CHAIRMAN: Representative Urban
VICE CHAIRMEN: Senator Musto
REPRESENTATIVES: Thompson, Rebimbas, Mushinsky, Candelaria, Betts, Wood
REP. URBAN: -- for agency and legislators, and then after the first hour we will go back and forth between the public and agencies.
And we have quite a list of people testifying so we would ask that we try to stay within the three-minute limit.
And our first person testifying, we'd like to welcome, Representative Boukus.
REP. BOUKUS: (Inaudible.)
REP. URBAN: Thank you, Representative.
REP. BOUKUS: Good morning, Representative Urban and members of this distinguished Committee. It's very rare for me to testify but this subject matter is very, very important.
I'm testifying today on Raised Bill 983. I am State Representative Betty Boukus, AN ACT CONCERNING CHILDREN AFFECTED BY DIASTER OR TERRORISM. The people might have thought, first of all, you don't have the written testimony. It's being typed as I speak.
Though people might have thought our state was far removed from issues stemming from issues of disaster and terrorism, I believe the past few weeks of severe weather conditions and the result of these conditions require us to face disaster issues that affect our children now.
Most recently, in ten daycare centers across our state, which they had to close for various reasons relating to the storm.
In unnatural disasters and in workplace episodes such as Middletown and East Hartford, lock-downs, evacuations of our school, our children, unfortunately, are experiencing firsthand the effects of unanticipated violence.
Natural disasters have caused floods and tornadoes in other parts of the state and build-up this year for ice, and I did not remove the ice off the top of my roof. I didn't find anybody to help me do it, either, so it's still there.
Collapsing buildings and being evacuated. We had one daycare in our area, which provided services for 60 children, 60 children from hardworking families, and they were forced to close because the entire facility was ruined by this last storm. The roof caved in on the church and the childcare program was in the basement.
This was an accredited excellent center. The children were scattered. Many families had no childcare, and it impacted their going to work.
I am going to just briefly go through here. It's so important that we help our families and our children with unintentional evacuations, and having an evacuation plan to address multiple issues of disaster.
This bill offers the components that have researched throughout the states by Save the Children as necessary for quality and fast response to children.
This information is key for both childcare and schools. Helping children thrive while parents work is of paramount importance to our quality of life and economy.
I would recommend the few amended changes offered by the Commission on Children today. In particular, this plan should not be a separate plan from a regular plan of state emergency management and homeland security disaster plan. It should not be separate. It should be one.
That way, we do not fragment, but integrate children with adults into a plan that links to federal requirements and federal resources.
Just a post note to you. When emergencies happen, it's so great when state agencies come together and do their share. I was able to put together, with the help of the Commission on Children a committee from Public Health, Public Safety and Homeland Security, again, the Commission on Children, representatives from Save the Children and Connecticut Charts a Course.
And we had dialogue with the federal government at the same time talking about what needs to be done, and I'm happy to say even though we think of rigid regulations that are in each one of these organizations, they came to the table willing and able to make changes to recognize the emergency and I wish to applaud them publicly for doing that. And we're hoping to find a new location for our three to eight-year olds.
And I thank you very much for this, and I know you'll be working on it as time goes by, but nothing is more important in my estimation than alleviating the woes of young children and parents having to deal with a problem like this when we can incorporate it into an adult program that we've already planned. Thank you.
REP. URBAN: Thank you, Representative Boukus and can I ascertain that from what you've already said that this group has actually been brought together starting to make some points and discussions on this issue?
REP. BOUKUS: Yes, I believe that's true. As a result of what's happened we think of our daycare as safe places, and they are. But we don't think of accidents like this happening with roofs falling in and nothing due to the facilities. It's just very unusual situations this year, and we need to have a plan ready ahead of time so that we don't run into this again.
REP. URBAN: And make that a part of our state plan, not have it a separate?
REP. BOUKUS: Correct. Every time that we can make it part of our state plan in anticipation, then maybe we can wipe away these winters, because it will never happen again because the plan will be there.
REP. URBAN: Right. Are there questions for Representative Boukus or comments? We thank you very much for bringing this forward, Betty, and we're certainly going to take this very seriously as we move forward.
REP. BOUKUS: And I know you will, and I thank you for that in anticipation of getting some good work done. Thank you.
REP. URBAN: Thank you. Next on our list of public officials is Representative Dan Carter. Welcome, Representative Carter.
REP. CARTER: And thank you, Madam Chair. Representative Urban, Senator Musto, Representative Fawcett, Senator Markley, Representative Wood and members of the Select Committee on Children, thank you for the public hearing and the opportunity to talk in support of House Bill 5661 AN ACT CONCERNING COURT INTERVIEWS IN CHILD CUSTODY CASES.
Thousands of Connecticut families experience divorce each year. Even under the best possible circumstances, divorce takes a toll on children.
Unfortunately, situations arise where custody becomes a bitter dispute, where children are left in the middle.
Current Connecticut law states that the Court shall be guided by the best interest of the child, giving consideration to the wishes of the child and if the child is of sufficient age upon which a child can state preference as to which parent she or he would like to live with, a Court will consider the child's preference and take into consideration the child's age and overall circumstances of the divorce. The child's preference is not binding on the Court.
Now there tends to be an argument that the child's preference should be obtained very carefully. In fact, legal professionals in Connecticut do a superb job in supporting children while keeping them isolated from the process as much as possible.
Connecticut law makes no provision, however, for older children who wish make their preference known directly to the person who's making the decision. House Bill 5661 will allow children over 12 years of age to have the opportunity to communicate their preference directly to the Court.
Now our statutes already recognize the fact that a child could be at a sufficient age to make a decision. However, many children may not be content just making their decision through a guardian ad litem or an attorney.
House Bill 5661 will not confer any extra rights on children and will not make their preferences binding on the Court. The intent is to allow these children who wish an opportunity to speak directly with the Court to feel part of the process and help them accept the final decision.
Now I know there will be opposition to this bill. One of the things we may have to look at is the consent of the parents to make it current with the previous Appellate Court decision of the State of Connecticut, but I urge the Committee to look at the bill in its entirety and to find a way that we can open the door for these kids, if they like, to have the opportunity to express their wishes directly.
The fruit of this bill came from a very bitter divorce battle. Obviously, the idea behind this is not to put the kids in the middle. That's the worst thing that we can do. It's the worst thing that, and any professional will tell you. It's the worst possible thing you can do.
But at the same time, there are a large number of kids out there who go through divorce and custody cases who would like to be able to make their cause known. The thing that we have to watch out for, of course, is where one parent puts the kid against the other and now they just become a tool in the process.
I don't think this will make that happen because currently that can happen in a bitter custody divorce anyway, because this child either has a guardian ad litem or an attorney appointed for them, and the parent who decides to manipulate the kid can do so.
So that kind of wraps it up. I thank you for your time and consideration.
REP. URBAN: Thank you, Representative, and when you talked about parental consent, the age here is 12 years of age or older. Is that the age at which we're going to make this particular cut-off?
REP. CARTER: Yes, Madam Chair. We looked at 12 years old primarily because of a Texas law that I believe had 12 years old. That's where this, the idea came from.
The consent portion, however, it was brought to my attention through, you know, researching this as an opportunity, that there was an Appellate Court that determined our Courts should have consent of the parents prior to doing an interview in chambers.
And I'll let the legal experts talk more about that. I mean, I believe there will be some more folks behind me testifying to that effect.
So however we do the language, it should include something to the effect that the parents are consenting to this.
Now, the argument would be, of course, that you know, it would never happen because one parent may not want the other parent to let him do it. That's true. And maybe it shouldn't happen in those circumstances.
But if it's somewhat of an amicable situation, and the parents are trying to get along and you have a child who's 12, 14, 15 years old who wants to have the opportunity to have their day in Court, so to speak, I think that's something we should afford them.
Being of a divorced situation myself, I have two children. We were very young. We had a very amicable situation. If my kids were, if I were divorcing now, I think I would want my kids to at least have the opportunity to say, if we had a custody battle.
REP. URBAN: I think in recognizing that the child has a voice, perhaps would make it easier for that child to go through that divorce process.
Are there any questions? Representative Betts.
REP. BETTS: Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you, Representative Carter.
Is there anything right now that prevents a child from being able to express their wish now, you know, when they're in the Courts and going through the process?
REP. CARTER: Thank you. Absolutely not expressing their wish, because currently they can express their wishes to a guardian ad litem or an attorney who has been appointment.
I understand that attorneys are usually appointed when the kids are a little older, but oftentimes when they're young it's a guardian ad litem. And let me say, the guardian ad litems and I think the attorneys do a great job passing that along.
Where the intent of this bill came is that I think sometimes when children are older, they may not feel like they have a voice.
Now granted, this idea came from a bitter divorce custody situation where who knows? Maybe the kids would have been put against each other, or the parents.
But I think it's prudent that when kids are older in the process, if the parents are going to consent and let the child go talk directly to a judge, I think that's a good idea.
Because remember, when kids go through this process, it's about the kids. It's about the kids at the end of the process. I think they might have a lot better chance at buying into the decision of the Court once it's all said and done.
Now obviously, we have to walk a line here. We need to preserve the system and we can't confer extra rights on children. At the same time, we want to try to give them a voice.
REP. BETTS: I'm not a lawyer, but obviously I care a great deal about the kids. But I just sit here and think about how traumatic it is for them, first of all, to deal with the idea that their parents are getting a divorce and then being put in the position of, well, now you choose, what is your preference.
And then putting that in a law, in which, you know, you're almost adding pressure to them to voice their preference when they may not be either capable or want to.
REP. CARTER: You bring up an excellent point, Representative.
REP. BETTS: It really concerns me.
REP. CARTER: And may I comment? Because, remember, what we're doing here is not making it mandatory that kids should testify.
You know, the same thing that we're doing now makes sense. You want to keep kids out of the process if possible. You don't want to put them in a position where they have to choose between two parents.
However, we know that as kids get older, then there is that feeling that they may want to choose. Most kids won't want to be in the process. Most kids don't want to talk to a judge in chambers. They're probably scared of it.
But this situation is there if they want to do it. It's not something that's binding. It's not something that they have to do. It should be structured from the child's choice not from the guardian's choice or the parents' choice because we don't want to facilitate them using the kids against each other.
REP. BETTS: Okay, thank you.
REP. URBAN: Representative Candelaria.
REP. CANDELARIA: Thank you, Madam Chair. And basically, I'm going on the same line of questioning. I still have concern with the child that will basically go before the judge being torn with the parents that they love so dearly.
Within the bill, would there be any type of counseling for the child after they have gone before a judge and made their decision who they want to live with?
REP. CARTER: To the best of my knowledge, you know, children, the judge already has an opportunity to appoint counselors and have children's help. There's nothing in the bill that says they have to seek additional counseling by doing this. This was, you know, something added pretty much at the end of the statute to say, you know, if the choice is made, if the child wants to have their day in Court, we'll say, that they can do so.
It doesn't change any of the other parts of the bill, which already allow for children to have representation, and it shouldn't change anything with the fact that they should still have representation with a guardian ad litem or an attorney.
Now one thing may come up. A lot of cases in Connecticut are pro se, which by the way is great. Having people have a chance to avail themselves of that system is probably one of the best ways to go through a divorce.
Now, oftentimes one may have an attorney, the other may be pro se. In those situations, we may have to look at some of the language to make sure that somebody's there representing the child with respect to having an interview with the judge.
The whole idea is not necessarily to have the parent there, but have the consent of the parent to be there. So it could be a domestic relations officer or something like that. We'll probably have to look at the language.
REP. CANDELARIA: And in the case where you have a child that does decide, wants to live with one of the parents and later on changes their mind. Is there any recourse for that at all?
REP. CARTER: No. There's not.
REP. CANDELARIA: All right. Thank you.
REP. URBAN: Do we have any other questions or comments? If not, seeing none, thank you very much for your testimony, Representative Carter.
REP. CARTER: Thank you very much, and thank you to the Committee. Have a good day.
REP. URBAN: You, too. And moving down our list, I don't see, is Senator Hartley here? I don't see Senator Hartley here, so next on our list is Judge Christine Kelleher. Am I saying that right?
A VOICE: (Inaudible).
REP. URBAN: Then next on our list is Judge Paul Kavera, and I hope I said that right, Judge. You can correct me. Welcome.
THE HON. PAUL J. KNIERIM: Good morning, Representative Urban and members of the Committee. My name is Paul Knierim, and I am the Probate Court Administrator and with me this morning is Judge Tom Brunnock, who is the judge at the Waterbury Probate Court and in the interest of brevity, we thought we'd come up together and cover the same topic.
We're both here in support of Bill Number 982 concerning a pilot truancy program in Waterbury.
Judge Brunnock, working with the Waterbury Board of Education initiated this program back in January of 2008 and the proposed legislation would codify the key elements of the program as it stands and provide some further detail for its operation.
Another key aspect of the legislation is that it would set up some benchmarks and reporting requirements so that we can evaluate over time the success of the program, but I can say that for the period that it has been in operation so far, it appears to be a great success.
You have in your materials a report that Judge Brunnock and the staff he works with have prepared about the success of this program, and the results really are quite remarkable.
We see a 60 to 65 percent reduction in truancy among the students whose families are participating in the clinic.
Now, Judge Brunnock will give a little more detail on the program itself, and probably do a better job than I could of answering questions that you might have.
But I'd leave with one comment, which is to note that the truancy clinic came about under the auspices of the Waterbury Regional Children's Probate Court, and I think it's especially fitting that that's the case.
As you know, we have now five regional children's Courts in the probate system. They are community based, real innovators and provide specialized services that have been very well received and I think very successful.
And, as I say, I think it's very fitting that this program would have come about from one of those children's Courts because it's the collaboration with the community, in this case, the Waterbury Board of Ed in particular that brings together the people who can make a difference with a program like this.
So with that, Judge, would you like to comment?
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: Yes. Thank you very much. Thank you for this opportunity to address the Committee here this morning. As Judge Knierim has alluded to, this is a collaborative effort between the Regional Children's Court working as a clinic in this case.
It's a voluntary program. We work with the schools. We work on four school sites. I visit each school site once a week, the same day each week, and we work with families. Once we summon them in, it's on a voluntary basis. There's no judicial decrees ordered, issued, rather. There are no penalties involved.
There's over an 80 percent participation by the families in this voluntary program, and the statistics that are presented in your reading material, I think illustrate that through this collaborative effort and a systemic approach to the issues behind truancy and absenteeism in the K through five level at schools, shows that we have certainly a significant level of success.
And so what we're looking for in this statute, I notice that the bill in its proposed form did delete one important aspect.
We are a statutory Court system, so unless we get specific statutory authority, we really don't have that authority, and introduced into our system, I think as of last year was a magistrate, magistrates.
And so, what we'd like put into the statute, proposed legislation, is the ability to add magistrates as well as probate attorney referees sit in on these clinics. Again, there's no judicial decrees that are issued but it would allow us to pull in more human resources than just relying upon participation by individual judges.
I'd be happy to answer any questions. I get a little passionate about this, so I better cut my testimony off now. But I'd be happy to answer any questions that you might have.
REP. URBAN: Thank you for your testimony. This is very impressive, some of the numbers that you have here, the absentee rate of participating students has declined by 60 to 65 percent.
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: Yes.
REP. URBAN: Were there some other statistics that you would like to share with us?
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: Well, one of the other important aspects is that we work with the Family Therapy Center down at Southern Connecticut State University and we have a truancy clinic officer who supervises four interns from the Southern program, and where families ask for assistance.
We intervene with families and try and either link them up with services in the community, whatever the particular social services might be needed, or it might be a one-on-one mentoring program with the students in the schools, and there's been a significant level of success just on that aspect of the program as well.
REP. URBAN: Thank you. And I want to be sure that our LCO heard the additional information, which was the magistrates as well as, thank you.
Are there other questions or, Representative Wood.
REP. WOOD: Thank you, Madam Chair. A couple of questions, and thank you for your testimony.
The truancy clinic shall operate for da, da, da, da, da using non-punitive procedures.
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: Yes.
REP. WOOD: Because I know so many of the students who are truants are treated like criminals rather than treated in a proactive way.
Can you outline some of the non-punitive procedures and how the people working at these clinics would treat these kids with humanity?
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: Yes. The parents engage in this program. At the K through five level, you're really dealing with parents, not students, because although we have state definition of truancy, I refer the students that miss a large amount of time from school as being absent, not truant, because I find it hard to believe that an eight-year-old child can be truant.
So we deal at the parent level and the parents will come in if not on a weekly basis, on a periodic basis to have reviewed with myself and staff members, the attendance record of the child.
We have an academic reporting system where the teachers give us an academic report on each student every week. And so at any given time between the four schools we have between 100 to 130 students that are involved.
So on a weekly basis, even when I do not meet with an individual parent at that school, I get a report on every student academically as well as attendance. We try to intervene and to identify what the issues are.
The first year we did this, we found out that asthma was a major cause of absenteeism, and I met with folks at the Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital and we instituted a program the second year where they came up and gave educational seminars to parents.
And come to find out, that through studies, that asthma is the single most significant medical reason for absenteeism on the elementary grade level.
So in intervening with the parents and dealing with the specific issue, and the parents identify these issues, by the way. And parents who identified the issue as asthma, we intervened in such a fashion and we met with the level of success statistically as presented in the documents before you here this morning.
REP. WOOD: Thank you. I'm not sure you've answered the question, though, on the non-punitive procedures for the kids who are health impaired.
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: Whether it might be asthma or whatever the issue might be, where it's identified that there's a medical issue or a social issue, that issue is identified and then the appropriate response as far as services, we try to intervene with those services to address the issue.
So it's non-punitive. So a student isn't declared truant, we only use the definition of truancy under our state statutes to introduce them into the program, but no student is found to be truant.
REP. WOOD: Thank you. That clarifies it. Thank you very much.
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: Okay.
REP. WOOD: Any idea what the fiscal impact of this would be, and why is this not being delivered right now in the school system?
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: We're not asking for any appropriated monies. In addition, where funds have been available to the school system since '08, we've also introduce, or the school department has introduced, an after school truancy tutorial program to identify those specific children.
There's busing involved. There's additional teaching time involved, and so that has been the contribution, if you will, from the local school board's perspective.
THE HON. PAUL J. KNIERIM: I would just add on the appropriations front that there is a relatively modest amount of funding for the program that comes through our appropriation to operate the Regional Children's Probate Courts. That's a $2.5 million annual grant that we use for the five Courts and fortunately that funding is used to share the expense of the truancy Court officer.
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: As any good supervisor, my supervisor reminds me there is a contribution for probate administration, so part of that salary is paid. But all the other services of the Regional Children's Court, myself, and my staff, are included in our present funding. So no one gets paid extra for doing this. It's within our, the confines of our present budgetary level.
REP. WOOD: Great. Thank you. Well, teamwork makes us all better.
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: Yes.
REP. WOOD: And I appreciate the effort behind this. I think it makes a lot of sense.
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: Thank you.
REP. WOOD: Thank you very much. Thank you, Madam Chair.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you. Thank you for coming down. I did speak with Senator Hartley about this program. She was very impressed and sounded very impressive, and hopefully we can help you out.
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: Thank you, Senator.
SENATOR MUSTO: It really sounded like a great idea, and obviously you guys have been doing some good work.
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: So, I just wanted to say that real quick before I let you off the hot seat.
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: And I particularly like the results oriented perspective of what you're doing.
Are there any other? Representative Candelaria.
REP. CANDELARIA: Thank you, Madam Chair. Just one quick question. At what time is the referral made?
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: That's up to each school. But we do use the definition of truancy, so four or more in a month or ten or more in the school year. But there might be some students that are referred right at the four days and some at the ten, okay?
And so, one other thing I'd just like to add. Mr. Mizelan is here from DCF and the school and DCF have put together a pilot program dealing with educational neglect, and when we had the good fortune of having Mr. Mizelan in the Waterbury office, he helped put this together where the work on educational neglect at the absentee level and tried to again, make them all part of this collaborative effort.
But that's the schools working with DCF. That just got off the ground this year and that's been so far fairly successful.
REP. CANDELARIA: And it seems that the Department has been very successful and parents actually opt to go to the clinic.
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: Yes.
REP. CANDELARIA: In the case where parents decide not to go to the clinic, what's the next procedure? Do you make a referral as a family with service needs, or?
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: No. Again, we try and make this clinic entirely voluntary. The school still has the right where they feel that a case rises to the level of educational neglect to make the referral to DCF.
But at this point in time, the clinic itself has made no referrals. (Inaudible) wanted to see, and I think the proof is in the pudding, that on a voluntary basis you can make a significant impact. But there are those, Representative, there are those cases that you're alluding to now, of folks that do need a more stern approach.
REP. CANDELARIA: And I'm assuming that prior to the referral the school has a procedure where I guess they will send letters to the parents' home, they will visit a parents' home and try to assess what the situation is?
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: When we get the referral from, on the clinic, they will give us the history or the interventions, which include letters, conferences at the school, home visits and whatever the response of the particular parent is to the particular case. So all those interventions are spelled down in the referral that we get so we can see the history.
REP. CANDELARIA: Thank you so much.
REP. URBAN: Are there any other comments or questions? Seeing none, thank you for your testimony.
THE HON. THOMAS P. BRUNNOCK: Thank you very much for the opportunity.
THE HON. PAUL J. KNIERIM: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: And next on our list to testify will be Commissioner Katz, DCF. Welcome, Commissioner.
SENATOR MUSTO: Hi, Commissioner. Did you submit, did your Department submit written testimony?
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: (Inaudible).
SENATOR MUSTO: A little late? Okay. And thank you so much for waiting. As you know, things get a little crazy around here, so I did want to hear what you have to say and I was stuck in another meeting, so I do appreciate the Courtesy. Please go on.
A VOICE: Commissioner, could you just put on your microphone, please, so we can hear you? Thank you.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Thank you. Good morning, Senator Musto, Representative Urban, Representative Wood and members of the Select Committee on Children. I am Joette Katz, Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families and am pleased to appear before you today to provide testimony on several bills.
First, I'd like to thank the Committee for raising two bills in particular, House Bill 6352 and Senate Bill 980 that are on today's public hearing agenda.
The first bill, which is House Bill 6352 entitled AN ACT CONCERNING THE MEMBERSHIP OF THE ADVISORY COUNCIL ON CHILDREN AND FAMILIES AND MODIFICATIONS TO STATUTES CONCERNING THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES.
The first section of the bill modifies the composition of the State Advisory Council on Children and Families to resolve a conflict in the language of the current statute by expanding the membership of the Advisory Council by two members and it also provides that foster parents should be included on the Council.
The other sections repeal a planning requirement regarding youth at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School and a requirement for the adoption of regulations that relate to procedures for dealing with high risk, newborns and birthing hospitals.
DC has also submitted, DCF has also submitted Senate Bill 980, which is entitled AN ACT CONCERNING PLACEMENT OF CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL STUDY FOSTER PARENTS.
That bill eliminates the age restriction for special study foster homes. As you know, special study foster homes are foster parents not related by birth or marriage but who have had a significant and positive relationship with the child.
Such individuals may include Godparents, parents, previous step-parents, clergy, close family friends and others with an established relationship with the child. This will provide additional placement resources for children that are both appropriate to, and in the best interest of our children.
Similar to our support of Senate Bill 980 AN ACT CONCERNING PLACEMENT OF CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL STUDY FOSTER PARENTS, DCF also supports House Bill 6336 entitled AN ACT CONCERNING KINSHIP CARE.
This bill encourages the placement of children who are in the care and custody of DCF with relatives. We are committed to increasing the number of relative caregivers and we look forward to working with the Committee as this legislation moves forward.
The Department's required by the Juan F. exit plan to seek and attract more quality foster parents. We are committed to a strategy of conducting child specific recruitment in addition to our traditional efforts to attract new foster parents.
We intend to actively seek more relative resources, but also want to examine others with whom the child has an existing relationship.
I would also like to briefly comment regarding a few of the other bills on today's agenda. The Department supports House Bill 6340 AN ACT CONCERNING THE PLACEMENT OF CHILDREN IN OUT-OF-STATE TREATMENT FACILITIES.
I am committed to a significant reduction in the number of children placed out of state. As of February 1, 2011, we had 357 children placed in out-of-state programs.
The Department would like to work with the Committee and the proponents of this legislation providing an alternative means of signing off on permitted out-of-state placements rather than seeking judicial determination.
The Department also supports the intent behind Senate Bill 320 AN ACT CONCERNING CHILDREN UNDER THE CARE OF THE COMMISSIONER OF THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES.
This bill would require DCF staff to visit children in foster homes at least once every 10 days and to visit children with behavioral health needs not later than 30 days after they are placed in the care and custody of the Commission.
The Department fully appreciates the benefits of increased visitation by our staff and is committed to making this a priority for our case-carrying front-line staff.
I would also like to note for the record our opposition to Senate Bill 322, which is AN ACT CONCERNING THE QUALIFICATION OF DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES EMPLOYEES, and Senate Bill 323 AN ACT CONCERNING DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES REUNIFICATION PLANS.
We have provided information in our written testimony regarding our position on these bills, as well as others before you today.
Thank you for the opportunity to present this testimony and I'm happy to answer any questions that you may have.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you, Commissioner. Questions from members of the Committee before the Chair gets started.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: They have to warm you up.
SENATOR MUSTO: Give everyone a shot first. So many times these things get answered before, you know, we get to it.
So starting, do you have a copy of your written testimony in front of you?
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Yes, I do.
SENATOR MUSTO: Okay, so just starting at the top with 320, you said you support the intent behind it. That's kind of a --
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Lawyer language?
SENATOR MUSTO: Lawyer language, yeah. That's a good word for it. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about what currently goes on and whether this is a problem or it's something you're working on or anything else you want to sort of give us about that one.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Thank you. I absolutely do support the intent of it, and we are committed to increasing our visitation schedules.
