to meet the needs of the kids.

REP. WALKER: So, you're saying that the providers are interested and willing to sit down and make some adjustments in what the services they have available right now?

ALICIA WOODSBY: Or what they currently offer?

REP. WALKER: Right.

ALICIA WOODSBY: I can't speak to that, to the providers' perspective on that, but from a consumer and family member perspective, you know, obviously, my response would be that if we don't have the right types of services to meet the needs, then we need to get those services.

REP. WALKER: Okay. Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Other questions from committee members? If not, thank you for your testimony, Alicia.

ALICIA WOODSBY: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Next on the list is Kelly Stephens.

KELLY STEPHENS: Hi. My name is Kelly Stephens. And I'm the brother -- sister of Anthony Stephens.

And I pretty much just want to just write off, you know, what he was saying. But before I do that, I just have a question for -- you just said that, you know, this makes your fourth forum, you know, that you had. My question to you is that, like, what have -- what has been done on your behalf as far as DCF? Is this, like, really the first time that you've like heard about these stories as far as like, you know, the -- you know, the combinations of surrounding conditions? Is this the first time, like, realistically, like what has been done, even though, you know, I sat here and I heard -- I don't know if that was the director, you know, being chewed out for what he hasn't done in 28 years, but I want to know, like, what has been done. Like, what have you -- what has your team -- what have you done within the 28, you know, the 28 years? Why was he allowed to do what he did for 28 years?

REP. VILLANO: I don't know how we can answer that, Ms. Stephens, but I can repeat that we have -- we are looking into it. And to get you the answers about what has been done, not by us in 28 years, we haven't been here that long, but once we recognized there is an operating problem, Senator Meyer and Senator Harris and I convened --

KELLY STEPHENS: Since when did you get involved?

REP. VILLANO: Let me finish. Let me finish. We convened these hearings, and I want Senator Meyer to answer part of your question, because it's his committee that had the initial interest in this and brought all of this together, and he'll take --

KELLY STEPHENS: Yes, because, you know, they say that, you know, when the head is not all right, the tail is surely, you know -- the tail is crooked, so really does not begin with the tail, it begins with the head.

So there's a problem in the head.

SENATOR MEYER: Okay. You're asking a good question.

KELLY STEPHENS: Yes.

SENATOR MEYER: And you're really entitled to an answer. I was elected in 2004, came here to Hartford as a state senator in 2005 and was appointed chair of the Children's Committee and told by the senate president that I was to really have some strong legislative oversight over the Department of Children and Families, that it was a hurting agency.

And the Department of Children and Families -- and there are a number of members of that -- I'm sorry -- the Children's Committee, there are a number of members who are here today -- started really having a good look at DCF and its various component parts. We held committee meetings, for example, at the Juvenile Training School in Middletown. We held another meeting of the committee at Riverview Children's Hospital. We got a lot of information with respect to permanency problems that the Department was not really keyed in on permanent placement of children, but we held hearings. We held six public hearings around the state and discovered that there are children in the state that have had 12 and 15 and even 18 placements, foster care placements, and those children's lives have been very negatively affected by the lack of permanent placement.

We saw problems with respect to adoption in Connecticut, and that's why so many people are going outside of the state to adopt. So we're on the case now. Okay? We haven't gotten great solutions, but that's one reason that we're having this investigation here today because -- we're on the case. We're on the case. And you will hold our feet to the fire because there will be a chance to do that next year.

Where do you live?

KELLY STEPHENS: I live in East Hartford.

SENATOR MEYER: You do, good.

KELLY STEPHENS: Yes, I do.

SENATOR MEYER: Okay. And who's your state senator? Gary LeBeau, probably?

KELLY STEPHENS: Yes, he is.

SENATOR MEYER: Yes, okay. Conscientious state senator and cares a lot about this problem. So we're on the case.

KELLY STEPHENS: Yeah, you know, because like even with the permanency plan, you know, parents -- I'm a single parent. I'm a single working parent of four children and, you know, I have, you know, a family friend, you know, that's currently going through this, you know, this unnecessary stress, you know. I mean it is his flesh and blood, and he has to jump through so many loops just to get his own child back, you know. And I don't know how many people in this room that are parents, but parents, you know, parenting, you know, it is a normal proceeding that is not brought about by artificial means, you know. And parents are like constantly told that that have to do this, they have to do that, if they want their child back, you know, but there's no end in sight.

There is no end in sight. Even though, DCF said they have a statutory deadline, but, yet, and still the parents are constantly looping through holes -- I mean, jumping through this hoop, that hoop and nothing -- nothing really is getting done. I mean nothing isn't getting done. It really isn't.

REP. VILLANO: Representative Gonzalez.

REP. GONZALEZ: Mrs. Stephens, I thank you for being here today. And do I agree with you, yes, 200 percent. And, with the rest of the people, we are here to complain about DCF, but when you said 28 years and you asked what you've being doing for those 28 years, that's like the Senator says, you know, that's a very good question.

But the thing is it is a process also. And I do my part; you, as a parent, will do your part.

KELLY STEPHENS: Uh-huh.

REP. GONZALEZ: And if we don't hear from the parent what is going on, we're trying here. Me and the rest of us will pass legislation. We'll support legislation that will protect your rights and that will protect your kid, your family, but you have to let us know, also. Like a public hearing, when you know that a public hearing is going on at the State Capitol, come and let us know what's going on. And by the way, we're going to be working together. I'll help you. You let me know what's going on, and we all will help you. But sometimes we don't know exactly what's going on. And even though we receive complaints, we go after those complaints. Sometimes, you know, we find out what's really going on; sometimes, we don't.

But that's like a two-way street. Come help us and be sure that we will help you. And maybe in those 28 years -- I don't know, but, maybe they're not people complaining like now, like lately, people have been calling and complaining and complaining. I think that things are getting worse and worse with DCF.

And believe me, that I really believe that we have to clean house. I think that's going to be a way that we can fix everything, but we also need your help.

KELLY STEPHENS: Yeah. I mean, you know, we have presented our, you know, our side of the story. You know, even though you may say, you know, you're here to protect your rights, but yet still the rights are not being respected, you know. They're not.

REP. GONZALEZ: I really believe that DCF doesn't get paid to disrespect parents and to abuse their power and to abuse the kids and the parents. They don't get paid.

KELLY STEPHENS: That's exactly what's being gone on. You know, they feel like because they're in the position to do what they do, you know, they feel like that title, you know, gives them that right to just go ahead and over represent in their position, you know, and that's wrong. It's really wrong. I have the means, you know -- for instance, I, you know, my niece. DCF allowed the mother, who they knew was unfit, to just take off with my niece, and I have not seen my niece in two years. And what DCF did was they looked in my past -- I think it was back in 1987, a breach of peace now, a breach of peace, looked in my past and they brought that up just to keep me separated from my niece, you know, Commissioner --

REP. GONZALEZ: And that's the time you have to look for a lawyer that will do that pro bono, or, you know, come to us and try to look for help, because that's the problem that we have, in that when they remove a child, they keep the child away from home, and they will do everything within their power to keep the child away from home, but that's when we have to work together.

KELLY STEPHENS: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Ms. Stephens, the committees will be looking at all issues.

KELLY STEPHENS: Okay.

REP. VILLANO: Including the ones that you mentioned and are of a concern.

KELLY STEPHENS: Well, thank you for your time. Thank you. And, Senator Meyer, I'm going to hold my feet to the fire. I'm going to do it.

A VOICE: Hold our feet to the fire.

KELLY STEPHENS: Yeah, hold your feet to the fire. You can count on that.

A VOICE: And thank you for coming.

REP. VILLANO: Our next speaker is Janice Andersen.

JANICE ANDERSEN: Good afternoon. My name is Janice Andersen. I reside at 879 Wilcoxson Avenue in Stratford, Connecticut. I'm the parent of two adult children with mental illness. I was a trainer for KidCare, a trainer NAMI's parent education program. I was the cochair of my local community resource collaborative. And for five years, I was the cochair of the Children's Behavioral Health Advisory Council.

Today, I will share with you some of my impressions regarding the failed attempt to make DCF a family focused, parent friendly state agency based on my ten years --

SENATOR MEYER: Ms. Andersen, by the way, we don't have a written statement from you.

JANICE ANDERSEN: Yes, well I gave you a copy -- it's in the Staple's box.

REP. VILLANO: Janice Andersen. We don't find it --

JANICE ANDERSEN: It's in that Staple's box.

A VOICE: Sorry.

REP. VILLANO: That's fine. I just want to be sure we get it because --

JANICE ANDERSEN: We gave -- we handed it to you. He kept it in the box because it wasn't hooked together.

REP. VILLANO: Please continue.

SENATOR MEYER: Sorry to interrupt.

JANICE ANDERSEN: That's okay. Thank you.

So I'll share with you my thoughts and what I've seen over ten years after my involvement and also the numerous conversations and calls that I've received from parents asking for help and advice.

It is important, I believe, that you understand that a culture has been created in this agency that is not correctable, that will not change with a new Commissioner or a reconfiguration of this agency. I personally believe that out of my personal experience that we have allowed a mini police state to be formed in the agency of DCF. It is an inability to internally correct itself, its willingness to tolerate ineffective treatment facilities, and area offices that, unfortunately, impact its overall ability to be effective.

DCF does not know how to oversee or manage contracts. The office of the Ombudsman is a joke. I have personal experience. It is a joke. And it's an embarrassment to the State. This agency cannot and should not be allowed to police themselves. DCF continues, to this day, to use protective services as an intimidation tactic to force families to do what DCF wants and to keep quiet.

DCF continues to take no action regarding what the community knows to be notorious area offices and the staff at those offices that are nothing less than cruel to parents and families. I do not believe that the behavioral health partnership can provide behavioral health services. Emergency rooms continue to be backed up. And the number of children being sent out of state for treatment has not been reduced; in fact, it's been increased over the last couple years. DCF marginalizes parents who speak up and ask too many questions. DCF is way too top heavy.

My tax dollar is used to to send far too many highly paid staff to go from meeting to meeting and accomplish nothing. The State of Connecticut, I believe, should consider combining DCF, DMHAS, DMR and DSS and create a department of human services that provides all services to individuals, families and children. We must begin to look at families as a whole and serve the entire family in a coordinated, effective way with one care coordinator that brings all needed services to a family or an individual.

The way Connecticut serves families now could result in one family having a DCF voluntary services case manager, a care coordinator from a local CRC, a case manager from DMR, a case manager from DMHAS, a case manager from DSS. And I ask how effective can services be delivered when so many people are in a family's life, let alone the money being spent on coordinating services that we do not have.

It saddens me when I attend a meeting and we continue to talk about programs that are looking to identify children between a certain age, provide a specific service to that child with no plan on how to serve the parents and the sublings. Unfortunately, when you have a child struggling with an illness, like bipolar, anxiety, OCD or schizophrenia, everyone in the family is struggling and in need of support and care. We cannot expect children to get better if we continue to treat only the identified child and are unwilling or unable to provide support and help to the family as a whole.

We are families that end in divorce, with alienated siblings that cannot find their place or hate their sibling with the illness and who often develop serious depression because they are left behind.

I urge the Legislature to act now. This issue cannot be forgotten or put aside because of the budget crisis. I believe because of the budget crisis, this is the right time to implement significant change.

Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you very much, Ms. Andersen. We appreciate your comments.

Senator Meyer.

SENATOR MEYER: Ms. Andersen, just before you go, I'm going to press you a little bit to elaborate on what you mean, in terms of -- not what you mean in terms of the problems, but what you mean with respect to what you're recommending we change. And the one change I can see is you're suggesting a consolidation of all human service agencies. I don't know that that's going to happen next year. And I don't even know whether or not that's a good idea, but, you know, within -- we're looking at this one agency, and it's got the problems with which you're personally familiar and we now are becoming very familiar with it. Do you have any suggestions with respect to either restructuring DCF or new management or whatever, you know? The attorney general testified several weeks ago here, and he said that he felt that we needed to have a licensing function of DCF outside of DCF and that it would be a stronger agency.

The child advocate, Jeannie Milstein, testified that this agency needs a strong management review, and the problem is not really in breaking up the agency, but the problem is in the management of the agency. Where are you coming down, from your sense of experience, in where we should go?

JANICE ANDERSEN: I think that DCF should be solely responsible for protective services. And I think all behavioral health services and other, sort of, voluntary services should look -- I personally think they need to go to DMHAS, because I think there's a serious problem transition from DCF to DMHAS where we lose our young people with serious mental illness, and that that's a problem.

I think the management issues to try and change the culture in DCF, I don't know if that's possible. I don't know how long that would take. I think the viciousness that I have seen from DCF workers in area offices is appalling, and I don't know how you change that. I really don't. And they don't have the, you know, DCF is so focused on protective services, they don't understand voluntary services. They don't understand what that means. Far too many parents end up going for voluntary, end up in protective, you know. A parent calls me, and if they ask me about voluntary, I will tell them you stay as far away as you can. You do not want to go there unless you absolutely have to, and you have to be prepared to lose your child. You have to be prepared -- you have to have enough money to have a really good lawyer, which I find appalling, that you have to have -- that I need a lawyer to protect myself from a state agency, I find appalling. I really do. I shouldn't have to spend my own personal money to protect myself from the State when I went to them for help because I'm struggling with my kid.

But, you know, Representative Thompson, it was interesting when you mentioned France. I think you should look at France because the key difference is when France -- when they walk in a home, from the very beginning, they're walking in with an attitude of we are family-friendly; we are here to help you. From the moment they give birth to children, that's how they -- that's how they walk in.

In this state, you know, walk in a house and it is us against you. And we are here to make your life miserable, and you better do what we say when we say it, how we say it, or we'll file protective services on you.

And that's the way it is. And you can do whatever kind of, you know, surveys, talk to whoever you want, talk to other states, other Commissioners, whoever, the bottom line is that is the mentality for far too many -- it's very close. That is the attitude of far too many people. And the biggest problem is no one is accountable. No one will get fired. So people are allowed to do whatever. So until somebody's willing to step up to the plate and say, I'm going to fire you, no one's going to change.

SENATOR MEYER: You know, you remind me of something that my social studies teacher said when I was in high school, and she said -- it was a while ago -- she said we have a government not so much of laws but a government of people, of men and women. And so it is that our government really is what we as people make of it.

JANICE ANDERSEN: Right.

SENATOR MEYER: This General Assembly is basically the members. DCF or the staff, it's the government of people, of men and women, and what are they doing to carry out their mission.

JANICE ANDERSEN: Right.

SENATOR MEYER: I appreciate that message from you.

REP. VILLANO: Are there other questions -- oh, yes, Representative.

REP. WALKER: Thank you. And you have -- you've just, I think, created a whole moment of silence for all of us. I think you've summed up a lot of what everybody has been saying all day. I thank you for that.

But looking at what you're suggesting, that's a very, very hard task to do.

JANICE ANDERSEN: Uh-huh.

REP. WALKER: I know we didn't get in this job to do the easy tasks so don't misunderstand what I'm saying. But as we know, there are about 20,000 families that are under the purview of DCF currently.

JANICE ANDERSEN: Uh-huh.

REP. WALKER: How we make that shift -- and, also understand that -- I mean I'm not trying to belittle any agency, but when we have hearings on DMHAS and DDS and DSS, we get probably the same type of room filled with another group of people who are --

JANICE ANDERSEN: -- as unhappy.

REP. WALKER: -- that have -- so no matter which way we do this, I mean, I agree with you that we need to be the people that are helping to provide the services and bring the families together. I just don't know if combining all of them together is what we want to do or can do.

I know that when they formed DCF with the different components that they're responsible for -- I know Representative Hamm, when she had talked about this, that the whole purpose was to bring all the things that are necessary to help a child together, which is a unique complex agency that all states don't have. A lot of states have divided it in different segments and things like that, and people say that's very good that you've got all those together. Obviously, it didn't work. I just don't know.

I never thought of it this way in some respects, but then, the other part, I think we all thought about it, and we just never were bold enough to actually consider it.

JANICE ANDERSEN: I'm just going to tell you, you have to do something.

REP. WALKER: Yes.

JANICE ANDERSEN: And I'll tell you the word on the street out there about the Legislature, around DCF --

REP. WALKER: We'll do nothing.

JANICE ANDERSEN: -- that they're going to do nothing.

REP. WALKER: I know.

JANICE ANDERSEN: They don't know how to. They don't want to, whatever. Something needs to happen because you can't -- there is nothing that works there except the -- I would argue that, probably, for the most part, protective services probably works quite well. When they're called for a protective service and if they follow the guidelines, but nothing else works there. I mean, you know, I used -- I didn't -- I was never -- our family was never involved in DCF. I used IICAPS. It was a disaster.

REP. WALKER: Yes, I was going to ask you about your continued testimony here.

JANICE ANDERSEN: It was a complete disaster. I was the chair of the CBHAC at the time, and I felt a sense of responsibility to follow through to try and correct what was really wrong with the IICAPS program when it just began.

It took me six months to get a appointment with the agency that provides services for my daughter. Six months. I caught them in two bold-faced lies in the meeting. No action. The person who ran the IICAPS program then is still there now. Six months -- so I called DCF, talked to Karen Andersen. I get a meeting with Karen Andersen and the folks from Yale, who did the IICAPS training, the original training, and they were supposed to be supervising. It takes six months to get back. So a year has gone by, I sit down with Yale, DCF. They're appalled, appalled, appalled. Nothing happens. Okay? My daughter is at -- you know, when this happened to my daughter, she was 17. So at this time she's 19. She still wants some justice. So I file with the Ombudsman's Office. I don't remember how long that took for me to get a meeting, but that was an insult. That was an absolute insult. It was an insult to my daughter, and it was an insult to me. Rudy Brooks sat in that room and said to me, you know, you just need to let this go. You just need to let this go.

REP. WALKER: I'm sorry.

JANICE ANDERSEN: You just need to let this go. He told my daughter you need to move on with your life, let it go. He said to me, if you really want to help your daughter, to let this go on move on.

REP. WALKER: I'm sorry. I'm spending a lot of time today saying I'm sorry.

JANICE ANDERSEN: Yeah. So I think you have to make -- you have to make some kind of bold move here. Because DCF cannot do this internally. They will not fire people. You've got offices that are so vicious to people that I've been appalled when I've been in meetings. And I'll be totally honest with you. I was at a Stamford meeting. I was afraid that the area office was going to call and have me arrested because I was unwilling to accept a parent being told that she had to choose between her children. So nasty, so nasty, unbelievable, unacceptable.

REP. WALKER: I think your idea is something that we really should start to circulate. I think that's something that we need to consider totally from all aspects. I mean, I can tell you the arguments against something like that would be, well, this is fiscally crisis time; doing something like that is going to be too overwhelming. We don't have something like -- we don't have the time or the money to invest in, but you're right. At what point do we make the -- when do we stop and just say we have to do this because it's the right thing to do.

JANICE ANDERSEN: And I was here probably six years ago, they've almost --

(Gap in tape.)

JANICE ANDERSON:

With the same background -- it is not going to change and for anyone here to believe that this agency is going to self-correct, you are under a delusion.

REP. WALKER: The interesting thing is that we get finger-pointing. It's the people in the front line. The administration says it's the people in the front line. The people in the front line say it's the administration, so we get going back and forth. And I really think you're right. Thank you very much.

JANICE ANDERSEN: It's in Hartford that --

REP. WALKER: It really is. Thank you.

JANICE ANDERSEN: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Representative Thompson.

REP. THOMPSON: I just want to thank you for mentioning France again. The French American Foundation came up here in cooperation with the Commission on Children and the Children's Committee and other groups, and we had a conference over at the Hastings here in Hartford. The governor then, Rowland, was there, the speaker, the president of the senate was there. We all got the message very clearly that they had something that was worthwhile looking into.

JANICE ANDERSEN: Absolutely.

REP. THOMPSON: And we have pursued that in various ways over the years.

JANICE ANDERSEN: Uh-huh.

REP. THOMPSON: But there's a big difference. It's a health-centered society.

JANICE ANDERSEN: Yes.

REP. THOMPSON: They don't mind paying for everybody to have health care and they have top notch health care. They're ranked number one in the world. We're ranked, I think, 37th.

JANICE ANDERSEN: Well, I think we need to make bold action on that too, Representative Thompson.

REP. THOMPSON: Well, we have the most expensive health care system in the world. They have a very reasonable one, relatively speaking. And one good sign, our new Secretary of State appointee, when she was the First Lady of Arkansas, made it her business to go to France and brought back all sorts of reports about the French system.

JANICE ANDERSEN: It's amazing.

REP. THOMPSON: But at the base of it is that there is this concern that people have care and they have good care. And in addition to that, one final word then I got to go pick up a grand child -- one final word is that the former chair of the Commission on Children came up to me this past year, and she said, Jack, I remember that French Amercian Foundation coming into Hartford and she said I went to Paris this summer and guess what? I fell down, broke my hip. She said they carted me off to the hospital. I never received such great care.

JANICE ANDERSEN: Yes.

REP. THOMPSON: And she could have gone anywhere, I'm sure.

JANICE ANDERSEN: And I think they come from a place it's -- they don't blame anyone.

REP. THOMPSON: Right.

JANICE ANDERSEN: Which we blame.

REP. THOMPSON: Right.

JANICE ANDERSEN: We're very much into blaming.

REP. THOMPSON: But if you go back and look at the mental health history here in our state, thanks to NAMI and organizations, there's been a lot of change. You know --

JANICE ANDERSEN: There's been some.

REP. THOMPSON: We tore down the mental institutions. We opted -- not too many years ago, we opted for, you know, direct funding of clozapine to help the -- which you had mentioned -- the paranoid schizophrenia.

JANICE ANDERSEN: Right.

REP. THOMPSON: And, you know, there are things happening.

JANICE ANDERSEN: But it's not enough.

REP. THOMPSON: No, it's not enough. It's taken too long.

JANICE ANDERSEN: Yes. Thank you.

REP. THOMPSON: Thank you very much.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Ms. Andersen.

JANICE ANDERSEN: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: The next speaker is Eileen Bronko. Eileen Bronko? We have her testimony, but she might have left. So we'll go down the list. Barbara Sheldon.

BARBARA SHELDON: Good afternoon. My name is Barbara Sheldon. And thank you for the opportunity to give testimony to you today. I am pleased that you have taken the time to hold the four important hearings regarding DCF. And I truly hope that because of these tough economic times, both committees will follow through with some substantial recommendations regarding DCF and not put this important discussion aside due to the economy.

In my written testimony I have touched on four areas of concern, but because of time, I will move to the fourth one, because that is the one that is the most endearing to my heart, and that's the regional offices.

It is well known that there are regional offices that are considered to be notorious. I have even been told this by several DCF workers. The attitude is nothing can be done to them. In a recent State Advisory Council meeting, I addressed Commissioner Hamilton with this concern and relayed two recent stories regarding families who sought DCF's help through voluntary services from one of those notorious offices.

The first was forced to give up her rights to her seven-year-old daughter in order for her daughter to receive mental health help, leaving the mother isolated, depressed and, as she put it, I'm a shell of myself. I'm a mother without a child and what kind of a mother gives up her child when I haven't done anything wrong but have a child with an illness.

The other family was threatened, but due to an advocate intervening, which would be Janice Andersen, their child was accepted into care coordination, and DCF was forced to back off. And I'd like to mention that care coordination is a service that the DCF voluntary services worker should have offered this family, however, did not, but rather threatened the family that their child would be removed from their home. Basically, Commissioner Hamilton dismissed my concerns rather than insisting into looking into them. This spoke volumes to me.

Also to note about a year and a half ago, a single mother of two boys called me crying for help. She too had turned to this DCF office for mental health help for her 17-year-old boy. DCF's response was truly horrifying. The worker threatened her with, if you bring your 17-year-old son home from the hospital, we will take your ten-year-old son for his safety. If you do not bring your 17-year-old son home, then we will have you up on charges for abandonment, and then you will lose both of your children. This mother had no right answer, nor should she have been put into this position when she had done nothing wrong except say my family needs help.

I know this to be a true and credible account because when another advocate, again Janice Andersen and I attended a meeting at the DCF office, the mother recounted the statement as we wanted it on record. When the worker agreed to stating such, the advocate, Janice said, you're threatening this mother. The worker's response was, no, just stating the facts, ma'am, just stating the facts.

We were shocked and horrified. I then continued with the Deputy Commission -- wait -- with the Deputy Commissioner wanted this family helped, and he stated, he listening to his behavioral health program director's direction. This same director had been on a conference call with the Deputy Commissioner and myself the day before and was adamant that she did not take direction from her and that she took direction only from Karl Kemper. I was floored that she would address a Deputy Commissioner with such disrespect and total disregard and then keep her job.

So recommendations I have would be: That the regional offices should not be allowed to operate as dictatorships without regard for best practices; DCF behavioral health program directors need to be required to have a behavioral health background; voluntary services workers need to be trained on what voluntary services means and what programs and services are available; voluntary services workers should not have come over from the protective services side because in is a different mindset; there should be a true grievance process for families. The Ombudsman's Office should be removed from DCF, because every complaint that I have sent over to the Ombudsman's Office has always ruled for DCF.

Again, thank you for allowing me this opportunity to testify, as families in Connecticut need your immediate attention regarding this monster of an agency. No more studying, no more talking. Action is needed. I greatly appreciate your time. Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you Ms. Sheldon. We agree that action is needed. Are there any questions of committee members of Ms. Sheldon? If not -- oh, I'm sorry.

SENATOR MEYER: It's okay.

REP. VILLANO: Senator Meyer.

SENATOR MEYER: Ms. Sheldon, you're a member of the Advisory Committee for DCF.

BARBARA SHELDON: Yes.

SENATOR MEYER: Will you advise us and tell us what the functions are of that committee and whether or not you're content with the ability of that committee, including yourself as a member, to influence the agency and influence the Commissioner.

BARBARA SHELDON: Well, as you see in my written testimony, I don't think we have any influence right now. I think it has become a complete dog-and-pony show. They come and they give presentations; we listen. When we ask questions, if we're allowed to ask questions, they kind of go by the wayside. They say, okay, but then we know nothing gets done. When they just recently did their strategic plan, which really if you -- if we were a real advisory council, we would have been involved in from the start. We would have been intimately important in that whole process. We had nothing to do with that process. They did not seek input from us. It was just handed to us after it was done. Basically, the rubber stamp just -- I felt to check off a box. And that's what it's become.

I would like to think we could have a role if we had some teeth to that council, but, at the present time, I really do feel that DCF runs that show.

SENATOR MEYER: Does the Commissioner attend the meetings of the advisory committee.

BARBARA SHELDON: She does.

SENATOR MEYER: And there's a --

BARBARA SHELDON: That's if they're local, I should say. The one we had far away, she did not attend.

SENATOR MEYER: Okay. We have testimony of another member of that committee, the Advisory Council --

BARBARA SHELDON: Right.

SENATOR MEYER: -- named Molly Coale, who could not be here today, but she -- and in this I want to just read you part of her testimony and see if you have the same reaction or a different reaction.

BARBARA SHELDON: Okay.

