CONNECTICUT’S DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES ANNOUNCES BIG CHANGES IN HOW IT WILL HANDLE REPORTS OF CHILD ABUSE OR NEGLECTPosted: February 13, 2012
Last year, the new Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF), Joette Katz, called an end to surprise home visits in most cases of reported child abuse or neglect. According to the Connecticut Mirror , Commissioner Katz felt that the practice was inconsistent with the principles of the Department. Katz believes that only 10 to 20 percent of reports of abuse are serious enough to warrant a surprise visit. All others are now to be pre-announced by telephone.
Soon, the Department is scheduled to make another big change. Rather than investigating all reports of child abuse or neglect in the way police might investigate crime, the DCF has announced that beginning in March 2012 it will operate on a model known as Differential Response. Under that model, only a small percentage of reported abuse or neglect will be investigated. Instead, cases considered by the department to be less serious will be approached by collaborating with the family. The goal will be to keep children within the family setting by directing the family to appropriate community services. In keeping with the new policy, the agency’s child abuse “hotline” has even been re-named the “care line”.
The Differential Response model has both proponents and critics. Both groups seem to agree that a benefit of using Differential Response is cost savings. Reducing the number of adversarial proceedings related to claims of abuse or neglect and keeping more children in their home settings saves money. Proponents also argue that collaborating with families to support them in efforts to correct behaviors detrimental to the welfare of children, results in better long-term outcomes for the children.
Opponents don’t necessarily disagree with the concept in principle, but caution that the success of the model depends entirely upon how well it is implemented. They argue that, to produce good outcomes for children, social workers need to be able to do adequate screening and follow-up to be sure the desired results of are actually being achieved and maintained. In other words, DCF workers must be empowered to oversee their cases over time once an initial determination of the seriousness of a case has been made.
Connecticut is just one of many states that have adopted the Differential Response model of child protection, but a 2009 report notes that several states, including Florida abandoned the approach after results were either unsatisfactory or inconsistent among districts.
The question for Connecticut residents is whether the Department can provide funding and resources adequate to ensure that the children of families who have not undergone a traditional investigation will be protected and that their situations will be monitored over time. We would like to know what you think.
Full-blown custody and access disputes cost plenty – not only in dollars — but in the toll they take on families. Once in a while, when one parent is truly neglectful, abusive, or struggling with substance abuse, there is no choice but to do battle in the courts if that’s what it takes to protect the children. Relocation cases — especially when the proposed move is motivated by malice – are another situation where resort to the courts may be necessary to protect the parent/child relationship. However, too many custody and visitation cases have more to do with a power struggle between embittered parents than about the real needs of the children.
Experienced divorce lawyers are familiar with a pattern that develops when a negotiation over custody or visitation goes toxic. Typically, one or both parents reject a suggestion of the other almost as soon as it is made. Soon it becomes clear that the discussion cannot be shifted away from notions of winning and losing. Any concession – agreeing to pitch in for more than half of the transportation; allowing an extra overnight visit; permitting an out-of-state vacation – is viewed as a defeat. These reactions have nothing to do with fairness, let alone the best interests of the children. Instead, they are issues of vindication.
Another hallmark of a toxic custody or visitation dispute is that the discussion turns, inevitably, to adult issues. Unless the cause of the breakdown of the marriage has also caused a breakdown of the father/child or mother/child relationship, it should play little part in negotiations over a parenting plan.
Often, lawyers’ efforts to diffuse these disputes and to re-focus on the needs of the children are met with distrust and frustration – a feeling that the lawyer is indifferent to the pain that the offending spouse has caused. In truth, lawyers are legitimately concerned about how their client will be perceived by the court if they fail to engage in reasonable compromise.
Judges have little patience for these fights because they have been trained to understand that children are the ultimate losers. Commonly, parties who enter the courtroom convinced that a judge will share their indignation over a spouse’s behavior, come away – even before a decision has been rendered – with a stunned realization that it is they who have attracted the sternest reprimands from the bench.
Some time ago, Connecticut family judge Elaine Gordon produced a video for parents who are thinking of using the courts to settle their custody and visitation disputes. In it, she sites an alarming study identifying a long list of lasting mental health problems that beset children and adults whose parents have gone to trial on custody issues. The video appears on Connecticut’s official judicial website and is well worth a look for anyone considering taking a child-related issue to court. You can bet, if you do, that your judge has seen it as well.
The lesson here is to make the strongest possible effort to achieve a healthy parenting plan for your children, but to do so, whenever possible, through serious and selfless negotiations and to set a goal to reach agreement before trial.