The visitation standards for both out-of-home cases and in-home cases have been a requirement of the Juan F. exit plan. Outcome Measure 16 requires us to visit at least 85 percent of all of our out-of-home children at least once a month, except for probate, interstate or voluntary cases, and all children have to be seen by their DCF social worker at least quarterly.
For the most recent evaluation period, which was the fourth quarter of 2010, the Department met this measure 98.9 percent of the time.
Outcome Measure 17 requires the Department to visit at least 85 percent of all in-home family cases at least twice a month, except again for probate, interstate and voluntary cases, and this Measure was met by 89.7 percent of the time during the most recent evaluation period.
So we fully appreciate the benefits of increased visitation by our staff, and we're committed to making this a priority for our front-line staff.
I don't see the need for the statute. As I said, we're under the Juan F. exit plan that requires us to do this. I would like to see it 100 percent, and I will certainly strive for that, but I don't see the need, although I support the intent of it, I don't think it's the sine qua non, if you will, of what is currently going on and what should be going on at the agency.
SENATOR MUSTO: Do any members of the Committee have any question about that one in particular? And we'll just sort of go through. Representative Betts.
REP. BETTS: Good morning, Commissioner. I agree with you. I'm just trying to understand why this legislation was introduced. Has there been a problem with this in the past, and that's why this is being submitted?
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Well --
REP. BETTS: You and I are both new, so we're safe.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Thank you. My educated guess is yes, there's usually either a history or an anecdote that always precipitates legislation. There certainly was a history, a problematic history in the past but I'm happy to say that it's one of the conditions of Juan F. that we have been meeting.
And so I, although there's a long history of a past problem, I don't see it as one that's currently on the table as being problematic for the monitor.
REP. BETTS: As I had said earlier on, my own personal preference is to try and resolve some of these issues administratively rather than by passing laws, so I'm glad to hear you're looking at it internally and thank you.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Okay. Senate Bill 322, which you oppose concerning qualifications. In addition to your written testimony is there any particular thing you'd like to say.
I mean, we can sort of read it for ourselves, but maybe again, having not gone through your written testimony, I'm not entirely sure what it says, but I imagine that there are some job qualifications at all levels in the Department.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Absolutely.
SENATOR MUSTO: And are there any, are there any changes being implemented administratively that would make this legislation either redundant or is there another reason for it?
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Frankly, it's, in all honesty it's not an area that I, that has been brought to my attention as being problematic. I mean, there are a couple of rumors out there, but there's nothing in particular about our staffing that's caused me, in terms of the qualifications, that's caused me personally to have any great cause of concern.
I also think that, quite frankly, because DAS not DCF develops the job specs for all state positions, I think it should be noted that both social workers and social work supervisor classes are part of the bargaining unit positions, and so whatever legislation you pass certainly has to involve DAS must more than it has to involve me, quite frankly.
SENATOR MUSTO: Questions from members of the Committee about this one? No? You also oppose AN ACT CONCERNING CHILDREN AND FAMILIES REUNIFICATION PLANS. This one I'm actually a little concerned about.
The intent behind this one, as I remember it, assuming I'm remembering the right one here. There are a lot on the list today, was that sometimes there's a dual track as it were, where the Department will ask for an order seeking reunification and set forth the specific steps and things that the parents might have to do in order to get reunified with the child.
And at the same time, as a matter of expediency and also so that we don't delay the child's progression should reunification not occur, or should the parents fail in their requirements, that the Department will ask for both orders at the same time.
And the issue here seemed to be one of judicial discretion, that the judges didn't feel like they had the discretion to allow an extension of time for the reunification plan if the parents, for example, I don't know, maybe lost a job or went through a divorce or something went on outside of the relationship with the child that sort of set the parents back a little bit with their relationship with the child.
So, I believe the purpose here was to say, you can still do what you need to do. DCF enter both orders at the same time, but give the judges a little bit of discretion where they can say, things seem to be moving in the right direction. Let's give the parents a little more time rather than executing the termination order right on the dot.
First of all, am I correct in my description, or am I thinking of the wrong bill?
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: No, no, you're correct. Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: And second of all, if that's the case, then what is the harm that this bill does?
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: If in fact, if it merely gives judges discretion, I have no problem with it. If, however, it's viewed or interpreted in any way as a prohibition of co-terminus petitions, then I would have a problem because I think it's essential that concurrent planning both because it's an effective tool, and because I think it really is best practices.
Because the problem is, if you don't follow the termination petition, or if there's some, or if it's determined to be a prohibition in any way on filing a termination petition, and then reunification plans fail, that child is then a year behind, which in the life of that child as we know, could be a lifetime.
So again, as long as there's no prohibition on the co-terminus that gives the Department the ability to do everything it can to bring unification to bear, but it would also give the trial Court the opportunity to grant extensions or impose stays, whatever language you think is effective and whatever practice book provisions are then drafted to be consistent with. I don't have a problem with that.
SENATOR MUSTO: Questions from the members of the Committee? Okay. 324 is AN ACT CONCERNING VACATIONS FOR FOSTER CHILDREN. Just, you're resting on your written testimony, I imagine.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Yes. Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: If anyone, by the way if the Committee has any questions while I'm moving through this, I'd like to just feel free to, you know, jump in. Yeah, that's fine.
You introduced 980, so I guess you're okay with that one.
981 concerning the placement of young children in congregate care facilities, again, you're supporting the intent. Sometimes that doesn't give us much to work with. Can you sort of expand on that a little bit?
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: That's probably one of the more controversial bills involving the Agency that you have, and I see a lot of friends in the audience, and I call them friends because I really do think everybody here in regard to this has the best interest of the children, but people take different positions.
I do support the intent of it. I'm familiar with the studies that support the notion that congregate care can be damaging to children under a particular age, and so I do support it.
I just want to point out, however that, and because again, congregate care is not appropriate for younger children. But I want to point out that there are certain quality programs in Connecticut, and I'm happy to give a plug to one, Kids in Crisis and the representatives are here today, in Greenwich, and they do a fantastic job with our young children.
But I'm nevertheless troubled because what happens, speaking quite frankly, a lot of the centers do a wonderful medical workup and Kids in Crisis among them, and that's really crucial to them determining what the needs of the young child are and for proper placement.
The problem is that in addition to the fact that the studies demonstrate that congregate care is not, it's not healthy for young children. They do much better with families and consistency and continuity in a family-like setting.
The problem is that it's often hard to find placements for young children, particularly infants at a moment's notice, and so again, it's part of a continuum of trying to increase our abilities to work with kinship and foster relative foster families and just open up that bottleneck about regarding foster care in general.
What happens, though, I think because sometimes it is very difficult, particularly if you're dealing with siblings to find appropriate placement in a relatively short period of time. Some of our younger children are left in placement too long, quite frankly, and they're left there because it's safe. Everybody knows they're being well nourished and taken care of and it's safe.
But I think sometimes it's viewed as it eliminates or removes some of the impetus to try and get them out. These are the perceptions that I'm getting from people who have been in this business far longer than I have, from some of the advocates, and I don't need to speak for them. You'll hear from them directly, I'm sure.
So it's a balance. It's a balance and I'm trying to strike an appropriate balance when it comes to these children, because again, it's not, this is not at all an indictment of the centers where we are placing these children. I want to be really very clear about that, because they're doing a tremendous job.
The question is just the whole notion about congregate care for young children to begin with. That is the problem. But I'm hoping that again, by increasing kinship relative foster care, opening up that bottleneck, we'll have more relative foster care.
Actually taking it a step back, if we really embrace a differential response, we'll have fewer kids out of home to begin with, but for those kids who have to be removed, more relative foster care, more foster care, more therapeutic foster care and less need for congregate care for these very young children.
SENATOR MUSTO: The statute itself says there are a couple of exceptions and one is if the child is, if the child is, the facility is designed for the child and their parents, so you know, the idea being the parents could go with them, or the health needs of the child are so severe that that child's health needs can only be met at that facility.
Are there any other exceptions or expansions, any other exceptions, I guess, that would in your mind sort of allay any of the concerns you've had, you voiced today.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: I know there's been discussion about siblings, and keeping siblings together and again, there are different philosophies on that as well.
Some of the articles would suggest, some of the articles that I've read would suggest that doesn't matter. It's still, it's better to split up children. I'm not as experienced in that regard, but I can certainly see an exception for sibling care because I think there's an instance where, if that's the only reason you're doing it, keeping siblings together, to me would be a very significant step in the right direction, whenever you can keep siblings together.
So if you wanted to draft that or include that as an exception, I think that's certainly more than palatable.
REP. URBAN: Thank you. Thank you, Commissioner.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: On the subsection where we're talking about if a child's in a facility for more than 30 days we'll look for an emergency placement review hearing to be held not less than 45 days after the date of initial placement.
Is that a section, it's Section 2, I'm sorry. Is that a section of the bill that you support, or what is the current policy on review, because you did mention that one of the problems was that children end up staying in placement too long.
Sorry, you don't have (inaudible).
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: No, no. I'm sorry. Thank you.
REP. URBAN: And then as a follow up to that question, if this, if we went forward with this, what would happen to children if we were prohibited from sending them to congregate care?
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: What would happen? I'm sorry.
REP. URBAN: If this went forward and you were prohibited from sending children to congregate care, where would we actually then send them?
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Well, part of the problem is the result of it would be, depending upon, obviously, how other systems are improving, but certainly a consequence of it could be a short-term placement.
I mean, every action has a reaction, and so what you might end up with is too many placements in the short run, and that's a cost that certainly would need to be considered.
Now, of the section, in response to your earlier question, thank you for giving me the opportunity to look at the wording exactly.
Well, whenever --
REP. URBAN: Do you have the language?
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Yes, I do, thank you. That remains in the facility for more than 30 days the Commissioner shall petition the Court for an emergency placement.
REP. URBAN: Yes, that's it.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Well, I'm sure my judge friends might have a concern about that in terms of the practicalities and the increased burden on the Court system, but I don't, wearing this hat, I don't have a particular problem with it.
REP. URBAN: Thank you, Commissioner.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: Are there other questions? Representative Betts.
REP. BETTS: Thank you, Commissioner. I'm not really clear on what congregate care facilities are. Can you give me examples of what that might be, or does that include things like shelters or, what is congregate care?
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Group homes. Group homes.
REP. BETTS: Group homes.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Multiple children, could be five to ten children with rotating staff essentially, and that's what the literature signifies is the danger that it's not one family, one mom, one dad, it's a series of rotating shifts, essentially.
REP. BETTS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: Representative Wood.
REP. WOOD: Thank you, Madam. Madam Chair. Sorry. Just briefly. I hear your concerns on 981 and I have also heard a lot of concerns, and I also want to concur that the Kids in Crisis in Greenwich I've visited a number of times through my work in our area and they're tremendous and I think we need to keep them and organizations like that in the front row.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Absolutely. I'd love to clone them.
REP. WOOD: Yes, absolutely. So thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Thank you.
REP. WOOD: Thank you, Madam Chair.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: If I just might. I'm sure there are others, I just haven't, that we partner with. I just in the last five weeks haven't gotten to all of them yet.
SENATOR MUSTO: Okay, thank you. Next one you're in support of concerning kinship care. Any questions about that one from the Committee? Or the next one, 6340 concerning out-of-place statement. Excuse me, out-of-state placement in treatment facilities.
This one is something we've actually been looking at for the last couple of years and I see you're supporting it. I'm glad to hear it. It's really going to be something that we're taking a lot of time with, I think, especially some of the fiscal issues we're having.
People are talking about closing Riverview, which is likely a good idea if we can find a place to put the kids, and we've already closed Spring Meadow and realistically the out-of-state placement has other problems that are not just fiscal.
In the mind of, the Co-Chair and I have been discussing it. I think I can probably safely say that we agree that keeping these kids closer to home where they might have a little better opportunity to interact with their families, especially since some of these problems tend to be the problems of the children themselves and their severe behaviors rather than the family issue.
We're very interested in bringing those kids home. Hopefully we can ancilarily seek some money in the process. That would be nice, too. But I think the first requirement at least as far as the Children's Committee goes is to make sure the kids get the care they need as close to home as possible.
Do you have anything? That's one that just happens to be close to our hearts up here. I was wondering if you had anything else to add about that other than just that you support it.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Well, currently our behavioral health director is presenting, is gathering data to present to me, which I expect to have by next week regarding every single one of those children, so that we can examine them individually with an eye toward bringing them home.
There are issues surrounding the facilities, as you know. They are half full. Many of them are half full, but they're fully staffed as a result for example, of High Meadows closing last year and all of those staff got moved over.
And I think, quite frankly, fiscally we're very vulnerable on those issues. So whether we want to be in the business of running institutions or not, one option, and it's all on the table, and it's all being considered as we go forward looking at the individual children involved, to whether or not we want to move them to our current facilities, at least in the short run.
I think part of the problem is, facilities in state as well as out of state, our kids are staying there too long. I mean, they're meant to be treatment centers. They're not meant to warehouse, and so part of this wholesale examination involves the kids who are currently in our institutions. How many of them need to be there?
Again, if we can open up the bottleneck, I'm sorry to be so repetitive but I really do think it's an issue of a continuum of care. If we can open up more foster homes, more therapeutic foster homes, do better with our group homes, maybe some of the kids who are currently in our institutions can go into those facilities. We can bring some of the out-of-state kids home. So that's on the table.
The only other thing I would just want to point out, as I've been going around the state for example, I went to the Torrington office, and many of our out-of-state kids are right over the border.
So those offices, those families, aren't quite as concerned about out of state, quote, unquote, because for them it's five miles away. So again, I don't think it's a one size fits all. We really need to look at this institutionally, but we also need to look at it individually, and that's exactly what I'm in the process of doing right now.
SENATOR MUSTO: Representative Betts.
REP. BETTS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I wanted to be sure I understand this. So if a child was placed out of state but was nearby, you would not be in opposition to that in the sense that there would be ready access for family or relatives to visit as well as if they were placed, let's say out of state like in Pennsylvania, but perhaps there were some relatives that lived close to Pennsylvania, that would be okay to have that type of placement because they'd have some relatives watching over their treatment.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: That's correct. I mean, first and foremost if it's a good facility and they're getting great treatment, obviously that's paramount. But particularly if the family is very supportive of that placement for any of the reasons you articulated and then some, I would not be diametrically opposed to it, no.
SENATOR MUSTO: Moving on. Again, DCF bill, not DCF bill but 6352 DCF introduced or requested, so I don't --
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: We like that one.
SENATOR MUSTO: Yes, you like that one. Good. I think that's it. Right. That's the last one.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: That's it.
SENATOR MUSTO: So --
REP. BETTS: Mr. Chairman.
SENATOR MUSTO: Yes.
REP. BETTS: Sorry, I forgot to ask you one question. You probably don't know the answer to this, but obviously it will come up in the process.
If we were to move forward on what you recommended in 6340, I'm assuming there's a fairly sizeable fiscal responsibility with that kind of a transition.
Are you working or looking at trying to estimate what the amount of money would be required from the state to be able to meet that goal?
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: I don't intend to ask for any more money.
REP. BETTS: Well, okay. Great. Thanks.
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
REP. BETTS: Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you. Any other questions from members of the Committee? Anything else you want to say before you go?
COMMISSIONER JOETTE KATZ: Thank you so much for the attention that you've given me this morning and that you give to our children every day.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you. Next up on the agenda is Carolyn Signorelli. And after Miss Signorelli, Counselor, Attorney Signorelli, we'll be moving on to the public list starting with Shari Shapiro from Kids in Crisis in Greenwich. And we'll go back and forth, right, until we're off the list, so welcome.
CAROLYN SIGNORELLI: Good afternoon, Senator Musto, Representative Urban, esteemed Committee members. For the record, my name is Carolyn Signorelli, Chief Child Protection Attorney for the State of Connecticut.
I've submitted written testimony in relation to three bills today, all in support. The first bill, 981 AN ACT CONCERNING THE PLACEMENT OF YOUNG CHILDREN IN CONGREGATE CARE FACILITIES, I support this bill.
DCF embraced the strategy of placing abused children in SAFE Homes as a means to evaluate their needs more thoroughly, keep siblings together and establish a stable and appropriate placement for children more quickly.
These goals have not materialized as the result of the use of SAFE Homes, and I've submitted some citations to some studies including one that was done through DCF.
Yet we have very young children being cared for in a group home setting and too many children overstaying the maximum time limit.
Research regarding the efficacy of institutional care is documented that congregate care at any age does not achieve the goals the child welfare system espouses and certainly does not enhance outcomes for young children who need a secure attachment to a consistent nurturing and reliable caretaker for their appropriate development.
Applying the principles of result-based accountability to the practice of placing young children in a congregate care setting, Connecticut's SAFE Homes should no longer be considered as acceptable placement option for children under six who are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of interference with their primary attachment.
They do not enhance outcomes as far as permanency and well being for children and they cost more than providing care in preferable family-based settings.
The funds saved on reducing the use of SAFE Homes should be transitioned to services to provide for children's safety and well being in family settings, whether with their biological family or with a necessary substitute family.
Therefore, I respectfully request that the Committee act favorably on this bill.
The next bill that I've submitted testimony in support of is 6336 AN ACT CONCSRNING KINSHIP CARE. I support all three measures contained in this bill --
SENATOR MUSTO: Excuse me, Attorney Signorelli. We seem to have only one piece of written testimony here. It's on 6336. Did you submit three different ones or are we just missing them?
CAROLYN SIGNORELLI: I did. You should have them.
SENATOR MUSTO: I'm going to ask the Clerk to please look for them while you're speaking and then if for some reason we can't find them, if you would just please e-mail them around, whatever.
CAROLYLN SIGNORELLI: I'll make sure you get them. Absolutely.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you. I just, I'm sorry. I just want to make sure we weren't missing anything while you were talking.
CAROLYN SIGNORELLI: Yeah, I did submit written testimony on all three and they should have them, so I'm not sure what happened there.
In relation to the first measure of 6336, the work group, is important because I believe the issue does need to be studied, understood and then addressed in a manner that assures the best interest of children.
While it is desirable to facilitate kinship care where appropriate, it is not in the best interest of children to assume placing them back in their family of origin will ensure the safety and well being.
It is important that we establish an inclusive process for understanding the proposed placement's role in the family dynamic, involvement in, or acquiescence to, the root causes of the parents' neglect or abuse of their children, and willingness and ability to meet the needs of the children placed with them. The work group should also consider ways in which our system can better support kinship caregivers.
The new provision in Section 2 removing the requirement that a relative placement have a separate bedroom for the child is simply common sense. We should not keep children out of otherwise appropriate and stable relative care and in stranger care based upon an inflexible standard that does not necessarily impact child well being.
Finally, Section 3's addition of a reporting requirement is necessary to ensure compliance with the recent statutory changes promoting the timely identification and investigation of relative resources.
Without a reporting requirement, DCF is not held accountable for the timeliness of their investigation or for the result. Now, if DCF determines that the relative is not suitable, there's no automatic opportunity for the Court or other parties to examine that decision and its basis.
Therefore, I request that this bill also be acted upon favorably.
The last bill, 6340 AN ACT CONCERNING THE PLACEMENT OF CHILDREN IN OUT-OF-STATE TREATMENT FACILITIES, I support this bill, and not only because of the concerns about placing children far from home and outside of their communities, and reducing the success rates of their reintegration into communities, but also just looking at residential and institutional care in general, whether it be out of state or in state, there's very little evidence to support their efficacy toward the ultimate goals of child welfare to improve the well being and futures of these children.
It makes more sense to transition the funding for those type of placements to better solutions for providing for these children.
This bill is consistent with the current research regarding the efficacy of residential treatment programs as they are currently utilized and principles of results-based accountability.
Bringing children back to Connecticut from out-of-state placements will be an excellent first step toward creating a capacity in the state to more appropriately meet the needs of children typically relegated to institutions because we don't have the creativity or the will to insist on better solutions.
I just wanted to comment on a couple of the other bills that are pending and have been discussed. I just want to make sure I cite the correct one. I believe 320 is the bill concerning having TPR and reunification plans at the same time. Oh, here, 323.
I just want to point out that there are currently federal requirements that states have concurrent planning. Under ASFA the federal government expects us to yes, of course, work toward reunification, but to also at the same time have contingency planning in the event that reunification cannot occur so that we can achieve an alternate permanency plan on a quicker basis. So this bill on its face could be in violation of certain federal requirements. That's it.
SENATOR MUSTO: Okay. Thank you. We'll take up the last bill, since you just mentioned it. If, as we were talking to Commissioner Katz about it was really to provide Courts with discretion to extend the orders, first of all, what's been your experience with that, and second of all, would that raise any federal concerns?
CAROLYN SIGNORELLI: Well, I think the way it currently works, Courts do have discretion. I mean, if the Commissioner, if the Department of Children and Families decides to amend the permanency plan, typically, unless a co-termination petition is filed in the very beginning of a case, the permanency plan is always reunification, the plan that's approved from the Court, by the Court at the time children are placed.
If the Department were to determine that the permanency plan needs to change, say after nine months or a year, they would have to file a new permanency plan and in some instances, they file a termination of petition with that new plan recommending termination because for a year they don't feel enough progress has been made toward reunification.
But the Court always has discretion because that termination petition, the parents have a right to a trial on that and the state has to prove that in fact there are grounds to terminate and that it's in the child's best interest.
And the Court's not required to approve a particular permanency plan that the Department presents. So I'm not sure I'm understanding where the issue of the Court discretion comes in because it's the Court that decides what permanency plan to approve.
And there is discretion if another party were to put on evidence that it's in the best interest of the child to give the parent some more time because say, perhaps the parent has completed most of the specific steps and is close to being in a position to take the child back, then you know, the Court can give that parent more time.
SENATOR MUSTO: Okay. That did seem to be the concern with this issue, was that the way it was brought to us, the way it was presented to us was that Courts felt like, since the two plans were being proposed, whatever your term is, at the same time they didn't have the discretion if the reunification plan didn't work out, that determination plan would go forward automatically.
Is it your understanding, your experience, I mean, you do this all the time, so we could really use your help here.
CAROLYN SIGNORELLI: Well, sure. I mean, I think for practical purposes, and I think Judge Keller can probably address this even better than I, because she's in the Court handling these plans all the time.
But for practical purposes, we're under ASFA timelines, Adoption Safe Family Act timelines, to approve a permanency plan to achieve a permanent placement for that child as soon as possible.
So if, for example, after a child is in care for nine months or a year, the Department comes before the Court saying, the parent's not ready to take this child back. Therefore, we must move to a permanency plan of termination so that we can achieve an adoption for the child.
The Courts feel that they have to approve some plan. They're required to by ASFA guidelines in order to preserve 4E reimbursement funding for the state. So if there is no other alternative plan that somebody's proposing that they can achieve permanency for the child, the Court will feel like, well, this is the plan that's proposed right now. I need to approve it because we're required to.
But, the fact that the Court approves the Department's plan of TPR doesn't necessarily mean that the parent is going to ultimately be terminated. There still has to be a termination petition filed and the parent has a right to a trial on that. And the parent can continue to work toward trying to reunify with their child during that timeframe.
One of the concerns that I had when I first read the bill, because I think the wording is a little confusing, is that it might actually cause DCF to stop working with parents altogether once a permanency plan of TPR is approved.
So, for example, the Department might feel that they have to file a permanency plan of TPR because they're not able to reunify at a certain point in time, or they don't think they're going to be able to reunify within say, the next six months.
But, they could continue to work with that parent in spite of the direction that the Court process is going in order to meet the federal requirements. So they could continue to work with that parent and perhaps by the time the TPR comes into Court or comes up for trial, things look different and the matter gets resolved with the TPR being withdrawn.
But the way this statute is worded, it's conceivable that workers would say, I'm not allowed to continue to work with this parent now that this permanency plan is approved.
So I'm not really sure what is attempting to be fixed through this statute, but I don't personally see the need for it at this time.
SENATOR MUSTO: I'm a little confused. You're going to have to be a little slower with me on this, because obviously you do this every day and I don't.
CAROLYN SIGNORELLI: I apologize, and I guess it is a little confusing.
SENATOR MUSTO: No, that's okay. And again, the purpose of the bill as I understood it when it came before us, and let's, I hate to ignore the wording of it for now, but I mean, the purpose of the bill, what we're trying to get a here was that maybe we should just take this one step at a time.
There are times where the Department will file both a petition to terminate rights and a reunification plan at the same time. The idea being that if the reunification plan doesn't work out, then the Department will not have wasted a year of the child's life or some period, some long period of the child's life before filing a termination petition. Is that correct, first of all?
And really, I mean, if you can just sort of give me a yes or no and then feel free to explain it, but I need to know where I'm going wrong here.
CAROLYN SIGNORELLI: In my experience, and there could be something going on in the Courts that I'm not aware of, that's not the practice, to file two different plans, or to have two different plans.
The plan with the Court is reunification to start, and if that doesn't work out, then a different plan will be filed with the Court.
That's sort of a separate and distinct process from what DCF is doing in its case planning as far as trying to have a concurrent plan, so if after nine months or a year that permanency plan that was originally approved by the Court is not working out, and they have to file for a new permanency plan with the Court, that they have been doing in their practice and their case planning with the family, the work necessary to implement that new permanency plan, which could be transfer of guardianship to a relative or termination and adoption.
So you know, perhaps there's something going on in the Courts that I'm not aware of, a practice of filing two different plans.
The Departments might inform the Court of what their concurrent plan is, but I don't believe that Courts are being asked to approve two separate plans, and somebody could correct me if I'm wrong on that.
SENATOR MUSTO: We can just ask Judge Keller, if Her Honor is here. Would you mind setting us straight, Judge? You can come on up. Carolyn. Carolyn.
CAROLYN SIGNORELLI: I'm supposed to stay right here?
SENATOR MUSTO: Yeah. Don't, you don't have to go anywhere.
THE HON. CHRISTINE E. KELLER: Good morning. I'm Judge Christine Keller. I'm the Chief Administrative Judge for Juvenile Matters for the state. I've been working in the Juvenile Court since 1994. I've been a judge for about 17 years, and 9 or 10 or those years have been spent in the Juvenile Court.