SENATOR MEYER: She says the Advisory Council is limited because members of the council who are providers under DCF contracts are very hesitant to speak out on many of the issues that need to be addressed. They have even implied on more than one occasion that they fear the criticism of the agency will jeopardize their own contracts. And families members, who may be receiving DCF services, are not willing to speak out either.

The culture of DCF -- defensive and resistant to a lot of external input is simply too threatening, and the fear of retaliation is too great.
How do you identify or not identify with that?

BARBARA SHELDON: One hundred percent agreement with what she has said.

The fact that she even -- the Commissioner would dismiss my issues with these families, totally dismiss them, why would I bring up anything else to her, if she's not going to even look into it?

SENATOR MEYER: Okay. One of the suggestions that Molly Cole made in a part of her testimony I'm going to read to you was that that the advisory council be appointed by the General Assembly and report to the General Assembly, so that it's independent of the agency itself, and, therefore, there would be more of an independent kind of thing with guidelines of operation set by the General Assembly and that will be something that these two committees will look at.

BARBARA SHELDON: I totally agree with that. I actually put that in mine. I put it as something akin to the behavioral health oversight council taking guidance what theirs look like and make this one, kind of, mirror it but being for DCF.

SENATOR MEYER: Okay. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, Ms. Sheldon. I believe -- yes, I'm sorry. Representative Gonzalez has a question.

REP. GONZALEZ: So you appointed to the Advisory Committee Council -- you are appointed? Who appointed you?

BARBARA SHELDON: It was the Governor.

REP. GONZALEZ: The Governor. So there is no way that if you are appointed by the Governor and you know the Advisory Committee Council is not working, can you complain to her, send any letters, do something about it?

BARBARA SHELDON: We should and I should.

REP. GONZALEZ: Right, because if the General Assembly, they appoint people for any commission or any advisory council and it's not working, you know, I think that the best thing to do is let us know or let your appointed authority to know this is not working.

BARBARA SHELDON: Right.

REP. GONZALEZ: Because that's one of the problems that we have right now with commissions, with, you know, departments over there. That we appoint people and we have the problem and people, you know, because I've been appointed by the Governor, I'm going to keep my mouth shut. Well, that's wrong. You know, let us know what's going on. Let your -- the person that appointed you to that commission that it's not working.

BARBARA SHELDON: Okay.

REP. GONZALEZ: Thank you.

BARBARA SHELDON: Okay.

REP. VILLANO: Ms. Sheldon, did you give a copy of your testimony to the clerk --

BARBARA SHELDON: Yes, I did.

REP. VILLANO: -- so that they can make copies for us?

BARBARA SHELDON: Oh, they have it. You have it.

REP. VILLANO: They do have it, yes.

A VOICE: You have it. It's in our file.

BARBARA SHELDON: Yes.

REP. VILLANO: Good. Thank you very much.

BARBARA SHELDON: Okay. Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Next on the list are a pair of speakers, signed up jointly, Jamie Matunas and Helena Bowen.

I'm sorry. I thought they were coming up here. All right. Then we'll move on. Next on the list is Judy Aron.

A VOICE: She's gone.

REP. VILLANO: Okay. We'll skip over that. Next Ruth White. Is Ruth here?

A VOICE: Yes, she's coming.

RUTH WHITE: Good afternoon. My name is Ruth White, and I'm the executive director of the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare. It's headquartered in Washington DC, and it is our mission to ensure that no child lingers needlessly or enters foster care as a consequence of their family's inability to afford safe, decent housing. We're equally committed to ensuring that all young people, who age out of foster care, have a solid plan for permanent affordable housing.

I thank you for having this opportunity to address the committee today, and I really appreciate the committee's focus and your good work on this very, very important issue.

I've worked for a number of years very closely with The Connection, Incorporated, and to learn about their work and to bring that work to a national audience.

The National Center for Housing and Child Welfare works on child welfare legislation. We worked very heavily to ensure the passage of a new federal law to improve foster care, called the Fostering Connections to Success in Increasing Adoptions Act.

We're working heavily on the issue of child welfare finance reform. And I think many of you know that the inflexibility of federal funds to fund child welfare is part of the problem. It's part of what brings us here today.

We also work with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to bring 20 million new dollars to the table to create Section 8 vouchers for families who are separated because of affordable housing. That program is referred to as a family unification program, and the preeminent example for how to do the family unification program is in the state of Connecticut and it's run by The Connection, Inc., but this partnership is a nationally recognized model for collaboration and indeed is widely considered the most efficient and effective family unification program in the United States. The Department of Children and Families, the Department of Social Service, and DMHAS all work together to make this program happen for families all over Connecticut, and they're to be commended for embracing and growing this innovative program.

Families in the child welfare system face many economic challenges. Child welfare agencies do indeed go to great lengths to address these problems, but still about 30 percent of the 500,000 children in foster care are there today because their parents cannot afford safe, decent housing. This an unwise and costly practice both in terms of the emotional toll levied upon each child and their parents and in terms of the substantial cost to the American taxpayer.

On average, it costs nearly $48,000 per family for those children to enter foster care. Those same families can be served together with permanent housing and supportive services for about $15,000. Connecticut could actually save $63 million in foster care expenditures by providing housing and supportive services to all the families in State care who are separated because of affordable housing. This assumed that about 30 percent of those kids -- that would be about 30 percent of the kids in State custody. That's the national number. We have found there are three separate research studies to show that about 30 percent of the kids nationally are in foster care because of a lack of decent, affordable housing in this country.

Thankfully, because the leaders of DCF and DSS have grown their partnership over the past decade, Connecticut already has the infrastructure and evidence-based expertise to vastly expand this desperately needed service on behalf of all vulnerable families in the state. Through this partnership and the work of The Connection, Inc., over 1,129 families have found the stability and economic security necessary to improve their lives and provide safe, nurturing environments for their 3,047 children.

These families are encouraged, upon receiving housing, to improve the quality of their life and move towards self-sufficiency. Case manager, Chelsea Humphrey, recently informed me of a mother, who was unemployed, homeless and separated from her children. Upon receiving a housing subsidy, she found suitable housing and employment and her children were returned from foster care. She took advantage of the intensive case management services and decided to go back to school. Upon graduation, her income improved from minimum wage to $13 an hour as a certified nursing assistant.

This story is not unique. Research by UConn demonstrates that these families experience significant improvements in housing stability, substance abuse recovery, health, mental health, employment, family preservation and family reunification.

I must again stress that Connecticut, unlike most states, already has the infrastructure to expand this program, and I urge you to do so. Across the country, we all face this economic crisis together, but child welfare professionals are increasingly in the unenviable position of separating families due to poverty.

Leaders in the states across the country will have to address this growing problem, but it will take time for them to build the partnerships necessary to bridge the housing child welfare gap. And this will mean that initially these children will go into foster care.

Given the fact that fewer and fewer children qualify for federal reimbursement through Title 3, these unfortunate and costly placements will have to be covered by state dollars. Many states will be looking to Connecticut to learn how to build the kinds of partnerships necessary to appropriately address growing homelessness poverty and use their state dollars more wisely.

Therefore, we urge you to take immediate action to prevent separation and homelessness for the 778 families who are waiting on the family unification program waiting list in Connecticut. We urge that the State make a prudent investment of $6.6 million in new spending in FY 2010 to serve 540 of these families. This investment of 6.6 million will save you 21 million in foster care expenditures for the year.

REP. VILLANO: If you could try to -- thank you. I'd appreciate it.

RUTH WHITE: We further urge you to invest 4.9 million to serve the additional 350 families waiting on the waiting list in 2011. That investment will save you 14 million.

Last paragraph, much will be said at this hearing about problems at various state agencies, and undoubtedly, much has been said about how the Department of Children and Families can improve their work. Here the committee has an opportunity to recognize and reward the department for its hard work to expand the family unification program. In this regard DCF leads the nation in child welfare reform aimed at keeping families together and safe through savvy investments and evidence-based permanent support of housing.

Thank you for taking the time to listen.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you, Ms. White.

Senator Meyer.

SENATOR MEYER: I feel ignorant here. I just want to be sure that I understand what you're proposing. I'm very attracted to your talking about the difference between supportive housing programs, the cost difference between supportive housing programs and foster care.

Now, foster care is the removal of a child from his or her parental home to the home of a foster parent. Supportive housing, as you're discussing it, and correct me if I'm wrong, is keeping that nuclear family together and providing funds for housing of the family together in the belief that the problem within the family arises from the lack of adequate housing, I guess is what you must be saying.

RUTH WHITE: Yes.

SENATOR MEYER: Did I get it right?

RUTH WHITE: You did. The eligibility for the family unification program are families for whom housing is the primary factor that is preventing reunification. So we're not as naive as to say that housing is the only problem. I mean, clearly, poverty comes with a lot of, kind of accumulated stress, but what happens is mom has completed her entire goal plan, and she's sitting in front of the judge, and the judge is ready to reunify those families, but, unfortunately, she doesn't have affordable housing. So -- housing affects the continuum at every point. They're more likely to be investigated. They're more likely to be separated. Once the kids get in, they're longer stayers. And then they're -- they're less likely to be reunified.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you. Very interesting testimony.

Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: Thank you.

I want to say that Senator Harp has been talking about this a great deal for the last few, weeks, because we've looked at one of the issues is that we have -- we spend so much money in residential care, and what we've actually thought of doing is setting aside certain dollars from our residential care to go into the housing, because that would make a big chunk out of -- take a big chunk out of, not only foster care, but also residential placement when we have a problem with the children staying in the foster care homes. So we agree totally on what you're saying, and thank you for your testimony.

RUTH WHITE: Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you very much.

Next we have Arlene Lucian, followed by Cheri Bragg and looks like James Foley.

ARLENE LUCIAN: Hi. My name is Arlene Lucian. Before -- I just have a quick two-pager. But you were talking about what could you do as far as correcting the nonsense the DCF puts people through. If the Attorney General is incapable of representing the people, maybe the Legislature should draft someone that is, you know, have legal counsel available that we could afford. Attorney General said to this committee, DCF's dependence on private contractors makes it reluctant to scrutinize them as vigorously as it should.

Senator Meyer referencing licensing said, it looks to the public that DCF is improperly protecting its employees. Commissioner Hamilton agreed. She noted that there could be an appearance of a conflict when you're licensing your own staff and that DCF now outsources all of its licensing for its employees to a private agency. I did submit that list, which I FOI'd in my written, and it's kind of like doing the old deck chair thing because a lot of them are the nonprofits that they contract with.

There are also a number of other conflicts which this committee and the entire GA can control through legislation to ensure that the taxpayers' interest and property rights were protected and are offered the deserved accountability, transparency, when DCF or other agencies enter into contracts with private nonprofit contractors.

Currently, there is no public registry of group homes of the combined various state agencies to allow for scrutiny of statute compliance regarding municipal percentages or required distance buffers. It is necessary. Also, and very importantly, DCF provides no public access to the required reporting of incidents or even the dates of reports, which definitely conflicts with the public's right to petition for the revoking of licensure to the group home contractors.

Jeannie Milstein, child advocate, testified that 214 significant events, which I deem as incidents, were reported to have occurred in one month's time at DCF facilities this summer. Taxpayers have no means of verifying that source or which contractors are involved with the incident reports. I reflect on public speakers' comments at a different hearing that they often hide behind privacy laws, when simple measures of omission would provide adequate transparency. Legislation must be put forth to resolve this conflict.

I'll also mention that DCF states that their youth advisory boards are not public info. With private contracting for state programs, the providers need to be subject to public disclosure. The current $10 million budget of just one provider, WellPath, previously named Child Guidance Clinic, having risen from 1.2 million in '99 to the 10 million mirrored such. These and other conflicts were addressed in a letter to Governor Rell in April and June of '07, in regard to the state group home contracting by myself and by the Federation of Connecticut Taxpayer Organization. Examples of wrongful, or dare I say corrupt practices, in regard to contracts steering of group homes are documented in AG auditor reports, dated March 28, '06, referencing Representative Hamm and the Children's Trust Fund and another, dated August 31st, noting DMR and the nonprofit contractor, HART.

Our conflicts with documentation are of the nonprofit -- other conflicts are of a nonprofit board's bid, which would have profited one board member by the property purchase separately and awarded contractor's board member profiting by providing construction renovations or another contractor receiving contracts without a proposal due to a lack of RFP bids.

Future oversighter studies of contracting practices might be wise to also research property sales and profit by contractors after completing mortgage fee of contract allowance with their lender, which is usually CIL Realty, ensure that the taxpayers are not paying above the list price, receive a competitive rate and consider the property purchases and renovations should compare with that of the state median. To conclude, please make legislative efforts to protect taxpayer interests, which in turn will aid in protections towards those served. Please do not let personal association to like nonprofits stand in the way of advancing free and open government, which possibly liken to the DCF practices, mine appear to the public that you are protecting your own. In that, many Legislators are officers or board members for such nonprofits: Ruwet and Boukus with CCARC; Feltman with HART; Williams, Roraback and Willis with CJR; Debicella with Birmingham Group; Harris and Slossberg with Bridges; and Hamm with Children's Trust Fund -- naming some of those with limited research.

I appreciate the efforts of this committee, and I ask for your review of my written submittal also. And I encourage you to advance legislation to protect the taxpayer and give as much oversight to nonprofit CLAs as you do to Riverview and the state-run facilities.

Thank you.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you very much.

Representative Hamm.

REP. HAMM: I believe I heard Hamm and the Children's Trust Fund?

ARLENE LUCIAN: Yes.

REP. HAMM: I do not serve on the Children's Trust Fund board, for the record.

ARLENE LUCIAN: That's fine. I just reference that because it was in the auditor's report.

REP. VILLANO: Thank you.

ARLENE LUCIAN: Anything else?

REP. VILLANO: Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: Thank you for your testimony. I understand I've been told since I've been sitting here that more than two-thirds of the incidents that have been in newspaper happened in the residential placements, and I don't know if you know anything about that?

ARLENE LUCIAN: When you say residential, are you referring -- what I know as residential facilities would be Riverview.

REP. WALKER: No. I'm talking about group homes and --

ARLENE LUCIAN: Okay. We'll list them as group homes, because actually I did want to ask what is the difference between a therapeutic group home and a therapeutic foster home? A therapeutic group home is contracted to a private agency. A foster home is simply a licensed foster family. Correct?

REP. WALKER: Yes.

ARLENE LUCIAN: Okay. But as far as the incidents, if they were actually at residential group homes, it doesn't surprise me one bit. But I cannot obtain records that the importance of having access to that information, as I said for license revocature because oftentimes, they do protect their employees. They need these people to operate the programs. But are they complying with the statutes that, you know, demand that they report such incidents to the Commissioner. There is no way of policing that.

REP. WALKER: Thank you.

ARLENE LUCIAN: It's very important.

REP. WALKER: Thank you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Arlene Lucian?

ARLENE LUCIAN: That was me.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: That was you. I'm sorry.

Cheri Bragg. Thank you for hanging in there.

CHERI BRAGG: Good afternoon, Chairs and distinguished members of the Human Services Committee and Select Committee on Children. My name is Cheri Bragg and I'm the coordinator of the Keep the Promise Coalition. We're a statewide mental health advocacy organization, dedicated to community mental health services.

When Keep the Promise was formed in 1999 almost ten years ago, about 90 percent of the children with mental health needs were in expensive residential set --

REP. ABERCROMBIE: That was you. I'm sorry.

Cheri Bragg. Thank you for hanging in there.

CHERI BRAGG: Thank you. Good afternoon, chairs and distinguished members of the Human Services Committee and Select Committee on Children.

My name is Cheri Bragg, and I'm the coordinator of the Keep the Promise Coalition. We're a statewide mental health advocacy organization, dedicated to community mental health services.

When Keep the Promise was formed in 1999, almost ten years ago, about 90 percent of the children with mental health needs were in expensive residential settings and institutions. And many -- hundreds were placed out of state. While progress has been made, particularly in the community, implementing our community services, funding is still tilted toward costly institutional and residential care, including as you've heard, hundreds of children that are still placed out of state.

DCF's voluntary services program, while critical, is still limited and there's -- we hear from a lot of parents that feel like, you know, it's the choice between getting the proper services for their children and relinquishing custody, which is really not a choice that families should have to make for appropriate health care.

There's still a need for much closer collaboration, we believe, between DCF and DMHAS, specifically surrounding the needs of transitioning youth and young adults. During that time, obviously, kids are learning how to live on their own for the first time. They might be paying bills, going to work or school, starting families sometimes. And we feel it's very disruptive, particularly when you add a severe mental illness to the mix, to have to disrupt, at 18, your housing, and your treatment providers. All of a sudden, you know, you can't see anyone you had seen when you were in DCF care. So we feel that transition period and having DCF and DMHAS continue to work together -- work together more closely is vitally important for these kids to transition successfully into adult life, and failure to do so really results in unnecessary trauma by having to suddenly leave your trusted, you know, therapists and doctors, housing concerns, and also people fall into the cracks, and a lot of kids ending up in jails and prisons. And we're particularly concerned about that because people get lost in the system that have mental -- serious mental illnesses, and, usually, it's due to minor nonviolent offenses.

In general, DCF needs to come from a perspective, we feel that families are experts when it comes to the care of their own children and recognizes life-long natural supports, rather than being disregarded or blamed as dysfunctional, which seems to be what we're hearing today. And through the quantity of -- though the quantity of community services has increased, we still, you know, we applaud your efforts to listen and act upon critical access-to-care issues, as well as the quality of that care, and I think that was really reverberated by people's testimony today.

Ten years have passed since the promise was made to create and sustain community mental health services, both for adults and for children. And we thank you for all you have done for children over the years, and we hope that you'll continue to work on these issues, and thank you very much for listening.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Thank you for your testimony. And I think you hit the head on the nail when you said that we've forgotten that the parents know their children. And I think that's been lost in this whole equation, so I agree with you.

Any questions from committee members?

Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

CHERI BRAGG: Thank you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: James Foley.

JAMES FOLEY: Hi. I heard about this since 6:30 this morning on the news so I'm a little unprepared, but my affiliation, in relationship with DCF, started 2003. I have a daughter that has severe disabilities, and that's how our relationship started.

But let me give you a little background. Actually, my daughter's also was used in the HUSKY advertisements and commercials with my wife. And also the last time I was here, we were granted a -- a grant for the Boundless Playgrounds. I have a playground named after my daughter. So we're heavily into advocating for kids with disabilities and what have you.

My daughter was placed in a group home. All the psychiatric testing at Yale, and we had other issues at homes, so she was placed in a voluntary program in a group home. Everything was going absolutely beautiful for about a year and a half, and things started to change at the group home. The staff started to change. There was a new group home manager, and things systematically started to change.

Her placement criteria started to change and what they were saying in their reports and each -- every six months, things started to change to be more of a harassing events towards our family and, especially my wife, to where -- then there were complaints to the Ombudsman's Office, even from other people. So this group home was for children, and then they eventually they wanted to change it to a medically complex group home and get the children that were in there out of there.

So it seemed like it was a systematic conspiracy to try to get all the kids out of here and so it can change over to where it was just kids were just in beds and turned as opposed to my daughter can -- has some ability. She has cerebral palsy microcephaly so it was -- she needs a lot of attention and a lot of help, but they wanted to change that. So it seemed like that's what they were trying to do.

Finally, there were so many complaints to the Ombudsman's Office that DCF came in and they took -- they did a study on -- actually, they took over. They had a special group come in, and they took over the group home because they weren't meeting the criteria for the children. They weren't meeting the demands. So it was Key Services owned the group home. They weren't meeting the end-use services for the children. So they ended up taking two kids out of there, and placing them -- they weren't in voluntary care. They were under the State. They took them out of there.

My daughter was still there and they started saying -- they actually started saying that my daughter was better in some of the reports and that she can now be reunified back home.

And so, finally -- finally, it got to the point where they were going to shut down the group home. And so -- and then they said she had to come home. And everything from Yale and all the other information that we have from psychiatrists, behavioralists, actually, where there's a behavioralist that six month previous said she needs to be in a group home, atmosphere because she needs a group to take care of her, changing staff, because if you stay with her all the time it's too difficult and frustrating. He changed his -- he changed his view along with two other people from the Waterbury office, and there's just -- you can just chronologic go through everything.

So, anyways, it came down to where we had a big meeting at the Waterbury office with all these heads, and there was a lot of complaints involved, and they actually were apologizing to us about what had gone on because we had other complaints to the Ombudsman's Office, and they said they were going to shut down the group home. But what were we going to do with my daughter? So they said she had to come home without even, you know, talking about shutting down the group home and trying to have some sort of -- just even good talks about it. It was all hostile.

So, after that meeting, we thought she might be put into a foster care-type medical complex, foster care program. We had actually gone and reviewed a couple and looked at them. One of them thought she was too -- too complex to take in until another group home was available.

Five days later, they charged us with neglect. They showed up at our house. They charged us with neglect, took our daughter into 72-hour or the 96-hour, they just took her away and that started -- we didn't see her for about a year -- except we saw her on Tuesdays or one day a week for two hours or an hour at Catholic Family Services.

We had -- every single thing -- the judge of probate chastised DCF. The psychiatrists' reports came back that we were like above average people. The advocacy -- we built playgrounds. My wife was Commissioner of Disabilities and Handicapped in Waterbury. I have my own business that won awards for -- this doesn't make a difference. It doesn't make a difference. They just kind of harassed us.

At the end, it was ridiculous. For what reason? My daughter needs -- I have a son at home. It was one of the main reasons. We have other issues with a son that was -- when you're born into -- when somebody has disabilities and you already have a child at home, there's other issues happening to that child who's already there.

So we have a hearing attorney. Every single thing came back it was in positive favor for us. But the biggest issue that came down to is when you're charged with neglect, is if you win in court, their daughter has to come home. They don't have to take them back and put them in voluntary services. There's a little thing. So we ended up -- we would have -- there was no doubt we would have won, but we need services.

So we had to -- she's now still in DCF's care. We have full -- I forget what we -- exactly, what we -- unsubstantiated something. It's down towards not on any kind of register or anything, but she's in their care. She -- we finally got to meet a foster -- she had jumped around in foster care. She was in foster care for a year. Everything that we said come to fruition and all the reports because the foster care person said she needs to be in a group home.

She's now in a group home, again, just recently. She's in with another tremendous group. She's in HART. She's in a child -- she's in a group home just in the last month or two. It's wonderful. Back to where we have a relationship, again. She's still in the care of DCF, but we now -- everything is coming back to where everything was three or four years ago that it was where we had a wonderful relationship, but, basically, we just got -- was baffled, and we went through a horror story for the last four years.

You took my wife is just still a basket case over -- she was an advocate. Husky Program used to call her up to come to the meetings. She saved HUSKY money, came up with ideas how to do things, and then the advocacy is just she was involved in everything, and now we're just -- what it does to the family. Your school systems, when you all of a sudden, you're now the -- you're involved in schools, and next thing you know, you're not in voluntary care anymore. You're looked at totally different.

Your relationships with everything change. Just being involved in what you have to do and your -- the humiliation of going through everything that we went through is just unbelievable.

I will have to say that at the end, though -- some of the social workers in the beginning just changed midstream. So that had to come from administrative up. Wonderful, halfway through, next thing, you know, you're -- you think you're dealing with the gestapo. They should have little outfits on. We used to call them those little Nazis. It's unbelievable the change. And it's worse the higher up you get. The confrontation is just ridiculous. They don't answer your phone calls. As soon as I found out we had neglect, the Ombudsman's Office stopped calling. I called, why did we get charged? There was no reason -- no reason for us to be charged with neglect. But it was a tactic to -- the child -- the child's lawyer called us up and said they are plotting to do this. He knew. He said they are setting the stages to charge you with neglect.

And in our case and, I guess, in one other case had been similar to this, and he said they're going to charge you. You better get an attorney right now. So it was a conspiracy right up to what happened. Unbelievable.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Mr. Foley, I'd like to just thank you for coming forward and testifying here today and sharing your story. I'm sure it wasn't easy to do, and Representative Walker has apologized a lot today. And I'd like to also apologize for everything your families --

(Gap in tape.)

REP. ABERCROMBIE: -- and I think that we've moved away from that, and that's why we're here today because we really want to see how do we fix this.

JAMES FOLEY: There is one law. Why -- if we win -- and we won and proved our case, why shouldn't she just go back to being into voluntary care? It doesn't make any sense. They were wrong. We were right.

Everybody else says -- I have a judge at probate right here. I have another whole book at home. This is all from the Ombudsman's, key reports, DCF plans, school problems. This is -- my daughter was also featured in Playschool for the Boundless Playgrounds throughout the country. We got an award. We couldn't go because she was under their care. She was taken. We could have went on a vacation. We're going to get an award from this because she was -- she had gotten this for being the face of Boundless Playgrounds, and we're too humiliated at the time. Right after that happened, we couldn't go.

The things that we used to participate in were taken away that we used to -- people would call us for help. We were always the ones that people said, what did you do, what do you think about this? So they've taken someone who advocated and did a lot of things for other people and built playgrounds and were part of HUSKY -- you know, if there was a handicap disability hall of fame, my daughter would probably would be in it. There's -- we've done a lot of things.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: You're absolutely right, sir. And, again, I just apologize for what your family has gone through.

JAMES FOLEY: So that law -- the law -- that is serious, serious. There's one little stipulation that they utilize that they know if they win, that they don't have to do anything about it. So if we won, she should have been put right back into voluntary care because right now we ran into some unbelievable social workers who actually read the case and went, oh, my god, I can't believe what had happened. It's just unbelievable. And then there -- so there are -- there are some really wonderful people there.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: There are definitely some policy changes that need to be made.

Representative Gonzalez would like to ask you a question.

REP. GONZALEZ: Mr. Foley, how old is your daughter now?

JAMES FOLEY: Eleven.

REP. GONZALEZ: Eleven. You know, it's people like you they really scare -- people like you scare DCF because they know that you're on top of everything and that you know what's going on, and that's why most of the time they start pushing people like you away, because they don't want people like you, you know, with them knowing what's really is going on.

JAMES FOLEY: They couldn't handle -- I would say they're not equipped to handle our situation because DMR at the time -- DCF had the money. We were sent to DCF saying they were the one's that can help you. But they're not equipped to handle the complex emotional problems of having a child with disabilities as opposed to where somebody that might have been abused or -- they're not -- the staff had no clue. We had people, right afterwards, they were investigating us, we were, like, why are you investigating us for? They doing a good cop, bad cop thing.

REP. GONZALEZ: That's what they do. And my question is you won in court --

JAMES FOLEY: No, no. We took a plea. If we won, she would have to --

REP. GONZALEZ: You took a plea.

JAMES FOLEY: -- place her to keep -- to keep services.

REP. GONZALEZ: Well, I think -- and I advise you to talk to your lawyer and check because when they charge you with neglect that will stay on your record with them for life.

JAMES FOLEY: Well, we had that pared down to where it's not on -- we -- it's much -- I forget the exact -- we do not have anything on our records.

REP. GONZALEZ: -- anything on the record.

JAMES FOLEY: But we had to accept something for her to keep services.

REP. GONZALEZ: -- which is not fair.

JAMES FOLEY: Right.

