Yes, There IS a Problem with the “Culture Change” in Connecticut: It Hasn’t Gone Far Enough

Connecticut, 1995: Emily Hernandez, a child-known-to-the-system, dies. Gov. John Rowland demands that caseworkers tear apart more families. There is a foster care panic, a huge increase in children torn from their families. Children continue to die.

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Richard Wexler
About Richard Wexler 51 Articles
Richard Wexler is Executive Director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, His interest in child welfare grew out of 19 years of work as a reporter for newspapers, public radio and public television. During that time, he won more than two dozen awards, many of them for stories about child abuse and foster care. He is the author of Wounded Innocents: The Real Victims of the War Against Child Abuse (Prometheus Books: 1990, 1995).


  1. Although the Department has realized some improvements within its culture and policies, practices are slow to shift across such a vast workforse and it remains bound by state budget cuts and cost containment measures. It is also guided by maximizing the flow of uncapped federal foster care funding triggered by kids entering custody and increased system adoptions. Where the Department continues to operate in the dark ages is in its role as a child serving system leader.

    Children with psychiatric conditions and emotional/behavioral instabilities, both organic and adverse environmental exposure-rooted, and their nurturing desperate-to-heal-them parents, continue to lose. They lose their kids to state custody by way of neglect petitions despite the absence of abuse or neglect. Parents are portrayed to the court as presenting safety concerns and kids are simply taken. On this front, tearing families apart remains a preferred response as the cost of psychiatric care is too great and foster care costs are subsidized. Presenting these parents to the court as incompetent and restricting access to condition specific treatment options viewed as appropriate by parents and engaged providers, does harm to the whole family and the “sick” child today and across their lifespan. So, on this front, I see no progress.

    DCF’s Voluntary Services was originally formed as a means to voluntarily “give up” a child; a child that is too sick, to dangerous to care for. Today, it is touted as a program that provides access to a higher level of behavioral health care and services. But, in my experiences, it is a program that is dangerously underfunded, embodies a lack of serving system culture and skills, and denies far more families than it serves. And it still takes kids into custody to access care with some being forced to lose parental rights all together. Intensive treatment costs more than foster care. Consequently, many of those who are denied VS end up involved in the clutches of a still improving child protection guided system. The improvements to CT’s child serving system can’t come soon enough for these families as too many sick, broken children with loving parents have already been lost to our states foster system, their illnesses and death. Twenty-first century answers should be attainable in the twenty-first century.

    • Ms. Davis makes a very good point. As I note in NCCPR’s full Update on Connecticut child welfare(

      The Connecticut Health I-Team (C-HIT) released an important in-depth story ( about a serious and real problem at child welfare agencies across the country: parents forced to give up custody of their children in order to get them mental health care. …

      There is no excuse for requiring parents to trade custody for care. The savings achieved by DCF through reducing what is both the worst and the most expensive form of care, institutionalization, should not become some kind of general interest slush fund to fill holes in the state budget. The funds should be directed right back into child welfare services, including the intensive help these
      children need.

      But that help does not automatically have to mean institutionalization. There is nothing a so-called “residential treatment center” can do that can’t be done, far better, with truly intensive home-based “wraparound” services. …

      But the help has to be real and it has to be intense. It can’t be a “counselor” dropping by a couple of times a week.

  2. With all due respect, if you’re not working in CT in the system, it’s not reasonable for you to know what Katz and other DCF folks are communicating to providers, parents, kids, and others. They _don’t_ want kids in congregate care settings and will do anything to keep them out of there. They overlook that sometimes, a blood relative might be the _worst_ place for a child to be sent. (See: Dylan.) And that waiver you praise? It’s well-known in DCF that you’d better not submit one–figure out another way. So it all sounds great, except what’s lost here is: WHAT IS BEST FOR THE CHILD? That’s all we as citizens want…figure out, case by case, what’s best for each child. And sometimes, especially for an older child who’s experienced a tremendous about of trauma in his life and will _never_ be adopted, and has no competent relatives, the setting he needs is a small setting where he’ll learn the skills (and experience some safety and consistency, for once) he needs to be an independent, happy adult.

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