Your question had to do with concurrent planning, I think.
SENATOR MUSTO: It seems, I mean, I don't know how long you've been sitting in the back row waiting to get up here. We appreciate your patience, certainly.
THE HON. CHRISTINE E. KELLER: I haven't been there too long.
SENATOR MUSTO: But the idea behind 323 regarding reunification plans, and some of the terminology we may be using incorrectly, that's why we have these public hearings and we ask you folks who know what you're doing to come tell us what's going on.
But the idea that we've been told by the proponents of the bill was that very often there will be both a termination of parental rights petition filed and a reunification plan filed, the purpose of which is to have sort of dual tracks going so that if the parents fail in the reunification petition with the, I believe the specific steps or whatever they're required to do otherwise, that we haven't wasted too much of the child's time in getting them you know, moving them forward in their lives.
And that the problem that this bill was supposed to solve and is seeking to solve, anyway, in my mind, is that because both petitions have been filed and are moving forward at the same time, judges feel for whatever reason, and maybe it's not you, maybe it's some of your colleagues and you know, maybe the bill is misplaced.
But the judges sometimes feel that they don't have the discretion to say, well, if the reunification plan hasn't worked for some reason, but it looks like we would like to give the parents more time, we can't because the termination petition is moving forward and they have to go forward with that.
And so the question that we're trying to solve with this bill, and the question we're trying to get answered here is, you know, are we right? I mean, is this the wrong bill? Do we have the whole situation wrong? What, you know, so in your estimation, could you tell us what's going on from your side of the table.
THE HON. CHRISTINE E. KELLER: Well, first I want to mention that I did file written testimony in opposition to the bill as drafted.
Let me just kind of take you a little bit into my world. When a child is removed from the home, there is a hearing held within 10 days. At that 10-day hearing, and I've been very carefully instructing the juvenile judges to make sure that these 10-day hearings are not pro forma or conducted too swiftly.
At that first hearing, we have a conference, case management conference. It's mediated by a Court services officer. There's a judge in the waiting. Lawyers are assigned to indigent parents immediately and a plan is put into place in almost every case for reunification with one parent or the other.
Sometimes I tell the mother and the father it's kind of a race to the finish line. If one of you can get your act together faster than the other one, then the Court may be more willing to order reunification be focused on you and not the parent who's not cooperating.
We issue very specific lengthy lists of steps directed to the parents and to the Department of Children and Families and we instruct them on what they need to do in order to obtain the goal of getting the children back home.
After I read the parents their rights, and I go through those steps, and I go through them in great detail. There are lawyers here who have appeared in front of me at preliminary hearings.
I also tell the parents what we now call an ASFA advisement, which I've been encouraging the judges to give them. I tell them that under federal and state law, after the child has been in foster care for nine months, and then I say, and I'm not necessarily saying that your child will stay in foster care for nine months, but at the end of that nine months under federal and state law, the Department of Children and Families is required to file a permanency plan.
If you've been diligently working toward addressing the problems that caused removal of your children, whether it's substance abuse, domestic violence, physical abuse to the children, lack of adequate parenting skills, mental illness that's not being treated that therefore poses a threat to the children, and we're very close to the point where it looks like it's going to be safe for the children to go back home, the Court might still approve a plan of reunification.
The important thing to remember are the timelines that are now in state law that were set by ASFA. And the reason for ASFA, which was enacted in 1997 was because the federal lawmakers were concerned, and I think this is true, that prior to that date, state Courts were over-emphasizing parents reunifying with the children no matter how long it took.
When I started working in Juvenile Court, I had children who had been in foster care six, seven, eight years. One review after another. One motion to extend commitment after another with give the parent another chance, give the parent another chance, give the parent another chance.
As a result, what we saw were children reaching the point where they were no longer adoptable and it was very difficult to find them permanent homes. Children who had no attachments to anyone because they had been moved from place to place over a period of four, five, six or seven years. Judges without the guts, frankly, to bite the bullet and terminate parental rights because they just didn't have the heart to do it, leaving children forever floating in foster care.
So the feds said, this is the way it's got to be done, states, and if you don't do it this way, your reimbursement for foster care is not going to be forthcoming any longer.
So, after nine months, DCF has to file a permanency plan. The parent has the right to object to it as does the child's attorney if they don't believe that the plan is appropriate, or if they believe it's the wrong plan and that it's not in the best interest of the child.
The Court has to hold a hearing within 12 months and the Court does not have to approve the plan proposed by the Department. The Court can reject it, and then it has to order DCF to file a new plan within 60 days, and this is sometimes done.
If I don't feel that termination of parental rights is appropriate because I see a parent who's working very hard toward reunification, has met the goals, has completed the parenting classes and is showing that they benefited from the services, then I might say no, I'm not going to approve that plan. File a plan for reunification. You've got 60 days to do that.
That doesn't stop the Department from filing a petition to terminate parental rights. In fact, if a child doesn't go home after 15 months, federal and state law, and I'll cite you the state statute, it's 17a-111a(a) requires that DCF must file a petition to terminate parental rights.
But nothing undermines the judge's discretion that we have now. My problem with the proposed act as drafted is, it says that DCF cannot work concurrently toward a plan of TPR and adoption, nor can it even facilitate a plan of termination of parental rights and adoption or file a plan unless the parent is refusing to participate. I have a problem with that language, refusing to participate.
Because if that's adopted, it violates state and federal law and it will prolong for many children the time that they're going to stay adrift in foster care placement.
SENATOR MUSTO: Can I just ask you a quick question?
THE HON. CHRISTINE E. KELLER: Yeah.
SENATOR MUSTO: It sounds like what you're saying is the law as drafted is bad on a number of levels --
THE HON. CHRISTINE E. KELLER: Right.
SENATOR MUSTO: -- including that it might violate federal law. And the law as we intended it, as we have been discussing, is unnecessary because judges already have the discretion and exercise it routinely.
THE HON. CHRISTINE E. KELLER: Right. But you know, they only have, at that 12-month period, if the judge feels that reunification is appropriate, the judge also is supposed to set very specific timeframes.
The real goal under ASFA is that reunification, we should be very close to that. It should look like it's going to be a successful plan within the next six months.
Our practice book requires that if the judge approves a plan for reunification and the child is still not home, then the judge has to set very specific timeframes to make it very clear what has to be done in order to get that child home. Otherwise, you start to fall afoul of that 15 out of the last 22 months requirement that I told you about.
So, ASFA requires that, you know, the parent doesn't just say, I'm not refusing to participate. Well, parents can say I'm not refusing to participate, and unfortunately we have some very sad cases, where despite the good intentions or the efforts of particular parents, their deficiencies are such that just saying they're still willing to cooperate with the plan is never going to get us to a goal where it's safe to return that child home.
Or, you can go to the methadone maintenance clinic every week, but your hair tests are still showing that you're using heroin and cocaine. You know, I've had very sad cases where extensive parenting classes, even intensive in-home services, even hands on with the baby services, could not in one case I recall get a mother to learn even how to hold the baby appropriately. Every time the baby was picked up the baby was tucked under her arm like a football.
So it's not just willingness to participate in the plan, it's, are they making progress toward the goals of the plan and are they consistently participating in the plan? Well, I'm willing to visit. Well, excuse me, but you visited your child twice in the last 12 months.
You know, I think the wording, I think it would be better if you really feel you need something, and I don't think you do, because I think that the resource guidelines for the judges and the discretion that the judges have, coupled with limits that I think are appropriate to make sure children don't stay in foster care forever, because you may have a particular judge who just can't bite the bullet and say it's not going to happen. We've got to do something else.
You could say that you know, if the parent is complying with the case plan, making significant measurable progress toward achieving the goals established in the case plan and diligently working toward reunification, you could say that the judge should give the person another six months. But it's got to time limited. Otherwise you run afoul of the federal requirements, and your own state law.
And the concurrent plan, I'm going to tell you about concurrent plans. Our law now requires that a concurrent plan be filed with the Court within six months from the date that the child is removed. That's 17a-110a.
We're not doing that, and we've been criticized for not doing that by the federal reviewers who come in every four years and tell us what we're doing wrong.
We've just obtained a federal grant under the Court Improvement Fund to work toward better concurrent planning and improving that, because it's not being done right now. It's not being done formally, anyway.
I mean, we all kind of know what the concurrent plan is. It's usually one of the following. Either the child is going to go to the other parent, the child's going to be transferred, guardianship of the child will be transferred to a relative, or the plan is going to be termination of parental rights and adoption.
It isn't hard. I mean, we hope it's not one of the less desirable plans, which is long-term foster care, which we call another permanent plan living arrangement, which is frowned upon by the feds.
So we're all working toward the goals initially when we have, especially if we have a relative placement of either a TPR or a guardianship transfer.
And the point is that DCF is supposed to work concurrently, and that's because when we come to that year and the judge has to say, I'm sorry but the unification is not going to be the plan, we can quickly get the child adopted. We're not waiting another year or two to get that done, because we've already got some of the work put into place.
REP. FAWCETT: Can I just ask two clarifying questions?
THE HON. CHRISTINE E. KELLER: Yes.
REP. FAWCETT: The first is, you said that judges were not filing concurrent plans?
THE HON. CHRISTINE E. KELLER: We don't file the plans. DCF --
REP. FAWCETT: And I guess I'm wondering why the federal reviewers came in. If you could expound upon that.
THE HON. CHRISTINE E. KELLER: Because ASFA encourages concurrent planning, but it doesn't require it. Not yet, anyway. I couldn't find where it's required, but it's strongly encouraged.
REP. FAWCETT: And then another question that I wasn't sure I followed is, under state and federal law at nine months the plan has to be filed? At 15 months?
THE HON. CHRISTINE E. KELLER: No. At 12 months the plan has to be approved. Any child who's been in foster care 15 out of the last 22 months, or the last 15 consecutive months, and this is under our law, and also 17a-112, DCF must file a termination of parental rights petition.
REP. FAWCETT: And then in theory, how long does that termination petition last? So I guess what I'm trying to figure out is, what's the, in theory the maximum amount of time that a child is supposed to be in foster care?
THE HON. CHRISTINE E. KELLER: All right. Under ASFA it's 18 months. Are we meeting that goal? No. I would say most of our children whose cases proceed to termination of parental rights, it's probably a two to two and a half year time period before the trial level decides it.
Then if it's appealed, it might be another six months to 18 months for the Appellate Court to decide it. And we are very much criticized for this.
REP. FAWCETT: And just for getting clarification, that's all after the termination of parental rights has been filed. Then there's another several years before --
THE HON. CHRISTINE E. KELLER: It could be another several years especially if there's an appeal. Now, we are working to expedite those things. We have expedited trial time significantly, and we now have a committee working to expedite our appeals, our child protection appeals, with a goal of something much shorter than the average, which I believe was about 17 months until recently.
The Appellate Court has made great strides in pushing up those times.
REP. FAWCETT: So is that happening because there's not enough review and the scheduling is so difficult?
THE HON. CHRISTINE E. KELLER: That's part of the problem, yes.
REP. FAWCETT: And there's so many cases that we just can't get the kids in it so it takes two and a half years to schedule them?
THE HON. CHRISTINE E. KELLER: And a lot of things cause delays. We have, you know, on any given case I might have five or six lawyers just sitting in Court saying, okay, we're going to set a trial for this case. Five or six lawyers pull out their palm pilots and we're going from date to date to date to date until we can find a date where all the lawyers in the room can be present because our lawyers are very busy.
Sometimes there are psychological evaluations requested and those might hold things up. But we do have regional child protection sessions, one in Willimantic and one in Middletown, which are actually created over 10 years ago to expedite not only termination of parental rights hearings so that the Court could hear them on consecutive days and get them done in time, but also to expedite our temporary custody hearings so that if someone wants a hearing within the 10 days required by law, it definitely occurs either at the local Court, or the local Court if the local Court doesn't have the time, send it to one of the regional trial Courts.
But we can still do better. We can still do better. A lot, you know, more judges would certainly help. Some states use, you know, magistrates and referees to hear some of the child protection matters. I'm not sure that's the best idea for something like a termination of parental rights.
But definitely, some states are using magistrates and attorney referees for permanency plan hearings and things like that, which our judges are doing, you know, all of.
SENATOR MUSTO: Are there questions from any other members of the Committee about this bill? And, Your Honor, do you have other bills you want to testify about as long as you're sitting there.
THE HON. CHRISTINE E. KELLER: No. This is the only one.
SENATOR MUSTO: I really appreciate, you know, we spent a lot of time on this but that's because we're trying to get it right, so I appreciate you guys are trying to get it right, too.
THE HON. CHRISTINE E. KELLER: Well, the Branch is certainly willing to help draft something that we feel, you know, addresses the concern that you don't want a plan approved that shouldn't be approved. You don't want any judge to think, well, I have to approve a plan.
I certainly don't think that any of our judges believe that, but I think that this language just doesn't get to the right result. I think it just stalls the case, or makes it just sort of drift along with no one ever saying, enough already. Okay?
SENATOR MUSTO: Well, thank you very much.
THE HON. CHRISTINE E. KELLER: Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: And thank you. You can leave the book there. Maybe Carolyn needs it for something.
CAROLYN SIGNORELLI: I don't know if you had any more questions for me?
SENATOR MUSTO: Not about this one. I think we, I don't. Any other members of the Committee have a question for Attorney Signorelli about this bill?
Going back to the other ones you discussed, the only question I had about your other ones was on 6336, and that concerning kinship care. You said Section 3 added a provision. I'm just going to try to pull it back up, because I had to get it off my computer screen while we were talking about this other one.
It says, oh yeah, that the Commission, the (inaudible) is to investigate and determine. Instead of determine, they will report to the Court not later than 30 days after a preliminary hearing.
Could you just, again, you're much better at this than we are, so take it slow. But can you sort of explain to us how, what the mechanism would be that these things be reported to the Court.
CAROLYN SIGNORELLI: Right. So, for example, the way things are now, because the language says determine, it's turned over to DCF after that first preliminary hearing that Judge Keller described, when a child is removed from placement. The parties come together, discuss a potential plan for the child and one of the things that is typically discussed is whether there are any relative resources available.
And under our current statutes and recent amendments to promote the use of kinship care, the Department is required to conduct an investigation within 30 days and determine if they're suitable. But then it was just left open-ended so there was no set procedure for requiring the Department to notify the parties of what their determination was and to report to the Court what their determination was.
So sometimes more than 30 days would pass and the matter wouldn't be, you know, come up in Court, or nobody would know exactly what the Department had decided about the particular relative or relatives.
In this way, you're sort of holding the Department's feet to the fire by, they know they're going to have to come back into Court with something, either filing a report or come back in for an in-Court review to inform the judge and all the parties what the results of the investigation were, and whether they think the child can go to that relative or not.
SENATOR MUSTO: And in your experience, is 30 days enough time for that? It sounds like from what Judge Keller was saying, it's kind of tough to get everybody together.
CAROLYN SIGNORELLI: I think it is enough time to investigate the relatives and I'm not, and I think that's the current law right now, that they have to make that determination within 30 days.
It just doesn't have the sort of reporting accountability piece at the end of it to make sure that it's happening and to give, say, a parent who proposed their mother notice that the mother has not been approved, so now we're going to come into Court and say well, if the Department is refusing to place my child with my mother, I'm going to file a motion to try to effectuate that to get a decision from the Court to keep things moving along.
SENATOR MUSTO: Questions from other members of the Committee for Attorney Signorelli on any of the things she discussed? Anything else you want to add.
CAROLYN SIGNORELLI: No.
SENATOR MUSTO: Well, thank you very much.
CAROLYN SIGNORELLI: Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Shari Shapiro was next up. Good morning, Miss Shapiro. Afternoon, Miss Shapiro.
SHARI SHAPIRO: Senator Musto, Representative Urban, Representative Fawcett, distinguished members of the Select Committee on Children, my name is Shari Shapiro and I am the Executive Director of Kids in Crisis. I'm also a member of the Connecticut Association of Nonprofits Children's Council.
I'm here today because I am very concerned about the negative impact that Raised Bill Number 981 will have on Connecticut's most vulnerable citizens, young children.
As the Executive Director of Kids in Crisis for over 30 years, I know firsthand the difference emergency respite care can make in the lives of children in crisis. We all want the same thing, long-term success and well being for Connecticut's children.
None of us wants to see children, young children, in congregate care. But what is congregate care versus emergency care?
Emergency care, as what we do at Kids in Crisis is immediate and temporary. It's designed to be a way station on a child's journey to a more permanent home.
Congregate care is a long-term placement of children in a group setting. Just as we wouldn't classify a hospital emergency department as assisted living, to classify an emergency shelter program such as Kids in Crisis as congregate care is wildly inaccurate.
The reality is that many young children in crisis need an emergency placement where they can have their physical and emotional needs quickly assessed and an appropriate plan of action swiftly developed. The children can then return home with support services, be moved to a foster home or relative care.
Foster homes cannot provide the quality or depth of emergency assessments to identify serious medical conditions, mental health issues or serious behavioral problems. These are all critical questions that can't be answered immediately, but require answers.
A child's true medical and mental health condition is rarely known at the time of an emergency removal. Placing a child at an emergency shelter ensures that a comprehensive physical exam can be done by our on-site nurse practitioner within 48 hours.
Other psychological and behavioral exams can take place at the same time, allowing for quick placement recommendations, all while keeping siblings together during a tumultuous time when they may only have each other.
Ultimately, this increases the opportunity for Connecticut's children to successfully return home to a relative or to a foster home. The proposed legislation will put deeply troubled kids in private homes without assessing their needs and arranging community supports.
A negative foster care placement can damage the ability of these children to successfully transition into permanent, stable homes.
If this legislation is enacted, there's a strong chance that the safety and well being of children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect will be threatened.
Which one of us wants to look into the eyes of these children and deny them the emergency short-term placement that will help them get the safety and security into their lives that they need and deserve. Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you very much. Questions from members of the Committee? I guess you were very clear. Thank you very much. I'm sorry.
REP. WOOD: No, mine is more of a statement. Thank you very much. I've visited your facility twice in my role as the Community Foundation in Darien and it's phenomenal what you do, just phenomenal.
SHARI SHAPIRO: Thank you, Representative Wood.
REP. WOOD: But I also want to say Lile Gibbons, Representative Lile Gibbons was not able to be here. She did submit testimony. She's out of state on business and we should all review that testimony. She supports your point of view and is very opposed to this legislation as well.
SHARI SHAPIRO: Thank you.
REP. WOOD: But thank you for coming up. Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you. Are there questions from other members of the Committee? Yes, Representative Mushinsky.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Is there a time period that would be considered emergency?
SHARI SHAPIRO: You know, we actually believe that's the big crux of the issue. We think that children should be moved in and out of our programs, all SAFE Home programs, in a very short period of time.
Different programs offer different options. We do have an on-site medical clinic that has a nurse practitioner. It has a consulting psychiatrist and a psychologist. So we do believe that listening to Judge Keller and others speak and the Commissioner, we do believe kids could come in, be quickly assessed and then move on to the therapeutic foster home or kinship care or a relative in a short period of time, 30 days or less. And if we are looking at, really worried about the length of stay then we need to focus on that.
The reason children are staying in SAFE Homes oftentimes is because there aren't foster homes. So at three o'clock in the morning where are we going with these children if this legislation is enacted? There isn't a safe place necessarily in their community.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay, I agree with you. I think that the timetable is the key and we probably do need these facilities for short-term emergency evaluation.
I think the people that are proponents of the bill are worried about, obviously dumping ground situation, not best for child development. So we have to, in the Committee, we have to be very careful about our timetable.
So you're saying it should be under 30 days?
SHARI SHAPIRO: I think that it oftentimes can be. There's always the exception to the rule, and as the Commissioner said, one size doesn't fit all.
There are children that are going to have more serious psychiatric or emotional needs that are going to take longer. We can do a multi-disciplinary exam within a very short period of time while the child is with us. We can share that with DCF, provide them with all of that information.
These kids come in. It's a blank slate. We have no information on them, nor oftentimes does the Department when it's a first-time removal.
So it can be done and it should be done. I think there's a lot of concerns people have about length of stay. The reality is, let's look at that issue as opposed to getting rid of a service that's been vital to helping young children.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay. So other than mental health issues, it should be able to be done within 30 days? Is that a good number to use?
SHARI SHAPIRO: I would believe so, yes.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay, thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Other questions from members of the Committee? Thank you very much.
SHARI SHAPIRO: Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Elaine Zimmerman.
ELAINE ZIMMERMAN: Good afternoon, Representative Urban, members of the Committee. My name is Elaine Zimmerman. I'm the Executive Director of the Connecticut Commission on Children and I'm here today in support of Raised Bill 983 AN ACT CONCERNING CHILDREN AFFECTED BY DISASTER OR TERRORISM.
Our state was the first state in the country responding after 9/11 to say we better figure out what this means for children.
We were the first state to set up a Child and Crisis Committee under Homeland Security, and though what might have seemed like a one-time horrible thing for our nation, we then had Katrina, and then our own state had a building explode in Middletown, major workforce shooting, gangs fighting and children having to be removed and close downs in childcare centers and in schools because of urban violence.
What we've learned over time nationally is that unfortunately, we have to have protocols and ways to protect our children and have evacuation planning.
In Katrina, it took six months for children to be reunified with their family. What happened was there was a disbanding. Children, there was a, people went wherever they could, and there was no mechanism.
We now know, because of various natural disasters and unnatural, what needs to be in place. The Childcare Bureau in D.C. has asked every state to come up with a mechanism to protect and to support this.
Save the Children has studied what to do, and this is the result of a committee under Homeland Security where we have worked across agency, across branch of government and with safety officers on the ground.
So we are recommending that we have this legislation. There's some very specific pieces to it. One, that when children need to be evacuated from a setting that there be a place that they're going to that is understood.
Two, that parents know where to find a child after so we don't have the problem that happened with Katrina.
Three, that this is for all kinds of childcare, not just one kind of care, so family daycare, center-based care, summer camps, children in congregate care.
We have, schools are better at evacuation planning than some of these more informal settings, and certainly better than childcare. So we've worked with Save the Children. I believe that they are going to be testifying later. You have the full support, as I understand it, of Homeland Security, the Health Department and the different state agencies.
We're very proud of this legislation. Our state, the work that we did setting up a Child and Safety Response and a law after 9/11 was then replicated by Congress under Senator Dodd.
And so we present to you today the next step that we realize we need to take. This essentially also integrates the work of children into our Homeland Security plan, which parenthetically helps us with resources. It helps us with federal dollars, so there is no cost to this.
It is really integrating a system and saying well, don't forget the children.
SENATOR MUSTO: That's it?
ELAINE ZIMMERMAN: That's it.
SENATOR MUSTO: You came here to tell us to try to keep kids safe?
ELAINE ZIMMERMAN: I did.
SENATOR MUSTO: Okay.
ELAINE ZIMMERMAN: Pretty nervy, huh?
SENATOR MUSTO: Yeah, right. I think, yeah, you probably got a good case there.
ELAINE ZIMMERMAN: We did have, you heard already from Representative Boukus, but we did have roofs collapse because of the recent storms and ice density, and we have had childcare centers have to close.
This very problem that we're learning happened, where a center closed. No plan. Sixty children separated. Parents didn't have a place, they couldn't go to their jobs because there was no care.
This would change that. We would have a coordinated system.
SENATOR MUSTO: Yes?
REP. BETTS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Elaine. Just a couple of questions. One is, when childcare facilities are not operating, do they not have some kind of a plan for communicating with parents as part of their operational manual?
ELAINE ZIMMERMAN: They absolutely do, and they are required to have a plan.
But what hasn't been in place because we didn't ever think about this is, what should I do if you have to close down because there's a gun shooting, and where will I find my child after? These are the things. Why would we even be talking about this? What should we do if there's a tornado and all 60 children or all 80 children have to be disbanded and you're going to go three counties away. How will I know where to go?
We've never had to convey that. We don't have any mandate for that. We haven't had any protocol.
Now, unfortunately, because of a mix of natural and unnatural disasters ranging from the first in Oklahoma that was a terrorist attack that affected lots of childcare centers, 9/11, which affected childcare centers in the World Trade Center.
But also, we've had a host of natural disasters in our country and in our state for that matter. We now know we need to build this one.
REP. BETTS: You raise a good point. My assumption, and maybe it's erroneous, but my assumption is because of these, if I were an executive director of either a child daycare facility or school, or whatever, I absolutely would have a plan in place.
I wouldn't need, you know, a law to tell me to do it. I would just do it out of common sense, and is that not how everybody's reacted to the series of terrorism or natural disasters?
ELAINE ZIMMERMAN: That's correct. It is not happening. And, you know, there's a lot of forms, there's a lot of places where children are that are forgotten. So, children are sometimes in summer camps. They're sometimes in a congregate care setting. They're sometimes in informal care, a family daycare or center-based care. It is not coordinated. We don't have standard protocols and parents don't know or think to ask about this, so that they're not going in and selecting a quality environment and saying, oh, and by the way when there's a tornado do you have a plan for where I should go.
This is, unfortunately, because of the last ten years of disaster, we've actually learned that we have to have some protocols. Not many. It's really just five that would help all sites that have children have a plan and that would coordinate this.
We are very lucky because the Department of Social Services has contracted with Save the Children using federal dollars, to help us with this plan. So this is a no-cost bill.
With the best experts in the country, because they have been either at or following every disaster in the country and seeing what we need to put in place for children.
REP. BETTS: Okay. Thank you very much.
REP. WOOD: Thank you, Mr. Chair. What are the five protocols?
ELAINE ZIMMERMAN: One protocol is to have a place that is predetermined that is an alternative relocation.
A second is to be informing the parents.
A third is to be notifying the parents of where the reunification site would be.
And another is to make sure that we're taking care of special needs children and there's attention paid to special needs children in natural and unnatural disaster because a child say in a wheelchair, or a child who is blind may not have the same speed or whatever.
And then also to make sure that this is occurring not just in our traditional settings that we think of where children are, which would be education, the schoolhouse, but also to be paying attention to childcare.