REP. GONZALEZ: Which is not fair.

JAMES FOLEY: They were still -- they still can do what -- they don't. They're really wonderful because we always had a great relationship with everybody. We were in total control of everything, except she needed that type of care. And with everything that was said four or five years ago, are now came to exactly what was done and they screwed up four years. I mean, I can go on and on, but there was just amazing where it's right back to where she needs to be in a group home because she needs change where you've been there for eight hours or whatever and then you get a fresh face because she needs -- she's a lot of work.

REP. GONZALEZ: All right. Thank you. And, you know, that say we need people like you even though they pushed, you know, people away, people like you do, you know, that really want to fight. It's easier, which is good.

JAMES FOLEY: I'd like to say my wife is coming back.

REP. GONZALEZ: And I really like that. Thank you.

JAMES FOLEY: Okay.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: Yes. Thank you. I just have a question.

What office were you working through?

JAMES FOLEY: Waterbury.

REP. WALKER: This is the Waterbury office?

JAMES FOLEY: Yeah.

REP. WALKER: Okay. Thank you for your testimony.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Mr. Foley, do we have contact information for you?

JAMES FOLEY: No.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Could you leave it with the clerk, please. We'd really appreciate it.

JAMES FOLEY: Sure.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Thank you, sir.

Next up Mary Lou Hill.

MARY LOU HILL: I'm not planning to move in.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: As long as you've got a pillow and blanket for us, you can.

MARY LOU HILL: Oh, I have a pillow and a blanket in the car. I think I'm ready.

Good afternoon chairs and distinguished members of the Human Services Committee and the Select Committee on Children. I'm very nervous.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Take your time.
MARY LOU HILL: My name is Mary Hill. I am a registered voter. I am a resident of East Hartford, and I'm the mother of two special needs children.

This is my daughter at the age of nine. This is my son at the age of six. They were raped by their father. My nine-year-old daughter was pimped out.

I'm here today because I need your help. I need your help. There is a need for specialized sexual abuse trauma services in this state of Connecticut. My son spent three years away in institutions, but the only thing he got out of that was to figure out what were emotions, how they looked, how they felt. My daughter has been in many institutions -- right at the moment, for slicing.

October 29th, this year, my son threatened suicide. November 13th, he attempted suicide at school. December 4th, this year, he performed some unsafe behaviors. I took him to the ER. They told me, you can keep him overnight -- we'll keep him overnight and I'll call you tomorrow. I never received a phone call.

I received a phone call at four o'clock in the afternoon from my DCF voluntary worker stating, Ms. Hill, you need to get -- to come and pick up your child. I said, I'm sorry, he's not safe. I never heard anything from the doctor, the psychiatrist, the social worker; I believe he's not safe.

Ten minutes later, I received a phone call from DCF investigator. Ms. Hill, you better get down here to this hospital right now, or we're going to send the police to come and arrest you. He's not safe; I haven't heard anything from the doctors.

I've been working with voluntary services since 1998. During the domestic violence, the Court granted joint custody, and that's why my children were raped during his possession of the kids.

We need -- if we have a problem with our gallbladder, we don't go to an eye doctor to get it fixed. We go see an -- a gallbladder doctor. My children have sexual abuse trauma that has never been, never been addressed.

Right at the moment, my son is in a partial hospital program treatment center. He's being released today with a letter that states -- well, we went back to the hospital again on the 10th, and they just let him out -- but he's being released from this partial hospital program because he needs a higher level of care. This is just some of my documents of my children's mental health since 1998. I have another brief case at home, but I couldn't carry everything.

The State of Connecticut needs, not a building, just a person, a specialized person, to deal with sexual abuse trauma for residential treatment centers and in the community, and I ask you to help fund that. We need to stop the circle of violence and help one another learn to live. We all want our children to be happy and healthy but in order to do that I know that I needed to get to the root to my kids' problem, which is sexual abuse trauma, which I can't fix.

She's in an institution down in Waterford. He's on his way, but they won't send him. He has the letters and everything, but they won't send him. We are in voluntary services. But I don't get the same treatment as if I were to give up my child's -- my rights to my kids.

I want to thank you for your time. Thank you for listening, and I'm sorry I had to bring everything with me.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Don't apologize. Thank you for being here today.

Representative Gonzalez.

REP. GONZALEZ: You said that the sexual abuse case is not being -- haven't they cured that?

MARY LOU HILL: In 2000 -- we were divorced. In 1998, my children and I lived in a domestic violence shelter. He promised to get help. We moved back. June 5th of 1999, he tried to throw me out the second story window, and my babies saw that. Police officers finally came upstairs. While I was screaming, two kids out in the backyard had a cell phone. Thank god. They called 911 and saw the last punch into my face. He was taken away.

2002, I had him arrested because my child came home from his -- her five weeks out of the six weeks of the summer visitation, Mommy, Mommy, Daddy hurt me, but please, please don't tell him. Why, I said, what happened? He handcuffed me, Mom; he duct taped me, and he threatened to beat me with a metal bar.

He was arrested in Part A at the New Britain court, seven years, suspended after one and five years probation. He pled the Alford Doctrine, which means -- all right, I've got all the evidence, but you know what, I'm not going to say that I did it.

One month before he gets out of prison is when my babies disclosed to me, Mom, my father raped me. My daughter said, Mommy, don't tell Daddy; he pimped me out to seven or eight other men; He got $20 apiece, $20 apiece, Mom.

So my daughter is in an institution right at this moment trying to cut her throat apart. My son is trying to hang himself. He's been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. They both have several mental illnesses attached to them now, but I still haven't gotten the sexual abuse trauma treatment that my kids need.

I just need somebody to say to them that, you know what, it wasn't your fault. I try that all the time, but they need specialized treatment, and there isn't any in the state of Connecticut.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: Thank you for your testimony. I thought that we provided sexual abuse trauma therapy.

MARY LOU HILL: That is for the perp.

REP. WALKER: No. In DCF, I thought we had sexual abuse trauma treatment.

MARY LOU HILL: I'm on voluntary services.

REP. WALKER: Oh, because it's voluntary, that's --

MARY LOU HILL: Voluntary services, you don't get half as much. If I were to give up my rights to my children, they would have gotten the services and being threatened to be arrested for abandonment because my child is not safe by Mr. Douglas Taylor last -- well, this past December 4th. I mean, my son has been known to be jumping out of vehicles. He jumped out of my car on Route 2 during rush hour.

REP. WALKER: So your son is on his way down to --

MARY LOU HILL: They're not doing anything. They're setting up a case against me right at this moment, I believe, for abandonment. And the -- Mr. Douglas Taylor drove my son home because I refused to drive him home because he's unsafe. And the partial hospital program that he's participating in now, they sent him home because they couldn't handle him. He needed -- he needed a higher level of care.

REP. WALKER: Where was that? Where was that?

MARY LOU HILL: That is in Manchester Memorial Hospital.

REP. WALKER: Thank you.

MARY LOU HILL: Thank you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Representative Hamm.

REP. HAMM: Thank you for your story and your courage.

I'm going to try and sort out the administrative part of it because it's not clear to me. You indicated that your daughter is in a residential facility.

MARY LOU HILL: That's because I had to go to the Ombudsman.

REP. HAMM: Okay. That's what I was wondering because I assume they're both voluntary services.

MARY LOU HILL: Both voluntary.

REP. HAMM: Okay. And at what age did she begin the journey into residential?

MARY LOU HILL: Well, in 2004, she started going back and forth into separate different -- I could tell you every facility they've been in: Hamden, Rushford, Saint Raphael's. They've been to Natchaug. They've been all over this state, subacute, short-term.

REP. HAMM: So they're -- it sounds like your daughter -- both your kids have gotten -- they've both gotten the services that we do have available.

MARY LOU HILL: Yes, but they've exhausted them.

REP. HAMM: Did they benefit from any of the existing services that we had related to mental health from your perspective?

MARY LOU HILL: The only thing that my son learned was what emotions were.

REP. HAMM: That's a good thing.

MARY LOU HILL: That's a good thing. Right at the moment, my daughter -- actually, two weeks ago, she learned to cry. She said, "You know what, Mom? I can cry." And I said, "Yeah, you can cry." "Well, he always told me I couldn't because he'd hurt me worse." And I says, "I could understand that; he did that with me."

REP. HAMM: And did they also get solid individual counseling through the voluntary service system.

MARY LOU HILL: They didn't get that through voluntary services. I had to go and get that through Connecticut Behavioral Health Partnership. I had to locate those myself.

REP. HAMM: But the Behavioral Health Partnership is part of our DCF service system.

MARY LOU HILL: Right.

REP. HAMM: Okay. So they were able -- and are they both in individual counseling now?

MARY LOU HILL: My daughter is not. She's in an institution.

REP. HAMM: She's getting it in residential?

MARY LOU HILL: She's in residential, yes.

REP. HAMM: Okay. And do you believe your son is benefiting from his individual counseling?

MARY LOU HILL: You cannot have joint facilitators working with your children. Since he's in this partial hospital program, he cannot see his individual therapist.

REP. HAMM: I see.

MARY LOU HILL: Because it's not allowed.

REP. HAMM: And what makes you think that they would get a different level of care or services if they were committed because you said you thought the Department was setting up a case against you?

MARY LOU HILL: Oh, I really do feel that they're setting me up a case because --

REP. HAMM: It sounds like your daughter has gotten -- and your son, to some extent, has gotten all of the benefit of the services that we have.

MARY LOU HILL: Right. But he still -- but it's embarrassing.

REP. HAMM: But if he were committed, we still wouldn't have the right service for him.

MARY LOU HILL: Right.

REP. HAMM: I mean, can we agree about that?

MARY LOU HILL: That we can agree, but he's not safe where he is at home with me.

REP. HAMM: No, no, I understand. But I'm just trying -- I was trying to sort out the commitment versus voluntary issue. Because a lot of constituents say that to me -- there's this perception that you get a different level of treatment if you're a voluntary services DCF client instead of a committed client. And I was just -- in your case, it doesn't sound like that is true.

MARY LOU HILL: Well, they like to drag their feet. And I've had about five different voluntary case workers.

REP. HAMM: Now, the other thing I'm interested in is have you and both kids had access to any of the domestic violence gender-specific trauma based kind of counseling treatment?

MARY LOU HILL: As a matter of fact, I am a domestic violence advocate at this point.

REP. HAMM: Okay.

MARY LOU HILL: And, yes, we have. We went to Youth and Family Services back in 1998, right after this domestic violence had started.

REP. HAMM: And is it your sense that it was appropriate as far as the trauma issue because, you know --

MARY LOU HILL: The domestic violence piece?

REP. HAMM: Yes.

MARY LOU HILL: I thought it was fine. Nobody would ever think that he would hurt his own children.

REP. HAMM: Yeah, I understand. So the sexual abuse, individual counseling that's trauma-specific, you can't find anywhere in the state.

MARY LOU HILL: No.

REP. HAMM: Okay.

MARY LOU HILL: Because they are just totally unsafe.

REP. HAMM: And is it your sense that your son is not having access to residential because of his age? Is he aging out? Is that --

MARY LOU HILL: No. He's 13.

REP. HAMM: Okay, so he has time.

MARY LOU HILL: He's 13. There's been a letter that's been written that he needs a higher level of care, but DCF didn't want to run on it.

REP. HAMM: Do they disagree?

MARY LOU HILL: They haven't -- they just finally finished writing up his treatment plan.

REP. HAMM: I see. So it's fairly new. Okay. I understand.

MARY LOU HILL: I mean, but they knew about this since October 29th.

REP. HAMM: Well, you ought to be commended for your courage in fighting for your kids. I think it's enormously difficult for our parents who have mentally ill children. And you're right, we really don't have what we need in our state. It's very expensive, and we're doing our best. But it's very hard to find providers who are willing to do that level of care, as you know.

MARY LOU HILL: You know what? I'd go to class for it. I would go to class. I would work for nothing because of the love of kids and humanity.

REP. HAMM: Well, it's clearly in need. You're absolutely right. Thank you very much.

MARY LOU HILL: Thank you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Thank you very much for your testimony.

Any other questions?

MARY LOU HILL: Thank you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Thank you, have a good evening.

MARY LOU HILL: Thank you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: I would just like to remind everybody in the audience, in accordance with the joint rules, cell phones are prohibited. So if you do have a cell phone, please turn it off. Thank you.

Next person up is Thomas Burr.

THOMAS BURR: Good afternoon. Representative Villano and the esteemed members of the Human Services Committee and the Select Committee on Children.

My name is Thomas Burr, and I live in Glastonbury, Connecticut. I am president of the Manchester affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Connecticut, also known as NAMI Connecticut.

I'm also the parent of an adult child, who is in recovery from bipolar disorder after eight years' worth of repeated hospitalizations, incarcerations and homelessness. Currently, he is living on his own. He is working and he's doing very well.

I mention this only to illustrate that people with mental illness can and do recover and become contributing members to society, as well as taxpayers. Also please be aware that I am speaking today not as a member of any group, but simply as a taxpayer in the great state of Connecticut and that I come here today to specifically address the lack of community-based service options for children and families and for kids who are stuck in in-patient settings or out-of-state placements, as well as to advocate for and ask you and our Governor to allow the housing construction for the third round of the next step of supportive housing to move forward immediately.

Currently, there are 14 projects that applied for this round of funding that are ready to go; that is, they are shovel ready for construction jobs. Any delay will threaten existing site control and financing.

Construction and/or rehab have a multiplier effect in creating and preserving jobs; that is, contractors, subcontractors, purchases of furnishings, et cetera, that will be spurred by this development. The housing construction would provide permanent homes for families, children, veterans and people with disabilities who are experiencing homelessness, that is, living on the streets or in shelters. Failure to provide the housing will increase the state costs of homelessness by three times through increased utilization of homeless shelters, nursing homes, emergency rooms and/or jails and prisons.

Please note that the cost associated with these crisis-based services cannot be avoided nor deferred. It's going to happen. The need for permanent supportive housing will only increase with the current economic downturn. The vacancy rate in rental housing runs 5 percent statewide. A very tight rental market make it even more difficult for people who are homeless to obtain housing.

The organizations applying to create housing for people who are homeless have invested many months and significant resources in planning, developing community support, fundraising and submitting detailed applications. In Connecticut, the average Medicaid reimbursement per supportive housing tenant, who previously used high cost medical inpatient services, decreased by 71 percent; in other words, rather than have people who are leaving our shelters, hospitals, nursing homes, jails and prisons left to fend for themselves out in the streets, they instead enter supportive housing which include services, such as medication monitoring and job and life counseling. This scenario eliminates the revolving door of repeated trips to these very expensive crisis-based services.

I can tell you from my own personal experience there were many times my own son was stuck in a Connecticut mental health hospital. He was well enough to be discharged but unable to leave because he literally had no place to go to. On the other hand, people with mental illnesses, who have stable home environments through supportive housing, will soon -- sooner be able to enter recovery, eventually getting jobs in their community and, therefore, providing tax revenues to the state. They transform themselves from being an expensive burden under the current system and instead become an asset to the state and to their communities.

In summary, Keep the Promise and enable people with mental illness to become productive members of society. Keep them out of our jails and our prisons, our nursing homes, homeless shelters and emergency rooms. Increase their chances for a swift recovery and, ultimately, save our taxpayers' money. It is clear it would be fiscally irresponsible for the State of Connecticut to not fund this additional supportive housing. And I'd like to add, specifically, the creation of specialized residential programs to meet the complex needs of young adults, particularly, housing models or therapeutic foster homes that allow young adults to remain in place after turning 18 and becoming clients in the adult mental health system that's currently run by DMHAS. In fact, five of the aforementioned 14 projects include this therapeutic foster home model.

I will now gladly answer any questions you might have.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Thank you, Mr. Burr, and you're absolutely right. Affordable housing is something that we really, really need to take a look at and really start funding. And you're right, you know, people with disabilities, even mental illness, you know, can be productive. They just need a helping hand.

Representative Mushinsky.

REP. MUSHINSKY: Thank you, Madam Chair.

I wanted to ask you, have you put in writing your request that this project be on shovel-ready list. The Governor is seeking our budget.

THOMAS BURR: I e-mailed the Governor about a week ago. And I actually asked for an audience with her, and I've yet to hear back.

REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay. The list is being very rapidly assembled. It'll be submitted any minute now, so make sure that's on there and then your own rep and senator, if you send it to them, because we've all been asked -- all of us have been asked to put together a list ourselves to submit. So you want to make sure it's on several lists and then they'll keep seeing it over and over again.

THOMAS BURR: I've been pretty vocal over the years, but I can certainly ping them again.

REP. MUSHINSKY: Yeah, no, definitely because President-elect Obama is looking for our state lists and whatever is ready to go, you know, there's a good chance it'll go, so please make sure it's submitted several different ways.

THOMAS BURR: Absolutely.

REP. MUSHINSKY: And if you have the costs -- if you have the costs and --

THOMAS BURR: I can provide the information. I've got a fairly good relationship with the Partnership for Strong Communities and the Corporation for Supportive Housing, Reaching Home Campaign. They have all the data behind all this.

REP. MUSHINSKY: Yeah, the more data, the more likely it'll go so...okay. Thank you.

THOMAS BURR: Thank you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Any other questions?

Thank you, sir. We appreciate it.

THOMAS BURR: Thank you. Merry Christmas.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: You too, sir. Have a nice holiday.

Next up is my friend, Gwen Edie Samuel.

GWEN SAMUEL: Good evening, everyone. Good evening, good evening. Parents --

REP. ABERCROMBIE: We shall wake you up if you're not awake right now, folks, so get ready.

GWEN SAMUEL: Okay. For the record, I am Gwen Edie Samuel, resident of Meriden, and I'm not with Connecticut Parent Power here today, but I had a parent who was signing me in. So I'm here as a parent from Meriden.

First off, I want to thank Representative Walker and Representative Abercrombie and Representative Jarmoc and those who engaged in dialogue with me and participated -- Reverend Walker -- Representative Walker, at the press conference that we had with parents today.

And you've, actually, instilled my faith in they power of my vote because, as parents, you know, they're saying, oh, get our testimony together. They're going to get -- and we know you get thousands, and then you're going to hear the back-door discussions. They're not going to read it, this is just part of the formality. So based on the interactions and the questions that you're asking of us as parents, I just had a new sense of hope in my -- in the power of the vote.

And I'm here to talk about the parent engagement piece here. Because I've watched extensively all three hearings from October 20th to December 5th. So we've heard from all levels. I listened to how DCF was going to roll out their strategic plan. I'm hearing about these advisory committees. I'm hearing about all these discussions, but the voice that is missing from the table is the voice of the parents and the families, and, when I was at the press conference, I found these health care for all and I count. So I told the parents, really I count today because we count. Because, like it or not, for some these children are in our homes. The children wake up to their parents, good bad or indifferent. So if we're trying to support children, you're going to have to support families.

You cannot support children isolating the family, because that is the environment that they know.

I want to thank you for supporting the Parent Trust Fund because you funded parent involvement -- but I'm not going to use that word because I think we use that word too loosely. We're involved, we're involved. When someone's engaged -- I'm going to say we have parent engagement today. Because when someone's engaged, I mean, we're engaging in dialogue. That means you're talking to me and I'm talking to you.

And these parents have to -- it just hurts me to have to bare my personal life to get respect. Because half the problem that we're having, some of it is just cultural insensitivity; some of it is just an abuse of power; some is just lack of training; some is just clearly disconnected from the needs of the community. And you can't talk about DCF without talking about DSS, about DMHAS, about housing because you're going to have to address all the issues in all the basic needs of a child.

So I'm asking you, I know we're in tough times, I know it, but you have to bring parents to the table in an intentional manner. You have an advisory council that they say they're appointed. I get concerned with appointments. I think they're good, but sometimes we can have our favorites, but then you need to hear from the person with disabilities; you need to hear from the person that's on the food stamps.

Representative Abercrombie, we're going to talk after this. I have a parent that has an open case for a year. And she says, Gwen, do you have a couple of packs of meat in the freezer because I haven't gotten my food stamps in two months. My problem is she has an open case with DCF. You should not be a protective service protecting children and you don't know your client needs food. Because then that child has just become more at risk, and I don't even want to know what you're going to write in her file when she told the worker, I just need food. Doesn't make me a bad mom or good mom. It makes me a person with a need.

So I'm asking you today. I'm calling you by name.

Senator Harris, I worked with your great constituents of West Hartford. Am I right?

Representative Villano, I'm with you.

Representative Abercrombie, Walker, Jarmoc, Enfield, I worked with your parents.

Representative Hamm, Middletown, 93rd District, I know your New Haven parents well.

I can go down this row -- because parents want to be involved. And you're funding the right program, don't penalize us because we don't know how to advocate for our children. That's why you have PLTI, parents see, PEP. They work. And the good part about it is you don't even have to fund a whole bunch. If you funded at the $250,000 that you do, then funders will match us dollar for dollar. And I thank you for supporting the PLTI when it was in jeopardy.

I love you, great Governor, but you concerned me last session or was it the session before? And so we had to fight.

A VOICE: The current.

GWEN SAMUEL: The current, so please, Governor, parents work; families work. But we want to sit at the table.

I'm here today as a parent because I vote in November, because I believe in change. It ain't a word. It ain't -- it ain't some great slogan, and I believe, as a parent, I'm a powerful voice.

And I don't want you to underestimate that voice because as long as I've got sneakers, I will organize every parent in this room. And I will go to city by city to show you that we're not your enemy. We want to sit at the table to make mutual decisions with you. Let us help you prepare your legislative agenda. We did Connecticut Parent Power. That's who I work for, but I'm switching hats. We actually do a bunch of workshop trainings here because we know parents don't understand this stuff. You barely understand -- I don't envy your positions.

But we're trying to get user-friendly language so we can teach parents how to understand the budget process so we can enter into dialogue with you. So I'm asking you to continue to support parent engagement -- I'm sorry, involvement I'm not good with it.

And I'm asking you to know that each one in these rooms, these parents, we count. If you put us at the table, we will have to bare our souls on public TV because we're at the table. You will hear our stories before they become crises. So let's look at prevention and intervention, child care, help these families to work, affordable and quality health care for every one. I know we talk about these, you know, these slogans and sayings, but this is real life. We're real people with real needs.

So we thank you for this opportunity that this is not the last time you'll see me, and I can rest assured this won't be the last time you see these parents here today. So let us work side by side with you. And for those who know me know that is not a slogan. And I will want, you know, to hear from you, and I'm asking you to hear from us.

But there's one last thing. You say you're solution building; I'm here in concern. I had talked to Senator Harp, and she's great. You're all great. And I propose legislation because what's missing is parents don't know their rights, and that's where abuse of power comes in, because there are some rights that are protected by the Constitution and federal law. And if you're going to come into a house and tell me that I did something wrong, people that are offenders, at least get the Miranda rights. They get to know that they have the right not to incriminate themselves, not saying that they did anything wrong, but to protect themselves. And Senator Harp, last year, presented a bill that was 5489, and it was in relation to juvenile matters, and it talked about giving Mirandaesque-type rights to parents.

And, of course, DCF opposed it. Some of your advocates opposed it talking about a child would be at risk. I want to beg to differ. Do you know if you come in any house in evasive harsh tones saying I did something wrong without me knowing what I did or understanding it, you've just created another level of toxic stress that might already exist with. So but -- if I'm a parent with disabilities, how are you going to address me if I say to you, Worker, I understand you want me to sign these papers, but I don't know what they say.

I haven't seen a policy that addresses a parent with disabilities, but if you looked at DSS, they just lost a lawsuit because they violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it cost, I think, the State of Connecticut $12 million because they violated the client's right.

So I think as a committee, Select Committee and the Human Service Committee, I'm asking you to look at the DSS lawsuit and see if it can align itself with other state agency policies, because it might be just something as simple, basic rights. So I'm asking us to look at that, and I will be advocating for parents' rights because what does it hurt me for you to tell me what my rights are? It doesn't hurt you not one bit. It doesn't hurt -- actually, it might protect that parent because I might not know I'm doing something wrong. So I'm asking you to help me help my child and help me to help the children of Connecticut.

Is that all right?

REP. ABERCROMBIE: That's sounds good, Gwen.

GWEN SAMUEL: Thank you very much.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Wait, wait. We might have some questions, Gwen, don't go so far.

GWEN SAMUEL: Okay. I'm with you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: As someone that represents Meriden, I am so proud that you come from Meriden, and you and I have been working a long time even before I became a legislator on issues back then and as a PLTI graduate.

GWEN SAMUEL: Yes.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: I do believe in these parent programs because they do work. And thank you so much for your advocacy and for never, ever letting your guard down, and never stop the fight because you really believe in what you're doing. And all the parents that are here are here because of that same reason. So thank you so much, we do appreciate it.

And any questions from committee members?

Oh, Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: I don't really have a question. I, too, want to echo thank you. After, I think it was about -- I think it was four weeks ago, when I started getting a barrage of e-mails from this woman, Gwen Edie, I's said who is -- and she started reading me our state statutes and everything, and I was, like, Who is it? And then when you sat down and you talked with Senator Harp and I about the issue about parents' Miranda rights, I thank you for educating me and giving me a voice and helping me understand some of the needs.


Don't stop. Make sure that you keep going, and we're just going to be starting all over again January 7th.

GWEN SAMUEL: Oh, we're ready. Right, ladies and gentlemen?

REP. WALKER: And to make sure, make sure the voices of parents are loud and clear at this session because if we don't, you know what happens. They're a forgotten group.

GWEN SAMUEL: But you can also invite us to the table. And what we don't know, it's okay. If you have a question of us, just invite us.

And just, I mean, that would solve a lot of the problems so I'm not going to go about parent involvement. It's about engaging in dialogue that would protect the best interests and the well-being of Connecticut's children and their families, and I'm with you on that.

REP. WALKER: Thank you, honey.

GWEN SAMUEL: Thank you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Thank you, Gwen.

Sabrina -- and I'm sorry if I am harsh on your last name -- Fliritroy.

A VOICE: She's gone.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: She's gone.

Derrick Gardner. Good evening.

DERRICK GARDNER: Good evening, Senator Walker. How you doing?

Before I start, if I may, I've been here since the beginning. I want to address a question with Representative Hamm.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Can you just for the record, sir, state your name, please.

DERRICK GARDNER: I'm sorry. I forgot. My name is Derrick Wayne Gardner, Sr. Thank you.

And, if I may, Representative Hamm, she kept asking questions concerning the communication with the DCF phones. See what it is, they got a phone. All the phones are -- well, you hit a button and it says, I'm not available or I'm not at my desk. They give you a supervisor number, but it already notified the supervisor so when you call them, it hits a button and it goes to two, three supervisors. And so it's already preset to --

REP. HAMM: You have experience to that.

DERRICK GARDNER: Many times, many times. Yes, indeed. But I just wanted to speak on this reason I'm here, and I'll thank you guys for all what you are doing to put it together.

My story is on June 15, 2006, my son and mother and myself had an isolated incident, which was a breach of peace incident. We was traveling -- and I'm not actually from Connecticut, but we was a traveling sales crew, and my son was at the babysitter at the time of the incident. So they say once they called, someone had to be incarcerated. My son being two months and seven days old at the time, I said, Well, I had to go so I went into ACC, and my son's mother was given a court date for an appearance to appear in court.

