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Voices Speaking

September 7, 2018

Connecticut Strives for Primacy of Health Equity in Primary Care

Karen Siegel, M.P.H. and Tekisha Dwan Everette, Ph.D., Executive Director, Health Equity Solutions; Eva Marie Stahl, Ph.D., Project Director, Community Catalyst

Connecticut’s federally funded effort to introduce primary care innovations (through the State Innovation Model or SIM grant) is entering its final years of implementation. In the coming months, the state will present and finalize its proposals (to review and comment on proposals as they are released, see here). Right now is an opportune time to ensure these proposals can transform Connecticut’s health system to promote equity by investing in prevention and addressing social and economic factors that make some in our state far less healthy than others.

As a reminder, many states applied for the federal SIM grant funds to advance health reform. Connecticut has used this funding as an opportunity to explore new models of primary care delivery with a focus on health disparities. Specifically, SIM piloted a primary care health home model that incorporated community health workers into the care team for some patients. As with any pilot or model, there continue to be bumps that need smoothing and culture that needs shifting. The premise, however, is solid: the current system does not do enough to reduce the deep disparities in both individual and population health that reverberate through communities of color. Specifically, the current system does not do enough to connect families with community-based services where they live. 

Commitments to any one payment model can serve as a barrier to improving health outcomes. The fee-for-service approach of the Medicaid payment system is limited in flexibility and for too long some have safeguarded it as the only viable path. This is not an “us” against “them” situation but rather a recognition that, in its current form, fee-for-service is a barrier to scaling up efforts to connect primary care with community-based services in long-term and meaningful ways. With an innovative approach, Connecticut can adapt the state’s health systems to the needs of all of our residents while simultaneously safeguarding access to quality health care and vital services.

As advocates and stakeholders disagree about what payment or delivery system approach will meet the triple aim of lower cost, high quality care while maximizing access – the question is: what do consumers want? What do consumers need? And how do consumers define success? And if the goal is to center on health equity in this work, what systematic and systemic changes are needed? Connecticut’s approach of focusing on primary care to meet these needs is admirable. Primary care is the first touch point for many people when they interact with the health care system and a venue of frequent contact with parents and young children. It is also a space ripe for culture change given the right supports. A whole-family and integrated care approach is, without a doubt, the future of health care delivery and what is needed to advance health equity in Connecticut.

How we get there while ensuring that any system reflects the needs and wants of consumers themselves is less clear. Listening to consumers is hard work; it requires patience, resources and time to build trust. Specifically, it is essential to build trust with communities of color and those communities left out of economic progress; it also demands a long-term commitment from key stakeholders and decision makers. Finally, it requires advocates and stakeholders to be listeners and innovators.

As Connecticut’s decision makers contemplate next steps regarding how to implement some of the learnings from their SIM work over the next six or so months, those advocating for better care and health equity should consider what mechanisms would support needed changes that reflect consumer feedback. Reconsidering the pathways – the “how” – as we forge ahead with advocacy in a financially scarce environment will be important to meeting our goals for health equity and readying the system for more ambitious work around social determinants of health. Let’s get to work together.

 

Tekisha Dwan Everette, PhD*, Executive Director, Health Equity Solutions and Karen Siegel, M.P.H., Health Policy Fellow, Connecticut Voices for Children contributed to this blog as guest bloggers.
*Dr. Everette is a subcontractor with the Consumer Advisory Board but the opinions written here are wholly her own and do not represent any other entities.

Click here to see the original blog post on Community Catalyst's website.

Issue Area:
Health
July 23, 2018

Aderholt amendment would pose threats to same-sex couples and a child's best interest

Stephanie Luczak, LMSW and Jessica Nelson

Recently, the House Appropriations Committee undermined states’ ability to protect their residents from discrimination. On July 11th, the House Appropriations Committee voted in favor of an amendment that would allow private adoption agencies receiving federal funds to refuse to provide services to families seeking to adopt or foster solely on the basis of the agency’s purported religious belief that an individual or family is unworthy based on their religion, history of divorce, or sexual orientation. The amendment, attached to the funding bill for the Department of Health and Human Services, was introduced by Representative Aderholt (R-AL) who was recently appointed as a Co-Chairman of the House Coalition on Adoption.

