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Following near-death of child, people call for DCF commissioner to step down

HARTFORD — There are renewed calls this week for the state Department of Children and Families Commissioner to step down or be removed after the release o...

HARTFORD — There are renewed calls this week for the state Department of Children and Families Commissioner to step down or be removed after the release of a report saying DCF was at fault for the near death of a toddler from Groton.

On Thursday, Commissioner Joette Katz and Governor Dannel Malloy defended the department, but did not make any excuses for that particular incident. It dates back to about a year ago, when a 19-month-old boy nearly died from starvation and abuse.

Since then, three DCF workers involved were disciplined and a fourth retired. But Republican lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, are saying that’s not enough and the department needs new leadership.

Katz stood firm during an interview with reporters on Thursday saying as a system, DCF has made huge progress.

“You will not hear me make any excuses about that case. You will only hear apologies. That was absolutely deplorable, but it’s one case. Now for that one child it’s obviously the world,” said Katz.

She added, “You don’t judge a system by one case. You don’t do it in anything and I don’t know why we tend as a society to want to do it in child welfare.”

Katz was joined by Governor Malloy Thursday. Both of them said the department is making improvements. Katz also mentioned statistically it is one of the safest departments in the country.

Gov. Malloy said, “We have to hold our own employees accountable  and that includes the commissioner, who I do hold accountable, but I`m also looking at the big picture and real progress is being made.”

In a 64-page report released Tuesday, Connecticut’s Office of the Child Advocate blamed “the utter collapse of all safeguards” for the near-starvation and abuse of a toddler who was under the care of theDepartment of Children and Families.

The report said the child welfare agency placed the boy with relatives in Groton with a history of prior abuse and neglect allegations and a criminal past.

Various workers involved with the case told investigators they had been unaware of the foster parents’ history.

The young boy was eventually removed from the relatives’ home. At 19 months old, he was so undernourished that he had poor muscle tone and head control. The boy has since recovered.

After the report’s release, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano renewed his calls for Katz to resign or for Malloy to remove her as commissioner.

In a letter to the Governor, Fasano wrote in part:

Vulnerable families should not be subject to an agency that is completely mismanaged by an individual who cares more about creating the appearance of improvement by keeping kids in unsafe conditions in order to reduce caseloads and out of home placements than about actually making progress and meeting the needs of Connecticut children.

It is your responsibility to act. And as governor, for the sake of those children currently being harmed and for future children who will become subject to DCF’s mismanagement, I hope you do act. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is about children and I am pleading with you, on behalf of all the children who don’t have a voice in our state. You must remove Commissioner Katz, acknowledge that what we’ve seen from DCF is beyond unacceptable, and pursue immediate change.

Katz said, “Will there be tragedies. It breaks my heart to say, ‘Yes.’ There will be mistakes made. Are they excuses? Absolutely not. But are they indicative of a system, of a trend of systemic failure? Absolutely not.”

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