REP. WOOD: So in every situation that a child under a certain age is during the day, and what is the age? I mean, if that's what you're saying that it should be for all children --
ELAINE ZIMMERMAN: Well, actually --
REP. WOOD: -- in every situation.
ELAINE ZIMMERMAN: We need a plan in our state for should there be a disaster, natural or unnatural that people know and have a checklist of how they should be planning in advance for this.
And it is not just for young children. This would be also for a 16-year-old in a public school. Parents need to know where to find their children.
I think the sort of tattoo on everybody's skin from Katrina was it took six months to reunify families. We don't need that here.
REP. WOOD: What was number one? I'm sorry. I was busy writing two, three, four and five and I forgot to write one.
ELAINE ZIMMERMAN: We need evacuation and safe removal plans including an alternative relocation site. We need a plan for notification for parents, and a plan for the parents to know, parents need to be notified. They need to understand what the plans are and they need to know where to go after, when there's an evacuation.
We need to take care of special needs children and we need to have this be for both childcare and also for public schools.
REP. WOOD: Is there anybody in the state that's doing this well that you would model this program on?
ELAINE ZIMMERMAN: Well, what we've done, and Save the Children will be speaking to you, the national organization and Mr. Schriver will be writing a letter to the Governor and to leadership about this.
What they've done is, they've come up, they've actually evaluated every single state and they rated our state and they said that we were bad in all of these except for schools. So we've actually, there's actually a report card they'll speak to in a bit, and they're telling us that in any sort of broad way we're not following this.
And they are saying that we're doing okay in the schoolhouse, but the truth is, even there we have been good on paper but we're not doing very well.
We do have sites that have been trained, because for the last five years we have begun to train in our state the childcare field on evacuation planning. And right here in this city there was a shooting and because the childcare center was trained in evacuation planning, all the children were safe and they were able to leave and not be harmed.
REP. WOOD: It wasn't exactly my question.
ELAINE ZIMMERMAN: I'm sorry.
REP. WOOD: I had asked, I mean it was good to have the information, but it wasn't exactly the question.
The question was, is there anybody in the state that's doing this well that you would model this program on?
ELAINE ZIMMERMAN: No.
REP. WOOD: Thank you. Thank you, Madam Chair.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you. Thank you, Miss Zimmerman.
ELAINE ZIMMERMAN: Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: We have Tom Barger from the Regional Water Authority. Mr. Barger, Borger?
THOMAS BARGER: Barger.
SENATOR MUSTO: Barger.
THOMAS BARGER: I'd like to thank Senator Musto, Representative Urban and all Committee members for the opportunity to speak before you this afternoon.
My name is Tom Barger and I am the Manager of Water Quality at the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority in New Haven, and I am here to submit testimony on behalf of the Connecticut Waterworks Association documenting the Association's concerns relative to House Bill 6401 AN ACT CONCERNING HEXAVALENT CHROMIUM IN DRINKING WATER.
Although this proposal is certainly well intentioned, it is premature to require the State Department of Public Health to adopt regulations setting standards and requiring public water systems to test drinking water for the presence of hexavalent chromium by January, 2012.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of performing a comprehensive review in accordance with its rigorous scientific risk-based protocol to determine if new standards of hexavalent chromium need to be established, and if so, what the appropriate standards should be.
Once the EPA determines that the standards should be revised, it must develop approved methods for testing and certified laboratories to use these methods before any occurrence data can be generated. EPA does not expect to conclude this review prior to January of 2012.
The recent environmental working group report, which has focused attention on this issue indicated that various concentrations of hexavalent chromium have been identified in 31 U.S. cities. However, recognizing that the environmental working group's analysis was not performed using an EPA approved methodology, EPA has concluded that additional work is needed before any requirements are imposed upon public water systems.
Moreover, it is unnecessary for the state to legislate individual drinking water standards as called for under this bill. When EPA finalizes its rule relative to hexavalent chromium, Connecticut's public water suppliers as a result of Connecticut Department of Public Health primacy will be required to comply with it without the need for additional legislation.
Although there is no federal standard regarding hexavalent chromium in the drinking water, Connecticut public water suppliers are required to test for total chromium, which includes hexavalent chromium to a concentration of 100 parts per billion.
According to Department of Public Health records, there is no record of any Connecticut public water system ever having exceeded the federal standard for total chromium.
In addition, it is important to note that Connecticut is one of only two states nationwide that precludes the use of water for public supply that are downstream from a waste water plant ensuring Connecticut's water supplies originate from higher quality sources than most other states.
Connecticut Water Works Association therefore recommends that no action be taken on state legislation until these issues are addressed and the EPA concludes its review.
EPA has a very well-defined process for setting the safe level of all parameter that occur in public drinking water, a process reliant on sound science in the development of both water quality monitoring and health effects data.
As purveyors of public water supplies, our commitment to ensure the quality and safety of public drinking water is exemplified through our consistent compliance with rigorous state and federal law and regulation.
We will continue in this tradition by fully complying with EPA's determination relative to testing for hexavalent chromium.
However, we oppose House Bill 6401 inasmuch as it is one premature, because EPA has not concluded its review and two, unnecessary because the state's public water suppliers will be required to comply with any federal EPA testing requirement under existing law.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you very much. Is it your position that the state law would be in any way preempted by the federal system, either regulation or law?
THOMAS BARGER: The concern is that the federal government under EPA is currently in the process of regulating hexavalent chromium. They're in the process of reviewing various studies of health affect data.
Our concern is, you need to allow that particular process that has been established through the 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act to progress on its natural course. And in doing so, all components that are important in the proper regulation of anything, in this case hexavalent chromium, will be properly followed.
The concern is, this House Bill may preempt anything that the federal government is trying to do and put us in a position where we're not by 2012 in a position to do any type of testing that's meaningful.
SENATOR MUSTO: Okay. But we're not preempted by federal law --
THOMAS BARGER: No.
SENATOR MUSTO: -- from doing it. Okay. And, yes?
REP. URBAN: Thank you for your testimony. It's been my experience that the states are trying, starting to move forward on these kinds of issues. California is moving forward on it because the federal government has been dragging their feet on a lot of these issues.
And we also know that EPA is really in a situation with 80,000 chemicals out there that haven't been tested and they're trying to play catch up all the time.
So as we move forward on these kinds of issues, what we're really looking at is trying to protect our children's health to the maximum, and hexavalent chromium, as you know, was made famous in a particular movie and there is a lot of concern out there about it. But I do appreciate your testimony.
THOMAS BARGER: Thank you. Can I just respond, if you don't mind?
I just want to make it clear. The water industry is not interested in any type of avoidance, hexavalent chromium or any other contaminant that is raised, whether it's at a federal level or the state level.
The industry is concerned with, however, the timetable upon which these regulations are going to come into play.
Right now there is no established methodology for a utility to follow to test for hexavalent chromium. There are no laboratories certified in the State of Connecticut to test for hexavalent chromium.
We'll be more than happy to comply with any and all regulations at the federal level or the state level once those questions have been answered. In fact, we'll be in the forefront. We'll be out at the head of the pack.
But in the absence of that information, that's a very difficult item for us to be able to comply with.
REP. URBAN: Thank you, and we appreciate that. This is starting the discussion.
THOMAS BARGER: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: Thank you. Do you have a question? Thank you for your testimony.
THOMAS BARGER: Thank you. Appreciate it.
REP. URBAN: And next on our list to testify is Representative Rowe. Welcome, Representative.
REP. ROWE: Thank you, Chairman Urban and Senator Musto, Representative Wood, I guess I'd say Representative Fawcett, since she's here as well. I appreciate the opportunity to testify in favor of House Bill 6224, which would amend the daycare licensing statute to ensure that after school drop-in programs operated by nonprofits are treated equal to those similar organizations such as the boys and girls clubs, which have an exemption in the daycare licensing statute for their programs.
It's an important children's issue and it affects thousands of kids in this state who participate in these after school drop-in programs. If these programs are now required to be licensed or are unable to meet the requirements either because of financial, staffing, space or other limitation, it's the kids who lose out.
The licensure requirement imposes a particular onerous financial burden on nonprofit organizations, which depend largely on fundraising and volunteerism in order to operate their programs.
Many of the children who participate in the after school drop-in programs are from low-income families living in the inner cities. These programs provide supervised recreational and educational opportunities for such children and help keep them off the streets.
Similar organizations like the boys and girls club are already exempt by statute. Given the similarity of programming it's puzzling why this exemption does not include after school drop-in programs operated by nonprofits as well.
I understand there's a great deal of confusion among the nonprofits concerning whether they are required to be licensed as a daycare center, and the intent here is to remove that confusion with respect to nonprofits that operate after school drop=in programs.
Thanks for your consideration and I'm happy to respond to any question should they arise.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you, Representative Rowe. It's, there's just one little change in this rather long statute. It seems like it would make a big difference to a lot of people.
REP. ROWE: It isn't a, right, it isn't a difficult change to make statutorily but for the literally thousands of kids that participate in these programs, they are now being put in jeopardy.
And frankly, it may be, the Department's efforts to license, step in and try and license these programs, which previously were unlicensed is a bit of a, one of those solutions in search of a problem.
There are unidentified problems here, but you know, the DPH, which does some great stuff is stepping into an area that they need not step into.
SENATOR MUSTO: Well, thank you very much. Are there any questions from any other members of the Committee? All right, thank you very much, Representative Rowe.
REP. ROWE: Thank you, sir. Thank you, Committee.
SENATOR MUSTO: Okay, next up on the list is Jamey Bell followed by Jane Kaufman and Sarah Eagan. Welcome.
JAMEY BELL: Good afternoon, Senator Musto, Representative Urban and other members of the Committee. I'm Jamey Bell for the record, Executive Director of Connecticut Voices for Children.
I'm here testifying in support of three bills, Senate Bill 981, H.B. 6340 and H.B. 6336. I'm representing Connecticut Voices for Children today, which is a research-based public education and policy advocacy organization that works statewide to promote good policies and analysis of policies for children.
But before that, before I came to Voices, I was a legal services lawyer for over 26 years, and for over a dozen of those years, I represented kids in the child protection system, so I bring that perspective to my testimony today as well.
Connecticut Voices for Children strongly supports S.B. 981 and that will be the focus of most of my testimony today because it reflects the widespread consensus among child development experts and advocates that children, especially children under the age of six should be cared for in families, rather than congregate care facilities.
Attached to my testimony is written testimony from four child development experts, clinical psychologists, child psychiatrists and developmental pediatricians over the country that support the notion that congregate care is developmentally inappropriate for young children, even for a few days.
One of the testimonies provides this background. The insecurities that result from lack of a primary caregiver can interfere with a child's ability to adjust to life changes, succeed in school, make friends, connect with other people, or to become connected to a parent when reunified or placed for adoption. That's the researcher from Cass Western Reserve.
The researcher from, I'll highlight just a couple of them, from BU states that housing infants and young children in institutions instead of with families goes against over 100 years of consensus among physicians and child welfare specialists.
The specialists from the University of Michigan points out that young children are biologically hard wired to expect an environment that provides a committed, stable primary caregiver, and that infants and young children experience a different sense of times, and particularly at a time of heightened emotional need, even a few days in congregate care is likely to represent added hardship at a time of marked vulnerability.
The last specialist who's testimony is attached to mine from Tulane University points out that in June of 2009 investigators from over eight different countries have studied children raised in congregate care settings concluded unambiguously that young children belong in families and the sooner they are placed in these settings the more they are likely to escape long-term harm.
I want to point out, that despite the good intentions behind the development of the safe home model, a comprehensive study led by Yale University researchers concluded that children placed at SAFE Homes achieved outcomes that were no better, and in many cases, worse than those of children initially placed in family foster care.
One of the researchers on that study is the next person who will testify, so I won't go into that, the results of that research. Joan Kaufman will testify about that.
The third point I want to make about 981 is that not only are congregate care settings developmentally harmful to young children, they are also more expensive than alternative family placements.
Believe me, I'm not ever in a position of trying to advocate for the least expensive model when we're talking about kids, but in this instance, miraculously, both good policy and good care for kids happens to be the least expensive way to go about it as well.
It's also important to note that the bill contains a medical needs exemption that allows young children to be placed in congregate care facilities in the rare case that their behavioral health or other medical needs necessitate such a placement.
I mean, it's not really necessary that that be in there, because if that were the case, then there are a dozen other laws that require that the substitute caregiver, in this instance, DCF, take those steps to provide a safe response to the child's needs.
Oh, the last point is simply that (inaudible) have already done this. Thank you.
REP. URBAN: Thank you for your testimony, Jamie. It's clear that you strongly support 6336 and 6340, so the only area where there's a difference of opinion here is on Senate Bill 981.
Is your major concern, I mean I understand that your major concern is the congregate care in general, but is it the amount of time that the child stays in congregate care?
I think one of the issues here is, we've had some wonderful testimony from Kids in Crisis and that there are places that perhaps can do a good job for children, and if we don't have alternative facilities and I think Commissioner Katz has talked about how she wants to expand foster care, et cetera.
In the short run here, what is the best thing that we can do?
JAMEY BELL: Well, it's true that one of the huge concerns is the amount of time that kids stay in this, which was not the model that was intended by SAFE Home and I understand from Shari, whom I respect highly, Shari Shapiro, that is not what Kids in Crisis wants to do, either. The problem is that it occurs.
But secondly, the literature and the psychological evidence is that it shows that even a very few days can be really harmful for young kids, and I think you'll hear in more detail from Joan Kaufman, and I'll let her speak to it.
You don't have to put kids in congregate care facilities in order to get the comprehensive assessments and make the necessary, get the necessary medical information to make good planning and to really deal with the kid very, the child very quickly when they've removed from the home.
I thought about this, this question when I was thinking about testifying today, so I was thinking about when I was practicing, what I would have wanted people to do with a child whom I was going to represent the next day or in two days after the removal or so.
And I, even in the middle of the night, for a baby or a young child, what I would have wanted DCF to do for my clients was call up the, one of the families that I knew in every area where I practiced. I was in Hartford County, but I knew the one family in every town that could always take in the extra kid, that always had room for another baby for just a few days, even, until they found the more permanent placement.
I would have wanted that to happen for my clients rather than them going in a crisis situation when they're emotionally vulnerable particularly at such a young age, to a congregate care setting where they were going to have shift workers.
REP. URBAN: Thank you. Other questions for Jamey? Thank you for your testimony, Jamey.
JAMEY BELL: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: And next up is, I think who Jamey just referred to, Jane Kaufman.
JOAN KAUFMAN: Joan.
REP. URBAN: Joan. Sorry. You're Jane on my list, Joan.
JOAN KAUFMAN: Joan on my list.
REP. URBAN: You're now Joan.
JOAN KAUFMAN: Well, so thank you very much for the opportunity to comment on the testimony. I have provided written testimony on House Bill 6336, the kinship care, House Bill 6340, the out-of-state residential treatment bill and House Bill 981, the more controversial congregate care bill.
So again, my name is Joan Kaufman. I'm a clinical psychologist on faculty at Yale University School of Medicine and the Department of Psychiatry and I was the principal investigator on the SAFE Home Evaluation Study that was completed in collaboration with the Department of Children and Families.
So I comment on the other bills if people have any questions, but first I just want to address a number of the questions and concerns that come up around the congregate care.
Question number one is, are they necessary in order to put siblings placed together? At the time that the SAFE Homes was started, they were started incrementally around the state, so we were able to get a very carefully matched group of kids who were in jurisdictions where the SAFE Home programs were not yet up and running and compared them to children where the SAFE Home programs had just gotten started.
Prior to the start of the SAFE Home program, DCF was notoriously bad at getting sibling groups together. With the establishment of the SAFE Home there was a change in policy, so that it became a part of social work practice to keep track and to prioritize the placement of siblings together.
Congregate care or the SAFE Home program was not necessary to have gains in putting sibling groups together, that the jurisdictions for the SAFE Home program was not yet up and running. With a change in policy and practice, they had the same gains in the number of sibling groups being put together.
So the congregate care setting is not necessary in order to establish placements for siblings. With prioritization of workers, they were able to accomplish that goal.
SAFE Home programs are also not necessary to complete the multi-disciplinary exams. In fact, it is required that every child who enters out-of-home care has a multi-disciplinary exam, whether they go to a foster home or whether they go to a SAFE Home, and that these are exams from a medical and from a psychiatric point of view, can be completed on an outpatient basis. Children do not need to be in residential placements in order to have the multi-disciplinary exams.
From a cost point of view, this is something that people have also talked about. On average, first of all, the SAFE Homes were initially established with a length of stay of 45 days.
After a period of time when they realized they were not keeping to the 45 days, they extended the length of stay to 60 days, and the most recent data that the Office of Child Advocate looked at, the young children who were entering out-of-home care had an average length of stay of 90 days. Okay?
And the difference in cost for foster care versus the group home, we're talking $10,000 to $15,000 per child at time of initial placement for that first initial placement. We have record deficits. We cannot be doing the most expensive, least effective types of treatment.
So as a time, as we talked about before, there are carve outs when children have severe behavioral or medical health issues that they need. If it's a step down from a hospitalization, that sort of congregate care setting may be appropriate.
But at time of initial placement, it is not the appropriate placement for young children. The data has shown very consistently, the Juan F. data from 2002 to 2010, 5 to 10 percent of our birth to one-year-olds and 25 percent of our one to five-year-olds are being placed in these settings at time of initial placement.
I think we need to look at and make our decisions based on scientific data, not on belief, and we need to be fiscally responsible. So there are no child experts that will say, this is the appropriate setting for children, and as one of my mentors used to say, all the best professionals does not make one good parent, or one good parent make.
And in the middle of the night when a child has a nightmare, they need to know who they're calling out for, and when there are shift workers, children are really put at an enormous disadvantage. It is not in our children's best interests and I can't recommend it.
REP. URBAN: Thank you.
JOAN KAUFMAN: I'll stop. I heard the bill.
REP. URBAN: Thank you for your testimony, and I think you should be encouraged that Commissioner Katz stayed here for an extended period of time to listen to all this testimony, so you know, we know that this is an issue and we certainly want to try our best to make it work as well as it can.
JOAN KAUFMAN: Can I just add one last thing? Other states have gotten rid of it and made it illegal to place children less than six, and the point is, if you have these homes, we will use these homes.
If we don't have these homes, we will make `alternatives, and I think that that's really sort of the responsible decision that we need to make.
We need to say, no, we can't do this, and if they're not available, we will get the kinship care and the foster care homes that we need. But if we don't have to, we won't.
REP. URBAN: There's probably a certain amount of truth to that, so I thank you for your testimony. Do we have any other questions or comments from members of the Committee? Seeing none, thank you.
JOAN KAUFMAN: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: Next on our list is Sarah Eagan, from the Center for Children's Advocacy. Welcome, Sarah, and I see you have a guest with you.
SARAH EAGAN: This is a client of mine. She's scheduled to testify after me, so I thought I'd have her come up and sit next to me.
REP. URBAN: Excellent.
SARAH EAGAN: Good afternoon, Committee, my name is Sarah Eagan and I'm the Director of the Child Abuse Project at the Center for Children's Advocacy, and I'm here trying to testify on two bills in my three minutes.
One is Bill 981, which is the congregate care for young children and the second is the children in out-of-state residential treatment centers, and we've heard a bit of testimony on the use of congregate care for young children, and I want to echo primarily that there are lots of wonderful child-care providers who are operating SAFE Homes around the state. There's no question about that, and there are some facilities that have tremendous people, including Kids in Crisis, running them.
Unfortunately, the concern of the drafters of the bill, and I'm one of them, of the drafters, is that there's no empirical clinical studies anywhere to support a conclusion that a stay in congregate care for young children is anything but ultimately deleterious in the aggregate.
And I'd refer the Committee to one study in particular, which is cited in my testimony, which is done by, it's actually a study called, it's a 2002 study published in Infant Mental Health Journal regarding the use of small group homes for infants and toddlers nine months to thirty months old, and it concluded that the ultimate policy conclusion was that young children “should not be placed in such facilities be they large or small”. That's on Page 26 of that study.
And ultimately that again, a quote from that study, that the stance that many professionals in child welfare, mental health, pediatrics and other fields have taken against congregate care for young children are borne out by the findings in this study.
And that study is just one of many, many, many. We just heard from Joan Kaufman who collaborated and led a study that involved the Department of Children and Families, a study of our SAFE Home policy that concluded that it did not achieve the aims for which it was designed.
And ultimately, we have to as advocates for the children, we have to respond to the literature and the information that is available.
There has also been a lot of focus on the length of stay. I turn the Committee's attention to the third quarter findings from the Juan F. Federal Court Monitor from the third quarter of 2010, which found that even in the third quarter of 2010 there were about 100 children in SAFE Homes, the majority of whom overstayed, which meant the majority of those children were overstaying more than 60 days and 14 of those children stayed longer than six months.
Now, that makes, I think, this section of the bill, which requires a judicial review of any child that is spending more than 30 days in these placements to be vital.
To the extent that the placements may be necessary for certain types of children, children with specialized medical or health needs, there has to be a review of the quality of care the child is receiving, the length of stay the child is there, and the plan for bringing that child back to the community. That level of accountability must be there.
And thirdly, how do we accomplish moving these children into the communities from congregate care? Well, number one, many other states have done that. If I could just briefly conclude, thank you.
Many other stats have done that. The answers are also in, are multi-pronged in prevention. The $206 a day that it costs to run SAFE Homes in the 2005 Yale study could support, for 60 days could support prevention services for a biological family for a year.
Secondly, the increase in the kinship care rates, which is obviously on the docket for today, could dramatically make a difference in the number of foster homes that we have available for children.
That's all I have on the SAFE Home bill, so if there are any questions on that. I didn't get to the, it's ambitious to try to get to two bills in one, so I didn't catch the residential. But if there are any questions about either bill, I'm happy to entertain them.
REP. URBAN: Any members of the Committee? Representative Wood.
REP. WOOD: I'm trying to balance all the debate on 981.
Shari Shapiro mentions there's a difference between congregate care and emergency care and I think outlines very clearly, and you don't really separate it out that way.
Can you tell me why you don't separate it out, because it is very different.
SARAH EAGAN: I don't, I think if I had a look at her testimony to see exactly what she was defining as emergency care, but I'm happy. I think we're going to talk about the bill afterwards.
But the literature doesn't really make a distinction based on the type of care that's being offered. The literature and studies on SAFE Homes and on other use of congregate care for young children, just talk about lots of factors that can make things a little bit better for kids while they're in congregate care, and among those factors are the length of stay, the quality of the care being provided, the size of the facility being used.
You know, the study that I had quoted to you all, the Infant and Toddlers Study from 2002 does state very strongly that the quality, and that would include duration of care that's being provided, is particularly important for the children in congregate care in that setting as opposed to the children in foster care, in that study.
But the, ultimately, the authors of the research report still concluded that in the aggregate, it didn't make a difference in their findings, that as a group, the children, the young children again, the average age was 16 months, range of 9 months to 30 months, fared more poorly than the group in foster care.
And that seems to be what every study shows us. And unfortunately, it may be pointed out, but I have not come across a study that finds otherwise.
REP. WOOD: Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: So you didn't get to 6340.
SARAH EAGAN: I didn't get to 6340, but I could talk about it.
SENATOR MUSTO: I'll give you one minute. Could you just give us your quick impression of it, please?
SARAH EAGAN: I can, and again, this was a bill that my office helped to submit and to propose. I obviously feel very strongly, as this Committee does, that children in general, should not be in residential treatment if at all possible, certainly children who are out of state, and every effort needs to be made to bring them home.
One thing in particular I wanted to emphasize to the Committee is that other states are having a lot of success in reducing their reliance on congregate care.
Connecticut is actually one of the most reliant states on congregate and institutional care. About a quarter of the kids in DCF care are in a congregate facility of some kind, generally. And there are success stories out there to model.
In particular, I just wanted to point out two of them, which states that have worked in collaboration with NEECK Foundation, Child Welfare Strategies Group. Consultants have put together projects to “right size” congregate care.
One of those projects was done in New York --
SENATOR MUSTO: Can I just interrupt for a second. Does this have to do with the out-of-state stuff?
SARAH EAGAN: It does, yes.
SENATOR MUSTO: It does, okay. Because one of the things I was going to ask you, I hope I'm kind of wondering if it's where you're going to go is, if we bring the kids back, what are we going to do with them?
SARAH EAGAN: That's exactly where I'm --
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you. I was hoping you'd answer that question, so go ahead.
SARAH EAGAN: These collaborations dealt with congregate care generally both out of state and in state, and what they were designed to do was reform the service delivery model to ensure that kids didn't need to be in congregate care really at all, as much, that reliance was reduced regardless of whether it was out of state or in state.
And so what they did in these states, New York and Maine are the two collaborations my testimony refers to, is they take a multi-pronged approach. They work with child welfare agency leaders. They work with in-state providers. They work with the Legislature to be able to free up and reallocate funding that's going to congregate care and to the community.
And the goal is to one, better individualized treatment planning.
Two, increase kinship care rates. You see that. I mean, that issue comes up with all of these issues. Increase kinship rates from the outset for kids.
Three, reallocate funding at maximized federal funding for community-based and family-based services, and work with the in-state service providers to use those reallocated funds to invest in the appropriate community-based services that are going to allow children to return to the community from congregate care, be it out of state or in state.
And that approach has proven to be extraordinarily, I cannot underscore that enough, successful in these other jurisdictions. New York, for example, worked with Casey between 2002 and 2008.
At the time they brought Casey in, two-thirds of their teenagers that entered care went into congregate care, went into group care. At the close of that intervention they have a 47 percent reduction in congregate care beds generally both out-of-state use and in state.
At the end of that intervention, two-thirds of their teams now went into family care as opposed to congregate care and they saved the state about $41 million because of the transition from institutional to community-based care.
In Maine, which is the other remarkable intervention that Casey worked with, Maine was identified in early 2000 as one of the worst child welfare agencies in the country in terms of performance, and their reliance on congregate care out of state and in state was one of those factors.