The proposed amendment protects the funding of faith-based adoption and foster care agencies that choose to discriminate against same-sex couples and others that violate their beliefs, including single or non-Christian parents or parents with a history of divorce.  The legislative amendment would allow private adoption agencies to refuse to serve LGBTQ couples and other potential parents while receiving public funding for their services. Not only would this infringe on the rights of certain prospective adoptive parents, but it would obstruct efforts to maximize the number of children being adopted.

Any state or local government receiving federal funding would be punished for enforcing its non-discrimination laws and requires that state and local governments fund such agencies even though they have “declined or will decline” to provide services to certain individuals or families. The amendment would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to withhold 15 percent of a state’s federal child welfare funding if that state refused to enter into contracts with private adoption agencies that discriminate against families or individuals who offend the agency’s “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

If passed, this amendment would limit a state’s ability to ensure same-sex couples, LGBTQ individuals, single parents, and divorced individuals, non-Christians, among others, an equal right to adopt or foster children. The amendment would reduce the number of potential foster parents, limiting options for children in the foster care system who are waiting to be adopted. This would hinder the state’s ability to recruit diverse foster parents, as well as send harmful messages to LGBTQ youth about equality, identity, and acceptance. 

Research has consistently confirmed that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system. It is imperative that all youth, regardless of their chosen identity, can feel safe and supported in their environment. It is the duty of the state to improve the well-being of youth in foster care and place them into a stable and permanent home with loving caregivers. Recruiting more LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents not only increases the number of total possible homes for all foster youth, but if matched together, LGBTQ parents may provide an affirming and shared understanding of issues that LGBTQ youth may face.  

In fiscal year 2017, there were 5,878 children in Connecticut’s foster care system. Despite the high need for non-residential foster and adoptive placements, there is a consistent shortage of adoptive and foster parents, both in Connecticut and nationwide. To meet this need, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) has recently started an active campaign to recruit LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents, recognizing the fact that same-sex couples are both just as good as at parenting as, and more likely to adopt than heterosexual couples. 

Currently, while DCF recognizes the importance of LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents through this initiative, it does maintain contracts with private adoption agencies such as Catholic Charities, which has a history of discriminating against same-sex couples in other states. If the amendment proposed by Rep. Aderholt became law, the State of Connecticut would not be able to legally prohibit Connecticut branches of Catholic Charities from discriminating against same-sex couples in their adoption services. Catholic Charities provides a variety of services to families in Connecticut, including six adoption services sites throughout the state. It is important to note that Connecticut’s current anti-discrimination laws do not apply to religious entities.

The issue of same-sex adoption has also propelled amongst different states nationwide. States like Oklahoma and Kansas recently passed legislation that would allow child welfare agencies to prevent LGBTQ foster homes and adoptions based on religious beliefs. The ACLU reported that Massachusetts and Illinois both require child welfare agencies to accept all qualified families. Most recently, a federal judge ruled in a landmark case that all foster and adoption agencies must abide by the city of Philadelphia's nondiscrimination policies. 

What you can do.

Connecticut and all of the United States must continue to fight for equality for LGBTQ individuals and make sure that youth are protected and supported in the foster care system.