A few days later DCF show then to lock her up, my son's mother, unless she gave them my son to them. Upon release from ACC, I immediately signed up for nine weeks family violence education program at the Wheeler Clinic in which resulted with successful completion and 100 hundred score on the post-test.

In addition, the Parent and Child Center at Bristol Hospital recognized that, I, Derrick Gardner has successfully completed 24 and a half hours parenting, father 24/7 and nurturing from June 2008 to -- through October 2008. I also received recognition of successful completion of preemployment, workshops through Hartford Job Funnel. Each and every drug screen, since September through December, has come up negative.

Now I'm going to state the -- what they call assessment to finance the -- determine the value or significance, which in no way can be compared to a parent-child relationship. Reunification defined to become unified again after being divided, which appears to be conflicting with continuous TPR or emotions that have already been denied -- but they still keep -- and even though I'm on a treatment plan now, at the end and they've got a contingency, TPR and adoption. It's like it's already preset to do as they wish with my son.

As a father, one of the most deepest concerns I have is on Thursday, September 11, 2008, in New Britain DCF office on 1 Grove street, my son came to the facility with a visible bruise to his left eye. I asked the caseworker, What happened to my son's eye? I was told Derrick, Jr., was walking in the door -- that he walked into a door. He must have fell -- by the next day he had jumped out of a car seat.

After the visit, she openly told me that she was told to tell me this. After calling the hot line, I was told they could only discuss it with DCF. Thursday, on the 13th of November, I gave a letter to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. A responding letter returned stated that it was assigned to Child Protection Department of the Attorney General's Office with an inquiry number. When I called this status, Linda Groupel stated whatever DCF says is right.

Well, one thing I know and feel that is right the element of little bit concern that I have for my son.

April 4, 2007, I had an aneurysm and two strokes. And after coming out of a coma, I realized the only thing -- not only had I been blessed but definitely had a purpose in life, which was Derrick Wayne Gardner, Jr.

Now I know the criteria -- I'd just like to know after all the steps have been met, all the hoops been jumped through, classes complete and programs finished, what is the criteria to actually towards being a father for my son. Now I notice in the X, Y, Z, the two elements, X is examine the situation; and I just caused someone to call what the situation is but explain the elements of each situation. The Y is why are the procedures being conducted and why the stipulations are conducted and which process as they go. The Z is to zoom into the root of each circumstance and find out from the root of what it is. And zero tolerance from one side of control.

This actually is the most important part of actually knowing that DCF should be turned around to FCD, families, children, development, something totally new. And the element I know in a lot of different agencies that have occurred and if they can break down the problem for the team, you reassign each player or position with each entity of the different groups actually doing a part together to come and be a new foundation on what need to be done.

Actually the best situation to our children today.

Thank you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Thank you, sir.

Representative Walker.

(Gap in tape.)

DERRICK GARDNER: -- and they moved it to New Britain. Now my son, actually, to my understanding, is like somewhere in Milford because I contacted the hot line and the New Britain police and they said that, actually, that they can't help me because it was out of their jurisdiction. And so I think he's out somewhere in Milford or somewhere, like, you know, they always have, you know, children located in some different places, but I have my son recorded saying, Daddy, the man hit me, the man hit me in the eye. And it's been covered up. You hear it from the hotline. I tried to call the Ombudsman. I tried to call every contact hearing from anyone I could contact. They would go, I know children don't lie. And I got the injury on my phone and my son recorded saying, Daddy, the man hit me, the man hit me in the eye.

But it's been covered up through DCF from walking in the door, walking through the door, he must of fell, next day he jumped out of a car seat. But he told me himself, looked at me right and said, Daddy, the man hit me, the man hit me in the eye.

REP. WALKER: So they're trying to take permanent custody away from you.

DERRICK GARDNER: Yes, ma'am. Yes, ma'am.

REP. WALKER: Where's your wife right now?

DERRICK GARDNER: Well, my son's mother's on the other end of the country because see what happened two years ago, her being new to all our travels -- she's from Texas; I'm from St. Louis. But --

REP. WALKER: I would have never been able to tell from your accent.

DERRICK GARDNER: I'm sorry.

REP. WALKER: No, okay.

DERRICK GARDNER: Like she's -- she started in the early 2006, DCF consistently told her if she got rid of me, they'd return my son. That was the first part. But she told him she was the aggressor of the incident. My mom raised me never to hit a woman. If I hit you, I really don't need to be with you. But it's constantly every time we went to court, DCF would whisper in her ear, we still have some plans if you do this, do this, do this. If she got rid of me or if she'd go into a shelter, she tried it and it was just constantly -- the negativity place -- planted seeds to actually get her to the point where she actually kind of lost it, but I'm not giving up on my son.

REP. WALKER: Are you working now, sir?

DERRICK GARDNER: Well, I got a little piece of job where I do a little recruiting for this sales organization. I got a little job since I came here in Connecticut so I'm working. I'm not -- took my OSHA certificate and I went to the Job Funnel. I'm always consistent to look for something better. But through limited access or not being from here is kind of rough, but I still try to make the best with what I can.

REP. WALKER: And you have a place of residence?

DERRICK GARDNER: Yes, ma'am. I'm having it since May. I came here in May for a court date, yes, ma'am.

REP. WALKER: I don't know if you saw this. We had Dr. Cosby here just a couple weeks ago advocating the fatherhood.

DERRICK GARDNER: Okay.

REP. WALKER: And he said that we, as a state, need to encourage fathers to want to step up to the plate.

DERRICK GARDNER: Right.

REP. WALKER: And take care of their children.

DERRICK GARDNER: Right.

REP. WALKER: And we need to make sure that we have laws that are set in place so that we don't deter fathers from doing it, because many of the people that testified that he brought here talked about the pain and agony that people had when they don't have their fathers.

DERRICK GARDNER: Right.

REP. WALKER: And you are trying to get control and custody of your child. I thank you for doing that. Do not stop. We will talk, I'm sure, at length after the session so -- after this meeting so thank you very much.

DERRICK GARDNER: All right. Thank you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Thank you, sir.

Any other questions from committee members?

Thank you, sir, very much for waiting. We appreciate it.

DERRICK GARDNER: Thank you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Noelle Talevi? Talevi? No Noelle.

Aimee Dutkiewicz?

Good evening.

AIMEE DUTKIEWICZ: Good evening. Thank you very much for taking the time to hear us. My name is Aimee Dutkiewicz. I reside in Bristol. This is my youngest son Garth. He's a twin. His twin sister did not want to join us today.

It's been a blessing to be able to sit here today the whole day to listen to what has been going on. I'm getting a lot of insight. You do have my written testimony so I'm not going to go into great detail, but one of the things I did want to mention, which came to mind, as far as the abuse of the State employees. In 1991, my daughter Avonlea died of SIDS. In July of 1991, I miscarried a baby at 17 weeks and I was told it was the grief that had cost me to lose that baby. The very next day from almost bleeding to death, DCF came knocking on my door. The call was made by a family member who did not understand SIDS. We already had the coroner's diagnosis at that point, and she clearly was a SIDS baby. We entered into an investigation which started me in the process of becoming a family advocate.

The caseworker who came out to the house, his exact words to me -- I still hear them ringing in my ears -- "We're going to dig up your baby's body and have forensic testing done and, regardless of what the result is, you're not going to get your baby's body back; you're just going to go there to put flowers and it's going to be an open hole."

I went and I spent three nights sleeping on my daughter's grave, fearing that they were going to come and dig her up. I got brought home by the police department twice. The third time they were, like, do it again and we'll arrest you. But I was so terrified I didn't know what else to do.

So I'm also here representing Tom Dutkiewicz of Connecticut DCF Watch. We formed it after being involved with DCF in 2003. And, at that point when DCF entered our lives, they entered our lives at the hands of a very vindictive woman, and I went through, basically, the Salem witch trials. I am a practicing Wiccan.

A VOICE: Same here.

AIMEE DUTKIEWICZ: And as being such, I was investigated and I was taken to court, and on the Court records that were submitted, the statement was made, We want mother adjudicated neglectful because she can cast spells.

I can still walk into that courtroom and point a pen at DCF workers and they'll duck. It's really kind of funny.

What's that?

A VOICE: I've some workers for you.

AIMEE DUTKIEWICZ: Well, you just send me their names.

In fact, we were on Al Terzi's "Face the State" and, at one point during the conversation with him, he said to me -- he goes, Well, if you're a witch, why didn't, you know, why can't you just, like, wave your wand at them. And I said, Honey, when I perfect my frogs spells, 505 Hudson Street's going to be a swamp.

But getting back to my main point here -- I think we all could use a little levity this evening.

Just basically, some of the points I wanted to mention are that, as a result of DCF's involvement in our lives, I'm now divorced. The younger two children live with me. The 21-year-old is entering armed services soon. My children all have serious security issues when it comes to adults. That's one of the things.

But some of the changes -- and I'll just list them brief because the alarm just went off already -- we need to look at changing the current anonymous reporting procedures. Modifying the current procedures will effectively limit the ability of vendetta-based reporting. There must be proper caseworker training as to law requirements on entry into the home. Absent exigent circumstances, even the police cannot enter your home. And yet I hear constantly from parents, as a family advocate, that the caseworker put her foot in the door, shoved the door, did something to force entry into the home. Failure to understand and abide by and be aware of agency policy is not an escape loophole.

Applying appropriate policies in all cases is a must. A refusal to be compliant must be met with punitive disciplinary action. The best interest of the child cannot be used as a screen to hide behind, and this frequently happens. Many of these investigations are mere fishing expeditions and are not necessary in the first place.

Often, generally, what has been -- what has happened is the case is founded through outright lying and, in some cases, like the Valarie Miles case, the planting of evidence to maintain a case. The fact that kinship placement attempts are a core part of receiving federal funding, yet this method is rarely used because nonfamily foster placement yields long-term added bonuses to the agency coffers.

The practice of not seeking kinship placement and also refusing to supply kinship placement of families with assistance must be investigated.

The misuse and abuse of powers of automatic orders, the JDJM-106 form, often gets signed in the courts by the judges before the boxes are checked off. This results in the judges arbitrarily granting excessive and broad, often unnecessary, invasive requirements upon the family. For instance, in many cases, parents end up under judicial orders to cooperate fully with DCF and often the families are repeatedly put through training and programs that there never was a need for.

Caseworkers need to be held accountable to honest documentation on cases. Caseworkers should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law when evidence is found proving there was lack of candor and/or deliberate falsification of records.

Individuals who choose to misuse their power and access to DCF files, and then inappropriately disseminate confidentiality must face prosecutorial action, such is the case of Barbara Clair right now.

During my adjudication hearing, she presented unredacted evidence in an effort to parallel my case and the case of -- you have the name listed, I don't want to say it out loud. Because I don't want to break confidentiality. Not only did I have enough information handed over, I was able to get a hold of the Danielson police report and make contact with this family. When they were informed that this had occurred out of her negligence, they took action. I don't know what the result was.
Barbara Clair and her superiors blew this off.

Now here we are in 2008, and AAG Barbara Clair is on the chopping block for going into the system and utilizing her access to gain information on a family member. And believe me, she's not the only one that's doing it or has done it.

There's a large percentage of cases that get reopened by caseworkers self-reporting to the hotline. This is a tool frequently used when there has been no solid evidence found in a case that's closed. Not only is it used to reopen a case, when the reportings are made, it counts as an additional report and automatically puts the case directly into status of immediate service needs and frequently ends up with court action.

DCF workers are not overworked. They merely cannot let go of issues in an appropriate and healthy manner. The result is greater caseloads, and it contributes to shoddy performance on a regular basis.

When a case is decided as substantiated, most parents do not understand that this means their names go on the registry. This can potentially subject them to ineligibility for employment in the education and health fields. Now, while I was waiting for my hearing, I lost my job as a fitness instructor. I subsequently also lost my house. My employer was concerned that his reputation would end up besmirched if he had an employee in his -- working for him that was on the registry or could possibly be on the registry. So my employment went out the window; my house was gone; just a lot of really, really awful things happened in our lives.

I was found unsubstantiated after an adjudication hearing; however, when my own son went to join the National Guard, these issues came up because his name was linked. They even went so far as to go back to the woman who made the report on us and ask questions of her. This woman reported us to DCF and then was committed to the Institute of Living five times during the time that DCF had me in court. She reported herself as a mandated reporter.

And I've taken enough time. So, in conclusion, I would like to thank you all for giving me the opportunity to present my views.

Unfortunately, we all have psychological and emotional scars as a result of this, one of which is that there's an empty place at the dinner table when we sit down each night, the place where their dad should be. But this was just too much, too much on us, and we just couldn't keep it together as a marriage.

What I would like to offer to you is that, as a result of a federal lawsuit that we filed, I do have my own redacted DCF filed. You would not believe some of the atrocities in that file. I would be happy -- since I was given that by Judge Covello, and I could do anything I want with it, I would be glad to provide information out of that file to you, because most parents can't speak. Most parents don't have their file. I do. It's in two giant boxes. And the data that's in there -- it's just every time I open the box, I start to cry. I still have my children, but my children don't feel secure around adults now. And it was all for no good, no reason. This woman had a vendetta against me.

In the paperwork, you have my e-mail and my phone number if you'd like to speak further with me. If you'd like to take a look at some of these documents -- you would not believe what the document -- when they sent us into court for what they did for Reasonable Efforts, they simply put down to do what we need to do to have this case adjudicated neglectful. How is that reasonable efforts, you know?

And I know that my story is similar with a lot of people's stories. I hope that sitting here today for, what, eight hours -- I hope that this comes -- some fruition comes from this and that we can make a change. Because we do need child protective services. There's no question we need it. I mean, look at the Mansfield case where that baby was killed by the DCF worker. You know, we need child protection. We just need to restructure how it's organized and how it's managed. I hope that you folks on these committees will be able to do that so that other children won't be hurt.

I appreciate you letting me take extra time.

Thank you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Thank you. Thank you for your testimony, and that is our goal is to protect the children.

One -- Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: Sorry. Very quickly.

AIMEE DUTKIEWICZ: That's okay.

REP. WALKER: What you said that -- you said that your case affected your son Garth -- Garth?

AIMEE DUTKIEWICZ: Garth.

REP. WALKER: Garth. Could you explain to me how that happened?

AIMEE DUTKIEWICZ: Well, shortly after the inception of the case, every time the kids saw a car with a state seal on it, they'd come running into the house. They'd climb under their beds. They'd hide in their closets. "They're coming to take us; they're coming to take us."

That was the result of the -- Valerie Jackson was the case investigator, came into the home. She stayed in the home -- she forced her way into the house. First of all, came into the home, was there until almost nine o'clock at night. It was the night before my grandmother's funeral. She shook the papers in my face and said if you don't sign these papers, if you don't sign these case plans and the authorization to talk to the school and the doctors and everything, I'm taking your children out of the house with me right now.

I signed those papers because I really didn't know for sure at that point what my rights were. I kept saying I didn't want to. She interviewed the kids --

A VOICE: Alone I might add.

AIMEE DUTKIEWICZ: We had to step out of the room, would not allow us to have an impartial party there with the kids. I asked could we bring a neighbor. No, no, no. And as a result, you know, they got pretty frightened.

At one point, in third grade, he walked home from school -- school was a block away -- they had a substitute teacher, and the substitute teacher turned out to be a DCF employee in training, and he said, I want to see your ID. He said, I know you're DCF; I can just tell. And sure enough, she was a DCF worker. He said I'm not going in that classroom. And he left; he walked home. And I stood by him when the truant officer showed up saying that they were going to charge me. Charge me with what? My son was protecting his rights.

There is one other thing I did want to mention to you. I had forgotten to mention. We, fairly recently, learned that when applying for SSI benefits, apparently there's a state agency that is garnering SSI benefits in my son's name because they had his social security.

I do believe we have potentially a fraud case here. We're investigating it. We have an involved lawyer. She -- because both my husband and I -- excuse me -- ex-husband and I are well-known, we were recently before the Supreme Court on a parents rights case. We did take DCF to the federal court. You know, both of us have a lot of legal knowledge. We're going to try to handle this on our own.

I don't know what agency. I don't know what truth there is. When we were applying to be CASA volunteers, we were told you can't be. Your son is in state custody, has been since he was -- since he was born.

A VOICE: Yeah, because, basically, actually, I had to hear from my mom that -- sorry, basically, since I've been having my -- which I don't know if it's is true or not, but, basically, everything that's happened, I'm basically frightened even to go because of what DCF has done to me. I actually don't know, like, say if someone were to approach me, I don't know what to do, like, and ask a personal questions. I won't even answer them because I would feel unsecure because they might try to harm me in different ways that I -- so many ways.

Basically, the whole thing with us being out there alone in the back -- in our case, in 2003, was by law, you're allowed to have a person in there with you when you're being interviewed by a DCF worker or employee, I might add. And, basically, all they are in it is for the money. They don't even protect children. Some of them they do, but some of them they don't. Like the -- sorry, anyway -- I've said enough.

AIMEE DUTKIEWICZ: Yes, okay.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Representative Hamm.

REP. HAMM: I just wanted to say I love DCF Watch and keep doing it.

AIMEE DUTKIEWICZ: Really, you like it?

REP. HAMM: Oh, the caseload's very helpful from other jurisdictions.

AIMEE DUTKIEWICZ: So I'm very glad. Tommy's done a great deal. He's been an amazing advocate. He's done an amazing job. He's an amazing man. I was married to him for 22 years. I still love him in a lot of ways, but the fallout of our intervention that followed up the death of our daughter.

He was 1 pound 4 ounces at birth, born at 26 weeks.

All the traumas that we went through and throughout DCF just really -- they were extremely unkind to us. And I honestly have to tell you, I'm really thrilled at this Barbara Clair thing because I promised her she'd get her day. And now I'm just sitting back going, Honey, it's all yours.

So, again, thank you very much for taking the time to listen to us, and I also want to thank my son, Garth, for his patience. This has been difficult for him, and he did good. So thank you, folks.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Thank you for waiting all day.

Paul Norton. Good evening, sir.

PAUL NORTON: Good evening. Well, thanks for having us here. And my name is Paul Norton. I am a resident of Plymouth. And Senator Harp's office had called me a few days ago and suggested that I get myself down here and testify so, you know, it's been interesting. There's been a lot of great speakers here and very knowledgeable. And thank you, Representative Walker, for sticking all the way through.

This is not only about a 15-month ordeal of injustice. It is one citizen's observation of the operations of Connecticut DCF and their supportive apparatus.

DCF action gave my sister, Linda's children to a jealous interfering family member, a foster parent connected to the local DCF office.

DCF support comes from, at this moment, six attorneys, including four who are court appointed, all but one paid for by the State of Connecticut. That's one juvenile matters case involving two twin teenager girls.

Operationally, the attorneys players have propped up the allegations of emotional neglect launching juvenile matters, absent any criminal charges of abuse and neglect. DCF has sabotaged Linda's attempts at child contact, visitation, reunification after the attempts to have Linda give up her family support: Myself and my mother and other family members, two other brothers, who support Linda. They -- after that failed, part of that is they wanted her to sign her rights away, and she wouldn't and we did not want her to do that. They falsely stated in a permanency plan that she had not complied with counseling. Her court-appointed attorneys refused to correct the record. They have also attempted to criminalize Linda's contact by colluding with foster parents -- foster parent, lodging a restraining order complaint in family matters court.

In Linda's case, in family court, judges conspired with foster parents and DCF to remove parental rights outside of the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Matters Court. In that initiative, DCF and court officials did, in fact, criminalize Linda's conduct by taking -- issuing restraining orders without evidentiary hearing outside of the statutory requirements of the State of Connecticut.

Faced with a valid jurisdictional motion to dismiss, they transferred it to Juvenile Matters to ensure secrecy because it's closed proceedings. The judge at Juvenile Matters finally removed the restraining order after I filed a grievance violation against one of Linda's attorneys and I cited judicial and attorney misconduct. Even still, Linda was charged with breaking the stay-away twice for delivering gifts to the foster parents' house.

Add two more attorneys, the criminal public defender now and the prosecutor so you have eight attorneys directly involved. The bureaucracy in the courts we heard the bureau-speak from Tom Gilman earlier is both executive and judicial. The 2000 Act concerning the Commission of Child Protection empowered a, quote, multidisciplinary approach. Attorneys and service provider counselors now determine the worthiness of restoring parental rights, not the Court.

Watchdogs are made criminal if they disclose facts in the, I believe, it's the 2007 law and you heard the previous speaker talk about that. Court-appointed contract attorneys lack the due diligence and professional conduct and legal representation. Now this is important. The conflict of interest exists and the chief child protection attorneys office. They oversee and hire the attorneys for both children and parents. Another one lies within forcing contractual obligations of the attorney -- attorneys. And you heard a previous speaker speak on that, Connecticut Attorney General's office represents Connecticut DCF in legal proceedings in JM courts against parents. Any breach of contract by a parent or child's court-appointed attorney has no legal oversight by the AG because that office represents the opposing party in adversarial legal proceedings.

Who is out there protecting the contractual interest of the state taxpayers here, the citizens of this state? Very serious issue. You heard the whistleblowers in the state police give testimony in the beginning of this year. One very well-thought out academically inclined state officer brought out the same point. What the heck is going on here in the legislative body that they can't oversight the constitutional requirements of the AG and, at the same time, address the conflicts in response -- in administrative responsibility?

I want to say that Connecticut DCF is the $900 million gorilla in the room. It is an agency more concerned with predetermined outcomes for the family than parental rights. Present safeguards are not receptive to widespread abuse of power demonstrated. Connecticut DCF Ombudsman's Office is ineffectual in oversight and should be disbanded despite their attempts at enlisting a poster child to put the face on their office to say that they're doing something constructive.

It's really time that we see through, and I have one more short paragraph, and thanks for bearing with me. It's late in the day. I've heard most of the testimony. I became energized especially from Gwen earlier. You know, I look forward to conversing with some of you lawmakers, and just to add I was trained at University of Connecticut 1999 through 2001 political science student, bachelor's degree. Fought with all my professors, was called on the carpet by the dean's office, just about every week. And I went out holding my head high with friends of all my professors, very respected, and I respect them immensely. And they provided me with the education to do what I do.

In addition, after my observation of the attorney involvement in DCF matters has led me to believe that there is a thriving contractual business by attorneys, provided they go along with the operations of DCF. In order to prevent collusion and professional misconduct by these attorneys, it may be necessary to limit the amount of such work by contract attorneys working for the chief child protection office -- attorney office. And they're, as I understand it, under the public defender's purview, perhaps under 40 percent. In addition, no attorney who represents children should be able to represent parents out of the same office.

In closing, I have conversed with and observed many attorneys over the past 15 months involved in this matter and observed an ambivalence to laws, regulations, standing orders by judges and contractual obligations required by the State of Connecticut. It's of great importance that Legislators protect citizens' interest in like matters, and thank you very much.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Thank you, Mr. Norton.

Any question from committee members?

Thank you, sir. We appreciate your testimony.

PAUL NORTON: Thanks for having me, and you have my written testimony, too, and pass it on.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Yes, sir.

PAUL NORTON: Thanks.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Laura DeAngelo.

LAURA DEANGELO: My name is Laura DeAngelo. I am the parent of a child on the autism spectrum. I am also an RDI Program Certified Consultant and an educational advocate for children with autism. I own and operate a business called Autism Family Services, LLC, located in Avon. I am not a DCF employee, but I am a service provider for the DCF voluntary services program.

You all have my written testimony, which is quite a bit longer, so I'm going to try and keep my remarks brief and just summarize what I said in my written testimony.

The topic I would like to speak to you about today is choice in autism interventions for families served by DCF Voluntary Services. If a family is eligible for voluntary services because of their autistic child's behavioral or emotional issues, most do not have a choice in the type of services they receive.

There is usually only one service model offered, a direct therapy model based on the applied behavior analysis or ABA model. The bottom line is that sometimes this method works for controlling problem behaviors, and sometimes it does not work.

In addition, there are some serious shortcomings with this method, including: Number one, a high level of resource intensity, that is, therapist hours required to achieve results in many or most cases; number two, disruption of the family dynamic due to frequent presence of the therapist in the home; and, number three, little or no focus on the family system; and, number four, little or no parenting education and training specific to the issues of parenting a child with autism.

In the current economic climate, the State's financial resources to assist these children are limited. While more and more children with these needs are entering the DCF voluntary system, clearly, DCF must emphasize autism treatment protocols that use resources efficiently, are effective in addressing the problem behaviors, target the core issues behind the behaviors, consider the family dynamic and work to improve it, and train and educate parents to manage the behaviors and work on the core issues on an ongoing basis.

There is an alternative available. Relationship Development Intervention, or RDI, is a trademarked program of autism intervention. It is a parent-centered home-based approach. That targets the core deficit areas of autism that underlie the problem behaviors.

The program is administered by an RDI program certified consultant who does not work directly with the child, but rather train and coaches parents in how to communicate with, interact with, and parent their children in the course of their everyday lives in a manner that both reduce the's behaviors and remediates the core issues of the autism.

This model provides the following advantages: Number one, cost savings to the system, since RDI programs, typically, only involve about two hours per week of consultant services; number two, emphasis on empowering parents and improving the family dynamic; number three, targeting the core issues behind the behaviors; and, number four, reducing or eliminating the need for outside services since parents, themselves, are given the tools to help their own child.

All parents of children with autism who were approved for DCF voluntary services should be provided with information about RDI and should be encouraged to consider it in place of direct therapy, ABA-based services.

Thank you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Thank you. I've never heard of the RDI. I'm very interested in that. Over the last couple of years, we've done a lot of bills around autism and providing services. Where are some of these providers located?

LAURA DEANGELO: Well, as I said before, they're -- I am one of them. There are six in the state. I, currently, do service a family through voluntary services. I provide a program to them, an RDI program to them. But the way the current system works, there is a direct contractor with DCF who is not trained in RDI. She -- they are trained in the ABA direct therapy model. That is what they know. That's the only method that they know so that is what they deliver to families.

If that model doesn't happen to work or if families happen to know about this alternative model and ask for it specifically, then they ask this provider. Sometimes the provider says, Well, ABA's not working so maybe we should try RDI.

But my point is families when they come into the system should know that there are choices available, and the families should know what the components are and what each of the programs involves.

This is just such a great program for parent empowerment, efficient use of resources in the system. It's just -- I just -- I, actually -- we've been using it in my own family for my own son. I was trained in it as a parent. And the changes in him have just been tremendous.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: So RDI, more or less, teaches parents how to do the therapies with their kids?

LAURA DEANGELO: Yes.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: But it's not a substitute, though, correct me if I'm wrong, it's not a substitute for ABA because isn't ABA the applied behavioral analysis a type of teaching, which is something that I feel personally that our special needs teachers should be equipped with?

LAURA DEANGELO: It depends on what your goals are.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Okay.