After this collaboration with Casey between 2004 and 2009, Maine reduced their congregate care beds in state and out of state, their usage, by 73 percent. From 747 congregate care beds to 200 congregate care beds.
One of the things they did, again going back to kinship care, is they increased their kinship care rate from 12 percent in 2003. Connecticut's is currently 13 percent, to 30 percent by 2009. So that in and of itself makes a huge difference in the availability of beds in the community --
SENATOR MUSTO: I'm sorry. Was that 2003 to 2009.
SARAH EAGAN: From 2003, January, 2003, Maine's kinship care rate was 12 percent. Connecticut's is roughly 13 to 14 percent right now. By 2009, the close of the study, collaborative study with Casey, Maine's kinship care rate was at 30 percent.
SENATOR MUSTO: One of the questions I was going to ask you is the first line in 6340 is not later than July 1, 2013. That's two years from now. What do you think about the timeframe in this bill?
SARAH EAGAN: Well, I think that the studies and collaborations that I'm pointing to deal with the scope of congregate generally in a state, so this bill is just carving out one aspect of that.
It's not saying oh, by July 1, 2013, Connecticut has to reduce its use of congregate care overall in state and out of state by 75 percent or by 80 percent. This bill just focuses on one specific population of kids, and those are the kids in out of state, and so it sets a shorter timeframe for accomplishing it.
And you know, we were very gratified, myself, Voices for Children and other partners on this bill, to have really the unqualified support of the Commissioner's office. I think it's tremendous, but I think all policymakers agree that congregate care in general has to be downsized in Connecticut. No question.
But certainly, that children who are in congregate care outside of the community, outside of the state, they have to be returned. They just have to.
SENATOR MUSTO: Any questions from members of the Committee? Okay. Well, thank you very much.
SARAH EAGAN: Thank you. If it pleases the Committee, I'd like to sit up here with my client while she offers her testimony.
SENATOR MUSTO: Oh, of course. May we have your name for the record, please
DESIREE COTTO: My name is Desiree Cotto.
SENATOR MUSTO: What would you like to tell us?
SARAH EAGAN: She's going to be testifying on behalf of the out-of-state residential bill.
DESIREE COTTO: When DCF told me I was going out of state to Vermont, I was very angry and confused. I was wondering in my head what did I do to get me out of state.
In the beginning when I traveled in transition to Vermont to a new environment, I was very negative because I always was running away because I didn't want to be there.
So when people ask me if I would like the same (inaudible) children from Connecticut that were out of state to come back in two years, I thought that was a really good idea because us young boys and girls wouldn't have to worry about losing family or friends.
(Inaudible) I thought that I lost all my good friends from transitioning to a different environment. Now that I'm back in Connecticut, I've learned some new things from being out of state, not only being punished but I also learned how to manage my anger in a positive manner.
And also new activities I never have done in my lifetime, so when the State of Connecticut listened to my point of view I would like if you would consider my reasons on why I believe that all boys and girls needing this care should return to the State of Connecticut they grew up in.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you very much. Can you tell us how old you are now?
DESIREE COTTO: Sixteen.
SENATOR MUSTO: And how long were you in Vermont?
DESIREE COTTO: From when I was fifteen.
SENATOR MUSTO: Fifteen? So for about a year, eight months, ten months. Okay. Any questions from members of the Committee? Yes.
REP. WOOD: Thank you very much for your testimony.
SENATOR MUSTO: Okay, well next up is Glenda Woodward, followed by, Glenda Woodward? She's not here? Is Nora Grais-Clements? And after Miss Grais-Clements is Stephen Karp and Michelle Cunningham.
NORA GRAIS-CLEMENTS: Good afternoon, Senator Musto, Representative Wood and Representative Fawcett, Representative Thompson, my name is Nora Grais-Clements. I'm a law student intern at the Center for Children's Advocacy, and I'm here to testify on House Bill 6336 AN ACT CONCERNING KINSHIP CARE.
As has been mentioned, kinship care in Connecticut is at a rate of only approximately 13 or 14 percent. In comparison to other states, we are far behind the trend. Nationally, 24 percent of children in DCF care are placed with relatives in kinship care.
And our bill gives DCF the tools to increase Connecticut's kinship care such that we're in line with what other stats have been doing.
By giving DCF the tools and the accountability to both reach out to families, reinforce culture identity, conference with families and again, report back to the Court with the ways that they intend to meet these goals, we provide the children who are most affected with the opportunity to remain with their families as opposed to going into homes where they don't know the people who are taking care of them, not familiar with their setting and not in any way to disparage foster families who volunteer to take care of children is our position that position do fare better when they're with their family members.
Connecticut also notably is only one of a handful of states that requires full licensure for kinship care families. Other states require criminal records checked, age requirement, home visits and home studies, all of which we think are appropriate, but they do not require a full licensure such as Connecticut does.
And Connecticut also is one of a few states that requires that even preschoolers, this goes to Section 1c, preschoolers aged three cannot share bedrooms with children of the opposite sex, be their cousins or their relatives, children in the family, or even with children of the same sex if there's a disparate age.
Research shows kinship care promotes stability for children. Children show fewer behavioral problems. They show less likelihood that they will try to leave their foster family or run away. They do better at school educationally, cognitively and are less likely to reenter foster care after reunification.
And lastly, empirical studies show that children who are placed in kinship care report back that they are more likely to feel loved. So I thank you and invite any questions.
SENATOR MUSTO: Questions from members of the Committee? You said you're a legal intern?
NORA GRAIS-CLEMENTS: I'm a law student at the University of Connecticut School of Law.
SENATOR MUSTO: Congratulations. Good school.
NORA GRAIS-CLEMENTS: Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Have you had occasion to, I mean, I don't know quite what you do at the Center for Child Advocacy, but have you have occasion to go to Court on any of these issues or deal with any of the cases regarding children in DCF custody, dealing with their parents, or the kids. Anything like that?
NORA GRAIS-CLEMENTS: I worked on cases where children are both in foster care and in kinship foster care homes, yeah.
I mean, the children who are, who have the opportunity to (inaudible) with their families, from what I've observed and again, I work on a limited number of cases as an intern, do very well. They have likelihood of returning to their family members, their parents. There's a higher (inaudible) of reunification from what I've observed. I don't have the statistics there. It seems that they're happier, generally speaking, not as isolated, not as withdrawn, and more comfortable.
SENATOR MUSTO: Okay. Well, thank you very much for coming down.
NORA GRAIS-CLEMENTS: Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Stephen Karp. Good afternoon.
STEPHEN KARP: Good afternoon. My name is Stephen Karp. I'm Executive Director for the National Association of Social Workers, Connecticut Chapter, and we thank you for this opportunity to testify in favor of Bill 322.
We believe that the hiring of professional social workers clearly will improve the outcomes for children and families that are served by the Department of Children and Families.
We do note there are some changes we'd like. Particularly we'd like to have baccalaureate social workers included.
Social services is a staff intensive function. The quality of the staff will depend largely on the quality of the services.
Since the 1980s there have been studies that have shown that the degree in social work is the preferred and best degree for social work in child welfare, and the studies conclude that quality of assurance ratings and merit examinations where social workers rated higher.
NASW supervisors rated MSWs as being the highest performing in their child welfare system and BSWs the second highest. MSWs and BSWs outperform non-social work degreed social workers when dealing with complex cases.
Another study by NASW national indicated, looking specifically at professional social workers, indicated that professional social workers feel safer making home visits, have more tenure, have a higher interest in remaining in child welfare and spend a little less time on paperwork compared to their counterparts without the degree.
The Child Welfare League of America found that the data supports the premise that a social work education is the best preparation for practicing child welfare.
And interestingly, Fordham University's Dr. Virginia Stran, an investigator in 2007 did a project with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families and among the conclusions of that was one key strategy to ensure higher competency levels is to require all workers assuming social work positions at the Department to have a degree in social work.
There's a significant difference between those who have a social work degree and those without. Social work programs are training our students to be social workers. Sociology, psychology, human services are not training people in the practice field of social work.
Social work students have to do internships under supervision. So they come, if you will, ready trained and with real-life experience. Related degrees will not bring you that kind of experience.
You know, a related degree is sort of like would Connecticut hire a nurse based on the fact that he have a biology degree? Arguably a related degree, but no, Connecticut's not going to hire someone to be a nurse with a biology degree.
Yet, they do hire social workers without social work degrees, even though our profession is over 100 years old.
We would note that there is actually precedence for what we're suggesting here. In 1996, the State of Connecticut went from what they called a psychiatric social worker series to the clinical social worker series.
At that point, they required that all social workers have a master's degree in social work and certain positions require a license of the clinical social worker.
At that point, what the state did was exempt current employees, so those current employees remained in their position, but moving forward, new hires would have to have a social work degree.
What we are suggesting here is that we move in the same direction, use the same precedence we've had from '96 that new hires would have a social work degree, either a bachelor's or a master's and that we would exempt current employees.
It will take a while to sort of professionalize the workforce, but we believe that's the one way to make this happen in an effective way and in a cost-effective way.
Also, we believe that outcomes that you will find the Department will have with professional social workers are going to be stronger and better for families and children.
SENATOR MUSTO: Okay, thank you. And under the bill, it does say shall require, social workers, at a minimum have a master's degree in social work. You're suggesting a bachelor's degree would be appropriate?
STEPHEN KARP: We are. There's many functions in DCF that a bachelor's degree would be appropriate. Many bachelor degree students are actually interning right now and over the years have interned with the Department of Public Health. I'm sorry, with the Department of Children and Families.
They have significant training. There's 10 core competencies that our social workers have to get and approved, and there's 42 practice behaviors that they have to meet before they can even get a bachelor's degree in social work.
The thing you have to understand about social work degrees is that it's the same throughout the country. We have a national accrediting body, so whether you get a degree in Tennessee or a degree in New Hampshire or a degree in Connecticut, you're getting the same training.
With related degrees, you really don't know what the training you're getting, because that really can vary from school to school.
SENATOR MUSTO: In your, have you looked at the Department's staffing qualifications? I shouldn't say qualifications, their current staff's qualifications, the individuals who are working there, and can you tell us, well, first of all, have you done that? Do you know what the qualifications of the people actually working there are now?
STEPHEN KARP: We understand from the Department of Administrative Services, I think you'll see this in their testimony, that two-thirds of the current social workers, titled social workers do not have degrees in social work within DCF.
We're not sure about the supervisory level. I believe the supervisory level probably has more MSWs than the general worker's level does.
SENATOR MUSTO: Okay.
Questions from members of the Committee? No?
Thank you very much.
STEPHEN KARP: Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Michelle Cunningham is up next. Michelle Cunningham? Jon Clemens. Mr. Clemens?
JON CLEMENS: Yes.
SENATOR MUSTO: Okay. And then followed by it looks like Jill Bicks and Jane Grossman are the next two people on the list. Good afternoon.
JON CLEMENS: Good afternoon. Senator Musto, distinguished members of the Committee, I want to thank you for your time and attention about the matters before you today.
My name is Jon Clemens. I'm a Policy Specialist at Connecticut Association of Nonprofits where I work with over 140 provider organizations that deal directly with youth and children across the full continuum of care.
I'd like to talk to you about two bills today. The first I'd like to discuss with you is House Bill Number 6340 concerning placement of children in out-of-state treatment facilities.
To begin, I'd like to applaud the Committee for taking up aims to bring Connecticut's kids back to the state. I've testified about bringing kids back in the past and fully support it.
The intent of this bill is commendable. However, with that said, we cannot support the bill as it's written. Section 2 of the bill's text raises huge concerns, as it proposes to bring back kids to Connecticut while only offering the development of community-based treatment options.
The children currently being served in out-of-state placements are usually those who present with most acute needs. These children often require intensive specialized treatment.
To propose that they could have their needs met solely in community-based settings is to ignore the individual needs of the children. The reality is that many of these kids currently in care out of state may initially need more restrictive levels of care in order to successfully transition to community settings.
We do not want to set these children up for treatment failure or the compounded trauma of care disruption. Nor do we want to introduce decreased safety into our communities.
The Connecticut Association of Nonprofits strongly supports the belief that all children should be treated in the least restrictive level of care appropriate for them.
However, we cannot lose sight of the key word being appropriate. Different kids present with different needs. To propose a one-size-fits-all solution is not realistic, nor is it fair to the children we aim to serve.
We have proposed that the language in Section 2 be changed and expanded to allow for the increased in-state development of both community-based and residential care options.
In short, if we're really aiming to better serve kids closer to home, then we need to invest in the development of the appropriate services.
The second bill that I'd like to discuss with you today is Senate Bill Number 981. The Connecticut Association of Nonprofits, as I said, is strongly opposed to this bill as it seeks to legislate the limitation of treatment options for children.
Once again, this is a matter of trying to make a one size its all. Some children experience trauma so great that they require stabilization before foster care relative placement can occur successfully. SAFE Homes fill that role. They specialize in stabilization. Additionally, they assess a child's needs and put in place community supports prior to a child being placed in a more permanent home.
Additionally, SAFE Homes provide a setting where siblings can be placed together, reducing the emotional upheaval of out-of-home placement.
If Senate Bill 981 becomes law, the result will be an increase in siblings being separated from one another.
Furthermore, barring young children from congregate care will have a negative impact on foster care. We're already starting to see this as SAFE Home placement has become more suppressed. We're starting to see more and more emergency placements occurring within the therapeutic foster care system in which the capacity for available homes is already stretched thin.
An emergency placement oftentimes ends up setting up a situation where, the bell rang, so I'll just wrap. Thank you.
An emergency placement basically sets up a situation where the provider needs to make an immediate decision to place a child with an available foster home. That may or may not be the best match. That may or may not present the best route for permanency.
So you essentially have this issue compounded by more and more foster care parents being used as, or I should say misused as emergency placement, rather than allowing SAFE Homes to fill that role. You end up with a decrease in the availability of the very, the parents that we're looking to try to link them up with.
In closing, I'd just like to thank you for your attention to these matters, and I invite you to feel free to contact me if I can answer any questions or set up any meetings with any providers. Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you. And your problem with 6340 and Section 2 is the words community based.
JON CLEMENS: The fact that it stipulates only community based. I think that, I mean, reading through the bill on its surface it's a very solid bill. It's got great intents in the facts that even in Section 2 it talks about bringing together DCF, DSSD, advocates, family, providers. All of that is good.
But the fact that it solely stipulates community-based options, you're taking kids that are out of state that have the highest needs and are right now in the most restrictive of settings and expecting them to come back and solely be served in foster care and in-home services. It's just not realistic for the child. It would need both.
SENATOR MUSTO: Okay. What would be better language there?
JON CLEMENS: I would say to expand it to say community-based options as well as residential, so basically get the same exact thing. People that Section 2 discusses, but look at all of the services across the gamut that could serve special needs populations to serve the kids that are currently being sent out of state, whether that be kids that are on the spectrum, whether that be kids that are fire setters, whether that be that are JJ related, juvenile justice related.
And some of those kids can be served within the community but many of them we don't need residential options to transition them to that point.
SENATOR MUSTO: Okay. Questions from other members of the Committee? Thank you very much.
JON CLEMSNS: Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Jill Bicks, testimony to be ready by Diana Glucksman, Dina Glucksman.
DINA GLUCKSMAN: Dina.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you.
DINA GLUCKSMAN: Senator Musto --
SENATOR MUSTO: I'm sorry. Could you just tell us, I want to make sure I got your name.
DINA GLUCKSMAN: Dina Glucksman.
SENATOR MUSTO: Dina Glucksman. And who is the person whose testimony you're reading?
DINA GLUCKSMAN: Attorney Jill Bicks.
SENATOR MUSTO: Attorney Jill Bicks. Thank you.
DINA GLUCKSMAN: Distinguished members of the Select Committee on Children, my name is Dina Glucksman and I'm submitting testimony on behalf Attorney Jill Bicks, the Executive Director of Child Advocates of Connecticut, an organization serving the Juvenile Courts of Stamford and Danbury by training and supervising volunteers to act as Court appointed monitors and guardians ad litem on behalf of children in abuse and neglect proceedings.
As I understand it, the bill under our consideration is meant to address concerns that it is detrimental for children under six years of age to be in a congregate care setting with multiple caregivers, and that the length of the stay for children in such placements currently last too long.
While I believe it is a laudatory goal that all children be placed in home settings when parents are unable or unwilling to properly care for them, the sad reality is that particularly in Fairfield County, Connecticut, there is a dearth of appropriate foster homes available.
The result of eliminating congregate care facilities for children under the age of six would be that the youngest children and their siblings in Fairfield County would necessarily be placed far from their homes, schools and families, causing further disruption and trauma to these fragile children.
It is in a child's best interest to receive treatment and care close to home. It is more likely that the child will maintain existing relationships and benefit from established connections that local community providers have with one another. These connections are crucial to children's short and long-term stability and success.
It is virtually impossible to achieve the goal of reunification when children are not in close proximity to their family and community.
Likewise, even very young children can benefit from high quality congregate care. Research shows that the needs of infants, often regarded as the easiest population to work with, are often invisible to the Court and child welfare system. The vast majority are prenatally exposed to maternal substance abuse and 40 percent are born low birth rate or prematurely, increasing the likelihood of chronic medical conditions, developmental delay and disability.
Research shows that a significant number of babies in foster care do not receive even basic healthcare such as immunization. Developmental and emotional delays are even less likely to be identified and addressed, and despite compelling evidence of the positive effects of early childhood intervention programs, children in foster care are substantially less likely to receive these services.
Thus placement in high quality congregate care facilities can actually be beneficial to very young children if they are provided with essential physical and developmental health assessments and referral to critical services.
The fact that the state believes that children spend too much time in congregate care primarily because the Department of Children and Families cannot find appropriate foster home placement is further reason not to support this bill.
I ask you to consider this. If local community congregate care facilities are not allowed to take these young children, where are they to go?
SENATOR MUSTO: Good timing. Miss Glucksman, what is your position there with the Connecticut, Child Advocates of Connecticut.
DINA GLUCKSMAN: I volunteer to be on the (inaudible) Kids in Crisis, so I'm reading testimony that Jill Bicks wanted on the record, and I can address any questions you have for her, but unfortunately she couldn't be here today.
SENATOR MUSTO: Okay. Do you work with? Who do you work with? Yourself?
DINA GLUCKSMAN: I'm a volunteer advocate for Kids in Crisis.
SENATOR MUSTO: Right. Well, thank you for volunteering, and if there are no questions from members of the Committee, thank you very much.
DINA GLUCKSMAN: Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Next is Jane Grossman. And Miss Grossman is followed by, it looks like Cinda Blozie and Alison Loop.
JANE GROSSMAN: My guess is that's Linda.
SENATOR MUSTO: Oh, Linda. Yes, sorry.
JANE GROSSMAN: Good afternoon, Committee members, my name is Jane Grossman. I am a lawyer with New Haven Legal Assistance, and my primary function there for the last ten years is to do family law.
I am before you today testifying against House Bill 5661 AN ACT CONCERNING COURT INTERVENTION IN CHILD CUSTODY CASES.
Legal Services is opposing this bill. I'm here in my capacity as a family lawyer for one of the Legal Services organizations in the state.
As you might imagine, knowing that we have limited resources, the majority of the family law cases that we take are high conflict cases. We come at this kind of work with a particular perspective, but I'd like to lay out our main opposition to this bill in two parts.
The first is that there is already in the existing statutes, opportunities sufficient for the Court to get a sense of what children want in custody cases. There isn't need for an additional amendment to this statute to accomplish that task, and in fact earlier Representative Carter responded, I think, to a question from Representative Betts exactly on this point, that there is nothing preventing this from happening already and indeed we have sufficient law that permits it to take place through a variety of vehicles, guardians at litem, attorneys for children, family relations officers conducting investigations.
And in fact, there is nothing in the statutes that would prevent the specific request of this amendment, which would be to have the Court speak directly to the children, although that is something that takes place quite rarely.
The second balk of my concern with this bill is that we have a body of law, statutes and case law that have evolved around this idea that children should be removed from custody conflicts, that whenever possible, they should not be involved in the direct conflict.
Presenting children with the opportunity or judges with the opportunity to question children directly actually puts them right squarely in the middle of the conflict again, and that is really contrary to what we understand to be in the best interest of children.
The truth of the matter is, in cases where parents are doing okay by their kids in custody disputes, this would never happen because parents are already doing their jobs at taking good care of their children.
And in cases where the conflict is very high and the issues are really being fought out in Court more dramatically, the temptation will be for parents to push their kids to do this, push the Court to have the opportunity to do this, and there are so few instances in which that could turn out to be a good thing for children.
If, I occasionally, I always function as a family lawyer. Occasionally, I serve as a guardian or an attorney for children, and I can recall instances where my wards had very, very strong opinions about what should happen to them. Twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen-year-old kids have very strong opinions about lots of things, what they wear to school, if they should do their homework, whether or not to eat breakfast.
But the situations in which children have really strong opinions and feel like they're not being heard, there is an opportunity for that to happen already in the current law, and I have even had the experience of making those opinions heard to the Court and they were well received. But that is a very different thing than having a child directly exposed to the Court process in Court, in chambers with their parents there or without.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you very much. Any questions from members of the Committee? None. Thank you.
JANE GROSSMAN: Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Linda, is it Blozie?
LINDA BLOZIE: Good afternoon, Representative Urban, Senator Musto and members of the Committee. My name is Linda Blozie and I'm the Director of Public Affairs for the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
I am here today to present the Coalition's recommendations regarding House Bill 5815 AN ACT CONCERNIGN DIVORCE MEDIATION. Currently, this legislation proposes that a person who is engaged in the dissolution of a marriage and is the parent of a minor child shall participate in a mediation program.
While the Court may waive the requirements of this subsection for good cause, the Coalition would like to recommend that at a minimum, domestic violence is spelled out as an exemption from such mediation.
For mediation to be effective, the parties involved must share a common vision of resolution and when domestic violence is present this cannot happen, because the abuser's desire to maintain power and control over the victim is directly inconsistent with the objective of mediation.
Fear of the abuser may prevent the victim for asserting his or her needs, and even the action of mandating the mediation may give the abuser increased access to a victim further eroding any safety plan that this victim may have in place.
We are recommending that in any case where domestic violence is present, such case shall be considered inappropriate for mediation. With the exception of West Virginia, all states across this country with mandatory divorce and child custody mediation provide a domestic violence exemption.
And so we are asking you today to follow suit and carry out this exemption as well.
I think we can start by excluding anyone from mediation who is the subject of an order of protection in Connecticut or any other state.
The Judicial Branch currently has a screening tool that they use in criminal cases to identify domestic violence offenders and the level of risk they pose to a victim. Perhaps that or a similar screening tool could be used on the civil side as well.
We have legislation, which qualifies a domestic violence victim in cases of employment and termination abuse, and these were pieces of legislation that were passed last year. We could also use those qualifiers when considering an exemption from mediation.
There are a number of practices in place that would assist the Court in determining the factors for domestic violence exemption.
And I would also like to recommend that we keep in mind that a domestic violence abuser can coerce a victim into mediation, and so we would also recommend that if this bill moves forward, that all mediators in Connecticut be trained in identifying domestic violence so that if it does arise during the course of mediation, the mediation can be immediately terminated.
You have demonstrated a commitment over the years to addressing domestic violence, and we would ask you today to please continue that good work by considering our recommendation to exempt victims of domestic violence, to exempt domestic violence from any mandatory mediation. Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you very much. Yes, Representative Mushinsky.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Since I wrote this bill I have learned that I'm using the wrong term, so I want to run this by you because I'm going to recommend to the Chairs that the bill be changed.
I talked to Judge Keller about this bill and she said mediation happens when divorce is already definite. The term you're looking for is couples counseling, you know, before the decision is definitely decided that there will be a divorce. You work with couples counseling so that two people learn how to work in a gentle manner toward each other and for the good of the child.
And she also said that it should apply to both married and non-married parents, which this bill does not do.
She also said that in her experience it only works when both parties agree. It has to be voluntary on both parties because it doesn't work otherwise, as you also alluded to.
And she also said that we have an existing parenting education system that might be usable for this purpose. When the couples first come in and you know, they're considering a possible divorce perhaps go to the parenting education and see if it can be worked out. So she recommended I talk to Mr. Carbone and the Court services.
But if, knowing now that I used the wrong word, I should have said Court counseling, couples counseling instead of mediation, do you have a different view on the bill?
LINDA BLOZIE: Not really. In the sense of, well, I think a couple of things that you said. I mean, I imagine that there might be circumstances under which somebody who is or has been in a domestic violence relationship may agree to go into a couples counseling, but I would also be cautious about how that decision came to be.
In other words, I think that, you know, there was a bill many, many years ago, or a couple of years ago about mediation and you know, my feeling is that even though someone may appear to come in willingly, that doesn't necessarily mean that they are coming willingly because they can be coerced into attending any type of couples counseling.
I mean, in general, we don't make that recommendation. Kind of across the board we don't make that recommendation until, because someone has the advantage, and that is the abusive party that has the advantage in any kind of, whether it be I think in mediation or counseling or any of those types of recommendations that are made.
And once there's kind of that kind of unequal balance, then a victim is not necessarily going to be heard.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay. So if we change the bill to couples counseling and parenting education, and voluntary on both parties, you still would rather have us exempt out any domestic violence couples, correct?
LINDA BLOZIE: Yeah, that they may be exempt.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay. Okay.
LINDA BLOZIE: But when you're talking about the parenting or you're talking about the piece that comes when you make the application for your divorce that says each party has to attend parenting classes --
REP. MUSHINSKY: I think that's the one, but I've got to check with Mr. Carbone. We're trying to avoid an expensive fiscal note on this bill, but trying to also get the parents to work better together, whether or not they stay together so that the children have a better outcome. That's the purpose of the bill.