  • Thank Representative Rosa DeLauro for voting no to the Aderholt amendment, particularly if you live in the 3rd Congressional District.
  • Contact your U.S. representatives to vote against the amended FY19 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations spending bill when it moves to the House of Representatives.
  • If you live in Connecticut, contact your state legislator  about further strengthening protections for LGBTQ families in our state. 
Issue Area:
Child Welfare
Tags:
adoption, Federal, Foster care, LGBTQ
June 29, 2018

Children’s needs at risk: An update on federal attempts to cut programs for children

 

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly “food stamps”) update:

On June 29, the Senate passed a bipartisan Farm Bill that preserves SNAP (formerly food stamps) without imposing new burdens on families. However, the House Farm Bill, which passed on June 13, dramatically cuts SNAP and imposes an enormous administrative burden on states and enrollees. SNAP remains at risk until Congress comes to a final agreement. Children and families rely on SNAP to ensure they have adequate nutrition when finances are tight. Without healthy and consistent meals, children have trouble concentrating in school, can experience developmental delays, and are more prone to illness. Creating new administrative hurdles will add to the state’s expenses and likely cause many eligible families to lose their benefits. See our fact sheet on SNAP in CT.

What can you do?  The farm bill is expected to move to conference negotiations between the House and Senate, and our work to ensure that the final bill protects SNAP begins in earnest. Thank your senator (both CT senators voted against harmful amendments and for the Senate bill) and urge them to call for a final conference agreement that includes the Senate’s strong bipartisan SNAP provisions and rejects the addition of harmful work requirements.

ACA Repeal: The zombie returns 

On June 19, Senator Rick Santorum and others released a new plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The plan would cause tens of millions to lose health coverage, increase costs for others, and do away with consumer protections—like allowing insurers to charge some people more. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is refusing to defend the Affordable Care Act in court, including the protections for pre-existing conditions. Both steps put vital progress and the financial and physical health of millions of Americans at risk. Learn more here and here.

What can you do? Ask your state and federal candidates how they plan to keep Connecticut’s HUSKY (Medicaid and CHIP) programs strong. Call your federal representatives to urge them to work together to improve our nation’s health systems.

 

Issue Areas:
Family Economic Security, Health
Tags:
ACA, Federal, Food Security, health, insurance, SNAP
May 25, 2018

Introducing our new Education Disparities Dashboard

Today we are pleased to announce a new online data tool to help community leaders, policymakers, advocates and parents better understand the vast disparities in educational opportunity that exist across our state and come together to create solutions to redress them.

Connecticut Voices for Children believes that the future economic and social well-being of our state depends in part upon opening pathways to opportunity so that all of our children and youth can reach their full potential and leave high school prepared for success in college and career.  Much of our work involves research, data analysis and policy recommendations which we share in briefs, like this one, discussing differences in educational access and outcomes between White and Black students statewide.

After discussions with many thoughtful advocates, community members and educators we have learned that many seek access to data as a tool they can use to better understand and work to improve opportunity within their communities.  

To meet this need, today we are proud to release the Educational Disparities Data Dashboard, an interactive data repository for the whole state with district-by-district education data, disaggregated by race/ethnicity.

The dashboard covers enrollment, chronic absenteeism, per-pupil funding, teacher diversity, exclusionary discipline, and academic achievement, all broken down by race and ethnicity. The purpose of this tool is to provide a "one-stop" resource for advocates, community leaders, policymakers, and reporters where they can find up-to-date data on their communities clearly and accessibly: data which they can then use to help drive systemic change.

The Dashboard is ready and online our Tableau site, available here. Please feel free to look around the dashboard and explore what it has to offer! 

Want to learn more?

We will be hosting a Webinar, Wednesday, June 6th at 11 A.M, where we will explain how to use the dashboard and some of its features.

Please sign up for the webinar by following this link.

If you have any questions prior to the webinar about either the webinar or the dashboard itself, please feel free to reach out to Associate Policy Fellow, Camara Stokes Hudson (chudson@ctvoices.org) or Communications Director, Roger Senserrich (rsenserrich@ctvoices.org). 

