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About Child Welfare Issues

Key issues

  • The state of Connecticut bears legal and moral responsibility for the children in its care and custody. As of January 2012, roughly 4,500 Connecticut children and youth were in the custody of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and removed from their homes because they had been abused or neglected by their parents. Many other children and families are receiving services from DCF to avert out-of-home placements. While there have been a number of significant and encouraging improvements in Connecticut's child welfare system since Commissioner Joette Katz joined the Department in 2011, Connecticut still fails to meet its basic responsibilities to many of the children and youth in its care.
  • DCF needs to continue its crucial reforms designed to ensure that children -- especially children under 12 – grow up in families, rather than in expensive institutional and congregate (group) care.   Historically, Connecticut has had one of the highest rates of use of congregate care for young children in the nation.  Within the past year, Connecticut has nearly halved the number of children under 12 in congregate care, and has also decreased the percentage of all children in congregate care.  In order for the shift to family-based care to be successful, the Department must reinvest a substantial portion of the savings from reducing congregate care in community-based services that will support children returning to the community.
  • To reduce overreliance on congregate care, DCF must do a better job of attracting new foster parents and, perhaps even more significantly, retaining the foster parents it already has.   The primary factor underlying DCF’s overreliance on congregate care is a shortage of licensed foster homes.  While DCF has devoted great resources for the recruitment of new foster families, it has failed to meet its benchmark for net increase in foster homes. An increase in the share of children placed with relatives will help fill some of the shortage.  However, DCF needs to improve the foster parent experience to help make up for the additional shortfall.  Increasing the number of foster homes will also help keep more siblings together, place more children closer to their home communities, and may help increase rates of adoption.
  • DCF must better help the children and youth in its care maintain strong relationships with their brothers and sisters.  When children are taken into DCF custody, their connections to their families and communities are often traumatically interrupted.  For many children and youth in the foster care system, ongoing relationships with their siblings are a vital source of emotional support as they go through difficult times.  Ideally, all children in out-of-home care would be placed together with their brothers and sisters unless such placement is not in their best interest.  In situations where placing all members of a sibling group together is impossible, DCF should provide for frequent (at least weekly) visitation to help sustain sibling bonds.
  • Youth in DCF care should be empowered to make decisions about their own lives, both on the system and individual case levels.  DCF’s youth advisory boards were created to provide young leaders with the opportunity to advise the Department on policy and practice.  These boards should be given regular opportunities to engage in discussions with both local and central office staff, including the Commissioner.  In addition, DCF should make sure that adolescents are actively and meaningfully involved in their own case planning, as required by federal law.
  • Connecticut must improve the quality of legal representation provided to children and youth in DCF care to ensure that their interests are adequately represented in the Juvenile Court.  While Connecticut made some meaningful reforms over the past decade that had the potential to improve the system of legal representation, it risks backsliding on this issue.  Unfortunately, because of budgetary pressures, the state made several cutbacks in 2011 to attorney compensation and supervision that have the potential to negatively impact the quality of representation provided.  Connecticut must devote more resources to ensure high-quality legal representation for children and youth in DCF care.
  • DCF needs to continue to improve services for older youth in the system. Connecticut falls short of ensuring that many vulnerable older youth who "age out" of foster care get a healthy and secure start in life. Each year, approximately 90 youth turn 18 and leave the care of DCF entirely on their own, without any formal family relationships. Without a family to support their transition to adulthood, youth aging out of care are far less likely to graduate from high school, more likely to experience homelessness or involvement with the criminal justice system, and less likely to be earning a living wage than other youth.  By strengthening the array of services provided to this population, the state can help ensure that these youth experience a successful transition to adulthood.

Key publications

See all of our child welfare publications

Related resources

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