LINDA BLOZIE: Yeah, and I understand that, and certainly I would support that, that the child has a better outcome. But I just still see that there's just going to be too many circumstances under which that domestic violence is going to continue, even though there, you know, these parties are seeking to end the relationship, and that's going to be carried forward in any kind of action, I think, that the Court would take.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay. Well, I would certainly ask the Chairs as we work on this that we do an exemption for domestic violence couples.
LINDA BLOZIE: Thank you. I appreciate that.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay.
SENATOR MUSTO: Alison Loop is next, and after Miss Loop, it looks like Shirley Pripstein and Catherine Havens are next on the list. Good afternoon.
ALISON LOOP: Thank you, Senator Musto, Representative Urban, Representative Fawcett and distinguished members of the Select Committee on Children. My name is Alison Loop and I'm the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at Kids in Crisis, where I direct an on-site health clinic that sees all children who come in for emergency are.
My colleagues have and will talk about the impact eliminating emergency shelter care would have on children in Connecticut.
I want to tell you firsthand about Daniel and David, two four-year-old twins who came to Kids in Crisis when DCF removed them from their grandmother's care one evening because of significant neglect and suspected child abuse.
The four-year-olds were both in diapers, dirty and disheveled. They were terrified of all noises, flushing toilets, doors closing, bathwater running. They didn't know their own names, and they had difficulty walking.
Within 48 hours, I was able to give each boy a thorough physical exam. During the first couple of days they were here, we noticed that along with all his other problems, David was having frequent staring episodes where he could not be engaged.
Zn addition to treating their rashes, I was able to make a neurology referral where specialists became concerned about possible petite mal seizures. We scheduled a sleep deprived EEG, but that's not all.
Staff and I quickly noticed that David had a distinct body odor and other signs of early puberty. He was scheduled for an endocrinology appointment.
When the boy's mother came for a supervised visit, I took the time to meet with her, to learn her medical history, to try and help me connect the dots with some of the boys' issues. That was an important meeting, for nowhere was information that she suffered from a clotting disorder, one that killed her brother a few years earlier.
I wish I could say that these issues are unusual, but sadly they're within the norm of those we see. Imagine placing these two boys in the middle of the night with a foster family who simply are available and believe to be able to care for twin boys.
How long do you think the boys would have been in that home? Do you think they would have made progress developmentally or physically if we didn't have a thorough look at the many problems they faced? I think not.
By passing this new proposed legislation you would be doing a disservice to Daniel and David and thousands of Connecticut children just like them because these boys who are under six years old were given emergency shelter, appropriate care was given and careful consideration was made for the next placement.
It was determined that the boys needed long-term therapeutic foster care and an appropriate family was identified. How are Daniel and David today? They know their names. They're potty trained. They're walking normally. They're emotionally more stable and definitely more communicative.
Their foster parents know the full range of what they're dealing with, ultimately giving them the chance to parent more effectively and secure a future success for both boys.
Without emergency shelter care for children under the age of six, what would happen to these boys? Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you. Can you tell us how long it was between the time these two children came to you and you were able to make the determination as to the appropriate kind of long-term care they would need?
ALISON LOOP: Well, the appropriate kind of care we could determine that within the first two weeks. We knew that.
SENATOR MUSTO: And what, could you tell us a little more about the process, how you went through, and what the determination was.
ALISON LOOP: Well, not only am I there, and I'm a nurse practitioner, but we also have a consulting psychologist, consulting psychiatrist, and because we were able to have them, you know, for a certain amount of time, we were able to determine through clinical meetings and working with DCF what types of services these children were going to need, and it wasn't going to be, you know, your average services.
And I think the problem with the bill is that when a child gets removed in the middle of the night, you don't know what medical problems they have. You don't know what emotional problems they have. You can't already say oh, they're chronically ill unless it's, you know, a child with cerebral palsy in a wheelchair.
You don't know what they have, so then you're going to possibly put them into a foster care placement that they would blow out of and then have to go multiple other placements, which also is a disservice to the child.
SENATOR MUSTO: Okay, thank you. Yes, Representative Fawcett.
REP. FAWCETT: Just to clarify. Those two boys you spoke of, how long in total were they with you at your center?
ALISON LOOP: Let me think. I would say 30 to 40 days, roughly, I think.
SENATOR MUSTO: Representative Mushinsky.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Thank you. I asked a previous witness what would be a good timetable to qualify as a temporary emergency care and they said 30 days unless it's a mental illness treatment.
So what do you think the timetable should be to differentiate temporary emergency care?
ALISON LOOP: I think, you know, depending on how quickly the state wants to deal with things, I think it could be anywhere from a week to 30 days, or two weeks to be safe would be a pretty safe bet to get them turned around.
The issue is there aren't enough, there would have to be some sort of stipulation, there just aren't enough foster families, so that's the only issue.
But I think two weeks would be a very good minimum.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay, thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Other questions? All right. Thank you very much. Next up is Miss Pripstein, Shirley Pripstein.
SHIRLEY PRIPSTEIN: Good afternoon, Senator Musto, Representative Urban, members of the Committee. My name is Shirley Pripstein. I'm a family law attorney with Greater Hartford Legal Aid, a position I've held some 30 years with a specialty in domestic violence cases.
I'm also a past president of the Family Law Section of the Bar and I'm here to testify in opposition to H.B. 5815.
Representative Mushinsky, I know that this is your bill, and having listened to your questions to Miss Blozie, let me try to address some of your concerns and get to the heart of this.
There is already in the statutes, a section for reconciliation counseling, where either party can apply for reconciliation counseling, and if the other party doesn't participate in that, it will delay the divorce for an additional 90 days.
That is one meeting with Family Relations, and the second meeting doesn't occur unless Family Relations thinks that there's a reason for a second meeting.
And if what you're talking about is some sort of couples counseling prior to the filing of a divorce case, there is no judicial intervention prior to the filing of a divorce case. The statutes don't come into play until a divorce case is filed.
If you want to require that somebody have counseling before or attached to their divorce filing, the certificate that they have attended couples counseling before they file for a divorce, I think you, unless you state that it would be the Family Relations office that would provide that counseling, you have avoided your fiscal note by requiring them to get private couples counseling.
However, you have also then taken away access to the Courts for a huge majority of the population, which cannot afford to privately pay for couples counseling.
And then there's the question of how, so if you go to couples counseling and you go to one session and you get nowhere, how many sessions do you have to go to before your couples counselor says, these people are getting nowhere and they shouldn't come any more.
So I think it's impractical to require couples counseling either prior to the filing of divorce case or even as by statute, during the case.
I do wish to say that there are programs available in appropriate circumstances for parents who have communications issues. The Children's Law Center runs such a program for low-income people in the Hartford area. Some private psychological professionals run such a program. It's called the Peace Program. It's expensive.
So in that sense we're serving the low income and we're serving the high income. Who is not being served is middle-income families.
I would also like to say that one of the mysteries about your bill is that it mentions property settlement as something that Family Relations should be involved with in mediation, and our Family Relations officers are not trained at all in property distribution issues and most judicial districts already have two levels of intervention to resolve property disputes.
There's a special master's program and there's judicial pretrials, which are required before a case can be released for trial.
I would be available to answer any questions.
SENATOR MUSTO: Representative Mushinsky.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You read my mind. Thanks for, thank you for very rapidly amending your testimony based on what I was trying to write here. No, I didn't intend to do property at all.
SHIRLEY PRIPSTEIN: Okay.
REP. MUSHINSKY: This is strictly aimed at trying to get a better outcome for children to try to avoid the, you know, the cynicism and damage to children that results when the parents are having a stressful separation and divorce. That's the whole point of this.
I do have a middle income district, and when I was door knocking, constituents said you know, it's really too easy to get divorced and there are repercussions on the family and on the children, and he had been through this himself and he thought it was just too easy to cut loose the family, and the kids always are the ones that have the most damage in the situation.
So I guess what I am trying to do is find a way to serve middle-income families with more reconciliation counseling or couples counseling prior to the divorce being triggered, so I guess that is what I'm trying to do.
Do you know where the parenting education is now, and is it possible for middle-income couples to take advantage of that?
SHIRLEY PRIPSTEIN: The parent education programs that are fun by the judicial branch cost, I believe the fee now is $150. They're six hour sessions, which in some cases are three two-hour sessions. In some cases, two three-hour sessions. Fee waivers are available for that program.
Some programs they encourage the parents to go to the same, the parents of the same children to go to the program together. In other instances they go separately. There's no requirement that they go together.
Certainly, in the domestic violence situation, you wouldn't want them going to the same program, and that's not, that's like a school program. It's not a program where they have the people interacting, it's not a direct couples interaction, in other words.
The direct couples interaction would be in the Peace Program or the Families in Transition program that the Children's Law Center runs, where they have someone sit with the parents and work on the communications issues where they have communications rules, and they focus them, and I think that's the program that you're looking to emulate.
And I don't think that the, that part of my testimony holds. If you put that requirement to run such program on the Family Relations Division then it either has to have a whopping fiscal note, or we're taking away from their ability to do custody evaluations and the other interventions that they currently do. They're very stressed as it is.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay, well I don't want to further stress them, but is there a way to do this? One hundred and fifty doesn't sound too unreasonable for a middle-income family. Is there a way to do this so it happens more often, even if it's self pay?
SHIRLEY PRIPSTEIN: That program is, I couldn't answer that because you would have to speak to representatives of the Judicial Branch.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay.
SHIRLEY PRIPSTEIN: I think work with Judge Monroe, who's the A.J. for family and the service providers who are currently provide, doing that parent education program as to whether there could be another level and how involved it would be and what the cost would be.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay. I appreciate your help on this. I'm trying to do the right thing here. I'm not sure how to write it and whatever guidance you can give me.
SHIRLEY PRIPSTEIN: We'd be happy, we meaning Legal Services. Also, I think Attorney Dornfeld will testify on behalf of the Family Law Section, which is also opposed to the bill and we would certainly be happy to meet with you to work with you on this.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay. Thanks. Thank you for your help.
SHIRLEY PRIPSTEIN: Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Other questions? Thank you very much. Catherine Havens is next, and after Miss Havens we have Kelsey Nepote and Ellen Pfarr. Thank you.
CATHERINE HAVENS: Good afternoon. Thank you, distinguished members of the Committee for the opportunity to speak. My name is Catherine Havens. I'm the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Director of the MSW program at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, and I'm here to testify in support of Senate Bill 322.
In an interview with the newly appointed head of the Department of Children and Families, Commissioner Katz spoke for the need to have a child welfare workforce that could respond to kids and families more quickly and more deeply and to drag a somewhat shellshocked workforce of social workers, case workers and investigators into the sunlight and help them do their jobs with unrestrained vigor.
This vision of workforce development will require a concerted effort among the Department of Children and Families and the social work institutions of higher education to provide the necessary skills and knowledge that will increase the number of DCF social workers who will be better prepared to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children, families and communities.
The Department of Children and Families will need to hire these workers and support them in further development of their abilities to work with these vulnerable children and families.
The University of Connecticut School of Social Work, with over 60 years of providing social work education to help serve the people of Connecticut supports the concept and direction of the original Senate Bill 322.
The hiring of individuals with a baccalaureate degree in social work, a BSW or master degree, MSW in social work for the social work positions in DCF will provide more fully for the needed professionalism of DCF social work staff.
The present social work job classification series, non-clinical series, only requires a minimum of a baccalaureate degree in social work or a related field broadly defined and has allowed non-social workers to be hired by the State of Connecticut for social work positions.
Included in these series is DCF social workers. Connecticut has lagged behind other states in the professionalization of their social work staff. Senate Bill 322 will begin to address this issue.
While ongoing training is an important component of effective child welfare practice, most studies have supported the finding that training alone is not enough. Professional social work education, at both the BSW and MSW level, provides a more thorough and comprehensive exposure to the essential skills and knowledge required for effective child welfare practice.
Both BSW and MSW programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and are reviewed every seven years. This review requires that all programs demonstrate that their curriculum ensures competency in ten core areas.
Lastly, I would just like to point out that the University of Connecticut is one of two public MSW programs and one of six BSW programs. The state is already, in fact, invested in providing, invested financially in providing professional social work education to those that wish to carry out social work jobs, particularly in child welfare. Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you. Questions from members of the Committee? None. Thank you very much.
CATHERINE HAVENS: Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: And is it Kelsey? Neopote?
KELSEY NEPOTE: Nepote.
SENATOR MUSTO: Nepote. And then Ellen Pfarr is on deck. Good afternoon.
KELSEY NEPOTE: Good afternoon. Thank you Chairs, Senator Musto and Representative Urban and other members of the Select Committee on Children for your time today.
My name is Kelsey Nepote. I'm a Master's of Social Work student at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work concentrating on policy practice. I'm a native of Kansas and came to Connecticut to pursue my MSW. I stand before you today seeking your support and ultimately your vote in favor of Senate Bill 322.
I received by BSW at Washington University in Topeka, Kansas and completed my practicum placement at the Kansas Chapter of NASW. It has been through the course of my undergraduate education and combination with my current instruction that I have formed a deep understanding of the knowledge and practice expertise social workers gain through our education.
In Kansas we have title protection. You simply cannot call yourself a social worker without having a degree from an accredited program, and obtaining a licensure at one of three levels. An additional 42 states have title protection in some capacity. However, Connecticut is not among this.
While I know this is not a title protection issue, I feel it is important to demonstrate that Connecticut is lagging behind in obtaining proper and responsible labeling of social workers.
I feel very strongly from my experience in Kansas that it is imperative to have DCF employees in social worker positions obtain the education that supports the title for two reasons, consumer protection and improved quality of care.
Individuals who are referred for services at DCF are among the most vulnerable individuals living the most disadvantaged situations in the state. They have the right to know if the person assigned to their case has the education and training to back the title.
Consumers are taking a significant risk, many of which do not have the choice, and putting the details of their livelihood in someone else's hands.
At the point at which DCF is called to provide care and intervene, families are most susceptible to the individuals surrounding them, including DCF workers.
I strongly believe it is misleading to both consumers and the public not to have individuals trained in the title they are portraying themselves as. Would you see a doctor without them going to medical school, or hire an attorney who did not pass the bar?
Improving the quality of care would benefit all involved in the DCF system. Employees providing care that do not have the rigorous training provided by social work education results in families not receiving the highest level of care at their most trying times.
If DCF only hired officially trained social workers, I am confident that the quality of care would increase. I do not yet understand the complexities of DCF, but I do know that it has been in crisis for many years and in Senate Bill 322 there is a solution. By upgrading the standards to only hiring BSW and MSW, outcomes would be more efficient and effective.
Lastly, I would like to address the language of the bill. Senate Bill 322 should include allowing the hiring of BSWs. To acquire my bachelor's of social work, I had to go through an application process, get accepted, abide by the NASW Code of Ethics, take 51 hours of social work courses and obtain 480 hours of supervised practicum experience.
A combination of all of these requirements qualify me as a BSW to engage in practice. BSWs should be included as persons to hire. I urge you to vote yes on Senate Bill 322 for reasons of improved consumer protection and quality of care.
In addition, I urge you to amend the language to include the hiring of BSWs. I thank you for your time.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you. Any questions from members of the Committee? All right. Thank you very much.
KELSEY NEPOTE: Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Ellen Pfarr next. Welcome.
ELLEN PFARR: Thank you. Good afternoon, Representative Urban and Senator Musto and distinguished members of the Select Committee on Children.
My name is Ellen Pfarr and I'm a licensed clinical social worker and a member of the board of the National Association of Social Workers, Connecticut Chapter.
I have come to speak in support of Senate Bill 322 with the changes, which have been recommended by NASW, which would be including the bachelor of social work recipient in the bill.
While I'm currently employed as a therapist in a small private practice based in Essex, I spent the previous 22 years of my career working for DCF funded programs and for five additional years, employed as a DCF social worker. Therefore, I feel well qualified to comment on the need for stronger academic requirements for those who are to be employed as social workers and social work supervisors by the Department of Children and Families.
DCF social workers are on the front line when it comes to assessing and ensuring the safety of Connecticut's children and preventing further harm to children.
From the time a reported case is investigated, it is up to the social worker assigned to the case to engage with the child to provide reassurance while gathering necessary information about the incident from the child's perspective.
At the same time, the worker has the task of interviewing the reporters of abuse or neglect and any witnesses to the alleged incident.
Perhaps just as important as reassuring the child, the worker in most cases must seek the cooperation of the family as the child will likely remain in the care of the parents or will be returned once the investigation is resolved.
The worker must then present the information to his or her supervisor and participate in a thorough assessment, which includes making life altering decisions for the future of the child and the family, including deciding if the child may remain at home or requires out-of-home care.
Once a case is determined to need further oversight, whether the child remains in the home or is placed, the DCF social worker must continue to provide ongoing professional services to the child and to the family, continuing to assess the family's readiness to provide for the child's safety and the effect of the trauma on the child.
In most cases, this would be accomplished by the worker maintaining a non-judgmental attitude toward the family and providing them with any services, which might strengthen and support the family going forward, and also working with the family to assist them in the process.
This then also involves having the worker be knowledgeable about community resources so that referrals and case coordination can be maintained.
Throughout this process, it is the job of the social work supervisor to oversee the process of the case and to ensure that the case is being managed effectively.
The steps I have described in managing the case of a family referred to DCF from the referral to the hotline to the closure of the case all require a set of skills and judgment that those who have completed a degree in social work bring to the table. They are thoroughly trained in the areas of assessment, engagement and resource and case management.
They have learned to meet the client where he or she is so that they're able to maintain a non-judgmental attitude while working with the family to help provide an outcome that will cause the least harm to the child in his or her family.
In my many years working within and closely with DCF I have repeatedly been struck by the quality of work brought to the job by DCF social workers who held a degree in social work.
I've seen them demonstrate empathy for the children and the families they serve, thorough assessments, comprehensive case management and knowledge of community resources, and most of all, professionalism.
I urge the Committee's consideration for this bill with the changes that have been recommended by NASW. I feel it makes sense to have the very challenging positions of DCF social worker and DCF social work supervisor filled by individuals who bring to the job the background, skill and professionalism to the job, and more importantly, it is what our children deserve.
I thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you very much. Questions? No. Thank you. Next is Sharon Wicks Dornfeld, and after Miss Dornfeld is Denise, looks like Qualey for Mary Ellen Hass, and Michael Ferguson for Dr. Harry Adamakas.
SHARON WICKS DORNFELD: Good afternoon, Representative Urban, Senator Musto, members of the Committee. I'm Attorney Sharon Wicks Dornfeld. I appear today as a vice-chair, as the Vice-Chair of the Family Law Section of the Connecticut Bar Association, and I am here to voice the Section's opposition to House Bill 5661 AN ACT CONCERNING COURT INTERVIEWS IN CHILD CUSTODY CASES and House Bill 5815 AN ACT CONCERNING DIVORCE MEDIATION.
I have submitted written testimony, so I will attempt to avoid being too redundant on that, but I would like to say that our Section wholeheartedly concurs with the opinions you've already heard from Attorney Pripstein and Attorney Grossman on behalf of Legal Services on the two respective bills.
In particular, regards to 5815 regarding mediation, I would add an additional concern, and that is a concern, which is particularly pertinent to me. I limit my practice to representing children in abuse and neglect and custody matters as an attorney for the children or as a guardian ad litem, and the concern I have with, one of the many concerns I have with the language of the mediation bill is that it would actually delay, the potential to delay the process for the children involved is very great.
Certainly, not every case is suitable for mediation for the reasons you've already heard, but where, for whatever reason the parties are not willing to engage, both parties are not willing to engage in mediation, there is essentially a penalty of a three-month additional delay before action can be taken in that case.
And that's detrimental to the children. It's against the public policy of this state to expedite these matters for the benefit of the children involved as much as possible, and I would urge the Committee to consider alternative penalties, if you will, that would not unfortunately have that unintended effect upon the children involved.
In regards to 5661 AN ACT CONCERNING COURT INTERVIEWS IN CHILD CUSTODY CASES, again, the Section shares the concerns you have already heard.
I also think that it really needs to be emphasized that I don't believe that this, the language proposed can meet our constitutional scrutiny. There was a 1984 case called Gennarini v. Gennarini, which specifically involved a very similar situation to the language that was proposed. A judge interviewed a seven-year-old child in chambers, promised the child confidentiality, didn't allow the parents to be present or their counsel, didn't provide a transcript to the parties because of the promise made to the child.
Ultimately, it was overturned and the Appellate Court in that case discussed at some length the necessary constitutional protections. Now, the problem with that, of course, is that in order to protect the parents' constitutional rights to due process, the child will necessarily have his confidentiality breached, if you will. The parents are going to have to know what the child says, unless both parents agree that the child should be interviewed and under what circumstances.
That's pretty rare. The reason the parents want a child to be interviewed, typically, is because one parent wants to have the child interviewed because they feel that that child is likely to express a preference for the parent who is encouraging the interview. The other parent, fearful that the child will not express a preference in favor of the other parent is going to oppose it.
So it's unlikely that you would very often get two parents consenting to this, particularly because there's no reason a child would ever have to talk to a judge unless the judge is trying a case, which means it's a high conflict case, which means the parents can't agree, for example, today is Tuesday.
So, the practical realities of this are very difficult. From my own practice, I can tell you, it's extremely rare to have a child ask me to speak to the judge. Usually the opposite is true. They are fearful they might have to.
With that, I'd be happy to entertain any questions you might have.
REP. URBAN: Thank you for your testimony. I don't know if you were here for Representative Carter's testimony, but I would ask you. He was concerned that a child that was 12 years old or older, and really had some opinions that they wanted to be heard, that they would not be heard.
But the testimony that we've been receiving during the day today is that there is always an opportunity for that child to be heard, and is that your understanding?
SHARON WICKS DORNFELD: Absolutely. That's my practice, having those children and being able to report what the children's preferences are.
Ethically, I'm obliged to report their expressed preferences, whether I serve as their attorney or their guardian ad litem.
One of the other concerns I have about the language of this bill is that it is mandatory for a child 12 or over to be interviewed by the judge if anybody involved in the case asks for it. There's no opt out for the child, and there are certainly plenty of children who would prefer not to go speak to some stranger in the back room. So that's another layer of concern.
But you know, before a case ever actually gets in front of a judge for a trial, custody trial, or visitation trial, but typically it's a package deal, the child has spoken to a Family Relations officer. The child will have had an attorney and/or a guardian ad litem appointed for the child, who had spoken to a child. The child probably has his own therapist or her own therapist that the child is speaking with.
There may be a psychological evaluator involved who has spoken with the child. This child has more people that he has to tell what he or she is thinking about than you can shake a stick at, probably too many.
All of those people, if there is a trial, will be expected to report to the Court what the child's expressed preferences are, and so it's not for lack of opportunity to tell somebody, if the child wants to, and often the child doesn't want to.
It's not uncommon for me also to have a child tell, ask me if he or she tells me what he wishes if I would promise not to say that he or she said it. They want me to know, but they don't want me to tell anyone that it came from them.
You can understand the situation with the child between the two parents, doesn't want to lose either parent, doesn't want to anger either parent, doesn't want to run the risk of being punished by either parent or even abandoned by a parent.
So it's not for lack of opportunity. I really think it's unlikely that most children would like to go meet with a stranger and have that conversation in any event.
REP. URBAN: Thank you. Are there any other questions? Representative Mushinsky.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Were you in the room when I was discussing with the other witnesses on the counseling bill, the mediation bill?
SHARON WICKS DORNFELD: Yes.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay. One of the witnesses said the real problem may be that we have counseling for poor families and counseling for well off families, the Peace Program, but nothing for the middle income.
Is there a way that we could rewrite this bill that would encourage more couples counseling, reconciliation counseling prior to entering the decision to divorce, and then leaving out the domestic violence cases, the substance abuse cases, the ones that are possibly harmful to the child or either parent?
SHARON WICKS DORNFELD: Well, I've spent just a few minutes trying to think about that having heard the colloquy between yourself and the earlier witness.
I have not arrived at an answer that would meet your needs. I can think of a few other things that would be problems. Obviously, domestic violence is a problem. Substance abuse is a problem. I have a lot of cases, I've observed a lot of cases in which one of the parties has basically just disappeared. Obviously, that's not a good Court case that would be suitable for mediation.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Right.
SHARON WICKS DORNFELD: I have cases involving child abuse. We don't want those people trying to mediate a resolution. Probably one good resolution and it's not going to be mediated. So there are a lot of cases, a lot more than just domestic violence cases that I think would not be suitable.
The problem really comes in trying to put this together before the decision to divorce. I know that our Family Relations Division will offer mediation services.
What I don't know, and I'd be happy to find out if it would be helpful, is whether couples could take advantage of that who are not already Court involved. I know they can do it, you know after, certainly during a dissolution process or a custody proceeding they can do it.
Following those, judgments on those two types of cases where there might be an issue that arises or where they're thinking about trying to modify the thing, I just don't know whether they can do it before anybody filed anything the first time.
The problem with that of course is, as was previously mentioned, they're shorthanded as it is. And, while, they certainly would be willing because they're terrific folks who work in Family Services and work very diligently to resolve things as amicably as possible.
They have quite a lot of responsibilities, obviously, beyond counseling custody-type situations, and you know, I think it would be probably terribly expensive to have enough workers available that they could do that.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Well, what about the $150 three-session parenting counseling? That's private, isn't it?
SHARON WICKS DORNFELD: Well, actually it's private in the sense that the Court doesn't offer it, although it's done under contracts with the Judicial Department. It's offered by a variety of nonprofit organizations, two or three usually for a judicial district.
It's not counseling per se, it's education. It is, there's some role playing. There's some different, there's a general curriculum, but each agency that provides it does a little bit different stuff. That is not the two parents working together to counsel something (inaudible), how to deal with each other, how to deal with other parents, how to handle things with your children, how to pick your fights, what the effects of conflict are in your children.
But it's not, I think, what you're hoping it would be, which is that the two parents of a particular set of children would have an opportunity to try and counsel together. I don't think it's that. It's not designed to be that, and you know, I just don't have a good answer for you.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay, well when you're going home, whether in your car pool or on the public transit or whatever, if you could think about this, because what I'm trying to do is come up with something for middle-income people who fall into neither one of these existing programs and help them with learning how to deal with each other and avoiding the stress on their child if the relationship proceeds further to divorce.