 

 

Issue Area:
Education
Tags:
Data, disparities, Education dashboard, Webinar
May 17, 2018

End of the Session Update: New Paths to Opportunity

Roger Senserrich

In today’s email:

End-of-Session Update:

New Paths to Opportunity

The 2018 legislative session came to a close Wednesday, with the usual flurry of late-night votes and budget negotiations. It has been an unusually busy, and in many ways exceptionally successful, short session, with many of our priority bills making it to the Governor's desk, with the promise of opening new paths to opportunity for many Connecticut children and families.

On the fiscal side, unexpectedly high revenues allowed the restoration of funding to many key programs. As a result, legislators renewed and even expanded some much-needed investments in transportation, health insurance coverage, education, juvenile justice, and early childhood.

Legislators also made important reforms to the Bond Lock: our top priority this session. Our end-of-session legislative report will provide detail as to how changes to the duration of the Bond Lock coupled with changes in the volatility cap mechanism have improved state policy, even as we acknowledge the need for ongoing work to assure fiscal responsibility, adequacy, and sustainability.

As we work on our budget analysis and legislative reviews, we extend our heartfelt thanks to the many legislators, advocates, policymakers, and friends with whom we have worked to ensure that all children in Connecticut have the opportunity to succeed. We deeply appreciate your leadership, insights, and hard work, without which none of the legislative victories described below would have been possible. It has been an eventful and at times challenging legislative session, but together we are moving equity and opportunity forward in our state.

 

Legislative Priorities

Key Bills that We Supported:

HUSKY A Parent Eligibility Restoration. The increase in revenues this year allowed the General Assembly to restore HUSKY A health insurance coverage for 13,000 low-income parents (we explained why this matters here and here). The Medicaid Strategy Group and Protect Our Care CT provided admirable support in raising awareness about the impact of the HUSKY cuts, and were key champions on their reversal.

S.B. 323 An Act Requiring Notice Prior To The Transfer Of A Child To A New Placement. A bill that emerged from our Youth at the Capitol event, it instructs the Department of Children and Families to provide at least 10 days notice to children and youth in foster care before they are moved to a new home. It received unanimous support in both chambers. Thank you to Senator Paul Formica and Senator Len Suzio for championing this bill, and thank you to Senator Marilyn Moore, Representative Diana Urban, and Representative Lezlye Zupkus for prioritizing this as a Committee Bill. Read our testimony here.

S.B. 188 An Act Establishing the State Oversight Council on Children and Families. This bill creates an oversight structure for DCF to continue monitoring its performance after the Juan F. consent decree expires. Approved with widespread support by both chambers, we want to recognize the leadership of Sarah Eagan, the Child Advocate and the partnership of the Alliance for Children's Mental Health, and the Center for Children's Advocacy, as well as Representative Toni Walker, Senator Len Suzio, and Senator Len Fasano. Read our testimony here.

S.B. 455 An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment. The bill passed both chambers with nearly unanimous support, including several amendments that made it stronger. We want to highlight the great work of Commissioner Subira Gordon, Commissioner Dianna Wentzell, Senator Douglas McCrory, Senator Gayle Slossberg, Senator Toni Boucher, Representative Andrew Fleischmann, and Representative Gail Lavielle in the approval of this bill. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5449 An Act Concerning The Administration Of Certain Early Childhood Programs And The Provision Of Early Childhood Services By The Office Of Early Childhood. This OEC agency bill makes a number of statutory changes to better serve young children, including enabling increased rates for School Readiness and Child Day Care Center and new forms of program evaluation. We strongly supported this bill due to a section that enabled prioritization of infants and toddlers and other high-need populations (such as homeless families) when Care 4 Kids is operating with a waitlist, thereby helping to ensure that the most vulnerable children and families don’t have to wait long for the child care they need. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5041 An Act Concerning The Transfer Of Juvenile Services From The Department Of Children And Families To The Court Support Services Division Of The Judicial Branch. Approved with widespread bipartisan support, this bill creates the structure for the creation of community-based diversion system for juvenile offenders. We worked on this bill as part of the Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee’s diversion group, in close collaboration with the Tow Youth Justice Institute, the Child Health and Development Institute, the State Department of Education and Juvenile Review Boards. Read our testimony here.