LAURA DEANGELO: The goals of -- when a child enters the DCF voluntary services system with autism, it's because there are behavioral or emotional problems that need to be dealt with. Now, they could be dealt with -- by having behavior analysts come in and teach the kids skills to control the behaviors, or they could be taught in more systematic ways. They could be -- they could, for example, parenting training, looking at the family dynamic, looking at the ways the family communicates with the child, the types of limits that they set with the child, whether they give in to the child, that type of thing.

ABA is a great method if you want to teach academic skills to a child in a way that you, you know, break down the skills. It's a great method for school programs, but that's really not what you want to accomplish when a child comes into the DCF voluntary program. You really want the behavior and emotional control, and that's really what this program is great at.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Is there -- I was just looking over your testimony quickly. I apologize that I haven't had time to read through it, but is your contact information on here? I didn't see it.

LAURA DEANGELO: I didn't put it on there.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Okay. Could you please give it to the clerk.

LAURA DEANGELO: Yes.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Because I'd be very interested in --

LAURA DEANGELO: Sure.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: -- having a conversation with you around this issue.

LAURA DEANGELO: I'd be glad to meet with you. Sure.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Great.

Any questions from committee members?

Representative Mushinsky.

REP. MUSHINSKY: Yes. Just a technical question. If you evaluate, you know, if you recommend this new system, obviously, people will say, well, you make money doing this yourself --

LAURA DEANGELO: Yes, yes.

REP. MUSHINSKY: -- so, maybe we need an outside source to evaluate it. So is there an outside source that has looked at the validity of this method?

LAURA DEANGELO: It is -- it's true that I am now in the business of providing this service as well as other services, such as educational advocacy. The -- are you asking if there's research?

REP. MUSHINSKY: Yes, I am, and if there isn't, I'm recommending that you have somebody from outside do a comparison, because that would, you know, if you're trying to get a department to change policy based on real facts, you're casting doubt on your method when you, yourself, are a person that earns a living that way. So the best way to have a -- have the method, if you really believe it is effective, the best way to have it become part of the offerings of the department is to have an outside evaluator look at it. You could have, you know, maybe a foundation take a look at it, independently.

LAURA DEANGELO: Well, the service is already offered through --

REP. MUSHINSKY: Center for disease control, someone who's a professional.

LAURA DEANGELO: It's already offered through the department. I already serve a family and I've served families in the past providing this service.

REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay.

LAURA DEANGELO: It's just -- we could talk about it more later, but it's the way the system is set up that the -- there is a general contractor who, basically, administers all of the business that comes through the Hartford office. I don't even know if other offices have this service available at all. It's a newer type of intervention, and I'll be happy to talk to you about it later and provide you with the research on it. And it --

Actually, I've got to say that I was -- before I went and trained in this method, myself, I was a parent involved in this method for many years. I started a RDI parent support group. I was a person who recommended this therapy for many parents and sent many parents to these consultants because I thought it was such a great method. And I just said to my husband one day, This works so great for my son, I think I want to go and get the training myself so I can help other parents.

So, you know, I want to -- this sounds kind of trite. The money doesn't matter to me. I just want access to the families so I can work with the families because I think it's such a great therapy and it's so empowering.

REP. MUSHINSKY: No, I know you're sincere. I'm just saying that when you're trying to convince a bureaucracy to try a technique, it's a good idea to have an outside unbiased study look at the two techniques to compare.

LAURA DEANGELO: Right. Yeah. We could definitely talk more, and I can show you the data or have somebody look at the data from the families that I've worked with and other people I worked with.

REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Thank you very much.

Any other committee members have questions?

Thank you very much.

LAURA DEANGELO: Okay.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: We appreciate it.

Lisa Lessard.

LISA LESSARD: Hello. My name is Lisa Lessard. And my daughter Michaela is in the audience. I asked her to come up. She's being shy right now.

So the reason why I'm here, basically -- I'm also from Waterbury so I agree with what the gentleman was saying in the back, and I personally want to take this time to thank Gwen. I know she had to go home, but she did an awesome speech. And, yes, us parents do have a voice, and if we speak up more and we help you guys out with what you need, then we can get a lot further with.

I gave you each a testimony. My child is special needs, multihandicapped and disabled. And I, her mother, contacted local DCF office with complaints with the medical care my child was receiving at the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford with her Type 1 diabetes, so this was also the West Hartford DCF office that I have problems with.

My child takes insulin shots during the day to cover her meals, and this school did not do for my child's diabetic health, as should, and was a continuous problem. ASD had professional training within the school for all nurses and everyone involved with my child's care during the day.

Year, after year, after year, nobody was listening to what to do, when to do it, how to do it and how it needed to get done. We had Juvenile Research Diabetes Research Foundation go in, American Diabetes Association go in, medical diabetic doctors go in, nurses go in. We had 18 emergency PPTs in four years -- what to do, when to do it, how to do it and why it needs to get done.

Now to make a long story short, because I know I have a seven-page report here. Basically, I'm glad this is still here that I gave the other lady. My daughter, believe it or not, was sent to Connecticut Children's Medical Center on a certain day because I, the parent, was at school. I saw this travesty. It was not okay. I was donating fabric to the art center -- I'm also a special educational advocate. This hurts me personally, and I don't want another child to go through the personal hell -- I'm sorry -- that this family's been through in the last four years with their neglect.

And, believe it or not, in the year -- this was three years ago, and this is still in progress still by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, Boston office, because it was referred to them by Washington, DC office, federal office, in accordance to. This very date, three years later, they're still haggling with Waterbury what to do with, when to do it it and how to do it when it comes to my daughter's IEP -- IEP HP, 504 plan to follow through the 5-page resolution pages they got in accordance to.

Now, the school got a two-page resolution page from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. And, believe it or not, DCF -- I called them. I will never, ever call DCF for help in any circumstance ever again. I will not tell one parent to, please, go there to get help. The Department of Children and Families are supposed to be there to help, guide and support. My daughter, which nobody can probably tell by looking at her, but she's profoundly deaf in both ears. My daughter has special needs. My daughter has 12 learning disabilities. She's emotionally and psychologically age five or six.

She, basically -- chronologically was age 10 at the time; developmentally 7 or 8. We had three DCF workers come into our house to ask us questions. Now, my daughter didn't know who they were. She didn't even know what DCF was all about because I wanted her to answer truthfully and honestly when they got there so I let her know some people were coming over.

They sat down in the chairs, and they immediately started asking her questions. They did not once -- they had an American sign language interpreter there, thank God, but that interpreter never once asked her if she understood what they were saying to her, not once.

Basically -- I read the DCF legal report. I also have it. It's a travesty. I've sent it to you as Department of Education in Boston. They said excuse me, if they read their own report from page to page, document to document, they will see that time frames don't even add up. Situations do not even add up. People-to-people conversations do not even add up. Did they even read the report they actually wrote? This is a joke -- that's what the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, Nicole, Kate and Colleen, the three federal attorneys said in accordance to.

I went to the Ombudsman. I explained. I talked to him for an hour and 45 minutes on the phone. He said, Ms. Lessard, I'd like to tell you, you're a nice person; you care for your child; everybody should have a parent like you. I said, Really, did you receive the DCF report? Because it says entirely different than what you just stated to me -- that is on my daughter's record now.

I made the report to tell that school was not doing what they needed to do, and I was so careful not to say medical neglect, because they say it's so hard to prove medical neglect.
I, basically, said they weren't doing for my daughter. The doctor said they weren't doing for my daughter.

She had a 36 low blood sugar. Blood sugar normalcy is 80 to 120. The medical paraprofessional -- medical paraprofessional walks her to the office, knocks on the window and says, What do I do? Blood sugar, 36. Oh, I don't know. You have an IEP, individual educational plan.

We've had 18 emergency meetings for PPTs in the last four years. Believe it or not, we have an IEP HP health plan, 504 diabetic care medical management plan. There shouldn't have been one question in any of those people's minds of what to do, when to do it and how to do it. This was outrageous because I asked for intervention from the school nurse, who was in another building, in another facility, and you know what I was told, Ms. Lessard, we told you at PPT that nurse is not coming down to the lower school, you need to bring the child to that nurse. I said, Excuse me, Do you know where that nurse's office is located and how dangerous it is to bring a child with a 36 low blood sugar that far? You have to walk down a corridor, out the door, down a long sidewalk, look both ways for traffic, by a playground, up 21 stairs, down another long sidewalk, take a corner, go into another building, open that door, and walk into the nurses office. That nurse refused. So I told them, being a parent, myself, who got her the four glucose tablets -- which the medical paraprofessional or somebody there should have done -- I, basically made sure she got the apple juice that she needed in accordance to --

(Gap in tape.)

LISA LESSARD: -- ambulance, and almost died from this. And you know what DCF did? They didn't find neglect on the nurse. They didn't find neglect on the medical paraprofessional. They found neglect on the school, and that very day, when they found neglect on the school, they closed the case and nobody returned to school to check on the rest of the children that are still there.

I pulled my daughter out of school immediately. She was in school limbo for eight days, nowhere to go, nowhere to call school, but I was afraid for her safety.

The U.S. Department of Education was afraid for her safety, and that's why I pulled her out of school. And I was told by DCF, You better be careful, because we can always get you for educational neglect. Excuse me. My daughter was getting neglected. They took it upon themselves to basically do nothing.

I call DCF a do-nothing agency. They do not watch over our children. They do not help our children. They do not take my daughter's special needs into effect when they were talking to her. They did not look at her and ask her questions. She has a very short-term memory. She also is five or six emotionally and psychologically. They did not take that into effect. They didn't seem to care.

In the DCF legal reports that I have, it says, Mother was concerned when child was speaking up. All I basically did was, Is she understanding what you said? Could you please repeat or ask her in a tone of voice that she might be able to hear or something.

They sent a DCF supposed nurse that knew about diabetic care. She didn't know about diabetic care. I'm an advocate, a special educational advocate. I myself have basically Type I diabetes. Now, when a nurse calls you from the school, many times -- not once, not twice, but many times, three or four, that I can tell you about -- I'm sorry, your daughter's blood sugar was 45. We forgot to give her the four glucose tablets until two hours later. Is that okay, Ms. Lessard? I said, No, that is not okay. And when I started saying, No, that was not okay and what they needed to do, very calmly, cooly and collectively, they slammed the phone down on me. Now this is okay with the DCF Department, because they don't go back. There's other children in that school that basically are deaf, but they have major medical needs, deafness is not just one of them.

My daughter is now in another school. Believe it or not, she got there going into the sixth grade -- well, she was actually in the fourth grade, at the time, doing first-grade work. Why? Because if you don't get the right, correct diabetic care, what you're supposed to do, you can not get the education you need.

This little girl is motivated. She is strong. She is lovely. She is caring, and she is also traumatized by DCF, because believe it or not, when they came in, she goes, Mommy, they weren't here to help me or to help you. They're here to make us look bad so ASD does not get in trouble for what they did to me. What are they going to do to my friends when I leave there? She's scared for her best friend, Genesis. She's scared for the other kids that are still there.

Those nurses are still there. They are under tenure. I was told, Oh, the supervisor nurse has been there for 28 years. We've had major, many complaints about, but we're going to do nothing about it because everybody in this place feels we're untouchable. We're the only school for the deaf in the whole entire State of Connecticut. That's not acceptable to me. That's not okay. Words are great. Words are fine. Action means more and then following through with that action even means better.

I mean, I don't know how anybody basically could look her in the face and say, What happened to you at ASD? She is deaf. She needs American sign language training from deaf adults and deaf teachers. You can't get that right now, because the nurses there weren't going to carry through with her Type I diabetic care.

We had a medical social worker from Connecticut Children's Medical Center at every PPT with me in the last four years. I will read one thing that the doctor said and then that'll be my last thing. How grateful he was that she was no longer there.

To quote my child's diabetic specialist, Dr. Yates, at Connecticut Children's Medical Center: Thank God the child is out of ASD, in another school, for that nursing staff was completely incompetent. They did not know what they were doing, how they were doing it, and why it was supposed to be getting done.

And we gave them everything. We even gave them charts, like if your blood sugar was low they had a chart to look at in English, but it's pictures. What to do, how to do it and when to do it. So take blood sugar, put finger on stick, so on and so forth. They just couldn't be bothered.

In my daughter's educational record, it said, it's stipulated, and I have proof because I gave it to DCF who basically ignored and didn't do anything with.

One child out of school ASAP. Medical needs for a diabetic child, too enormous for the school to do. Well, the U.S. Department of Education said that ASD, the American school for the Deaf in West Hartford did not give my child the minor adjustments under 504 and Title 2, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and they failed to give her the education that she needed because of, and Waterbury City failed to give my daughter a free appropriate public education under 504 and Title 2 with the American's with Disabilities Act, which is disgraceful.

When I called the Ombudsman's Office and explained it to him, I have such reports, I'd be more than willing to share with you, so on and so forth, no, ma'am, we don't need those reports. We understand. Keep doing what you need to do. You're a great parent. You advocate for your child. Keep doing it for you and for everybody else. That record is there. That record is staying on file.

And to let you know what was so ominous about this, they basically put stuff in that report she never said. They put stuff in that report that I never said, and I saw that DCF report as being nothing but utter lies.

And it was not okay, because basically you're a parent, you feel intimidated, you feel retaliated against, you get harassed. It's not okay and something needs to be done about this. It's not just my child who's gone through this, and it's been four years of personal hell. I'm telling you. President Bush's office knows about it. His wife knows about it. Governor Rell's office knows about it. I'm on the Waterbury Neighborhood Council. I'll be there soon. We have a Christmas party tonight, but this was more important to me, seriously.

I don't understand why -- talk is great, talk is wonderful; action means more; following through means more. Gwen said it perfectly. Us parents do have a voice, us parents need to be heard for the sake of our children because the only one that we're hurting by not doing something is our kids, every child. So, I'm going to repeat something, and Gwen's going to smile on this one: In Africa they state, they don't say hello when they're walking by someone. They say, How are our children today? That is their greeting, how is Connecticut's children today, is what I'm asking. Right now with DCF that we have here, right now, our children are getting harmed, abused. They're coming after us. We make reports to tell them of stuff and then they turn it on us; not okay.

Not good for anybody sitting here. We've been here, it was 9/7. I picked her up at school today. She finally came to the table. I don't think this was fair for my child with what went on. They were at our house for two or three hours. They wrote in the report, Mother had too many knickknacks sitting on shelf. Hello, what does that have to do with anything? I had too many knickknacks, big deal. And they were all in the right thing. They couldn't come up with anything, so they said that. This report, if you read it, you'd be not laughing, you'd be crying because this child is the one they hurt.

It's not okay to her, and because it's not okay to her, it's not okay to me. Being a special educational advocate, please look into, for everybody, I don't want another child or another family to go through what we've been through. And believe it or not, she has 18 doctors. They will all tell you the same thing. DCF does not understand or know, and they're not there for our kids, because they do not ask the right questions or ask what their special abilities that they need them to ask.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Thank you very much for that powerful testimony.

Any questions from committee members? Thank you very much, and thank your daughter for being here too.

LISA LESSARD: Thank you, and God bless.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: We do appreciate it. You too, have a great holiday.

Kimberly Castro.

KIMBERLY CASTRO: Hello everyone. My name is Kimberly Castro.

My name is Kimberly Castro, and I am coping with the loss of my daughter, Chelsey Cruz. My story is one of betrayal in English. She was taken from me forcibly by DCF, not because of my neglect or any wrongdoing or my part. We were played as pawns in a horrific game of control and greed, which ultimately took her life. Our rights were taken away and violated. I was left with my hands tied, and her wishes were ignored.

My story begins with Chelsey, who was a 15-year-old brilliant young lady who attended Capital Preparatory Magnet School. Chelsey was diagnosed with lupus when she was nine years old. She was brave facing the many different procedures and treatments that they gave her up until the time she died. She had been used as a guinea pig, treated with experimental chemotherapy drugs such as Cellsept, Cytoxan, and countless other -- others to manage her lupus. These drugs did not benefit Chelsey in any way.

They caused her kidneys to fail, and I wanted them to be discontinued immediately. They made her sick. They left her drained and were never approved by the FDA to treat lupus, and after -- after several trials, when I disagreed with doctors in Connecticut trying to explain that the medications were making her condition worsen, I requested alternative treatments and second opinions. They reported me to DCF with charges of medical neglect, but all allegations were unsubstantiated.

We sought help from the Boston Children's Medical Center. And at first, they agreed and began to wean her off the medications. She began to look and feel better. However, one fatal visit occurred when a chief doctor came on the scene. He demanded that Chelsey be put back on the experimental medications and threatened to call DCF if I resisted. I asked to seek a second opinion and was immediately dismissed. My daughter was forcibly admitted and guards were placed outside her door, keeping me from my child.

Massachusetts Department of Social Services and the Department of Children and Families in Connecticut worked to entrap us, and an order of temporary custody was obtained in Boston. I was told by the Boston Department of Social Services that I was no longer able to make any medical decisions for Chelsey. I went to the local newspapers with my story, sharing my pain and my hope to gain justice.

The law was not on our side, and months passed before my case came up in Court. I struggled to find a lawyer who would adequately represent me and Chelsey. We were represented by court-appointed lawyers who were not versed in litigating such a complex case which less -- which left us vulnerable and improperly represented.

Chelsey was held in the hospital beyond medical necessity until they placed her with her grandfather. In the meantime, I worked frantically with DCF, the judge and the Attorney General. Chelsey even pleaded with the judge in a letter stating how she felt like she was going to die on the medications. And she begged to come home to me, but no one listened to her cries for help.

Sadly, Chelsey felt like she was in prison. She was, in fact, enslaved to the faulty system and agencies that truly do not seek to benefit the child or the family, but to profit off of them. But that didn't stop me or Chelsey from speaking. We begged them to listen before something awful happened. Chelsey wanted to go to court to explain her concerns, but was not allowed to do so.

She wrote a letter to the judge. Chelsey's words: I don't want to come back to this hospital. I don't want to take these medications anymore. What has to happen for you guys to listen? Do I have to die first for you to listen to me? These words were ignored, and the experimental medications were continued to be administered.

Tragically, these were some of her last words to the doctors at Boston Children's Hospital, to her DCF worker just days before she died. She died without being shown justice, mercy or compassion. No investigations from the State Child Advocacy Commission were shared. No recourse from the judicial system that just dropped the case, but now I am here on behalf to ensure that justice will prevail and this will never happen to any parent or child or family again.

My name is Kimberly Castro, and I'm coping with the loss of my daughter, and I want answers. I want these people to be held accountable for what they've done. My daughter is gone now. She can never be replaced by what these people have done, never. They are ruthless and evil. They lie. They do so many evil, wicked things. It's awful, it's inhuman.

My daughter was gifted all throughout her life, a straight honor student from the time she could academically proceed in school. She -- she was a beautiful child. Her principal, her -- her school social worker, doctors came to the court and -- and testified on behalf of this. They tried to charge me with Munchausen's syndrome saying that I was -- I was mentally incompetent. My daughter was mentally incompetent. They tried to interrogate her with -- with psychiatrists and everything, saying that she was -- she was not mentally competent.

I mean, where is the accountability? Why is this allowed to happen? I've heard so many testimonies today, but at least these people have a chance to get their child back. I never will be able to see my child again.

I called everyone before this happened, if you read the articles. I warned them. I -- we begged these people to just leave us alone and let us go. Let us do what we need to do. They didn't do -- they just and, they have -- they conspired with the doctors all for greed and money. I still receive big medical bills for medicines, as if Chelsey is still in the system. She's been dead almost a year. This is insane. This is crazy. How long are you guys going to let these people get away with this stuff? They need to be held accountable. At the time all this was going on, I was a private contractor for them.

I've been working with children and families for 13 years. My -- my whole life has been working in the field of working with families, mental retarda -- mental retarded population, Department of Mental Health population. I've always worked with people and children and families. I mean, I don't understand how something like this can happen. My daughter was not diagnosed with cancer. She was diagnosed with an immune disorder. Dialysis was keeping her alive. Why were they forcing citoxic drugs on her? They put her in my father's care. They put her in my father's care, and I only got to visit her for two hours a day. How is that helping my child? How is that helping the family? For two hours a day, four days a week when my daughter needed me most, because of me speaking out and exposing what they were doing.

Now I have to always look over my shoulders. I have to look over my shoulders and watch my back, and watch out for my other children because I have to take my other children out of public school, because they conspire even with the school system. This is a wicked system that needs to be, I mean, it needs to be addressed. It needs to be -- it needs to be taken care of. This is crazy. Who -- who do we -- as parents and as civilians, who do we have to come to? Who?

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Well, that's why we're here today, ma'am. And as a mother, my heart goes out to you for your loss. And I know I speak for the whole Committee when I say that, and that's why we're here today to try and find answers, to try and weave through DCF and to see how we can better serve families.

And all I can tell you is that I -- you know, my heart deeply goes out to you and your loss.

Any -- Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: Thank you for your testimony. We cannot give you enough of our sympathy for this circumstance. I have a couple of questions. You have some more children?

KIMBERLY CASTRO: Yes, I do.

REP. WALKER: How many more children do you have?

KIMBERLY CASTRO: Two.

REP. WALKER: You have two more children.

KIMBERLY CASTRO: Boys, yes.

REP. WALKER: How old are they?

KIMBERLY CASTRO: Fourteen and nine.

REP. WALKER: Fourteen and nine. Has DCF been --

KIMBERLY CASTRO: Well, they don't do it -- they don't do it blatantly. They do it, you know, they're passive about it like -- excuse me.

REP. WALKER: That's okay, take a breath.

KIMBERLY CASTRO: My kids are in private school. They're in a Christian school now through my church, and I took them out of the public school system, because during this time that all this was going on, my younger son, I received a call from his teacher, and she stated that my son was receiving counseling at school and did I want this counseling to continue? And I was like, What do you mean? I've never approved of him getting any counseling. I don't even know anything about this.

So I went to the school right away. I drove to the school, like I was there like in 15 minutes after the phone call. I was just a mess. When I got to the school, I demanded to see the school records, and I began to read through his file and they were -- they were collaborating information, false information stating that he was oppositional and defiant. They were, like, labeling him with all this mental health problems and everything, so I was like going crazy, like what is this, so --

REP. WALKER: You've never been contacted about any of the --

KIMBERLY CASTRO: Never. And then when I have --

REP. WALKER: How long was the report? Was it like --

KIMBERLY CASTRO: It was a couple of pages. It was like teachers documenting stuff.

REP. WALKER: For like, six months, five months, a year?

KIMBERLY CASTRO: It was a couple -- it was like a year; more, a little more than that.

REP. WALKER: And you had not been contacted?
KIMBERLY CASTRO: And I have documentation of this.

So when I went to the school system, I mean, when I -- I demanded a meeting with the head of the school system, and I asked them to -- to answer why were they doing this. And in his records it showed that he was one of five children. I don't even have five children. He was one of five children, and he was acting out like this because he was -- he was the youngest child and receiving very little attention at home. I mean, it was just -- it was a nightmare.

My older son, who at the time was in Hartford Learning Corridor, the magnet school in Hartford, he -- he played band. He was on the drum team, and I had went to -- I always pick him up, drive him to school. I don't -- they don't catch the school bus. I know where my kids are all the time.

I went to the school to pick him up, and they didn't know where he was at. And I'm like, What do you mean you don't know where he's at? He was here, you know, he's here playing drum after school. I'm here to get him.

So they're over the intercom, looked for over an hour. While we were looking for him, he was being interrogated by a police officer in the school system with school administration stating that he smacked a teacher in the back of the head after an assembly.

My son said it was a bunch of kids coming out of the assembly, and he -- and he -- you know, the teacher got hit in the back of the head by one of them and she turned around and started pointing at all the students. But to make a long story short, he ended up being interrogated by a police officer and the school administration without them calling me or anything, stating that if he did not agree to smacking this teacher in the back of head -- in the back of the head, he was going to be brought to juvenile. My son --

REP. WALKER: How old was he?

KIMBERLY CASTRO: He was like 11 or 12, and I have documentation of this, e-mail, correspondence and everything.

My son -- I went to the school the next morning, and I went to the school and I was going crazy -- the cop that was there. I addressed her. I said you know, What kind of -- what kind of business is this? Why were you interrogating my son without me being notified? And I was here over an hour yesterday looking for him.

They -- they gave me a letter. They said, All he had to do was sign a statement, but it doesn't even matter. What matters is that why was this happening. Both my children go to separate schools. This is -- this is the kind of stuff that's going on in the school system, you know, and I believe that it was connected with my case.

And -- and also, my daughter, her -- her -- when she died, DCF threw out the case, considered it a moot case because she died, and -- and I mean, no one ever got back to me. No one ever, you know, contacted me about this. I mean, this is crazy.

REP. WALKER: And you also said that you were still getting bills from the hospital.

KIMBERLY CASTRO: Yes. Bills -- very large bills from the hospital. Very large bills, and --

REP. WALKER: Was your daughter under voluntary services?

KIMBERLY CASTRO: No, my daughter wasn't under any services at all. I did all of the care for her. I only got to see the doctors -- she only -- I only brought her to the doctors once a month, and that was to monitor her dialysis and stuff like that.

REP. WALKER: Uh-huh.

KIMBERLY CASTRO: Her and I were trained at home to do home peritoneal dialysis, and we did all of the care at home ourselves. No nursing services, no anything. We never had any involvement with DCF until I told the doctors I no longer wanted her on these treatments because they were not making her well. They were making her ill.

REP. WALKER: I just have one last question. What precipitated DCF to push for these -- for the drugs that they -- I forgot what drugs -- the drugs that you said you wanted to take her off of?

KIMBERLY CASTRO: What precipitated?

REP. WALKER: What started DCF or the hospital to push for the drugs as opposed to the dialysis?

KIMBERLY CASTRO: Actually, Chelsey was diagnosed with lupus and she was on dialysis, I believe, because her kidneys shut down.

REP. WALKER: No. What -- you said that they started to force her to take some medication.

KIMBERLY CASTRO: They -- they -- yeah, she was taking them voluntarily -- we were -- she was being given them voluntarily at first --

REP. WALKER: I got it. Okay.

KIMBERLY CASTRO: -- because that was offered to her for her treatment, but they -- they made her very ill.

REP. WALKER: And she --

KIMBERLY CASTRO: So -- so I started -- I started researching the drugs and found that they, you know, all of the side effects that she was experiencing, this was from the drug so we reported it to the hospital, and they immediately, you know, they started targeting us. They didn't want to hear what we were saying.

The doctors that originally were treating her left off the scene, and then this chief nephrologist came on the scene and he stated he didn't care what -- what FDA was saying or doing --

REP. WALKER: Uh-huh.

KIMBERLY CASTRO: And that he had -- he had trialed over thousands of kids in the United States, and I could check that anywhere on any FDA website and that he was God in the nephrology world, and he call -- DCF tried to substantiate cases against me here twice. They were unsubstantiated after investigations.

REP. WALKER: Uh-huh.

KIMBERLY CASTRO: DCF office advised us to go to Boston, because there's only two children hospitals here in the State of Connecticut that can treat children with lupus under the age of, I believe, 16 it is.

REP. WALKER: Uh-huh.

