Monday, October 20, 2008

CT - DCF Investigative Hearing - Or How To Waste More Taxpayer Money In Four Hours


Yes, I attended this "hearing" today (from 10:00 am till 2:00 pm) and quite frankly as a CT taxpayer I was appalled at the softball questions fielded in the three hours after the hour long testimony given by the panel of four: Attorney General Blumenthal, Secretary of Office of Policy and Management Robert Genuario, DCF Commissioner Susan Hamilton and Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein. They were all there in front of members of the Select Committee on Children and the Human Services Committee to answer the question: Are children and families better off because of their involvement with DCF?

Heck, they didn't even scratch the surface of that question, and the questions put out to the panel of four after their testimony was just incredibly anemic. In fact, after the meeting broke up after 4 hours of "discussion", I overheard Hamilton and her folks say, "Gee, this could have been much worse".

Well, it should have been much worse. A baby is dead at the hands of a DCF employee, countless other children are being routinely drugged and restrained, and it costs taxpayers $864,685 per child per year to be housed in Riverview Hospital! But wait there's more....In the last 12 years there have been 549 reports of abuse and neglect perpetrated by DCF employees. We still have no answers about what happened to those employees or if they are still employed at DCF. We still have no answers as to what happens to these kids in custody, or what the outcomes of their treatment are, or if they have been served properly and effectively. There are so many, many, questions left unasked and unanswered.

A few legislators took to mild chastisement of the way all four of these agency heads have done business. Rep. Toni Harp and Rep. Toni Walker asked some very good questions, but the answers to their questions were less than impressive. Chairman of the Committee, Sen. Harris asked some pointed questions about linking the agency's directives to their "results". All I heard in response from the panel of 4 were platitudes and lots of talk about plans, and what they intend to do, and what they should consider, and what they should study.

Sen. Harris even tread into the territory of talking about educational neglect and homeschooling, which was met with denials by the DCF Commissioner about how homeschoolers are not considered to be neglecting their children educationally just because they aren't sending their children to a public school. That is a whole other subject, and most likely will be an issue to raise it's ugly little head again.

With regard to DCF, they keep wanting to rearrange the deck chairs on this sinking ship instead of making some fundamental common sense decisions. How about we do something that serves the children instead of serves directives or reporting requirements? How about we treat these kids as human beings instead of statistics and quarterly report contents? And give me a break, but hardly ever during the four hour meeting was the word parent or parental involvement even uttered!!

The Attorney General said DCF is too big and needs to be dismantled and that existing management should be overhauled - but failed to mention how he didn't do his job to investigate when incidents of abuse and drugging were given to him by members of Ablechild. In fact, all he did with their information was go after drug companies for fraud, making some national headlines in the process. Unfortunately, none of the Committee members took the Attorney General to task as to why he hadn't done his job to prosecute those who are abusing and drugging kids in CT facilities. It is after all his assistant attorneys general who advise and represent DCF in every juvenile court in CT every day! If he advised and directed his asst. attorneys general on how to properly advise DCF in these cases, many of these problems might not exist or at least have been alleviated in some fashion.

Robert Genuario had the audacity to sit there and defend the growth of expenditures of DCF which has blossomed from $607.5 million in FY 2004 to $884.5 million in FY 2009. The operating costs of Riverview Hospital alone is a staggering $48,986,343 dollars with $42 million of that going to personnel salaries and fringe benefits. This is with a decline in their patient census which is currently reported as 69.6, and heaven knows how much the kids treated at home or in community residential facilities costs the taxpayer. What did Genuario say in the end? Just that DCF is a "work in progress" - as if it is some grand experiment that we will never get to the bottom of. He wants more funding to consider and explore and study in order to make improvements. He even got into a tiff towards the end of the meeting, with Rep. Hamm of Middletown, about the expansion of the number of children in the CT Juvenile Training School, which her constituents are against. The Governor was going to shut the facility down, but the legislature hasn't done anything about it at all. Genuario said he and the Governor are frustrated with the inaction of the Legislature on these issues.

Jeanne Milstein got to sit there and complain about how there have been pockets of progress, but overall the progress has been made only because of the result of pressure or reaction to some horrible event like a baby's death. She decried the need for change and that there is a lack of management and leadership at DCF. She cited that she has gone as far as she could go with the resources that she has, to address the lack of meaningful and sustainable change in DCF, despite a 1 billion dollar budget and the apparent inability for DCF to do it's job. She asked for someone or something to take a look and determine whether DCF has the right people with the right skills in the right positions, to affect fundamental change in that agency. But she doesn't think DCF should be carved up, and she wants to see more strategic planning and more funding. Egads, more money and more planning...how about some "DOING"? Plans don't mean anything if they aren't implemented.

We also heard from DCF Commissioner Susan Hamilton. I think if I were to hear one more - "Yes, I agree, ... we intend to... we plan to... we want to....", I think I would just keel over. She said she wants to find what the best structure is and then have a plan to get them to what they want to achieve. One would think that this agency would know this by now!! We also heard about how complex the agency is and how they also do many things right, but the bottom line here and the reality is that kids are dying and there are hundreds of complaints about very bad practices and policies of this agency. No doubt the case workers have a tough job; no one disputes that, but the agency seems to have wrapped itself up in plans and reports and complying with mandates that they have forgotten the kids and what they need. Moreover, they have forgotten parents and their rights. They will talk of re-uniting families as they are working to take custody away from parents. They have treatment plans that are reviewed by administrators who hardly even meet with a child personally. It's that and so much more.

They didn't even touch on how much it costs to send kids out of state to other facilities, or what it costs to send DCF employees around the country to attend whatever meetings with staff at those facilities. The dirty secret that people don't know is that DCF uses out of state facilities as a bargaining chip; parents are told that if they don't comply with the wishes of what DCF is proposing as treatment for a child, that the child will be sent out of state. But I digress.

Clearly the system is broken. Unfortunately, this Investigative Hearing today was meant more for the cameras and to give the public an impression that something was being done in response to a murder, than it was to actually find solutions to fix what is wrong with DCF. Four hours of testimony and little results to show for it. But fear not, there will be other such meetings in November and one will even include public comment (that should be interesting).

For what the public spends on this agency it is clear that our money is not being well spent and that children are not thriving in DCF care. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that, and while the panel of four can talk about the things that are good about what DCF does do well, it is the many things that DCF does badly that we ought to be completely focused upon.

Funny - this is all AP had to say about this hearing.