 

Celebrating Legislative Partnerships:

S.B. 256 An Act Concerning Racial and Ethnic Impact Statements. This bill requires that certain bills include a racial and ethnic impact statement at the request of any legislator. Connecticut is the first state in the country to adopt this policy. Both chambers passed the bill with widespread bipartisan support (unanimously in the Senate, 104-44 in the House). We want to thank Senator Gary Winfield, Commissioner Subira Gordon and Werner Oyanandel for their leadership on this issue. Read our testimony here.

S.B. 13 An Act Concerning Fair Treatment of Incarcerated Women. Connecticut is one of the first states in the nation to enact this legislation implementing a set of policies to improve the treatment of female inmates in Connecticut’s prisons. Floor amendments improved an already strong bill to include protections for transgender inmates, that passed unanimously in both chambers. The Commission on Equity and Opportunity and Planned Parenthood of Southern New England championed this bill to passage. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5210 An Act Mandating Insurance Coverage Of Essential Health Benefits And Expanding Mandated Health Benefits For Women, Children And Adolescents. This bill protects essential healthcare for women and children and was passed by both chambers with widespread bipartisan support. Many thanks to Planned Parenthood of Southern New England and Representative Sean Scanlon for spearheading this bill and to Protect our Care Connecticut and for their collaboration ensuring its passage. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5517 An Act Concerning Executive Branch Data Management and Processes. This bill codifies the creation of a state Chief Data Officer to coordinate data gathering and sharing across all state agencies. It passed with unanimous support in both chambers. Read our testimony here.

SB 312: An Act Concerning The Needs Of Children With Intellectual And Developmental Disabilities. This bill requires the Commissioner of DCF to develop and integrate procedures and practices that are responsive to the needs of children with disabilities at all points of the child welfare system. The bill passed both chambers unanimously. We want to thank the Office of the Child Advocate for their leadership on this legislation. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5169: An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Office of Early Childhood. This bill creates a 90-day grace period for vaccinations and physicals for homeless children enrolling in child care. Lowering barriers to accessing child care for homeless families helps keep kids safe, enables parents to work to support themselves, and provides stability for the whole family. It passed unanimously in both chambers. We commend the Partnership for Strong Communities, the Office of Early Childhood, and allies throughout the early childhood community for this legislation. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5470 An Act Concerning The Provision Of Timely Notice Of Child Placement Information From The Department Of Children And Families To The Attorney Or Guardian Ad Litem Representing The Child In A Child Protection Matter. The Center for Children’s Advocacy championed this bill, that passed both chambers unanimously. This bill complements S.B. 323 to help ensure that foster children have appropriate support from their attorney or guardian ad litem when they transition between homes. Read our testimony here.

 

Key Bills We Opposed that Were Defeated:

S.B. 270 An Act Concerning Work And Community Service Requirements For Recipients Of Certain Public Assistance Programs. The bill would have added work and community service requirements and asset testing for adults under age 65 receiving HUSKY (Medicaid) insurance. It also would have barred the Department of Social Services from applying federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) waivers for high-unemployment areas. These changes would have added enormous administrative burden for the state while increasing the likelihood that eligible families would lose care due to red tape. The bill did not receive a vote in committee. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5445 An Act Concerning The Development Of Policies Regarding The Provision Of Alternative Educational Opportunities For Expelled Students By Boards Of Education. The bill  removed minimum education requirements for expelled students, potentially leaving them behind on their education. Although it made it out of committee, but was not put up for a vote in the House. We worked closely with the Center for Children's Advocacy and Connecticut Legal Services to push back on this proposal. You can read our testimony here.

S.B. 373: An Act Concerning The Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange, Low Option Benefit Design and Short-term Care Policies. This bill and two others would have allowed insurers to offer short-term plans and insurance options with high-out-of-pocket costs and limited benefits. Such plans expose families to debt and can make insurance coverage unaffordable to use. The bill reached the Senate, but did not receive a vote. Read our testimony here.