KIMBERLY CASTRO: So, Chelsey was diagnosed at nine. From the age of nine to the age of 15, we only had to use those two hospitals. We never had any problems with DCF until I said, I no longer want these drugs. You've tried everything under the sun. She's not getting well. I want her off of the drugs.

We went out to Boston. They began weaning her off the drugs. She got well. I have videotape of this. I have pictures. She had a Sweet 15 last year. She was well. Her body was rehabilitating. Her kidneys were starting to function. And they were not happy about this. So, they called Department of Social Services in Boston while we were at a visit, and they seized her there and put guards outside the door, and told me I could not remove her from out of the hospital, and if I did, that they would have me arrested. I was afraid to be arrested because I had two other children, and I -- I went everywhere when I -- I mean, I was frantic. I don't know Boston like that. I'm from Connecticut. I only knew how to get from Connecticut to the hospital.

So they went into court, by the time I got to find out where the court was in Boston, they were already having a -- a hearing, getting an order of temporary custody of my child. But they had already seized her before any trial or hearing was ever done, and they administratively transferred the case back to Connecticut. And I believe they did all of this because they tried to do it here in Connecticut twice, and they were unsuccessful.

So, they went -- they got me -- they called, urged me to go to Boston, so they could get me in another jurisdiction, and then they administratively transferred it back to Connecticut, and they threatened my father who had my daughter temporarily, while all this got hashed out, and my sister that, if they did not follow their rules, that my daughter would be removed from their home and -- and put in a foster home in Boston. This is all documented in the reports.

And they took my daughter, and because my daughter, when the nurses came and gave her the pills and she wouldn't take them, she spit them out, they took her and put her in Boston for four days with us not being able to call her, not being able to visit. My father, nobody could visit her. And she described by being in the hospital for those four days, a guard was placed out of her door, and that psychiatrists came in throughout the day asking her all kinds of questions, and she would not speak to them.

They finally, after -- after we kept contacting our lawyers told -- allowed her to come back on Monday to my dad's home, they -- they let her come back home, but she was terrified. She was absolutely terrified that if she did not swallow the pills, that they would -- they would put her back there again.

So, while she was taking the pills, her stomach grew so big, like she was pregnant, ten months pregnant. The nurses reported this to Boston. They did nothing. I have my daughter -- I have over, like 20 voice mails, my daughter was alive, well, she was able to function, talk, speak, everything. She was able to walk, everything.

They made -- they painted a picture in court, the juvenile court system as if my daughter was gravely ill, and couldn't -- like bedridden or something. That's why they were able to do -- they falsify information.

The nurses who came to the -- that were coming to the house, three agencies dismissed. They would not come because they were not in agreement with forcing her to take something she didn't want. The last agency that they hired finished her off. They killed her.

The first agency that came in decided that they would come to court and testify on behalf of that DCF was doing a lot of wicked stuff, though, the nurse came to court and testified that the GA called her over ten times that night, and threatened her not to come to court to testify. The judge never made a decision. Nothing -- I mean, my daughter died on March 11th, no one ever contacted me. Nobody ever said anything else about this.

I called the child advocate. I called the attorney. I sent certified letters to the Attorney General's Office. I've contacted the Office of Individuals with Disabilities. I've contact -- I mean, I think I've contacted every child advocate agency in the State of Connecticut.

The Attorney General, I have -- I have certified correspondence that they received my letters. The Commissioner, I've contacted everyone. They dismissed my letters, everything, and I have everything. I have all of her medical records. I have phone correspondence, everything that I'm saying I have proof of.

REP. WALKER: Thank you, and I am so sincerely sorry. Thank you.

KIMBERLY CASTRO: Thank you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Thank you for your testimony.

Michael Mackniak.

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: Close. Mackniak.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Mackinak?

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: Mackniak.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Mackniak.

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: Right.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Okay. Sorry about that, sir.

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: No problem.

Thank you, committee members, for this brief opportunity to address you all. I'm here today because I have an idea, and I wanted to share it with you and the folks that are here.

My name is Attorney Michael Mackniak, and I'm the Executive Director of Guardian Ad Litem Services, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) entity with headquarters in Naugatuck, Connecticut.

Our collaborations with Connecticut's Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Probate Court Administration has resulted in the creation of Melissa's Project, a nationally recognized program working with persons with severe and persistent mental illnesses who are maintaining meaningful lives in the community. Our unique combination of monitoring and reporting has demonstrated dramatic reductions in recidivism rates of adults with mental illnesses. Hospital admissions and ER visits are dramatically reduced under our model, and the need for criminal intervention, arrests and incarceration are almost nonexistent.

I have extensive experience in the juvenile court system and in working with the Department of Children and Families. No where is there greater need for a comprehensive, collaborative approach to the delivery of effective services then to the plight of Connecticut's children. Such an approach would ensure that our children and their families are closely assessed, and an individual plan for positive family growth can be designed.

Such an approach would ensure the realistic attainability of such a family plan, and include the goals, dreams, values and cultural interests of each family unit. Such an approach will ensure the active participation of social service agencies which are mandated or contracted providers of services. Such an approach will provide accountability on the part of participants from the service provider community. Such an approach will provide the necessary oversight and accountability of all participants by including an independent monitoring and reporting component. Such an approach will be a proactive, as opposed to reactive. It will keep children and their families outside of the purview of the already overburdened state agencies.

With collaborative approaches, including that which created Melissa's project, we have seen the private sector agencies partner and include state agencies in the most efficient delivery of services to all of our most at-need populations. These collaborations necessarily include the families we seek to assist.

Working closely with families, schools, community organizations, churches, hospitals and other groups, our model will help a comprehensive plan which includes all of the participants along most of life's continuums. Together, collaborative community-based teams will work for the common goals set by each family and careful consideration of their specific needs. Collaborations will be established appropriate to each individualized family plan. Referrals will be made and services will be sought all for the common purposes of maintaining the family unit.

In their article entitled, Pathways from Traumatic Child: Victimization to Delinquency, Dr. Julian Ford, Dr. John Chapman and Judge Michael Mack, all from Connecticut, recognize that the separation of children from their parents or care providers can be, in itself, a traumatic experience. The emotional impact upon these children can contribute to delinquency and further psychological detachment.

In recognizing this, any child who is offered the support and understanding of their emotions and social processing stands a much greater chance of avoiding the pitfalls of trauma and becoming a productive member of our communities. These children, in turn, represent the positive impact that early intervention can and will have and fosters hope in others.

Unfortunately, there have been too many stigmatizing events surrounding DCF, which shrouded, however incorrectly, and a cloud of mistrust and/or apprehension. Most families would go -- who would benefit from comprehensive services offered through DCF would go to any length possible to avoid that agency. Further, accessing voluntary services through state agencies, if viable, is such a daunting task that most individuals are intimidated just by the intake package. Add to this the frustrations of the referral process and the backlog and wait list associated with services, and the result is families in need are simply not availing themselves of potentially useful and fulfilling means of assistance.

The application of a program operating under the Guardian Model, and in participation with the existing state agencies such as the Connecticut Children's Trust, regional children's courts, as well as schools, community organizations and private entities will enable us to identify and take a proactive approach to the assistance of families in need. A partnering program, such as the one described, will minimize, or in some cases, alleviate potential harm which will often require long-term future intervention by DCF, juvenile court systems, DOC and the Department of Mental Health.

The most profound impact on children in need is collaborative -- is a collaborative approach of private sector and state agencies seeking to maintain and empower the family unit. Communication is key in the development of comprehensive, realistic and attainable family plans. Coordination of all agencies, institution and individuals involved in the lives of our children is imperative in ensuring the successful implementation of planning among disparate service providers.

I thank you for your time, and you have my written testimony.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Thank you for your testimony. Do we have a copy of your testimony here?

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: You should.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Okay.

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: Yeah.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Okay. I couldn't seem to find it, but I'm sure it's in the packet.

Any questions from committee members? Representative Mushinsky.

REP. MUSHINSKY: I was thinking about your proposal in regard to the previous speaker.

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: Yes.

REP. MUSHINSKY: When this actually happens and, you know, in real life there are often very strongly held disagreements on medical care by well-meaning people on both sides of the treatment choices.

You know, one who sincerely believes that a child should have this treatment, and another one sincerely believes the child should not have the treatment, but a different treatment, you know, and they're very sincerely held beliefs.

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: Yes.

REP. MUSHINSKY: How could a guardian ad litem help resolve that situation?

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: What we do -- and, again, we're not actually appointed as guardian ad litems through our agency, but we act in the capacity as if we were. What we've been doing is coming in and taking both sides of the issue and presenting them to a responsible agent or -- or a fiduciary. In some cases, a conservator, a guardian, or even to the courts for ultimate decision making.

Acting as an independent third-party monitor, we don't have a dog in the fight, so to speak. So, we're coming in, we're taking all the information that a state agency may have on one side of this coin, and a family may have and family needs, culture diversity, et cetera, and coupling -- and putting them together comprehensively, presenting it as an independent agent, so that an informed decision can be made collaboratively, hopefully, or, if not, a decision can be made by the court of proper jurisdiction for the benefit of the family.

Does that make sense?

REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay. So in the case of this two different advice -- pieces of advice for how to treat -- medically treat a child --

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: Yes.

REP. MUSHINSKY: -- who is at grave risk --

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: Yes.

REP. MUSHINSKY: -- the most likely scenario would be that you would come to a list of recommendations that everyone understood, but then it still might come down to a judge?

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: At times, it may very well. In fact, I would have loved to have been involved on many levels with some of the families that I've heard here today, just for the mere fact of being an independent party and hearing their side of the story as to what was going on.

Many times -- I'm not here to necessarily bash any agencies or anything along those lines. I was an attorney in the juvenile court system for years. I can't tell you how many times clients of mine did not get their bus passes so they could not make it to a visit, so they didn't show up for the visit and they reported it as such.

Had an independent third-party been involved, a simple report could have said, Judge, there was a mistake, something got lost in the mail. The person didn't make the visit, or they didn't make it to their reporting requirement because they didn't get a bus pass. That's a very simple, very tip of the iceberg type of an example, but I think it's indicative of a much broader spectrum of what the monitoring and coordination of communication can do in cases, not only as we're showing for the mentally ill adults in the DMHAS system, but also for children and their families within -- that are caught up in these systems, hopefully, prior to DCF involvement. Such as, those children who are identified through families with service needs petitions, children who are identified through the probate courts whose custody has been changed to another relative or to a grandparent, et cetera.

These -- these children can all be earmarked as potential cases where the involvement of an independent third-party may be able to move the family in a positive direction and avoid some of the stigmatizing issues that we've run into here today.

Thank you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Anyone else with questions? Representative Hamm.

REP. HAMM: I want you to put your GAL hat on.

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: Yes.

REP. HAMM: I have a feeling that one of the reasons that the Castro story is so horrifying and heart-wrenching is that I don't know if a guardian ad litem in the juvenile system or, quite frankly, in the private bar, who would go against the medical advice of both Boston Children's and Yale, and, yet, that is exactly what happened in this case.

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: That's an excellent point. I was thinking the exact same thing.

REP. HAMM: We had a family, who for whatever reasons, philosophically, sincerely, and perhaps, quite rightly, believed through their conscience that they didn't want that child to have that treatment, and the entire medical community disagreed. I think that's what makes it so hard --

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: I agree.

REP. HAMM: -- is because the OTC happened. There was a GAL appointed, the rights were ostensibly protected, and we have a horrific result. But I don't know how good you are or how good I am, but I'd have a hard time going against those kind of medical experts.

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: I agree. And one of the things that we're always very careful to do -- my agency, Melissa's Project acts -- acts essentially as an agent of court-appointed conservator, so we have -- and if not the conservator, the conservator acts as an agent of the Court. So we have that ultimate, how do I say, decision-making body where we can be that person to prevent the testimony. I agree with you, Representative -- Representative Hamm, as an attorney, as having served as a GAL, it's exceptionally difficult to go against the advice of -- especially on a medical case.

However, I will say that my work, my extensive work with mental illnesses and children with mental illnesses, there is a lot of -- let's just say, not as many clean-cut decision-making decisions that need to be made or should be made with regard to the treatment, the progressive treatment plan, a long-term treatment plan. That's not to minimize it, but it's just -- it's much more open for discussion, and so --

REP. HAMM: There's more of a role for advocacy.

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: Excuse me.

REP. HAMM: There's more of a role for advocacy in the conservator area.

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: Yes.

REP. HAMM: Yes.

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: And when you're dealing with mental illnesses, and, unfortunately, I mean, that's an absolute tragic situation. And I agree with you, I don't know how that could have resolved itself except for the fact that if there was a stronger advocate there to say the mother has a point, look at the record. And that's one thing we're very careful about.

We maintain massive amounts of records of treatment for -- for many years to show that, hey, this has been tried before; this doesn't work. Or, let's say this girl starts going through this type of decompensation, we can say, if she starts going through this, X is the right proscription, don't try Y. Just various types of experiences will bring on knowledge that can be shared, not only with the team, but we can share this information with Boston. We can share this information with Hartford.

And there's -- that kind of communication is invaluable in many, many of these cases. And that's what we're discu -- kind of what we're discussing in terms of programming development right now.

REP. HAMM: Thank you.

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: Thank you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Any other questions? Thank you sir, for your testimony. We appreciate it.

MICHAEL MACKNIAK: Thank you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Jamie Matunas. No.

Helena Bowen. Angel Perez. Go ahead.

A VOICE: (Inaudible.)

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Yes, this is what Peter gave me.

A VOICE: Number 107.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Okay. That wasn't with the children part of it. Jeanie.

JEANIE PHILLIPS: Phyllis Parmalee.

PHYLLIS PARMALEE: Okay.

JEANIE PHILLIPS: The Santa Marias have all gone.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Okay.

JEANIE PHILLIPS: I had them as separate.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Okay. So Phyllis Parmalee.

PHYLLIS PARMALEE: Thank you. I'm Phyllis Parmalee. I am the parent of two autistic children who have behavior problems.

I just want to start off by saying that I'm really nervous right now, and not just speaking in front of you, but I missed a 5:30 in-home therapy appointment, and talking about retribution, that is one that I am afraid of right now. Also, the probate judge informed -- because she's the one that told me to be here -- informed our caseworker and her supervisor and their attorney yesterday at our probate hearing that I was going to be here today, because she is appalled at how we've been treated for the last four years.

Laura D'Angelo previously spoke about how when families who have children on the spectrum are only allowed one treatment choice. We aren't even allowed that, and we're not allowed that because of where we live.

We have to go through the New Britain regional office. I was told by our caseworker originally that the reason why they we were being denied services that would help my children is because they're -- they had a meeting in March, and it was decided by the AGR that there were too many children on the spectrum, and they were to not contract anymore with the service providers that were providing those services, and that they were to work on closing out the current cases that they had. I also have this in writing from the supervisor.

Representative Hamm talked about communication issues. Out of 17 e-mails that I have sent to both our caseworker and our supervisor -- all of which have been read because I have it set up to get automatic read receipts when they are read -- I received seven responses, four from the supervisor, three from our caseworker.

Typically, when we get calls is right before a probate hearing. Actually yesterday, we had our probate hearing. I got a call from our caseworker a couple hours before.

We started with the voluntary care services back in 2005. I have -- both my children are in the school system with special education. They have severe behavioral problems. And our first caseworker, who we had through 2007, actually dismissed our case right after my son had a suicide threat, saying that -- since my son, it was being recommended that he go into an extended day treatment program, DCF would no longer be paying for any types of services, even though I have another child at home that was in need of services. And so, they were closing out the case and referring us to care coordination.

We had care coordination for three months. That was during the summer, when we were not getting any other services, so care coordination was providing the bulk of the services for the summer. Basically, it was intensive babysitting for my kids, and we were told at the end of the summer before school started, that we have reached our lifetime family cap of flex funds. They could no longer help us.

Last year, my younger son, nine years old, was restrained 37 times in school. He was locked in the janitors closet for almost three hours. I begged my older son, who was punching holes in the walls, he was biting himself, his arms were --

(Gap in tape.)

PHYLLIS PARMELEE: -- in May. Since May, we've had a respite worker for one son. A few hours a week, she takes him to Dick's Sporting Goods to shop for her son, the pet store. We asked to have that changed to a new service provider.

And the in-home therapy that was supposed to start, it started three weeks ago, and it's not even an appropriate service. We originally had IICAPS years ago. It was not effective. You asked someone also about that previously. It was not effective. We were told when we got -- reapplied, that that was the only service we were going to be allowed this time, or we would have to choose to deny services. We fought with the -- we went to the probate court, and she agreed with us. It was not an appropriate service. She gave a mandate to DCF to go back and find us appropriate services.

She even asked if we could transfer to another office. If we lived in Hartford, if we lived in Manchester, if we lived any place else in Connecticut other than having to go through the New Britain office, we would be getting either some type of ABA or RDI, or intensive -- some type of parent training. We're not even getting that. We're getting service providers that come out and do not understand children who are on the autistic spectrum. They're trying to do cognitive therapies with children who don't understand that, can't understand those concepts.

I asked for a parent educator. I begged for a parent educator. We were sent someone who spent the entire time complaining about the DCF and care coordination staff and said, You wouldn't believe some of the things that they're saying about you. And our staff meetings, they're not even allowing me to go to PBT meetings with you. They're telling me, if I go, I will be removed from your case. Shortly after she was removed.

Our original first caseworker that told us the reason why we were being denied is because there were so many kids on the spectrum. When I brought that -- when I asked the supervisor about that, I received a letter in the mail that that caseworker was no longer a caseworker and we were getting reassigned a new caseworker.

What I was told by the supervisor is that because there is no statewide -- the regional offices are not mandated statewide to provide specific services, each regional director is allowed to choose which services they see fit to provide to families. I wrote a letter to the Commissioner. I also forwarded it to the Ombudsman's Office. My letter was forwarded back from the Commissioner's Office to the New Britain office to handle. I was given the same response because it was the same office that was denying me. I never heard from the Commissioner or the Ombudsman's Office. I got a copy back of my letter and a response to that letter from the New Britain Office Regional Director. You have my written testimony.

We actually found a counselor that we were seeing in 2007 that was wonderful for my family. First, he understood autistic children, lightbulbs were going off. He stopped accepting insurance in September of 2007, and DCF told us they do not do clinical therapeutic counseling. They don't help families to access those services.

My -- last year, when I made an appointment to come up here and -- and talk to our representatives at the capital and the school found out about it, a DCF complaint was filed against my nine-year-old son. The police were called on him. He was brought to CCMC. CCMC said, What do you want us to do about that?

He was locked in the janitor's closet for three hours. When we asked care coordination for help, they sent FAVOR, FAVOR -- the director, Yvonne, of care coordination who was with us when we went to probate last time, when we were denied, when my son committed -- tried to commit suicide, she actually walked into the PBT meeting and said, Mrs. Parmalee likes to focus on the negative. We want you to know that we feel the school is doing everything they can. This was right after my son was locked in a closet for three hours with no ventilation, no rug, shelves on -- it was a janitor's closet. That's what it was.

And the advocate had first walked in there and said, This is appalling. And then after a ten-minute conversation with the principal, changed her mind.

So, like I said, you have my -- I do want to say, yesterday DCF showed up with their attorney to our probate hearing, and the attorney looked me in the eye and said, You have two children; we have 24. That's what she said to me in front of the judge. The judge was appalled. And, like I said, that she was the one that encouraged me to be here along with Representative Giannaros.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Wow. You know, the testimony that you give is just unbelievable what DCF is doing to these children. And do you think it's because in New Britain they're overwhelmed with autistic children, that you're not getting the services --

PHYLLIS PARMALEE: No, what they --

REP. ABERCROMBIE: -- because you made the comment that you would get better services if you were in another district.

PHYLLIS PARMELEE: There are -- I belong -- I am very heavily involved in the autism community. I'm on the Autism Speaks Advocacy Committee, I'm on the Autism Speaks Walk Committee. I am in constant contact with other families who are dealing with similar issues. Many of them have told me, and they live in different areas and go through different offices, that they are receiving and have been approved, one just a month ago, for the services that my family is being denied.

I was told by the area director in New Britain that each office -- when I asked her, I said, Okay. So why are people going through Manchester getting approved for services? Why are people that are going through Hartford getting approved? She said that what the original caseworker told me was wrong. It's not because there are so many children on the spectrum. She said that there are no DCF-credentialed therapists in Connecticut that practice ABA, or any type of in-home behavioral supports that we would need that my children can access and that would help them to stay in the home. We are in danger of my older son having to be hospitalized, and this is a first honor high school student, who has the potential to be anything he wants to be if we could get his behaviors under control.

She told us, it's up to each individual director to decide whether or not they want to go with uncredentialed people. There is flex funds that they can use for that. And the DCF, the New Britain office has decided that they are not going to do that.

The judge asked her if then they could transfer our case to another office, transfer the funds, do whatever they need to do, so that we can get those services, and we were told, no, that they cannot do that.

So, it is, depending on where we live in the state, whether or not we can access those services. I would have to pick up my family and move to another town in order to get those services. And that's not fair. That's discrimination in my mind.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: No, you're absolutely right with that. Did you say Representative Giannaros is working with you on this?

PHYLLIS PARMELEE: Yes. We have been in constant contact with him since my son was locked in the janitor's closet last year. I actually came up here and met with Representative Giannaros, Representative Fleischmann and a couple people from the Education Committee, and he actually went back, Representative Giannaros, and talked with the superintendent of the school and did help immensely with the conditions at the school.

My son is self-contained now, working towards getting back in the classroom, my nine-year-old son, and he is absolutely -- he's doing wonderfully. I went from having calls every single day to come get my son. I couldn't even -- I can't even work out of the home, because I'm on call 2/47. If the school calls, I need to come or they call DCF or the police.

Two, I haven't had a call since the beginning of the school year. So he is doing wonderful in school. My other son, every day is a battle and, you know, I sit there and I say, every day, Okay, help's going to come tomorrow. Help's going to come tomorrow. And it doesn't come. I cried to my DCF worker.

There was actually a breach of confidentiality. I never got an apology from the supervisor or from the caseworker. We brought it up again in Probate Court yesterday, not even the attorney apologized to me. None of them apologized to me. They said, Well, you know, it wasn't that severe. Nothing happened.

Well, it could have been anyone that contacted my son. It happened to have been -- or contacted them. It happened to be Laura D'Angelo wanting to help our family, but I didn't give permission for that. I didn't, you know, I mean, and I don't blame Laura. She was trying to help our family, but you don't talk to somebody you have no idea, and give them personal information, an e-mail that I sent to our caseworker and her supervisor begging for help and talking about concerns I had with the respite worker that was working with my son, and sent it to someone that you don't even know, is not connected to our case, has absolutely no signature on file that it's okay to talk to this person, and then not even apologize for that happening.

You know, like I said, it could have been anyone. It could have been the school. It could have been anyone.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: Just quickly, what is ABA?

PHYLLIS PARMELEE: ABA is Applied Behavioral Analysis. It is a proven methodology with children on the spectrum. Now my son -- my children are very high functioning. They have IQs in the 130's, and that's the big issue here in Connecticut. And my family isn't the only one that falls into this issue. My children don't qualify for DDF services because their IQs are too high.

Half the therapies that my kids need that will help them, insurance doesn't cover. Even the new bill -- the new law that passed, my husband works for a big insurance company. It doesn't even apply to us because they're ERISA controlled. We can't -- the school won't give us the therapies, because it's out of school. It's in-home. It's necessary. They agree it's necessary, but they will only provide the services that happen in the school.

So we're left with no other alternative, but to go to DCF Voluntary Care Service. I wasn't even aware today that if you have a case in Voluntary Care Services, out of retribution, they can come and take your kids. I'm hearing stories of families losing their kids because they originally went to Voluntary Care Services. I'm terrified right now.

And I -- you know, I don't know at this point, and I fear my son -- my older son is in his first year of high school. And I am so proud of him, but if we can't get his behaviors under control, I really -- we had to call 911 Monday night for the first time on him.

I've called EMPS the last four times and that's what DCF tells me to do. Call EMPS. I've called EMPS. The last four times I called them, we received no help. The first time we got a call two hours later. The second time, we got a call the next day. We kept saying, Okay, the emergency person will call you right back, because you have to go through whoever answers the phone and then they call -- they have the therapist contact you. The last -- this last two times -- the third time I was told, because we were with care coordination, EMPS could not help us. We had to call 911.

The fourth time we were told, I'm sorry, we can't help you. We don't know what you want. They called back an hour later, when I was curled up in the bathroom in tears because I didn't know what else to do for my son. Thankfully, he had cried himself and meltdown -- you know, had a meltdown to the point where he finally fell asleep. By the time they called, I said, He's sleeping now. You know, there's not -- and they said, you know, We apologize. You know, they should never have said to you that we can't help you.

So, I can't call EMPS, because they're not there for us. I -- like I said, I don't -- I don't know -- even their doctors are appalled. They've made recommendations to DCF that are ignored. The school has made recommendations. You know, we've, like I said, I go to the Commissioner's Office and my letters get forwarded back to the office we're having a problem with.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Representative Mushinsky.

REP. MUSHINSKY: You have a support group of parents, right?

PHYLLIS PARMELEE: Uh-huh.

REP. MUSHINSKY: And they all talk to each other, they're all networked?

PHYLLIS PARMELEE: Yes.

REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay. Has the support group, as a group, asked to meet with the Commissioner?

PHYLLIS PARMELEE: Not that I'm aware of. I know that -- and I don't know. I know that as part of the Autism Speaks Advocacy Committee, that is something that they are looking into because now they are being told, and more and more families are getting denied services, and families that currently have services, their cases are being closed out, and it's clearly evident that they should not be closed out. So more and more parents are banding together, and I think as part of that committee, that is something that is going to be addressed.

REP. MUSHINSKY: I would just recommend that, you know, while we're mulling over what to do up here, but if your network would group together, see if you are in consensus about --

PHYLLIS PARMELEE: Oh, yeah.

REP. MUSHINSKY: -- what the offering should be to parents, and then the whole group of you go meet with the Commissioner, have a sit-down, you know, and a couple of your best people be the articulate spokespersons for the change in policy that you want. And I think that will make some difference if there's like 40 or 50 parents there who have all agreed on their list of things that should be offered in advance. And then when you talk to the Commissioner and your presenters say, Well, here's our list, and we would all be better off if you would adopt this as a policy.

So, I'm just going to suggest that, that, you know, people come in here and they're just exhausted because they spend most of their day fighting with somebody, and actually, it would probably work better if you were an organized group, and you would get strength from each other, and you would get some consensus. And then you can make a really powerful pitch to the agency and to the legislative committees. Because at some point, you might come in here, so that's another reason why you should be organized.

PHYLLIS PARMELEE: I do want to recommend -- and I brought this up with Representative Harris -- I mean, not Harris, I'm sorry, Giannaros -- he agreed and he also asked me to speak with Representative -- Senator Harris. I think there needs to be a program review of DCF Voluntary Care Services. It -- like I said, I mean, the issues we had with the previous case manager back in 2005 through 2007, he visited us four times in the one and a half years that we had those services. He needed frequent reminders to contact service providers, ignored our requests. Then we went to, you know, when we finally got a caseworker that was starting to listen to me and was requesting that we get those services, and actually told me that her supervisor approved us for 40 hours, and then a week later said she changed her mind, she was suddenly removed to our -- from our case after she told us that she was told there was just too many kids on the spectrum to receive those services.