And it's really to try to help kids have a more stable life and have the parents learn to work with each other and perhaps avoid ripping a family apart. That's really the intention of the bill, although it's not well worded right now. But I'd like to try to repair the bill and run it.
SHARON WICKS DORNFRLD: All of us in the Family Law Section absolutely support that objective, and if I can come up with something and I'd be certainly happy to speak with my colleagues as well. We'll absolutely be very pleased to work with you.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay. Thank you very much.
SHARON WICKS DORNFELD: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: Are there any other questions, comments? Thank you for your testimony.
SHARON WICKS DORNFELD: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: Next to testify is Denise Qualey.
DENISE QUALEY: Qualey.
REP. URBAN: Did I get that right? Qualey.
DENISE QUALEY: Yes.
REP. URBAN: And after Denise will be Michael Ferguson, so welcome, Denise.
DENISE QUALEY: Thank you. Representative Urban, Senator Musto, Representative Fawcett and other distinguished members of the Select Committee on Children, I'm speaking to you today in response to Raised Bill 981 AN ACT CONCERNING THE PLACEMENT OF YOUNG CHILDREN IN CONGREGATE CARE FACILITIES.
My name is Denise Qualey and I'm an MSW and Clinical Director of a SAFE Home. I am reading this testimony for Mary Ellen Hass, the Executive Vice-President of Family and Children's Agency, FCA, a multi-service agency in Norwalk working with families.
FCA has a continuum of services designed to prevent child abuse and neglect, or in cases of child maltreatment, to intervene in families to keep children safe, keep families in tact and ensure permanency planning.
One of the services provided is specialized foster care. At FCA we place over 95 children each year in specialized foster homes. These children have been diagnosed with serious emotional and psychiatric disorders. The acuity of their needs is often so intense that an assessment done by DCF is not sufficient to determine treatment.
These children need an in depth, multi-disciplinary evaluation prior to placement to determine the appropriate level of care. This can be done in a SAFE Home.
Children who have experienced the trauma of removal from their parents need to be in a home-like setting, especially children under the age of six. However, for some of these very fragile children, a foster family is just not enough.
While therapeutic foster homes are trained to care for children with serious emotional and behavioral issues, they are still families. For children who have experienced multiple trauma, they are often not ready to function in a family setting. These children often disrupt from good foster homes and instead end up in a higher level of care such as a sub-acute unit or an inpatient psychiatric hospital.
Once that happens, often a new cycle begins, which results in a revolving door of multiple placements. To meet the needs of these children, we must assess their functioning at the time of referral and then choose an intervention to best meet their needs.
For some of these children their best chance at working through this devastating time is by being placed in a SAFE Home where they can receive around the clock care while getting a multi-disciplinary evaluation.
Once stabilized, they will be ready for placement in a foster family, and a foster parent will have the information needed to work with the children's treatment providers.
I urge you to weigh this issue carefully before deciding the fate of this bill. To deny access to congregate care for children under six will be dooming some children to the fate of multiple foster home disruptions as well as using up and burning out skilled foster parents who have much to offer children placed in their care.
The complex needs of traumatized, vulnerable children demand complex answers. To find those answers we need to use all the resources available to assess and treat children. For some of these children, short-term congregate care is a resource and should be used as a first step to help children heal from the devastating effects of child maltreatment. Thank you.
REP. URBAN: Perfect timing. Any questions or comments? Thank you for your testimony.
DENISE QUALEY: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: Next to testify is Michael Ferguson. Welcome, Michael.
MICHAEL FERGUSON: Thank you, Senator Musto, Representative Urban, Representative Fawcett and distinguished members of the Select Committee on Children. My name is Michael Ferguson and I'm here to read the testimony of Dr. Harry Adamakas who serves as the consulting clinical psychologist at Kids in Crisis. Dr. Adamakas has been licensed in the State of Connecticut since 1989 and has been working with children and families for over 20 years.
Dr. Adamakas is submitting testimony as a mental health professional who is very concerned about the negative impact of Raised Bill 981 might inadvertently cause for the youngest children who are currently served by SAFE Homes such as Kids in Crisis.
The children who are involved with DCF are, by definition, vulnerable and need stable, reliable care. However, unlike many children, they often also need remedial and more intensive care that is both emotionally and pragmatically responsive and targeted.
An agency such as Kids in Crisis provides such intensive care in a manner that is deeply caring and highly effective. They provide a team of professionals who quickly mobilize and collaborate to provide for the children's medical, emotional and educational needs.
After an intensive intake assessment of the child's needs, it's followed by a Triage to require professionals such as pediatricians, medical specialists, Birth-to-Three services and Head Start.
On a day-to-day basis, interventions are monitored and there is a predictability and reliable care in a small, home-like setting. This is what Kids in Crisis offers all children, and for those children in the tender years, this type of treatment is even more important because the children in need of emergency SAFE Home care have often been deprived of the basic medical care and nurturing they need and deserve.
Quite frankly, it would be impossible to reliably replicate this level of care across the foster care system. Let us please remember that these children are not merely vulnerable, but they are oftentimes “damaged emotionally” and thus express their hurts and emotional pains in behavioral acting out, which can often prove overwhelming to the foster families entrusted with their care.
In sibling groups that may have two, three or more children, this problem multiplies exponentially. Kids in Crisis and other SAFE Homes are in a unique position to meet the needs of these children, some of which are deeply troubled but not in need of hospitalization or some other level of higher care.
After a relatively brief stay at Kids in Crisis, these children are in a much better position to be successfully integrated into the foster care living. The investment of a relatively brief period of time in professional care, even if by multiple caregivers, poses no adverse effect on the children it serves.
It is in Dr. Harry Adamakas' professional opinion that for many children a psychological cost benefit analysis for care at Kids in Crisis strongly favors its use for the many reasons cited above.
Please know that Dr. Adamas has provided his contact information, if you need further assistance or any clarification or have any questions, and I thank you very much.
REP. URBAN: Any questions or comments?
SENATOR MUSTO: We've been talking a lot about time periods today. What's your, I saw you've been sitting back there the whole time so I know you've heard. What is your, what's your input as far as how long these folks, these children should be in such facilities?
MICHAEL FERGUSON: Clearly, no one wants young children in any sort of emergency care or congregate care for long periods of time.
I really struggle with having a definite set time. I think 30 days and then a review process should begin, because there are children whose needs are so great they may require more than 30 days.
The children that Alison Loop spoke about are two such children that would benefit by a longer stay in an emergency setting with professional caregivers who can assess their needs and determine, and help determine what might lead to a more successful placement.
Yes, many can be in and out in two weeks to 30 days, but a review process should be instituted. No hard date. No two children are alike. No two children are coming out of a, you know, the same situation.
So putting a hard date of, or a time limit I think is detrimental. Let's have a review process with DCF and maybe the Courts, but any sort of hard date, any sort of hard time limit I think is detrimental to the many children that may require longer care. I think as anyone would know, anyone who has a child, anyone who's a grandparent would want their children to get the professional services that they need before they move on.
SENATOR MUSTO: Okay, thank you. Are there other questions? Thank you.
MICHAEL FERGUSON: Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Next up is Senator Hartley.
SENATOR HARTLEY: Good afternoon.
SENATOR MUSTO: Good afternoon.
SENATOR HARTLEY: Senator Musto and Co-Chair Urban and Representative Fawcett, thank you very much for putting me in here. I know it's probably been a long day for you.
I'm just here before you in support of two bills on your agenda today. The first is S.B. 982, which is AN ACT ESTABLISHING A PILOT TRUANCY CLINIC IN WATERBURY. Actually, it basically calls for the codification of that program. I think perhaps you've heard from Probate Judge Brunnock and the Probate Court Administrator as well.
This is a program that was put together as a no-cost initiative in the Probate Court in the Waterbury District, which has resulted in exponential reduction of truancy in our school districts, really to the extent of like 66 percent. It was the outgrowth of the mayor's blue ribbon commission on trying to deal with, like every urban center, a growing and very exponentially increased truancy rate.
It has in fact done this. What the experience has been is that we have found that parents have welcomed it because it gives them a tool that they were looking for so many times they were unable themselves to get this situation under hand.
The other interesting thing that we found out about this pilot was that truancy, well it was very much demonstrated in this situation, begins very young in the academic life of a child and becomes very embedded as they go along, and also with the family members.
And so when you address a truancy early on as this is being done in the elementary school arena, it has a very great residual result.
So that is the first bill that I wanted to first of all thank the Committee for raising, and going through, putting on the public hearing agenda for today, and also I am here to speak before you in support of S.B. 983, which is AN ACT CONCERNING CHILDREN AFFECTED BY DISASTER AND TERRORISM.
And as you perhaps well know that this is an update from our 2002 legislation, and it was taken and replicated in D.C. by Senator Dodd so it is now on a national level, and this is essentially the next iteration.
When I spoke with the Commission on Children on this, you know, it's kind of like yes, of course, what don't we get about this. But I did ask them to please craft this in a way that it was a no-cost fiscal, no fiscal note item, and I believe that they have done that.
So the only other comment I have, Madam Chair and Mr. Chair is that Section 3, I would just suggest be deleted, and other than that, I would ask for your support and thank you for your indulgence in bringing this forward today.
And if there are any questions?
REP. URBAN: Senator Hartley, first of all thank you for being here, and we were very impressed with the data on the truancy program.
SENATOR HARTLEY: It's pretty stunning.
REP. URBAN: Right. Quite thrilled that it was results oriented.
SENATOR HARTLEY: (Inaudible) RBA model, Madam Chair. We're learning.
REP. URBAN: Right. We're going. The Section 3 on the disaster bill, could you remind the Committee what section that is?
SENATOR HARTLEY: Yes, sure. That was actually the naming of the bill for the tragic events that happened in Arizona, the Christine Taylor Green, so it's called the Christine Taylor Green bill and we were thinking that we perhaps should keep it more generic.
REP. URBAN: This is 983?
SENATOR HARTLEY: Yes, this (inaudible). On the draft I have in front of you it's labeled as Section 3, but perhaps maybe, I mean, I may not have the most current LCO.
REP. URBAN: We're checking, quickly. It doesn't seem to be there so that makes it much easier.
SENATOR HARTLEY: Do you have two sections there? You only have one?
SENATOR MUSTO: The one I'm looking at is Raised Bill 983, right?
SENATOR HARTLEY: Yes. Actually, I think this is a very early iteration that I talked about with the Commission on Children, so you have the most current information in front of you and thank you for being so far ahead of me.
SENATOR MUSTO: Well, no, feel free if you look at 983 again, because I think what they did is they just took out that Section 3 and maybe consolidated another one. But if you have further comments, just let us know on that, but it seems like a good idea. We've been getting some positive feedback.
SENATOR HARTLEY: Yeah. Yeah. You know, Mr. Chair, also on 982, you know, I just wouldn't want this bill to be pigeonholed by virtue of the title. AN ACT ESTABLISHING A CLINIC may connote that, you know, it's a new item, new program, i.e., new fiscal note, so I'm not sure if there's a way to explain that or neutralize it.
SENATOR MUSTO: Any ideas?
SENATOR HARTLEY: Oh, I would just say AN ACT CONCERNING A PILOT ON TRUANCY.
SENATOR MUSTO: AN ACT CONCERNING A TRUANCY CLINIC IN WATERBURY? Okay. We'll keep that one in mind.
SENATOR HARTLEY: Because I just wouldn't want it to be flagged for the wrong reason.
SENATOR MUSTO: If Madam Clerk would please make sure that --
Thank you. Thank you, Senator.
SENATOR HARTLEY: Thank you, and thanks for all the good work that you all do in this Committee, amongst all the other ones. Thank you all.
REP. URBAN: Thank you, Senator.
SENATOR MUSTO: Next on the list is Allison Petit, who is followed by Bruce Lockwood and Jessy Burton.
REP. URBAN: Welcome back, Allison.
ALLISON PETIT: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: It's good to see you.
ALLISON PETIT: You, too. My name is Allison Petit and I'm currently a junior at Central Connecticut State University and I was an intern here last session and I'm here to speak in favor of Bill 5530 AN ACT CONCERNING DISSECTION CHOICE.
When I was in high school my sophomore year, they required dissection in the biology class, and I went to my teacher and told her I was not going to do it because I had an ethical objection to dissection. It was an uphill struggle from there.
It took several weeks to get an alternative, and when I did receive the alternative, it was, I believe, 100 something questions based on a packet that was a dissection manual and it asked questions about where does a certain cut of meat come from a pig, and as a vegetarian I found it highly offensive and just felt it was an inappropriate alternative.
And at that time at my school there was no policy set in place for a student who did not want to dissect. I was told, signing up for my junior year that there would be several classes I would not be allowed to take, and that included anatomy and physiology and several other alternatives, I mean, electives.
I felt that I was being discriminated against because of my ethical beliefs, and I feel that if there were a law put in place in Connecticut that allowed students to choose to not dissect, it would eliminate this discrimination that several students face in high school based on their ethical beliefs.
When a student objects, oftentimes they're faced with harassment from other students, and even sometimes teachers, unfortunately, when a student comes up and says I'm not gong to dissect based on this, this and this, and the teacher sometimes, hopefully not, will tell the student they're wrong and oftentimes question their objections.
If a student is ethically objecting to a dissection, they should not be questioned on it. It should be allowed in especially required courses.
So I'm here to support the dissection choice bill and I hope that you guys will vote yes on it.
REP. URBAN: Thank you, Allison. It's my understanding that some of our surrounding states have already instituted dissection choice.
ALLISON PETIT: Yes. Several other states have. I know that California was the first, and other (inaudible), I'm not sure of the entire list at this point, but Vermont recently passed, which is a good thing because they're nice and close.
But I think it's definitely, it's not an animal (inaudible) issue. I see it more as a student choice issue because there are students who eat meat who will still object to dissection, and each student draws a line in a different place and if they choose not to dissect, then they should be, the school should be accommodating with it.
REP. URBAN: And it's also my understanding that there are excellent computer models that are available now and probably end up saving the schools money.
ALLISON PETIT: They do. And there's actually the free loan program that the Anti Vivisection Society has some dealings with and the schools can borrow from this program at no cost. You do have to have a credit card and they take a deposit, but they give it back as soon as the materials are returned, so fiscally it would save schools lots of money if they decided to do this because they wouldn't actually even have to purchase the alternatives.
REP. URBAN: Well, I thank you for your testimony. Are there any questions or comments? Thank you, Allison.
ALLISON PETIT: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: And next on our list is Bruce Lockwood.
BRUCE LOCKWOOD: Good afternoon.
REP. URBAN: Welcome.
BRUCE LOCKWOOD: Good afternoon, Madam Chair Urban and members of the Select Committee on Children. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today in support of Senate Bill 983.
My name is Bruce Lockwood. I'm a certified emergency manager, President of Region 1 the New England, the six New England states for the National Emergency Managers U.S. Council, founding member and past president of the Connecticut Emergency Managers Association and a member of the State of Connecticut's Child Safety Crisis Response Committee, which was established by legislation in 2002.
I am also a member of the National Commission on Children and Disasters and serve as the Chair of the Subcommittee on Evacuation, Transportation and Housing, which was championed by Senator Dodd as you've heard from two other speakers today.
President George W. Bush and Congress created the bipartisan Commission in 2007 to identify and recommend ways to fix gaps in emergency planning and management for children.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, children represent nearly 25 percent of the American population. Seventy-four million are eighteen years of age or under. In Connecticut, that equates to over 800,000 children.
One would think that children would be a top priority in disaster planning and management, but sadly, at all levels of government across our nation, the unique needs of children historically have been unaddressed.
Instead, the needs of able-bodied adults are considered, while children are placed in the categories with several other populations such as with disabilities, with limited English proficiencies and the elderly. These groups collectively are labeled, at risk, vulnerable or special needs.
As a consequence, not enough consideration is given to children when disaster plans are written are exercised, when equipment and medicines are purchased and when disaster response and recover efforts are activated.
Children are not simply little adults.
I am pleased that Senate Bill 983 recognizes this fact by ensuring that Connecticut's 800,000 plus children receive the focused attention they deserve when it comes to preparing for, responding to, recovering from, emergencies and disasters.
Senate Bill 983 also recognizes that disaster management is a shared responsibility that cannot depend on a single government agency, nor be approached on a piecemeal basis. All agencies must work together in a coordinated manner.
Senate Bill 983 recognizes that children are most vulnerable when they're away from their families at school or childcare, and that it is essential for schools and childcare providers to be prepared to provide a safe and secure environment for children before, during and after a disaster.
But I also want to suggest a way to make the bill more effective. In Section 2 of the bill, rather than creating a separate plan for children, the directive should be to more fully and consistently integrate children into emergency and disaster planning efforts across state and local governments.
Separate plans typically are used, are of little use to emergency managers because they end up as annexes relegated to the back of the plan and therefore not considered a priority.
Therefore, the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, in consultation with all the named departments and individuals in the bill, should review and amend the state's emergency plan to integrate children's needs throughout the document.
In addition, the roles and responsibilities of the named departments should be integrated in the state's plan and each agency should also have a disaster plan that indicates how it will continue operations, support local agencies, to meet the needs of children.
I would also recommend that the Committee consider adding juvenile justice and Court systems to the bill.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today. Senate Bill 983 is a major step toward ensuring that Connecticut protect its most precious assets, children.
REP. URBAN: Thank you for your testimony. We have, there have been several people that have pointed out to us that this should be included within the disaster plan. I was just looking at the text of the bill.
BRUCE LOCKWOOD: I would also just like to point out that in 2009, there was language changed in the legislation that did, it took fire drills and created them as the emergency plan drills. It was well placed legislation, well meaning.
The only problem is that nowhere in regulation or state statute do you require that plan even exists. So if they're required to exercise a plan they're not required to have and there was also no oversight requirement. No one's checking to see if they're actually doing it.
REP. URBAN: Right. That is duly noted. Thank you for that. Are there any questions? Other questions or comments? Seeing none, thank you for your testimony.
Next to testify is Jessy Burton, followed by Cheryl Smith.
JESSY BURTON: Thank you. Good afternoon. Thank you, Committee members for allowing me to testify today in support of the effort to improve our state preparedness for children in disasters.
My name is Jessy Burton. I'm a resident of Hartford an Emergency Preparedness Project Manager for the international organization Save the Children.
Save the Children is a leading independent organization creating lasting change for children in need. Our worldwide operations, including hundreds of employees are headquartered in Westport.
We are deeply concerned about the welfare of the children in our home state and are proud of the unique disaster preparedness partnership with several state agencies. We hope it becomes a model for the whole country.
However, more needs to be done, and in several critical areas, Connecticut is failing to meet minimum criteria for protecting our children. These areas need a legislative solution. I'm here today to urge you to pass the amendment to S.B. 983 and then support quick passage of this legislation as a critical step to protecting the most vulnerable citizens in our state.
Working with Commissioner Boynton and his staff at the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, funds were designated from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to create a partnership between Save the Children and the Departments of Social Services, Public Health and Emergency Management and Homeland Security to address the gaps in disaster planning for young children in Connecticut.
This initiate is creating a state emergency plan and system to ensure that childcare providers are properly linked to state emergency personnel. It's unique to the country.
However, at the same time, Connecticut still does not meet three of our four criteria we used to grade states in our annual report card on Protecting Children During Disasters. I am submitting to you the state's scoring page from that report, as well as more information on the four criteria.
Far from being a leader, our state is behind a majority of states. This situation should not be acceptable, particularly since the remedies are common sense and either no cost or low cost.
Further, these remedies have been enacted in other states with little or no opposition. The most vulnerable Connecticut children and the most vulnerable settings are made more vulnerable because these measures are not in place.
While I cannot speak for other agencies or individuals as to their positions on this bill, I can assure you that the state agencies and emergency responders are eager to partner in meeting these standards, but we need you to pass this legislation.
To keep my testimony brief, I will not go into detail of the four criteria. However, in quick summary the goal is to support the work of state agencies, responders, daycares and schools by providing adequate and mandatory common standards.
These standards must require every school and licensed daycare or childcare setting to have a written multi-hazard plan that includes steps for off-site evacuation, relocation, reunification of children with their families and specific steps for all children with special needs.
Connecticut is not completely lacking in these areas, and in fact, one of the strengths of this bill is the ability to use existing enforcement, training and other in-place resources to easily implement the new requirements.
However, currently there are varying standards for different classification of licenses, combined with other holes, leaving the state short of the needed standards. In the case of schools, a minimal policy is in place but we seek to strengthen it so it is better used in practice.
In closing, I would like to once again urge you to pass the amendments to S.B. 983 and then work for quick passage and enactment of the bill.
I would also like to publicly thank state officials who worked collaboratively to meet the needs of our children when the next emergency strikes in Connecticut.
If the quality of our unique partnership is combined with the steps in this legislation, Connecticut will be the national leader in protecting children in disasters.
Save the Children would like nothing better for our home state and our children deserve it. Thank you for your time and the opportunity to speak.
REP. URBAN: Thank you for your testimony. Are there any questions or comments? Thank you. We're very much taking to heart what you expressed here today.
JESSY BURTON: Thank you.
REP. URBANA: Thanks. Testifying next is Rainey Wayne. Or did I skip Cheryl Smith? Sorry. Cheryl Smith and on deck is Rainey Wayne. Welcome, Cheryl. Sorry about that.
CHERYL SMITH: That's okay. Senator Musto, Representative Urban, Representatives Fawcett and Mushinsky, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to speak today, but also thank you for your obvious commitment to children and the children of Connecticut.
My name is Cheryl Smith. I am the administrator for residential treatment programs at the Children's Center of Hamden.
The Children's Center of Hamden has been in existence since 1833, and so what it is today is not what it was back then. But I'm here specifically to speak about two acts, 981 and 6340. 981 AN ACT CONCERNING THE PLACEMENT OF YOUNG CHILDREN IN CONGREGATE CARE SETTINGS and I would begin there.
We were the very first SAFE Home to open in the State of Connecticut in 1999, April of '99, and our first admission to the SAFE Home was a sibling group of six children. Six children being placed in foster care would be, I would think, almost impossible all at the same time.
I've been in this field of residential treatment for over 20 years, and one of the things that children in our care often talk about is that separation from their siblings. It's a huge issue from them, and when they are required to go to foster care, they frequently have to get separated and sometimes get separated forever. It's a significant trauma for them.
So I advocate for sibling groups to be placed together whenever it's possible.
Children under six sometimes are placed in SAFE Homes, and it doesn't mean that it's necessarily inappropriate. Not too long ago we had a two and a half year old boy placed with us. He was not part of a sibling group, but he had a mom who was intellectually limited, significantly. And they loved each other very much.
But in order to keep him safe, she figured out a way to do that by building a cage around his crib, and he lived in that crib his whole life.
When he came to us, we didn't know that yet, and what we saw was a young boy who looked like he had significant neurological damage. He could not walk on a stable surface. He had lived in a crib mattress his whole life.
So he would almost like a drunken person, wander around and bang into things leading with his head. It took us not too long to figure out that this was more of a learned behavior than a neurological problem, and he stayed with us for four months.
That's longer than 30 days. Not what we prefer, but he certainly needed the service that we could provide at that time. And he and his mom really loved each other. They just couldn't live together at that time.
He moved on to therapeutic foster care.
So there are some children under six who really need to have a service. Kids in Crisis spoke to it. We do quick assessments, I didn't get to the second bill. Anyway. I can do it in a minute.
We all want our children back from out of state. Providers in the state are willing to work in partner with DCF to help have that happen.
The Children's Center has frequently taken kids from out of state back into state, very brief time periods, literally 30 days in our residential program just to do the family work. Because when they're far away from their families, the family treatment can't happen, so to quickly do the family work and then move them back to their communities.
I think the problem with this bill is the second section and that section specifically reallocates funds to community-based programs only, and the children who are coming back from out of state in residential treatment facilities may need some transitional programming to help them reintegrate into the community.
So I would encourage you to maybe change some language on the second section around providing transitional services whether that be residential or community based.
If you have questions, I'm happy to answer them. If you'd like to see a SAFE Home, call me and you can come visit.
REP. URBAN: We appreciate that. Thank you for your testimony. And just to go back to the question that Senator Musto has been asking all along, that young boy was four months with you. We know you had said it's probably too much.
In your opinion, is the 30-day limit one that you would go along with, which is what we've been hearing?
JESSY BURTON: Generally speaking, yes. I think that it does need to be based on children's individual needs but we'd like to even target less if we could.
There are children who have left within 10 days and then others who take longer, but you know, 30 days would be the target.
REP. URBAN: Thank you. Are there other questions? Thank you for your testimony.
JESSY BURTON: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: And now, Rainey Wayne is next on the list. Not here? Then we'll move on to Joseph Zalaski. Welcome, Joseph.
JOSEPH ZALASKI: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for the opportunity to speak. I'm speaking in favor of House Bill 5530 AN ACT CONCERNING DISSECTION.
I was going to come here armed with facts and figures and studies and things like that, but I thought that others might provide that in written testimony.
But I will speak as a father and a teacher regarding my own children. Thankfully, I live in a school district where the kids have choice. We didn't have to fight that fight. My children believe that cutting up animals does not teach us facts of life, that animals are simply not lab tools.
As a teacher, I've had kids agonize over this decision. I'm not a science teacher. I'm a social studies teacher but I've had kids come to me, and I've had kids worry about the impact on their grades and worry about being belittled by teachers, by friends, should they skip school that day that they had dissection or should they just go along and get along.
Who benefits from forcing kids to dissect? Well, it's not the animals. It's not the school's budget. It's not the environment. It's not the student who's made to dissect. I guess it's just the suppliers of the so-called specimens.
You know, if I want to show a movie like Saving Private Ryan or if a health teacher wants to show a video on reproduction, the default setting is that you need a permission slip for that.