S.B.316 An Act Establishing A Child Care Facility Neighbor Relations Task Force. This bill would have created a task force to address neighborhood concerns with local group homes without representation from any youth or staff - thereby risking further stigmatization and harm to children in DCF care. The bill reached the Senate, but did not receive a vote. The Alliance of Community Nonprofits was a key partner defeating this bill. Read our testimony here.

S.B. 486 An Act Concerning Notification To Boards Of Education Of The Release Of A Juvenile Sexual Offender And A Model Policy Concerning The Reentry Of Such Juveniles Into The School System. The bill reached the Senate, but did not receive a vote. The bill is similar to one introduced last year. It lacked key privacy protections for ex-offenders, running counter to research on rehabilitation and recidivism. We worked closely with the Juvenile Justice Alliance and the Office of the Chief Public Defender to educate legislators on the dangers of this bill. Read our testimony here.

S.B.187 An Act Concerning The Transfer Of A Child Charged With Certain Offenses To The Criminal Docket. The Senate referred this bill to the Judiciary Committee that voted it down. It would have expanded the number of juvenile cases that could be transferred to adult criminal courts. We want to thank the Office of the Chief Public Defender, the Juvenile Justice Alliance and Center for Children's Advocacy, the Alliance for Children’s Mental Health, and African Caribbean American Parents of Children with Disabilities (AFCAMP) for their support to defeat this bill. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5584:  An Act Establishing a Tax Credit for Employers that Provide Paid Family and Medical Leave Benefits and Concerning Family and Medical Leave Accounts.The bill reached the House, but did not get a vote. While we applaud Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML) as a policy, this bill would have limited the number of people would could access PFML while costing the state revenue. Read our testimony in opposition here.

S.B. 359: An Act Prohibiting The Disaggregation Of Student Data By Ethnic Subgroups In The Public School Information System.The bill did not receive a vote in Committee. Helping lawmakers understand the value and necessity of disaggregated data for opening pathways to opportunity was a team effort, and we’d like to recognize the partnership of Commissioner Subira Gordon, Commissioner Dianna Wentzell, Health Equity Solutions, the Connecticut Association of Human Services, the Khmer Health Advocates, and the Asian Pacific American Coalition of Connecticut. Read our testimony here.

The Volatility Cap

The General Assembly revised budget introduced some welcome changes to the volatility cap. Under the old system, any revenue raised from estimates and finals above $3.15 billion went to the Budget Reserve Fund, without any further adjustments. The cap level, however, set a hard limit, without ties to actual volatility or accounting for economic growth or the overall budget situation.

The new provision indexes the actual cap to growth in personal income, allowing the revenue set aside to track economic activity. In addition, the General Assembly can raise the cap level with a three-fifths majority in both chambers to respond to changes in the tax code or economic growth.

Representative Vin Candelora has been a strong voice for a responsible, nuanced and flexible volatility cap in Connecticut, and we thank him for his leadership.

Lawmakers also introduced changes to the Bond Lock, limiting its application to five years. We are evaluating the legislative language included in the implementer to fully understand its implications, but we thank Representative Jason Rojas for raising the bill that made the Bond Lock a discussion amongst the legislature.

Analysis: Budget Proposals

We are working on a full-length analysis of the budget right now; expect to hear from us in the coming days. The overall picture is that increased revenues enabled the General Assembly to restore funding or limit cuts to several key programs. Nevertheless, legislators only made modest progress in tackling Connecticut’s structural deficits, leaving a challenging budget scenario for the 2019 legislative session. The CT Mirror, as usual, has a good overview.

Federal Update: CHIP Rescissions, SNAP Updates

  • The White House is set to request a rescission package this week, asking Congress to rescind funds previously allocated by Congress and signed into law — the first installment in what’s expected to become a larger Trump administration push to clamp down on government spending. The request will likely include cuts to CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program). Vox has more on this proposal.