Now we have a caseworker who doesn't return e-mails, doesn't return phone calls, not even ours, but any of our, you know, doctors and agencies and things like that, their calls are not getting answered and not getting responded to.

The actual therapist that they're sending out to our home tried to contact them because the respite workers that are supposed to be starting for my sons, they're waiting for the payment contracts from DCF. She was there. They were out to our home last Thursday, left a voice mail right there in front of me to our caseworker saying, We're still waiting for those papers. And then when I talked to her Monday night, when I had called 911, she said, We still have not heard from DCF, you know, your caseworker. She hasn't returned our call. So that was Thursday night she made the call. Here it is, Monday night, and she still hasn't heard from her. You know, and, meanwhile, everyday is -- is like a battle zone in our home, and we need help.

AVA COHEN: Can I ask a question? I've been a state employee for 25 years. I know a little bit about budgetary issues within departments.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Can you state your name for the record, please?

AVA COHEN: I am Ava Cohen, I'm Elissa's mom. My question is: You have DCF and you have different departments within DCF, and you have Voluntary Care Services, which has different branch offices in different counties, however, there's still voluntary care services and they're still under the main umbrella, I'm assuming of DCF. My question is why isn't there a consistent policy within each office of Voluntary Care Services, budgetarily?

I mean, why is it up to the discretion of the manager or director of, let's say Hartford County to say, We're going to spend our money on these services. But New Britain says, Well, we don't want to do that. We're going to spend them -- why isn't there a blanket policy?

REP. ABERCROMBIE: That's a good question. There should be. Representative Hamm, would you like to respond?

REP. HAMM: I'm trying to struggle through the insurance part of all this, because I think you have gotten caught in the crossfire between our managed care Behavioral Health Partnership services and what they approve as appropriate care, but you're on the Voluntary Care entry into the DCF system.

And the service that you're seeking -- just make sure I'm understanding it right -- that the services that you think will work best for your son are provided by a noncertified provider, which the DCF New Britain office isn't willing to pay for. So is the issue about who pays? In other words, if you could afford it -- and I'm not suggesting that that would be the right answer, but I'm just trying to understand the problem -- if you could afford the services for the noncertified provider, because it works and you believe in it, would we have a problem, or is the struggle to have DCF pay for the use of a noncertified provider?

Does that make sense?

PHYLLIS PARMELEE: It makes sense. We would still have a problem, because that doesn't deal with the issues of the caseworkers who are unprofessionals.

REP. HAMM: Okay. Yes.

PHYLLIS PARMALEE: Who -- like I said, and not just the caseworkers, but their supervisor, the supervisor actually said to the judge yesterday that, Mrs. Parmalee requested a change in caseworker and a -- and a change in supervisor. Well, I'm here to tell you, that ain't going to happen.

REP. HAMM: It won't happen in any case I've been involved in.

PHYLLIS PARMELEE: And -- no. If you -- if you have a supervisor -- now this supervisor, like I said, when -- when the original caseworker in 2007 closed our case and said that it was because my son, he actually lied in the court because by the time we got to court, it was -- my son attempted suicide in February of 2007. I was told that next week, by our caseworker, that our case was being closed. It didn't officially get closed until May of 2007, but we didn't receive any services from DCF from February to May. So, on record, our case was not closed until May of 2007 even though we received no services.

By then, my son had gone through the extended day program. For a temporary period of time, he was stable. Suddenly, they're -- DCF is in the courtroom telling the probate judge, No, the reason why we closed the case is because the Parmalee's, you know, the children are stable. They don't need services. That was not true.

When I begged the caseworker not to close our case the night after my son had tried to kill himself, the caseworker actually said to me, Your children are autistic. They will always be in crisis. That's not what DCF is meant for.

You know, I mean, this is the type of treatment. So that's not a problem that's -- I mean, yeah, if we could access insurance funds or anything to get the services, and it's not just the ABA services, it's any services.

My son was taken out of the Focus Alternative Learning Center that was actually doing good, without even a conversation with me. The caseworker called me and said, Well, we determined it wasn't a useful service. My son still asks me, and that was back in 2007, almost on a monthly basis, Am I ever going to get to go back there? I mean, this was a -- this was a place that was actually helping them. And it has been recommended by not only our doctors, but an independent consultant went into the school a couple months ago with my younger son, his recommendation, he said to me, Have you ever investigated the Focus Alternative Learning Center? I said, Yeah, we've been asking DCF for help with that. They denied it. I brought it up again in court yesterday and DCF -- oh, that never got brought up. It was brought up at the last hearing, so, I mean --

REP. HAMM: Well, that's a separate issue. I'm just trying to understand the logistic part of where the issue is. And the issue is DCF is making a decision through the Behavioral Health Partnership Managed Care System that the service that you need, they're denying care for --

PHYLLIS PARMELEE: In the New Britain office --

REP. HAMM: -- for whatever reason they don't want to pay for.

PHYLLIS PARMELEE: But this is a -- but this is a service --

REP. HAMM: I understand --

PHYLLIS PARMALEE: -- that they provided up until April of this year. There is an agency in Farmington or Plainville called Key Services that was providing those therapies that the New Britain office was utilizing. They stopped their contract with them. And, again, the original caseworker told me because they decided not to ser -- not to contract with those providers anymore that were --

REP. HAMM: No, I understand.

PHYLLIS PARMALEE: -- proving those types of services. Later in court, DCF told the judge, That's not why we stopped. We stopped because Key Services didn't want to work with us anymore. That's not what they originally told me, and that's not what Key Services told me.

So, I mean, it's a different story depending on who you talk to, and meanwhile, you know, my 14-year-old son -- actually my nine-year-old son was afraid, and he's -- you know, when the police have to come to the house after they left, he said, I'm still afraid, you know, that the police are going to take Justin away.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Any other questions from committee members? Thank you for your testimony. We appreciate it.

PHYLLIS PARMALEE: Thank you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Cheryl Martone. Good evening.

CHERYL MARTONE: Good evening. Good evening, what's left of everybody. My name is Cheryl Martone, and I'm formally from Westbrook, Connecticut, and I live in the area still. And this is my witness, Martin Pohl from Clinton, Connecticut. And this is a case of one that's of retaliation from a Westbrook middle school principal.

And I thank you for the privilege to be here. It's an honor. And I have to say that I've sat here all day, and my grandmother went into hospice two days ago, and I feel this is very important that I'm here to testify what the DCF does, collaborates with the educational system. And my mother is also in the hospital, too, in ICU, and she has chronic emphysema. And my mother was an investigator, private investigator when I was growing up, and I know about investigating.

And this is one thing, I am sad, because it should not have to come to this, but, hopefully, I pray to God that you will do what it takes to reorganize or disband the DCF and take away their power to annihilate our precious children's families, because that's what they're doing.

I am being emotionally blackmailed, and they totally, seriously ignore me when I try to get an answer from them. They have made my son and I an emotional train wreck. I have a good home and have been a good parent. I was even a Cub Scout leader for two years. I'm a single parent, and I had to move every year to keep from paying higher rent.

I moved from East Haven six years ago to get away from children and adults bullying my child because my child has a high IQ and has a different way of learning. He was in a private church preschool, and they were -- had a very good program. He was an early reader, and he was writing by the time he was in kindergarten, when he arrived there.

I'm not here to sell my child's abilities and talents. I'm here to attest to the facts that DCF is trying to sell my child on the foster care black market to the highest bidder. I know the foster homes get so many dollars per month per child, and more if the child -- DCF makes the child look like they have a special need, they get twice the amount. My child is in a referral home in Waterford, Connecticut, and does not need to be there.

If I sound like I'm jumping around, it's because I have a lot of stress, serious stress, because of what the DCF did to my child and I.

And if the person from the residential facility is still here, because I know they were here too, I just want to tell them that I love my son very much. We have a very strong bond, and I think that is what is keeping me from having a nervous breakdown because DCF tried very hard to drive you there.

Their mental health structure -- when I was growing up, also, my uncle -- I had an uncle who is the Dean of Psychology at Miami University. He has a Ph.D. This is somebody I should talk with.

Instead of running around in the streets and hanging out with kids, and experimenting with drugs or alcohol or something, I used to sit there and talk with my uncle who had a Ph.D. in psychology, so I know a lot about psychology. I didn't study psychology, but I know a lot about psychology.

I can attest, in fact, that nobody made DCF doctors, nobody made them -- I don't know who made them prescribe mental health treatment plans, okay. I've been deceived by this. I think they have these biased doctors evaluating people that -- from hearing from other testimonies -- that they are paid -- they must be paid a lot of money to write these biased reports.

I feel that I have been deceived by the system, and DCF does not try to work with you. I always feel that they are working against you when they try to tell you to your face that they are there to help, and they never -- and then you never hear from them.

I feel like DCF is stabbing me in the heart. Major disrespect from DCF. Very unprofessional, very unethical. I'm being mentally abused and have been physically abused by what the DCF has done.

In May of this year, they took my son away in March at a trial because I was not allowed to bring any witnesses, and my court-appointed attorney did not bring my witnesses in, and she did not present any evidence; therefore, I feel my child was taken away illegally. Then I had a court order for visitation. They never let me visit with my child. This was in May. And I called the police, because I wanted to have them make a report that the DCF was not allowing me to visit with my child when I had a court order to visit with my child.

And the police came to my DCF office in Middletown, and I tried to make a report peacefully -- and this is my witness -- that I was trying to make the police report peacefully to the police, because they were not letting me visit with my child. My child is devastated that he is not with me. And the police, they told them some serious -- I don't know what they told the police but the police tried to stuff me in an ambulance. They called an ambulance, and they tried to stuff me in an ambulance and beat on me physically. Held me down on a bed and strapped me to the bed.

I don't know why. I still don't know why they tried to make it look like I have a serious mental problem, and I do not. And a lot of people know that I do not have any mental problems. And they're trying to make -- make it look like my son has mental problems, too, and this is very sad what the DCF is doing. They are setting my son up and I for failure, and they have failed us very much.

Clinicians make false reports. Doctors, like this doctor that was here today, Dr. Schaefer is like the ones who make problems for families with their mental behavior system, and the state needs very serious looking at and restructuring to start with. The principal of Westbrook Middle School, Mr. House, blackballed and ganged up on my son because I made a report to the Board of Ed, because all my son needed was a writing tutor.

He is bright and articulate, and they stifled him, and they are still trying to do this to him. I admit I had a truancy problem. My son had a truancy problem because he didn't want to go to school anymore because the principal caused him -- he was harassing my child. And my son didn't want to go to school anymore. They deliberately made him look like he failed in a marking period of 2007. At the end of 2007 he was in sixth grade, I attended 11 funerals in 2007. Three of my family members passed away, and a lot of close friends' parents and stuff like that. And the -- because I was writing reports about what the principal was supposed to be doing for my child's education, they started to harass him at school, and then, I think they fudged his grades.

At the end of his sixth grade in 2007, they were starting to fail him, and he was doing all his school work. I kept up on it. So instead of getting a writing tutor, they brought in somebody who was a forestry major to try to push him along to do writing help, which to me, is not a writing tutor.

We had a PPT meeting to go over criteria for what he needed, and that they agreed with me that he needed a writing tutor, because that's what I suggested, and they brought it up, because I have a lot of scholars in my family. I don't have a medical degree. I don't have an educational degree, but I have a lot of worldly knowledge. I have a lot of friends. My niece -- I have a niece that's a biochemist and she worked at Klein Laboratory at Yale, and I used to help her with her science projects in high school. She graduated summa cum laude from Southern.

This is very difficult for me to be here without my child. Here's my child. They said that I didn't do things for my child. Here's my child. He's a swimmer. He was in Boy Scouts. He was in theater group. Now he's sitting in a residential facility home learning criminal things from other children. He's telling me the other children are teaching him bad things, very, very bad things I wouldn't even never think about doing, like selling cocaine. They're teaching my child how to sell cocaine at a residential -- in a Waterford residential home.

I'm like -- I don't even want to say anything to the DCF because when I try to say something to them, they make -- they take away my visits and they make my life miserable, and my son, he's like, he's becoming a basket case.

His life is being -- has been torn up and turn -- twisted and torn around. I'm sorry to say that I think the whole DCF system -- the whole system is corrupt. It's very corrupt. From what I see, it's very, very corrupt. I've been studying the laws. They seriously violate your constitutional rights. They just interview children without their parents.

The Privacy Act of 1974 says that -- states that no government official or any law enforcement official should interview or question a child without their parent. And they -- I've seen them -- and I've seen them violate this constitutional right several times, not just in my case, in many other cases. And I want to know what legislation is going to do about this?

I don't have a lot of money to afford a big expensive lawyer, so I have to have court-appointed attorneys who do not represent you properly. And I find out that they have this guardian ad litem appointed for my child who last year, I tried to talk to her in the parking lot of juvenile court, and she tried to run me over with her car.

She jumped in her car and sped out and almost ran me over. Her name is Sue Cousino. And she's also on -- I just found out that she's also on the advisory board for the Office of the Child Advocate too, and she's misrepresenting my child's needs and his interests. He's told her several times that he wanted to come home. He doesn't need to be in DCF's custody.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Well, thank you for your testimony, ma'am. We really, really appreciate it. We know how difficult it is for you to be here and to put yourself out there. And that's why we're here today. You know, this is the fourth of a series of hearings. Just to, you know, for us to evaluate DCF and to see where we go from here, so we do appreciate your being here.

Any questions from committee members? Thank you, ma'am for your testimony. We do appreciate it.

CHERYL MARTONE: Appreciate it. I just wanted to say one other thing, that my dad and my sister wanted to be here, but because of my grandmother is in hospice, that they couldn't be here either.

And I just wanted to -- could I just say a few other things, please, that I feel that they're making, trying to make my child at disability. They're trying to make him at risk because I'm a person -- I'm a parent that speaks up. So, the more I speak up, the more things they do against my child and me, and it's very sad. It's very, very sad what they do in this state.

And the plan is for reunification, well, I haven't seen them do anything about reunification. They have done zero. They came to my house once. I've moved since my son went in their custody, and they've only come to my house once. They've shown me no reports. I keep asking them -- asking them for medical reports, psychological reports, all the reports. They have given me nothing. A grade report, that's it, from the school they have him in.

And I was homeschooling him last year. And they're trying to cite me for educational neglect. And I have a lot of scholars in my family, and a lot of people that do -- have done a lot of good things around me and for my son, so I hope the Legislation could do something.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Representative Mushinsky.

REP. MUSHINSKY: How old is your son?

CHERYL MARTONE: He's 13 years old.

REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay. What is the HIPAA law? How does that apply when a son is 13? Do they -- are they not sharing information with you because of the federal HIPAA law?

CHERYL MARTONE: I'm not sure, but I think --

REP. MUSHINSKY: Is it because --

CHERYL MARTONE: -- that parent -- they're -- I think that once you go into court, I feel that parents don't have any rights left. They have none.

REP. MUSHINSKY: I'm just trying to find out why, that's all.

CHERYL MARTONE: I don't know why. They don't tell you. They have -- they have no -- they don't really care. I feel that they don't care. They tell you things, and they just ignore you after that. They tell you that you should get --

REP. MUSHINSKY: Well, at least they should tell you why you can't know. I mean, at minimal, they should at least tell you that. That would be decent. Okay. Well, thank you.

BOB JOHNSON: It's very bizarre all the way around, believe me.

CHERYL MARTONE: My friend here thinks that, he's a -- and by the way, he's a justice of the peace, too, in Clinton, Connecticut -- he thinks this is a travesty of justice, what they're doing. I see them doing a lot of unlawful things, very fraudulent things, and I think they're committing a lot of crimes.

REP. HAMM: Can I just find out where they sent him to?

CHERYL MARTONE: Where is he? He's in Waterford in a residential -- yeah, in the Waterford, I think, country -- is this on the record here? Is this publicized? Yeah, I don't want to, like divulge that. I could tell you later.

So, yeah, I don't want to like, you know --

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Thank you, again, for your testimony. We do appreciate it.

CHERYL MARTONE: I think that the DCF -- I think this Legislation should have a parent investigation. I think they should let parents investigate the DCF.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: That's interesting. Thank you.

CHERYL MARTONE: I'm trying to form a parent group doing that.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Bob Johnson. Good evening, sir. Thank you for being here.

BOB JOHNSON: Good evening. I'm interested in this panel. My name is Bob Johnson. I come in regards to the LDS Church. We represent, probably a million and better, families we try to reunite, and to make sure that most of these families needs are addressed.

Well, the main thing is, is like I said, I've been a witness to the DCF program, and I agree with it's -- it's a nightmare. And the sad part about it is families are being disconnected and children are -- I can't even imagine what a child that's being separated from its family feels. I mean, it's devastating.

And it's even hard talking about it, because when you see that children's rights are being taken away, that drug programs are being implemented that shouldn't be implemented at all, you know, after being on -- seeing this panel and being here, I feel that if I see DCF, the best that I can tell a family is, Lock your doors and windows, because you wouldn't want these people around you. The main -- our main concern is, like I said, the morality and the biblical sense of any family is being taken away here.

Children are -- the last time I talked to a family that they told me that the child was brought to a church, and he was so upset that he started tearing up his Bible, and that's -- that's a big concern to us, okay, that these children are being so abused and so neglected that there should be some -- some justice in the system.

And apparently, as you can see, the children are dying and it's -- it's terrible. It's like -- to really be honest with you, we should write a book. We might have a movie some day on this, but sooner or later justice will prevail, and when it does, there's going to be a lot of people who are going to have to be accountable for this -- these actions, because it's -- it brings tears to your eyes. Excuse me.

When I watched that poor mother, I had to almost walk out. I couldn't -- I couldn't stay here any more, and I hope this panel will really do something or try to do something that justifies this terrible situation. And I think the -- that the, you know -- thank the panel for listening, because, like I said, it's hard to even talk about. But like I said, we do work with families, and we try to give them comfort.

And this new generation, and this new -- what is it -- presidency, hopefully we can -- we start marching in the right direction. And I say these things in His Name.

I thank you.

SENATOR HARRIS: Thank you, sir. Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: I'm sorry. The name of your organization? I didn't get the --

BOB JOHNSON: I'm part of the LDS Church, that's Mormon.

REP. WALKER: Okay. Thank you.

JEANIE PHILLIPS: (Inaudible.)

REP. WALKER: No.

SENATOR HARRIS: If you'd like to leave your contact information with the clerk, you can in case there are any additional questions.
BOB JOHNSON: Okay.

SENATOR HARRIS: I appreciate your patience and your --

BOB JOHNSON: Thank you.

SENATOR HARRIS: -- bravery to come up. Thank you.

Next we have Elizabeth Tapesta, followed by Mary Gary and then Hollister Brown.

MARY GARY: Hello. Good evening. It's been a very long day for all of us.

SENATOR HARRIS: And thank you.

MARY GARY: It's been a very long hearing. I've listened to all 14 hours prior to this on the television and the videos. And I really felt a need to be here to stay till the end for the sake of all the parents that are here, to show them the respect they deserve that they don't feel they're getting from DCF.

Distinguished Representatives and Senators, and all present who have taken time during this busy season to address the concerns that have affected the children of the state of Connecticut. My name is Mary Gary. I am a registered nurse, who worked for 27 years for the State of Connecticut in the Department of Mental Health. I did work at Riverview for four years during that time. I have a master's degree in marriage and family counseling.

For the past eight-and-a-half years I have been a licensed foster parent for the State of Connecticut, working primarily with medically complex children, infants in particular. We did adopt our very first placement. She is a true gift from DCF.

As of this December 15th, DCF accepted my submission of my license to no longer work with the State. Over the past few years, the problems facing foster care and adoption have snowballed and, in my life, it has made it almost impossible to deal with the layers and layers of bureaucracy that the state has now put upon us.

The testimony before this chair has touched upon many of the critical factors impacting negatively on the lives of these children, and their biological families as well as the foster and adoptive parents who are all part of these lives.

I was impressed by the testimony by Attorney Marcia Stone, whom I hold in very high regard. She was the attorney for one of our pre-adoptive children, and for my husband and I had some concerns about the adoption that was going to take place, and this child was going to go to a pre-adoptive home, DCF would not do anything about it. We called her. She was the child's attorney. She went to the home. She investigated the home. She came back to us and reassured us that, even though we felt the situation was not the best for the child, that there were grounds that that child should be adopted. That was what we needed to hear. Each and every foster child that was in our care became our child while they were with us.

I do agree with the testimony she gave and the suggestions she had made. I didn't write them down and bring them with me. I have attempted to recruit many other foster families in the system right now to come, seeing if they would be able to testify. They've been unable to get respite care, have somebody take care of their child. They just had an additional placement put in one woman's home, and her whole family is down sick right now. She was not able to come.

Whenever we get a new little child placement, nobody in the house sleeps for at least about three months. These newborn babies, these little ones, they need that kind of attention and during the night care that the foster parents provide.

When it comes to dealing with the offices for DCF, I have found there is poor communication throughout. There's no accountability. There's fragmentation. The chain of command, you may run into someone who is out on maternity leave. Then you'll be put up to someone who is covering for that person who has no idea what's going on with the case, and it continues that way until nobody is hearing what you're saying.

There -- I have found that as a foster parent, there have been times that I have had needs in my home. If I had had two or more medically complex children to care for and I have offered to take respite for another child, DCF would not give me a babysitter so I can go get the training that I would need to get respite care for these medically complex children. They have many, many demands of you, but they don't provide you with the resources to meet their criteria.

There have been many judicial changes. There are different rotating judges making very, very dramatically different decisions, and the case may look the same from case to case, however, it's very capricious on the part of whoever the judge who is sitting on the case.

I've dealt with social workers who do not follow the regulations for coming for monthly home visits. I've --

(Gap in tape.)

MARY GARY: -- their golden piece of the pie, some of them are. Some of them are fed up with the system. Some of them feel they cannot speak out. They cannot say things truthfully because they're feeling retaliation.

I also feel the suggestions to combine agencies that was made earlier is a good suggestion. The impact of substance abuse has been so profound on DCF, because many of the children that we deal with, that are medically complex, have came from drug-addicted moms. The last child we dealt with, the pediatrician feels there may have been fetal alcohol syndrome, and the child is blind, and the child is on multiple medications.

Therefore, multiple attempts at reunification with these parents when the illness is active and continuing should not be done. We have dealt with parents who have had five and six children taken from them and, yet -- yet, the effort is still made for child number seven to be reunified with the mother, and she is drug addicting.

There's been many, many disruptions. Their constant disruptions has been in the social worker not creating or disseminating treatment plans to work with for everyone to follow, not notifying both the foster families and the workers of changes, such as when reunification has no longer become the goal and termination of parental rights has become a new goal that should not be sprung upon a family.

We came back from vacation -- I had been to a meeting in June. When we came back in July, the three-year-old child that was with us was put on a list for a pre-adoptive placement. I had met with the mother. I had taken the mother on picnics with me, the biological mother, because I was under the impression that reunification had been the goal. Went above and beyond.

The child was taken away from the mother, because the mother was living in a shelter in Meriden. And at that time, a three-year-old or a two-and-a-half-year old in the shelter was very disruptive to the shelter and to her life.

So the child went into foster care, and they tried to find another shelter for the mother, which did not work out. We had that child less than six months and, yet, she already went to a pre-adoptive status. I can't understand that. I didn't think that was supposed to happen.

I have been working with the Connecticut Association of Foster and Adoptive Parents. I recommend them very, very highly. They do provide training for foster parents and adoptive parents. They also work very, very hard to inform us about legislative action such as this. That was how I was able to get the information about what was going on with your committees. And I felt it was very, very important that all foster parents be aware of this, all parents in the state of Connecticut.

I also know -- you were talking earlier about there being out-of-state placements. Children who have reactive attachment disorders, they are sent to Worcester, Massachusetts, because that is supposedly the best place to receive outpatient therapy. I know of foster parents who will take one child out of their three adopted children, and travel once a week to Worcester and back again. All of this is on the onus and the burden of the adoptive parent or the foster parent.

And many, many times it is the foster parent who does adopt. We adopted our first foster placement. And I do fear that at some time, if DCF ever wanted to act capriciously, I could be treated the same as any of these other patients -- clients that have been here; that doctors may make decisions in regard to my daughter's care when she has been in my care, being medically complex, for nine years now.

I think the other component is the State has to help families identify the child's attorney immediately. That's not done. And if parents need to contact the child's attorney, the child's attorney is supposed to be working in the child's best interest. We have had attorneys come to our home, listen to us when we said that we didn't agree with the court decision to send the child back at that time, and we got an extension of three months.

In that three months, that child went from sitting in a chair all the time to being able to walk, to being able to start taking food by mouth. And this was a child that had just been written off by the State. We have a very, very good Birth to Three team that we have been working with, but as I said to you, after these past two months when my last placement was transferred from the Middletown office to the Waterbury office, I had to give up.

SENATOR HARRIS: Ms. Gary, I apologize about cutting you off, and I know you've waited all day and that's why we went well beyond the time, but there are still some others.

MARY GARY: Okay.

SENATOR HARRIS: So, if you conclude and we could continue this conversation outside of the hearing, too, so...

MARY GARY: Well, as far as my conclusion, it is in agreement. You do need an outside monitor, an agency; you do need criteria in treatment plans that need to be followed, need to be measured, need to be judged; and people's working behaviors have to be held accountable to those standards.

Okay. Thank you for your time.

SENATOR HARRIS: Thank you. Thank you very much.

I'm going to read off the remaining names just to see who's here, and then perhaps people can sort of come even up closer to the -- to where the seat is here.

Next we have Hollister Brown. Okay. Mike Manning. Nelly Delgado. Frank Senick. Mr. Senick, okay. That would be followed by Andrea Barta-Reeves, who I do not see here. Nancy Andrews. Chris Kennedy. Okay. Mr. Kennedy, thank you. And I know we have Mr. Watley, who's been patient, also. And then we have some people also -- okay. Thank you. So that's the order that we have.

Good evening. Yes, thanks for your patience.

FRANK SENICK: No problem at all. My name is Frank Senick.

I've come here today -- I've heard a lot about DCF here that, I've really -- never pertain to me. I was kind of, I guess, lucky. I've had lots of hard questions and interviews that I had to go through with them due to my daughter's illness.

She's been diagnosed with early onset of childhood psychosis. We started trying to get her help when she was four. You know, we tried behavioral factors and whatnot, and eventually it ended up at the Children's Medical Center where you would spend, you know, sometimes three, four days before they find a bed for -- for a child, which, I think, is absolutely terrible.

It just doesn't seem like there's enough places to send these kids, you know, when this happens. She's 12 years old now. She just got out of Riverview Hospital, which is one of the reasons why I really wanted to come here and talk.