This bill does not seek to abolish dissection or even get a permission slip for it. It just seeks to give the kids a choice. The world won't turn upside down. Test scores will not plummet. Most science teachers will push dissection as some great hands on experience anyway, and most kids will choose to dissect.
There's no slippery slope here. There's no dangerous precedent. Kids won't suddenly demand the right to opt out of doing math homework or to refuse to do my homework on the Civil War.
I can't believe that it's 2011 and we're still having this discussion in Connecticut. A student's rights shouldn't depend upon what school system she attends. I've seen firsthand how traumatic it can be to get her school system to offer choice not to dissect.
Let's not make a student in every single school district in Connecticut go through that. Let's not let Connecticut be the last state to do the right thing by our students.
Pass the bill. It does all good. No harm. And it won't cost a cent. I thank you all for listening.
REP. URBAN: Thank you for your testimony. Now, what you said in the beginning is that your school has made it a policy to allow for dissection choice, and what is the alternative that they offer the students?
JOSEPH ZALASKI: They offer them a packet. I haven't seen the packet but it seems to be a lot more meaningful than what Alison Petit had gone through.
REP. URBAN: And so what we're faced with here is that on a case-by-case basis schools can opt not to do dissection, but as a state policy we have not taken that step to say that there should be a choice for our students when it comes to dissection.
JOSEPH ZALASKI: Right. And I can understand that it's been a state-by-state thing thus far. But to have every district in Connecticut have to have students fight that fight. Every so many months I see it in the paper, I hear about it. It just seems kind of ridiculous and I just don't see the harm in giving kids a choice.
There are all those studies about test scores and all that that don't support the fact that kids need to dissect animals.
REP. URBAN: Well, obviously, I agree with you.
JOSEPH ZALASKI: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: And I appreciate your testimony today. Thank you for coming up.
JOSEPH ZALASKI: Thank you all for listening.
REP. URBAN: Next on our list is Ian Smith.
IAN SMITH: I'd like to thank all the members of the Select Committee on Children for affording me this opportunity to speak on this important issue. I will be speaking on H.B. 5530 AN ACT CONCERNING DISSECTION CHOICE.
My name is Ian Smith. I'm here as a representative of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and as a resident of Connecticut to urge your support.
From middle school to medical school a significant proportion of students and many teachers, are opposed to the harmful use of animals for dissection and other educational purposes.
Dissection choice policies, such as the one proposed, ensure that a balance is struck between students' rights to receive a high quality education and their varying positions on what constitutes ethical treatment of animals.
Students' deeply held beliefs against harming animals may have been imparted to them by their parents and family, be shared by their religious community and/or be based on their own introspection and feelings of compassion.
Regardless of their genesis, students' feelings of empathy toward others are a virtue in this society and should be fostered. Or at the very least, accommodated by our state's teachers and education system.
To this end, 15 states in the United States, including the neighboring states, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York, have enacted laws or policies allowing students to opt out of classroom animal dissection.
The National Science Teachers Association and the National Association of Biology Teachers also instruct teachers to be prepared to provide students with alternatives to dissection.
Choosing not to dissect does not have a negative impact on students' education. Alternative learning methods such as interactive computer programs have repeatedly been shown to teach biology as well as, and in most cases, better than animal dissection.
They also save teachers time and money, both of which are increasingly in short supply in Connecticut's school system.
One needn't look any further than modern medical training to appreciate that dissecting animals is not necessary in order to learn biology. Today, 95 percent of U.S. medical schools do not use animal laboratories to train medical students. Experimenting on or dissecting animals is not expected or required.
One can even become a board certified surgeon without ever dissecting an animal.
Classroom animal dissection, which takes the lives of roughly 10 million animals every year, is consistently a key issue for PETA's student members. We regularly hear from students across the country, including here in Connecticut, who are troubled by the prospect of being expected to dissect animals.
We work with students and teachers on a daily basis to replace dissection with humane alternatives. If H.B. 5530 passes, PETA will provide non-animal alternatives to dissection to any middle school or high school that requests them from us.
At its core, this bill is about fairness and access to high quality education. It is about respecting the wishes of students who have given careful consideration to this issue and have made the decision based on their values.
Students in Connecticut should not be forced to learn science in a way that they find deeply offensive or even traumatic. Better methods are available and students should have access to them.
Thank you again for your time and for your consideration of this important matter.
REP. URBAN: Perfect timing, Ian.
IAN SMITH: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: Thank you for your testimony. On the offer from PETA to provide non-animal alternatives, what sort of alternatives are they suggesting are best to be used in the classroom?
IAN SMITH: What PETA has offered to other school systems in the past who we've worked with in cases where we've gotten complains from students and have contacted schools or schools have reached out to us to ask for advice, we've provided an interactive computer program referred to as virtual frog.
And what's unique about this is that unlike dissection, students can repeat procedures. They can cut and recut the animal, you know, on the screen as many times as needed. They can take organs or organ systems and rotate them and look at them from all angles and you can track this program, which provides guidance and you know, labels and things like that with the typical classroom experience of dissection, which often involves multiple students per one dead animal.
And if one person makes a poorly placed cut, the lesson may be lost altogether (inaudible). Studies have found that most people spend the time scrutinizing a textbook while waiting for support from a teacher, you know, while the animal is on their tray.
So the virtues of alternatives are really evident in this particular program, which is the one that we'd be offering, namely, being able to repeat things until the skills are learned, and you know, getting interactive guidance provided through the students.
REP. URBAN: I think that what you've pointed out, the ability to be able to repeat a cut over and over until you actually get what it is that you're trying to look at, and also the rotation ability is key.
I think in talking to students, oftentimes what students remember is not the lesson that they were supposed to be learning but what particular animal it was that they had to dissect and how they felt about that dissection.
I mean, I still remember that we were doing wharf rats and so I fully, that's my biggest memory, not the circulatory system, but what the wharf rat looked like.
IAN SMITH: Yeah.
REP. URBAN: So we appreciate it. Are there any other questions or comments? Thank you. And thank you for that offer.
IAN SMITH: Well, thank you.
REP. URBAN: Next on our list is Regina Milano. Dr. Milano. Nice to have you with us.
REGINA MILANO: Before I start my three minutes, Representative Urban, I wanted to state agreement with you that 10 states have adopted dissection choice laws or resolutions and departments of education in three states and Washington, D.C. have adopted student choice policy.
Of these two states, one is pending legislation and another is in moratorium for the department of education study alternatives. So what you stated before was correct in terms of other states showing precedent for this kind of legislation.
My name is Dr. Regina Milano. I have been a biology teacher for 14 years and I recently completed my doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies. The title of my dissertation was Biology Teachers Dissection Practices and the Influences That Lead to Their Adoption: An Exploratory Research.
I researched this topic because controversy over dissection has continued to be a theme each year of my learning and teaching tenure.
As a student I was opposed to dissection for ethical reasons. Refusing to dissect altered the course of my education and rather than pursuing pre-veterinary studies, I studied environmental biology.
Had the alternative to dissection being used in Europe in veterinary universities had been made known to me then, I would have pursued a career in medicine. Yet, rather than being given the option to opt out of dissection, I received low marks for refusing to participate and avoided courses that required dissection.
When I became a teacher I was committed to engaging my students in ethical discussions about dissection as a matter of full disclosure. I was reprimanded for doing so and despite a full presentation I prepared for the superintendent, the discussion was shut down.
I chose to leave my job because I refused to participate in this indoctrination process, which held that having children cut into creatures' bodies was sound education but discussing the idea that these animals were once living, feeling beings was not.
Unfortunately, my right to conscientiously object to dissection has continued to present issue over time, despite my expertise in this area and sound arguments for the use of alternatives.
In my experience, many students endure a great deal of discomfort and inner conflict at the prospect of cutting into an animal because they find it contradictory to the ways in which animals are presented in grade school and at home.
Other students are apathetic because they lack information and still others simply don't care, an attitude, which is frequently supported and encouraged by teachers who want dissection at the expense of children who do not.
The nature of dissection process, its invasiveness and tangibility immerses the students physically, mentally and psychologically in ways that many find violating, especially where vivisection and pithing are concerned, a type of dissection in which students must kill or maim the creature prior to cutting it open.
Increasing diversity in schools leads to inevitable dilemma of choices regarding dissection. Although some students are viscerally repulsed by dissections, others object to the practice based on values, morals and ideology. Refusal for these reasons represents a constitutional right under the First Amendment, that we in public education are bound ethically to ensure.
Yet rather than ensuring students' rights, my study reveals that 71.9 percent of teachers continue to thrust upon students, notions of the necessity of dissection that is only rooted in their own antiquated experiences as students and engrained speciesistic ideologies.
Focus groups and one-on-one interviews reveal abuses in classrooms such as intimidating students into dissection, defying parents' directives to allow their children to refrain from dissection, and allowing children to leave the school with mutilated specimens that once breathed life, a lesson that is devoid of compassion and dare I say, deliberate lesion in discompassion in a time when alternatives have been proven to be as, if not more effective, than traditional dissection.
To further complicate matters, teachers experience anxiety over addressing Connecticut state standards where dissection is not even found because dissection with its inspect, dissect, identify and memorize protocol, does not even meet inquiry-based standards that we strive for.
REP. URBAN: If you'd just wind it up.
REGINA MILANO: Yeah, okay. Although your purpose here is to consider the impact dissection may have on students, it cannot be denied that the victimized animals also have a vested interest in this argument, not to be tortured by being drowned in formaldehyde or being injected with killing dies while strapped by all fours on their back, fully aware.
They have an interest in not being pulled from their mother's wombs prematurely, or gassed because of utter disregard of supposed higher species, has led them to kill shelters that for lack of funding sell these forgotten animals into experimentation and dissection often while alive and in full good health.
If we are civilized at all, we must consider the voiceless victims especially when, in education, we have not only opportunity but an imperative to act on justice.
REP. URBAN: Thank you for your testimony. I would go back to where you're pointing out that dissection might not even meet the inquiry-based standards --
REGINA MILANO: Right.
REP. URBAN: -- for which we strive. You know, that was something that I thought came to the forefront in Ian's testimony also, that it actually sounds like it might be a better educational experience to be able to do these dissections virtually on the computer.
REGINA MILANO: Right.
REP. URBAN: And I see that your dissertation is centered around these kinds of decisions.
The statement that you make about the 71.9 percent of teachers, was that number, that 71.9 percent arrived at through a survey, through questions?
REGINA MILANO: Yes. I developed a survey and I distributed throughout Connecticut to teachers through various agencies that biology teachers might belong to, so it was based on biology teachers in Connecticut and a quantitative questionnaire.
REP. URBAN: Excellent information. We thank you. Are there any questions for Dr. Milano? Seeing none.
REGINA MILANO: I have, I brought a copy, if you're interested in taking a peek at it. It can be mailed back to me or you know, do what you like with it. If you don't have time, I'll just take it home with me, but it's open to your perusal if you so wish.
REP. URBAN: Excellent. We really appreciate that. And last on our list to testify is Anna Morron. Welcome, Anna.
ANNA MORRON: Representative Urban, Senator Musto, Representative Fawcett and distinguished members of the Select Committee on Children, my name is Anna Paulina Morron and I am a student at Yale Divinity School.
I urge you to support H.B. 5530 AN ACT CONCERNING DISSECTION CHOICE. In my opinion, the issue at stake has very little to do with dissection itself. Inside the issue is the right of our young citizens to act in accordance with their value systems.
Sincerely held morals or religious beliefs rise above the level of mere preference. The right of individuals to assert such beliefs is fundamental to a free society.
Given this, the state cannot allow the expression of moral beliefs to be subject to the whims of a teacher, a principal, or a school board, while most educators willingly provide alternative assignments, the issue of freedom of conscience is so worthy of protection that it must not be left to individualized discussion.
Education is about fostering a learning environment in which students can remain true to themselves. We need to send our children the message that it's okay to uphold their values and that doing so does not have to conflict with their scientific interests.
For this reason, it is important to protect access to alternatives to dissection for every student in Connecticut.
I respectfully request that the Committee consider adding a provision to require that teachers inform their students of the right to conscientiously object to performing dissection.
Without such a provision, students might not feel safe voicing their personal opposition, or might not realize that they have the right to an alternative assignment.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.
REP. URBAN: Thank you, Anna for your testimony. It seems that you're focusing really on giving an expression of moral beliefs and the ability to choose to make that expression. So we appreciate that.
ANNA MORRON: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: Are there any questions from the Committee? You're free to go. Thank you, Anna. We did have two more people sign up, which I've just been given. Jeremy Smith is next on our list.
A VOICE: Jeremy was here. (Inaudible)
REP. URBAN: If you can read it and not go over the three-minute mark, we'll be glad to have you.
JON CLEMENS: Thank you very much. This is the testimony of Jeremy Smith, Program Director of Dare Family Services, a therapeutic foster care program of East Hartford, Connecticut.
He was looking to testify on House Bill Number 981, concerning placement of children, young children in congregate care facilities and House Bill 6340 concerning placement of children in out-of-state treatment facilities.
Representative Urban, Senator Musto, Representative Fawcett, other distinguished members of the Committee, thank you for your time and attention to matters before you today. My name is Jeremy Smith, and I'm a director of private nonprofit child placing therapeutic foster care agency in Connecticut.
I have been with Dare Family Servicers for 21 years, the first 10 of which in western Massachusetts and the subsequent 11 in Connecticut. It is largely this dual perspective that leads me to strongly suggest reconsideration of the restriction of congregate care in general, and more specifically, based on age.
Dare has six foster care offices in Massachusetts and one in Connecticut. My supervisor has often compared placement disruption statistics between our East Hartford office to that of the various Massachusetts offices.
Our Connecticut office has significantly lower disruptions. In our analysis, the main difference is Connecticut's use of SAFE Homes for children coming into what, into care somewhat regardless of age. This placement allows for a decompression of sorts, an opportunity to stabilize and assess and it is much less of a threat to a biological family who is immediately introduced to the replacement family.
Children may also easily resent the replacement family in the absence of more (inaudible) transition. In Massachusetts, many placements are on an emergency basis, the child needing a home at 4:00 o'clock on a Friday.
The matching process is comprised, I'm sorry is compromised and the placement often fails. I realize the emphasis on fiscal restraint and concern regarding SAFE Home overstays, but I'm afraid that we are being penny-wise and pound foolish. The SAFE Home option in our analysis has Connecticut light years ahead of Massachusetts.
Disruptions require more emergency level services, which can be among the most expensive and failed placements and lead to the development of greater treatment needs and advancement of adjustment issues, reactive attachment disorder, or RAD, is among the hardest to treat in most children in the community-based settings and is exacerbated if not accelerated as placements disrupt.
Looking at SAFE Homes and their use and expenditure as the problem, simply ignores the problems we create by making them unavailable for any age group. But to let age determine one's treatment rather than the clinical assessment of the individual is concerning.
We must be careful not to require the treatment needs of children conform to the system, but rather that the system respond to the treatment needs of children.
Although my comments appear directed at the preservation of SAFE Homes especially for those under the age of xix, I believe they apply to the use of congregate care in general as being the most appropriate and necessary treatment venue for a certain small portion of the population with the most severe needs.
We must again be careful not to make foster care, of which I'm a major proponent, the only or primary solution without understanding its capacity or the capacity of the families who are courageous enough to open their homes to it.
They are very human and often scared or overwhelmed. I'll stop there because you guys were very welcoming.
Just in short, he also, similar to my testimony, supports on 6340 with the caveat that the language be changed and expanded to include not only community-based services but also residential treatment needs individually as the child may need. Thank you.
REP. URBAN: Thank you for that.
JON CLEMENS: Thank you all very much.
REP. URBAN: We appreciate the testimony. And now, I think we have our last person, which is Mary Beth Hill. Welcome, Mary Beth.
MARY BETH HILL: Thank you for Committee members being so patient today. It's been a long day.
My name is Mary Beth Hill. I am a Department of Children and Families social worker. I worked for the agency for 18 years in the capacity of investigations, treatment services, and currently as a foster and adoptive support social worker.
I'm speaking on behalf today, for AFSME Council 4. And AFSCME Council 4 opposes Senate Bill 322 AN ACT CONCERNING THE QUALIFICATIONS OF DCF EMPLOYEES.
This bill requires all DCF social workers and supervisor to complete a master's degree in social work by 2017, or face termination.
Furthermore, by 2020 it requires all DCF social workers and supervisors to be licensed as master or clinical social workers or face termination.
This bill is unnecessary. It would be very disruptive to the DCF workforce and very costly to the state.
Currently, DCF social workers can have a bachelor's degree in social work or any related field. DCF social workers are not called upon to do clinical counseling as part of their jobs. DCF social workers are most often called upon to do home visits, family assessments. We go to Court when we go to Probate Court, Juvenile Court, Probate, Juvenile, Superior, as well as criminal Courts, and if necessary, child safety removals.
Forcing these social workers to get master's degrees and clinical licenses is simply unnecessary. All new DCF social workers currently must go to the DCF training academy for additional training as needed.
Most DCF social workers work long hours, making it a hardship to pick up an additional degree as well as expensive. Also, there would be an expectation that a job that requires more qualifications for higher pay rate for compensation.
I will be happy to answer any questions. Thank you.
SENATOR MUSTO: Thank you. Thank you. Are there questions from members of the Committee? No? Thank you very much.
MARY BETH HILL: Thank you very much.
SENATOR MUSTO: We have Louise Tortora. If you'll just give me one second. No, sit down, please, Louise. Is there anyone other than Miss Tortora who is not signed up who would like to speak? Okay, it looks like you're our last one. Thank you.
LOUISE TORTORA: Good afternoon, members of the Select Committee on Children. Thank you for the opportunity to speak in support of Bill 6336 AN ACT CONCERNING KINSHIP CARE, and also Bill 6340 AN ACT CONCERNING THE PLACEMENT OF CHILDREN IN OUT-OF-STATE TREATMENT FACILITIES.
If the parental stress level is so high the mother voluntarily placed the child out-of-state institution, at the age of 10, the child will spend 14 years living out her childhood until age 22 in a group home with 9 other special needs children out of state.
Not one relative was considered as a less restrictive alternative. Not minute was spent on researching for an extended family member to become a child caretaker. Every agency in the State of Connecticut from the Governor down could not speak to a relative trying to advocate for a child. I understand it's because of the HPPA laws.
Before sending a child out of state to residential placement, no social worker, psychologist, talked to a relative who was regularly caring for the child. In today's transient society, a mother volunteering to place her child out of state who has 11 of 13 siblings living in the same hometown with 30 first cousins and spouses. All 11 of these people are college educated, employed, without alcohol abuse, drug abuse or criminal records.
These are relatives that are not researched to become involved with a special needs child to help a sister in a second marriage that is unable to cope. This whole picture of a child is lost. This child has regularly cared for by relatives are unheard.
Particularly important for children with special needs, hard core neuro-science from Jack Shenkoff, M.D., Harvard University, spoke at the State of Connecticut on the Governor's Summit on Children.
The focus on relationships nurtures development of connections of circuits to the brain. It is not good enough to accept a label in a diagnosis. Parents need to be taught. The neuro processing of the world comes from relationships that co-regulate the child with neuro-processing disorders.
The relationships are a safety net for the child to practice developmental skills over and over. Relationships shape us. Every day the world speaks to us in the language of relationships. People we trust can bring forth the best of ourselves. We learn to trust, to give and take and to ultimately empathize, and we learn to label emotions. Words replace behaviors.
This can be, this cannot be taught by rote drills or lessons that must be experienced over time. These lessons must be experienced over time in the company of caring, consistent adults.
A child needs one psychological parent. The best interest of the child should be read, you can have a copy of this, for the definition of a psychological parent, no. Out of state institution can provide a child with the feeling of being valued and wanted, no matter how grand --
REP. URBAN: Excuse me, Louise, but if you could just summarize for us the rest of your testimony, please.
LOUISE TORTORA: No. If you don't want to hear it, that's fine. Thank you.
REP. URBAN: It's not that we don't want to hear it. It's that we put a three-minute limit on everybody that testified, so we're just asking you to sum it up.
LOUISE TORTORA: Children cannot flourish in artificial isolated settings. Development cannot be forced imitated. It must be lived.
Morgan Ann Gertzenbacher, PhD from the University of Wisconsin lectured on many studies of parents' stress level. They found, parental stress level with special needs children is unrelated to the child's functioning level. It's unrelated to the child's language skills. It's unrelated to the child's IQ. It's unrelated to the child's social skills. It's related to, it's predicted that parents' stress level by the acceptance of the disability.
DCF Department needs to seek out relatives willing to care for the child that do not take the child's developmental delays personally. DCF would rather send a child out of state than interview relatives calling the hotline.
I have my doctorate in podiatric medicine, and I have, I'm a licensed registered nurse. My brother is an internist with a master's in public health. We have called the hotline. We were ignored. We wanted to give a polar opposite view of the child's high functioning with his huge extended family. DCF did not respond.
A relative going to the DCF office, the social caseworker turned away.
SENATOR MUSTO: Excuse me, Ma'am. If you could just give us two or three sentences that sort of sum up your testimony would help us finish up. Thank you.
LOUISE TORTORA: Parental step level is reduced when a parent starts believing children do well as they can. They believe that the child, when they start believing that the child has developmental skills that need to be addressed.
This ability to express these needs come from developmental capacities address individual differences in relations of the child and caregivers.
Until we nurture children, they will be warehoused in residential institutions. If the state is willing to spend $300,000 a year, I think they should be willing to talk to relatives at a less costly alternative and use a developmental approach for these children, more beneficial than institutions that pride themselves in the state-of-the-art treatment of seclusion and restraint in children in out-of-state residential facilities.
REP. URBAN: Excuse me, but we do have one question from a member of the Committee, and then if we can take it from there.
REP. FAWCETT: Thank you. Welcome, and I'm very glad you made it. It appeared this morning you were possibly not going to.
Just before we continue, can you for the record state your name and where you live?
LOUISE TORTORA: Louise Ellen Tortora, Fairfield, Connecticut.
REP. FAWCETT: Thanks. And you're sharing a very passionate story, which I've gotten some of it through you, Louise, through e-mail and talking to your office this morning and voice mail and just want to clarify a few details of the story, so correct me if I'm wrong.
The frustration is that this young girl at age 10, who I believe at one point was living across the street from my home with her grandparents, she was given over to DCF by her maternal mother?
LOUISE TORTORA: Yes. But what's confusing is this is why I'm pro the bill on kinship is the other bill on the out-of-state placement saying DCF. DCF really washes their hands of it when a child is placed out of state. It goes to the Department of Developmental Services, so the reason I was here was I want that bill to have added to it, Department of Developmental Services.
But I'm not sure if the Commissioner of DCF is in charge of the Department of. There's a separate Commissioner for the Department of Developmental Services.
REP. FAWCETT: We can certainly clarify that and the good news is the new Commissioner at DCF is also my neighbor and your old friend, Judge Katz.
LOUISE TORTORA: I know.
REP. FAWCETT: So we will certainly, we can clarify that and reach out to her and have a better understanding.
LOUISE TORTORA: Because the bill will not address children placed by the Department of Developmental Services.
REP. FAWCETT: But the thing I wasn't sure about in our previous communication was, when your niece was sent out of state and given permission by her mother, and I believe her stepfather at the time, was no one in the family was allowed to have any say in that? No other relatives?
LOUISE TORTORA: You cannot speak unless the, well, which I understand. These are the laws. The primary guardian gives permission for a relative to speak.
REP. FAWCETT: Okay. And so grandparents, aunts, uncles, nobody had any say if they wanted to become the foster care provider for this daughter.
LOUISE TORTORA: Every agency, no, every agency in the state, they were very nice, very efficient. But they said you have to get guardianship. Over $200,000 was spent in a guardianship trial, which folded October 20, 2011 because they made us go through so much mediation and adding nine more days, there was no more money to really. It's not Hollywood, you know, people run out of money.
REP. FAWCETT: And where is the young girl now?
LOUISE TORTORA: Out of state.
REP. FAWCETT: She's still at a facility out of state.
LOUISE TORTORA: I'm not going to say any more because when I withdrew the guardianship petition they said all evidence, 14 binders for this child are silent.
REP. FAWCETT: And how many years has she been out of state?
LOUISE TORTORA: Four. And she reads, writes, does math. But she has a developmental delay, genetic disorder, which I go into more as how labels destroy lives because people assume all children with a syndrome are the same and they're not. Each child has unique individual differences.
REP. FAWCETT: I hope that you're able to submit your written testimony for the record because we do actually spend time --
LOUISE TORTORA: I have to do it because I just found out about this meeting yesterday.
REP. FAWCETT: If you submit it to me, I'll make sure I get it to the record for you, because they do, we've been here all afternoon and everybody's given a strict three minutes to speak but that doesn't mean your testimony can't be longer.
LOUISE TORTORA: No. The main reason I'm here is to make sure that the Department of Developmental Services is included in the bill --
REP. FAWCETT: Okay.
LOUISE TORTORA: -- 6340, and that I am pro the kinship bill.
REP. FAWCETT: Peter, did you get that? Peter, did you get that? Say that again, Louise.
LOUISE TORTORA: I am pro Bill 6336 for AN ACT CONCERNING KINSHIP CARE because it was not the agency's fault that, I guess they couldn't talk to us.
REP. FAWCETT: And then what was the issue with the Department?
LOUISE TORTORA: And then Bill 6340 AN ACT CONCERNING PLACEMENT OF CHILDREN IN OUT-OF-STATE TREATMENT FACILITIES, I want the Commissioner and the Department of Developmental Services, those children placed out of state to be reviewed for alternative less restrictive placement.
REP. FAWCETT: Okay. So Peter, we're talking about including, not just DCF but the Department of Developmental Services.
You are, your voice is heard. Your time coming up here was definitely well spent and we'll communicate after this. I'll keep you updated on our progress.
LOUISE TORTORA: Thank you very much.
REP. FAWCETT: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: Are there any other people who have not signed up that would like to testify at this time?
In that case, we are adjourning the meeting.