  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly Food Stamps—provides low-income households with a monthly benefit that is redeemable only for food. More than 400,000 Connecticut residents relied on this program last year alone. Congress may soon vote on proposed changes to SNAP in the Farm Bill. These changes would increase food insecurity and hardship for children in low-income families, while increasing the state’s administrative burden. Click here to download our issue brief about the potential impact of the cuts in Connecticut.

What We Are Reading

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Child Welfare, Early Care, Education, Family Economic Security, Health, Juvenile Justice
May 8, 2018

Juvenile Justice Reform Must Maintain Its Focus on Prevention

Lauren Ruth, Ph.D.

A month ago, as a result of decades of juvenile justice reform, Connecticut celebrated the landmark closing of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS), its last large juvenile prison. Instead of a secluded facility far from youths’ communities, Connecticut will now rely on a network of smaller facilities that are informed by childhood and youth development. The closure of CJTS should not be viewed as the end of juvenile justice reform, but rather as a shift in the state’s approach to juvenile justice to one that asks how we can work towards preventing youth from ever seeing the inside of a prison cell.

Prevention, evidence-based programs, wrap-around services, and community supports for at-risk youth and their families can greatly reduce juvenile justice involvement. Preventative efforts are more cost-effective than relying on expensive court proceedings, and they help to open pathways toward responsible citizenship and opportunity for the youth they serve.

 

Although the Connecticut state legislature and all the executive agencies involved share a strong commitment to focus on prevention, the transition from CJTS to a more community-based system is at risk of failing to support these youths. A mix of unclear budgetary priorities, insufficient funding, and obstacles in collaboration might derail the state´s best efforts.

CJTS was extremely costly to operate, so with its closure the Department of Children and Families (DCF) will save a substantial amount of money in the long run. The state planned to shift this funding to cover the costs of establishing the kind of community-based services and facilities that are both cheaper to run and are more effective.

A quirk in the budget process, however, puts this at risk. With the closure of CJTS, policymakers shifted most of the funding that DCF used to operate the facility, in addition to some services for justice-involved youth, to the Court Support Services Division (CSSD), an agency within the Judicial Branch. The problem is that a significant amount of the savings have either gone elsewhere or have been cut outright, leaving prevention services badly underfunded. 

Both state agencies can and have run excellent juvenile justice programs in the past, making great strides towards reducing juvenile incarceration and responding to the needs of youth offenders with excellent programs that have become national models. Because of the budget cuts, however, many of these programs and initiatives that have made Connecticut a national leader in Juvenile Justice now lack adequate budgetary resources to operate.
Among these services are the Juvenile Review Boards, local community-based diversion initiatives that many towns and cities rely on for restorative juvenile justice work. These services also include evidence-based therapies that support children and families struggling with substance abuse and behavioral challenges before these children become involved with the courts through arrest.

At its height, CJTS and the Pueblo Unit for Girls cost DCF over $30 million a year to run, but the latest budget proposals shift $17 million to CSSD to establish both new secure facilities for youth with challenging needs and the services to help meet these needs, all of which is needed. This shift leaves DCF without the approximately $7 million they need to fund prevention efforts for at-risk youth. It is crucial that the General Assembly helps ensure that the closure of CJTS, an undisputed achievement, does not become a failure caused by unexpectedly overburdening the new justice system by leaving prevention behind.

Connecticut’s past successes in juvenile justice reform allow for the rightsizing of our justice because our policies to date have been focused on reducing the school-to-prison pipeline and racial and ethnic disparities in arrests while opening avenues to restorative justice and opportunity. But rightsizing is just that—reducing what is no longer necessary and optimizing investments. By adequately funding both prevention and services for youth with the most complex needs, Connecticut can ensure a brighter future for today’s children and tomorrow’s workforce.

 

Issue Area:
Juvenile Justice

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