After two and a half years of her being at Riverview, I got a good look at the people that were there and working there, and things that were done. And, you know, everybody from the security guards, to the lawn maintenance, to the food people, the doctors, the nurses were just outstanding. You know, I know when you talk about money, I don't know whether that figure contains -- because they do have the school there, you know. They have two schools that they go to. You know, they have to have doctors on call, you know, there all the time, and have to be well-trained. And I think part of that money is going to that.

As far as holds and whatnot, it happens. And its happened to my daughter. And I can't explain to you how difficult it is, you know, to walk out of a place as your daughter is screaming and crying for you on the floor while, you know, three or four people are holding her down. You know, they got their facemasks on because she spits and she -- you know, I mean she's just really out of control.

You know, they talk about going to just a nonholding facility, you know, where they just let the kid calm down somewhere, but I don't know how they can do that with the kids hurting themselves, because I know my daughter would hurt herself. I mean, she would find anything on the floor, a take -- you know, a tack, a small nail and she'd put it, you know, push it in her arm or put it in her ear, roll up pieces of paper and put them in her ear. I mean, it's just been terrible.

And like I said, we've been involved with DCF since 2000. You know, it's been eight years now. I don't know whether we've been lucky or what, but like I said, I've been investigated maybe three, four times because of things my daughter said while she was having these -- these psychotic episodes. You know, things like I was trying to kill her or, you know, whatever it may be. And there were some hard questions I had to answer, you know, and it really hurt me to answer them but, you know, we went through it. You know, everything was found inconclusive, and, you know, we would go on.

I mean she'd stay in a hospital for maybe four, five weeks. She's been at St. Francis Hospital. She's been at Natchaug several times. She's been at Institute of Living for a good period of time, and then she went right from the Institute of Living to Riverview Hospital, so that -- and then she was there two-and-a-half years.

She came home last month, and they found a medication that just started working. I mean, it was -- it was one of those miracle drugs that just kind of, you know, she had it for two, three months in her system, and nothing worked, nothing worked. We were about to, you know, sign, get papers put onto the mental institute of -- or the National Institute of Mental Health down in -- whatever Washington or wherever it is, and, but, then all of a sudden, it just started working.

And I'm here just to say about the people at Riverview, they do good things there. I know they're part of DCF. I know they're not the inspectors or whatever, but they do good things there. They love the children.

They -- they have special days for the children, you know, whether it be Spanish day, or African-American day. Then they have, you know, 4th of July parties, and these are the things these kids need. You know, most of them don't have family.

And you could see that they were hurt because, you know, my wife and my son and I would go down to see her, you know, it was pretty much every day but, one day a week. You know, we continued our traditions of Friday family fun night. You know, we would play games and eat pizza every Friday and watch a movie because that was, you know, at home, that's our thing. So we'd do the same thing there. You know, we'd bring in dinner on Sunday, you know, the big dinner my wife would cook up, and we'd bring it up there, and we'd eat in a back room.

But I just can't say enough of the people there. And like I say, I know the amount of money is a big issue. And, again, I don't know whether that -- that counts, you know, for everything like I say, I mean, they do have a school there. They have doctors there. I was just curious if, you know, how it was formulated. I guess nobody knows, but that's really just about it. I just wanted to, you know, let you know that the people there work hard and they love the kids. You know, they'll spend their own money to buy the kids things, come in with gifts for them.

But I guess that's it. I just wanted to let you know the people there are fabulous.

SENATOR HARRIS: Thank you, sir.

Your question was, does the $860,000 per child include everything like the school.

FRANK SENICK: Yeah, because they have two schools there. They have -- they have a lot of stuff there.

SENATOR HARRIS: I toured it this week, actually, and it's my understanding that it does include everything. As a matter of fact --

FRANK SENICK: It kind of makes more sense, right, for that price? I mean, if you're just talking about the care of the child and broke that out, I don't think you'd get that figure. Am I right or wrong?

SENATOR HARRIS: That is true.

FRANK SENICK: You put that in the paper and it makes -- it makes it look like, you know, like they're just wasting money, and I know that hurt a lot of people's feelings there. And -- and a lot of people there are scared. You know, they're scared about their job. But like I say, I just -- they're fabulous people. They do, you know, so much for the kids.

SENATOR HARRIS: Thank you. That's --

FRANK SENICK: I'd love to even be -- if I had time to go up there and be a mentor or something, you know. I think if somebody could go up there, even from here and spend some time with these children and watch what these doctors and nurses do and the staff do, and how they actually interact with these children, it's amazing to see them, you know, because they act as their parents sometimes. I mean, they don't have parents.

SENATOR HARRIS: I will tell you that I've witnessed some of this, and of course Riverview is an important piece of our -- of what we're looking at here, so it's good to have different perspectives. And I will also say, just for general information, with respect to cost, not only is it my understanding that it includes the school and everything, but there are things -- because all the children are under the care of DCF there, that we make a comparison at times between, let's say the cost of a child in-patient at Riverview versus -- a lot of times people talk about the Institute of the Living. And some of the information that I've received that we have to take a look at it, is that it's an apples-to-orange comparison, for a couple of reasons.

But one of them is that there are certain incidentals, if you will, though, when I describe them you'll see that they're not really incidental, that are paid for at Riverview by the state taxpayers, which are accounted for in the cost analysis of the other facilities. For example, if a family needs to be able to get to Riverview to see the child, we had information that DCF was paying about $25 for the week to be able to provide gas money for those parents.

The reason I say it's funny, when you call that incidental, because obviously, parental involvement in a child's care is anything but incidental, but a lot of those extra pieces that are being taken care of at Riverview are not accounted for, supposedly, in the accounting of the costs of the other facilities.

So that's something we have to look at because, perhaps, if you add it up, those costs, which may be being paid somewhere else in the community, it would make a different equation. So these are some of the things that we have to drill down on and take a look at and make sure, one, that the kids are getting cared for, most importantly; and, also, of course, our responsibility to be effective and efficient with the taxpayers' hard-earned dollars.

FRANK SENICK: Yeah, I just think, you know, being at the Institute of Living as she was, and being there, I mean, like you say, apples and oranges.

I just think it's more like a home setting at Riverview. It's a -- I don't know. It's just a better, I think a more effective way to help the kids. I mean, they've got places to bike ride up there. You know, they've got a ton of bicycles. I mean, you know, no -- no kid at four years old should have, you know, posttraumatic stress disorder because he watches his mother, you know, get beaten behind a couch and, you know, then never sees his parents again, you know, I just -- I've seen cases like that. And these kids, I mean, they don't get adopted, they don't -- you know, they have severe problems, as my daughter did.

I mean, at the house, I mean, she would hurl a rock like this at me, I mean, from 10-, 15-feet away. I didn't know what to do except to go up and hug her. I just -- I knew she didn't mean it. She was in a different place.

And when that happens, I mean, like I say, I just, you know, part of what I want to say is that I think we need better plans for emergency rooms to -- to -- children's care, you know I mean, when you go to a hospital and they put you in an emergency room for Bristol Hospital, for five days we stayed there, and it's a little room, and my daughter had come down off of the -- off of what she, you know, whatever it was, but she was still there, you know. I mean, they keep a little kid in a room like that, it just doesn't seem like there's enough mental health help for children.

Does that make sense?

SENATOR HARRIS: It makes total sense. And one of the other battles -- and this is a larger issue -- is we still have yet to turn the corner in the way that's appropriate to have this body, this government, the Governor, the citizens of Connecticut fully accept that mental illness is just like physical illness, and that is something that we need to do a better job on when we legislate and when we budget.

So I appreciate you raising the issues, and I think, you know, I'd like to be -- stay in touch, and if you could, because I'm very curious, it's the late hour, though --

FRANK SENICK: Yeah, I had a lot more --

SENATOR HARRIS: If you'd like to -- well, if you -- given that you've had experience, an unfortunate experience, but in two different institutional settings that you talked about --

FRANK SENICK: Even when I've been up to Vermont, I've been up to Natchaug. I've been to, like I say, I've been to several.

SENATOR HARRIS: If you would be willing to take the time to, you know, list the institution, and then list some of the things you talked about, the bike riding, things like that but, also, what the care, the direct care that was provided in either place, because that type of illustration is important for us to have, because we're going to be making decisions on things like this.


So, if you could send us something like that to follow up, that would be very much appreciated.

FRANK SENICK: I will.

SENATOR HARRIS: I thank you for --

FRANK SENICK: Thank you.

SENATOR HARRIS: -- your testimony, and wish --

FRANK SENICK: You have a very good night.

SENATOR HARRIS: -- wish you well with your daughter and your family.

FRANK SENICK: Thank you. It'll be the first Christmas in three years we're together, so it's going to be good.

SENATOR HARRIS: Congratulations. Or as my grandmother would say, Mazel Tov.

Okay. Next, Mr. Kennedy followed by Mr. Watley.

CHRIS KENNEDY: Hi. Good evening. My name is Chris Kennedy. I represent the Connecticut Civil Rights Council. And I just want to tell you, thanks for sticking around so late. I was actually at home watching it, and I thought it would be over by now, but I signed up earlier this afternoon, and I said, well, I'm going to drive down and make sure I'm heard.

You heard a lot of cases here tonight, but you haven't heard my case. And I think it's important to recognize every case that comes through here. Most of the Legislators that aren't here, I'm sure they're home with their family. Many of us don't have a family to go home to, because of what DCF has done to us or what the State has done to us. And so it's nice that they get to spend time with their family, but we don't.

My case came from a divorce. DCF was used as a weapon in the divorce case. I was accused of abuse. They didn't find abuse, but the investigator said he had to charge me with something. So, I'm not sure why they're obligated to charge somebody with something or find a reason.

But so, he said that because daughter cried during the interview, my seven year old, that that was grounds for charging me with emotional neglect, and my other daughter said they weren't happy about the conflict in the divorce, and, so, again, I was charged with emotional neglect there.

When I appealed it, they actually added a charge to it. They added emotional neglect -- physical neglect for my son but, fortunately, those charges were thrown out, but the worker did -- almost bragging to me about over a hundred children that he'd taken away from his fam -- from their families. Over a hundred children that he'd taken away, that was his -- that was his -- I'm not sure what that was, some sort of a reward or something.

But there's three issues I wanted to bring up. I saw Bill Cosby. I came to that meeting. The only possible explanation that I can see with all these complaints, all these cases, is what he said is it seems as though somebody hates children. Somebody in the State must hate children to cause as much infliction.

The other issue, what I found, basically this folder here, three inches of paperwork is -- is my nightmare with DCF. Still to this day, even though the charges were thrown out five years ago, still I have no contact with my son because of the damage that was done.

I found that, you know, not just myself, but a bias against fathers also since I've been involved with different cases and heard different complaints, and DCF has come forward and they found that there is a bias against fathers. They do exclude fathers from their investigations. They don't involve fathers. I even talked to the Governor's Office.

DCF really doesn't do anything. They don't unite families. So, even though I'm not seeing my son, DCF really doesn't get involved in cases like that. So they're really only involved in taking children away.

The third issue I wanted to bring up just, you know, you've heard so many cases here. A coworker, for instance, talked to me. They were accused of abuse. They -- when I talked to them about my case, they said, Yeah, we had that problem with DCF as well. We were accused of abuse. DCF charged us with abuse for, they said we were abusing our son, Charlie. Apparently they had some issues with some neighbors, some teenagers called in, made an anonymous call to DCF hotline. But they don't have a child. Their dog is named Charlie. DCF never investigated. They just simply charged them with abuse. And even after straightening that out, they still have a record with DCF. They don't have any children.

I mean, that's how, I guess incompetence -- you've heard it enough today -- and incompetence, and it just seems like a lack of caring. I'm not sure what it is, but there is no oversight. There's no oversight, and there's no one to turn to. Even somebody who has some wherewithal, you still have problems. You have to pay thousands of dollars to see your children again, and they can come in overnight and take them away. I mean, who do you turn to? And who does somebody turn that doesn't have the resources to hire an attorney? Well, they don't. They lose their kids is what happens.

But the third -- the third issue is DCF does not have the power that they do without the support of the judicial branch. The judicial branch is issuing orders of terminating parental rights, or taking away these children, or letting DCF do what they do. And one of my issues, going through this divorce and seeing what DCF does, I've had a lot of experience or seen what goes on in our judicial branch. And one of the problems I have is the lack of oversight in our judicial branch, as well.

I think, two years ago, we voted -- the Legislators reappointed a judge who was sentencing people with a violin. He would play it, a good note meant a light sentence, a bad note meant a bad sentence, playing the violin in court, and he was reappointed.

We had another judge who ran over a child in the streets of Hartford, a nine-year-old boy, left the scene of the accident, and she was reappointed. That judge would not allow reporters into the courtroom because they kept reporting on the bad judgment she was making.

You know, again and again, the judge that abused two little girls got reappointed. The judge who took away my children, because of a complaint was the administrative judge at Rockville Court. I lost my two girls because I complained against Judge Kaplan, and he issued restraining order to take away my two daughters. There weren't any abuse allegations, and still to this day there's not and, yet, still I don't have a relationship with my children.

And I say how -- how can the State be so far out of control to allow these judges to get reappointed over and over, and allow these cases go on, and allow parents -- children to go without their parents.

But, anyhow, I don't want to take -- take too much time. Just in closing, I just wanted to say, definitely stronger parental laws. You need to protect parental rights. You need to pass some laws or enact bills that protect parental rights, so DCF can't come in your house and take away your children. You need some accountability within DCF, accountability as to their abilities and accountability in the Judicial Branch as well.

I've been getting referrals. A few have been referred to me from Legislators saying, you know, Representative or Senator so-and-so told me to call you about my problems with DCF. Well, it should be the other way around, because I called the Legislators and asked for help with my problems with DCF, and so it seems to be just a circle.

But, anyhow, and I was also asked to look at the -- what they're doing with the Fathers Task Force, that they are looking at the harm that's caused when you do separate a child from their parents, even though the focus on fathers, the harm when you take a child away from their parents is beyond anything that certainly DCF would do to them or any -- any other harm, even beyond some abuse cases. But I would look at some of the studies and things that show -- show the harm that causes and how critical it is not to take away children.

Thank you very much. Thanks for staying so late.

SENATOR HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Kennedy, and thanks for coming back. Drive safely.

CHRIS KENNEDY: Thanks.

SENATOR HARRIS: Joe Watley. Thanks for your patience.

JOE WATLEY: Yes. Joseph Watley, Thomaston, exiled father of two boys.

I'd like to know why DCF has been allowed to discriminate against my brain-injured partner, Karen Hassman, in taking the boys away from us.

I thought the American with Disabilities Act disallows this. And, furthermore, the 14th Amendment of our United States Constitution says equal protection under the law. I certainly don't feel protected, neither does Karen. And my two boys are going to grow up, now that our parental rights have been terminated, missing out on their family and their heirs. I think this is wrong.
This needs to be corrected.

At age 16, Karen had a brain tumor removed from her right frontal lobe. The left lobe intakes, the right lobe does the output. So they're using this physical injury that she had, going under the surgeon's knife to have this tumor removed, against her.

DCF is not accommodating Karen with this alleged psychological deficit that she has as a result of this physical injury. They refuse to accommodate her. What DCF is doing is stealing from the taxpayers by taking the state dollars which are matched by the federal dollars and putting it into a third-party's pocket, keeping our children away from us rather than putting services in place and keeping the children with us. That's stealing. Thou shalt not steal, but DCF, this monster that you Legislators have created, are stealing from the public treasury. You're using this money that we, taxpayers, paid to fund this DCF against us, to attack us. This is wrong.

You've been asking all day long how to fix this problem. I'll tell you. Open courts. Open courts. Do you hear me? I can do it one time louder. Open courts. Then Pam Lucier and Kathy Daner, the two caseworkers will be held accountable for their lies. They lied to Judge Stewart there. They lied to Judge Leslie O'Lear, and their lies won the day.

You send Karen Hassman, my partner, the mother of my two boys to psychotherapy, expecting that that's going to rehabilitate her and put her back to the point that she was before the growth of the tumor and it's subsequent removal? That's ridiculous. That's -- that's like saying you can restore sight to the blind. You can't do it. You should be accommodating Karen and me as well.

Now what DCF did was they built up a case against me as well. I didn't have any brain tumor removed, but my attorney, Attorney Phillip Walker cautioned me. He says, Joe, DCF is going to build up a case against you because they don't want Karen to ever have access to those boys, so watch it, Joe. They're coming after you next. You're an impediment. You're in the way. They're going to do a job on you, Joe. And that they did.

They sent me off to Dr. Stephen Humphrey, 75 percent of his business is with DCF. Now tell me there's no bias there. He put a negative stigmatizing label on me saying that I had personality disorder, not otherwise specified. In other words, I don't have any true disorder. I'm in a catchall other category. He gets to write in, Well, Joe is eccentric. Joe is idiosyncratic; that means peculiarity of habit, and I'm hypervigilant.

Well, you tell me, Legislators, where does any of these alleged behaviors put my children in any risk of loss of life or loss of limb? Just because these DCF caseworkers didn't like the way I presented, this is enough reason to stick a label on me, so they can treat me in a negative way, these DCF workers, and help to build a case against me, as well, to make sure that Karen never got a chance to parent her children. They did a job on me, as well, telling me that I'm mentally ill now. Personality disorder is found in the DSM-4, book of mental illnesses. I'm mentally ill, and I haven't recovered from my mental illness, so I can't have my children; two down.
No Karen, now, no me parent the children.

DCF hands them off to Mike and Kathy Sloane in Watertown and they testified on the stand, Mrs. Sloane, that she made it known to DCF early on that she wanted to adopt my boys. Wonderful. Well, DCF from Torrington certainly ensured that she got my boys. This is terrible. You people really need to do something about this.

You know, we -- you know, we're just considered the dirty tavern crowd, we, the common ordinary people. You are our Representatives. You have direct access to the power, not us people, you -- we have empowered you to do our bidding for us, and you need to do this. You need to get this in open court where this can be scrutinized.

No more of this abuse of power, putting labels on people saying that well, you haven't rehabilitated from it, and stealing our children, because that's what you've done. You broke God's commandments, Thou shalt not steal. And this Kathy Daner and Pam Lucier testified falsely. That's the seventh commandment, Thou shalt not testify falsely as a witness in front of -- against thy fellow man, and that's what they did.

They give the lies to these judges, and the judges have no alternative but to terminate against us after hearing these lies. And what defense is there against these lies? Why did not DCF accommodate Karen who had this brain tumor removed?

This is a Christian nation. We're all benefiting from living in this Christian nation. We should love one another. We should accommodate one another. It's not Karen's fault that she had this tumor, and what are you doing? You're victimizing the victim. You're withholding her children away from her and me as well. This is wrong. This is a sin.

I wonder what our Creator thinks about us here today and what we're doing to the families here. It's a crime. These people should be jailed for what they did. In any normal court of law, Pam Lucier and Kathy Daner would be arrested for -- for perjury. Pam Lucier came to my house and said Joe, I'll make a deal with you, plead guilty; plead guilty to the charge of predictive neglect, and we'll give your kids back. So, that means the guilty parent will get the kids back, but the innocent parent -- if I say, No, you took my children right out of the nursery and you put them in the Sloane's house, I never had my children to neglect or abuse. You take my children away and then you want me to plead guilty for neglect? I never had them. Plead guilty for something that may or may not happen in the future, that's ridiculous. But that's your law, predictive neglect. What do these psychologists and psychiatrists have a crystal ball they can see into the future? This is ridiculous.

You know, planes fly overhead. I use this example, well, the mere possibility is one could come out of the sky and drop on us. But when you put the laws of probability in place, well, hey, look, we're sitting here. We don't think about it, do we?

The fact is; probably these kids are going to be loved by two good loving Christian parents and brought up well, but we haven't had that chance because it's been denied us.

Open courts and accountability for DCF, that's what's necessary. You know, God granted me and Karen the liberty to reproduce. Liberty, the word "liberty" is God granted. Man has reduced it to a right, one in which he could take away. Oh, it's a right. We're taking your rights away. We're going to abuse you. You've got a brain injury, well, we're going to put more abuse on it. We're going to put you on the wrong course of treatment, Karen Hassman. We're going to send you to psychiatrists and psychologists. Karen saw eight doctors, and she's got eight different labels. How would you like that if you went with a physical ailment and you went to eight doctors and you got eight different diagnoses.

Yes, they all have some concern about Karen's ability to parent the children as a result of the operation, and I understand that, and I appreciate that. Here I am, the resource. Why were the children taken away from me as well? They never wanted Karen to have access to the children. I was in the way. They had to do a job on me, and that's what they did. That's evil. That's not love. That's hate. Depriving me of my children, Pam Lucier never even had children. She's about 49 years old. She doesn't know what it's like. She doesn't know the physical and mental abuse that she'd bestowed on us in the name of protecting my boys.

You know, I just have another question, too. I'm looking at so many empty seats in front of me. It's about 8:30 in the evening. I waited here all day to get a hearing, and there's only five people seated in front of me. Where's the rest of my Legislators? I don't understand this.

SENATOR HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Watley.

JOE WATLEY: Thank you. I hope you really do something about this. I would like this case of ours personally investigated. Discrimination against a brain-injured person is wrong. Americans with Disabilities Act says you should accommodate Karen. If this State does nothing with this case, that's fine. I will -- I promise you, this will go to federal court. Maybe the federal people will view this more on a constitutional manner, violating the 14th Amendment, equal protection under the law.

I'll finish with this. You want to go. I'm here today to create a record. I looked into the camera. I want my boys to see that they have a loving dad here fighting for them. Most likely, this case will not be turned around.

I'm hoping that some attorney out there hears this case and says, I'll represent you. I'll take this case to court for you. I'll expose DCF's violation of the ADA law. We'll get them in federal court, and they can hold them accountable for this violation, and return my boys, and even compensate us for the years of abuse they bestowed on us unnecessarily. I'm creating a record for my boys, so they see I was fighting here for them against this overpowering system here to crush us little people.

I hope you Legislators have learned something today, and, I mean, really learned it. You are the people's Representatives. We hired you to do a job. You know that DCF is failing.

I'll make a deal with you, give me back my boys until you fix DCF. How's that? Give me back my boys now until you fix this organization and then you can retry the case again. There is no risk. There is no danger, my boys being in my care. I'm mentally fit. I'm physically fit.

Thank you.

SENATOR HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Watley for your testimony and for your patience. And I just want to also thank everybody that was here all day today and that lasted through the day, that we are listening to you and your testimony means a lot to us.

I also want to thank Brian Mattiello from the Department of Children and Families who has been here all day; Josh Harwood, who just left a matter of minutes ago from the Department of Children and Families, who's been listening all day. And I might add that Mr. Mattiello also went out into the hallway and talked personally to people, and we appreciate that type of interaction, because it is about the people. And I want to thank you for your patience and for doing that.

And I also want to thank the committees. This is our fourth day of hearing, and Mr. Watley raises a very good point about empty seats, but I will say this, first of all, and foremost, the leadership of both these committees have been here throughout the hearings. The people that are charged with the responsibility of running the committees, our two clerks, Jeanie Phillips and Liz Giannaros who make these committees run, have been here through every single hour, and we thank them for organizing it and for being here and making us work.

A VOICE: Plus we're not in session now.

SENATOR HARRIS: Yeah, and that's -- I'm getting to that.

And I will say not only have the two, the committee leadership in here, but Representative Hamm who is the cochair of the subcommittee on the Appropriations Committee which funds DCF, has been here the whole time. Senator Prague has been here much of the time. As a matter of fact, the only leader of these committees that hasn't been here is Representative McMahon, who's ill, and we also just want to wish her continuing good luck, and our thoughts and our prayers are with her.

We have people that have been working on children's issues forever: Representative Mushinsky, Representative Walker. So the core is here. And people have to also remember, basically the thing, you get what you pay for. We have a part-time Legislature, and not only is this the Christmas season and people have their families and everything that they're doing, but they also have other jobs so they can make ends meet. And it is extremely tough to have everybody here all the time. But the core is here. And those that aren't here, many of them are watching, and those that aren't in here, many of them will read the testimony. And those that aren't here will be here during the session and will be reading the bills and hearing the testimony on the bills, so this is a complete process, regardless of what it looks like. This is the system that we have. And while it might look empty, our hearts, our minds, our actions will not be empty, so I can assure you of that.

We've been touched, Mr. Watley and others, by what you say. We are taking it seriously, and you will see action this session through bills, further public hearings, so more people can come, and more of our colleagues will be able to be here. So that will happen, and we will move forward.

And I also want to say that while we take everything seriously here, and we know there are bad people, and there are bad people in every organization --

(Gap in tape.)

SENATOR HARRIS: -- DCF institutionally, and we have to make sure, in our oversight role, that people are doing their jobs.

I want to make sure that we don't take the inappropriate jump today or going forward that paints every single person who is at the Department of Children and Families as evil, as bad. Because there are hundreds upon hundreds of people that have dedicated their professional lives and their waking minutes to making sure that children are safe.

And while this is no excuse for the evil things that we've heard here today and the problems -- and I'm not discounting that, I'll make that clear -- that there are things that have happened that are inappropriate that we have to address.

We also have to make sure that we don't dishonor and disrespect those people that are out there trying to make a difference and have, in fact, made a difference, and we did hear some of the positive things that have happened. And we don't want to throw the baby out, so to speak, with the bath water. Perhaps that's not a good analogy in this context.

But I will just conclude that at the beginning of this hearing, I asked the question -- these committees raised the question as to whether children and families are better off because of their involvement with DCF, and that still remains the question, which we now have to take a look back at the four days of hearings and answer and respond and act.

And I expect that in the upcoming session with the new Legislature, the newly constituted committees, some new leadership, that that question will be addressed, and that we will have some solutions on the table and some more chance for dialogue.

So I thank everybody for participating, and if anybody else has anything to say, I don't mean to monopolize this, but I appreciate everybody for hanging in.

Representative Walker.

REP. WALKER: I just wanted to thank you and the Cochairs of Human Services and Select Committee for Children for being vigilant about opening up these hearings and really starting to aggressively look at the issues that we need to very seriously address in the upcoming session.

I also want to echo what you said, that even though there are 3700 people that work for the Department of Children and Families, and of those 3700, there are some people, because I have met many, who really take their job very seriously and have done a wonderful job, and then there are people there that probably should be moving on to another type of employment. So I hope we can look at that, and I think we're going to have to make some very serious decisions coming up.

And we're going to have to be willing to make change, and change has got to be made for a lot of the families that we heard today. And I definitely believe that we'll follow up with the families that testified today to try and see what solutions we can bring, and maybe to try to make better some of the errors that we have made in the past.

And thank you, Senator Harris.

SENATOR HARRIS: Thank you, Representative Walker. And before we adjourn this public hearing and the investigative hearing, the overall hearing that we have, and I will say that it's possible that we will have another day, but I think most of this will come in the context of the next Legislative Session of bills, given the holiday season and everything.

I also want to just thank the staff of the building and the Capitol Police for their extra hours for helping us out and being here for us. This is a team effort and we all have to work towards a better future for the kids and for all is.

So, with that, I wish everybody happy holidays, a happy and healthy new year, and let's come back a year from now and say that we've gotten something done on this.

Thank you. We'll adjourn the hearing.