Office Of The Child Advocate
At a Glance
JEANNE MILSTEIN, Child Advocate
Mickey Kramer, Associate Child Advocate
Julie McKenna, Assistant Child Advocate
Moira O’Neill, Assistant Child Advocate
Heather Panciera, Assistant Child Advocate
Faith Vos Winkel, Assistant Child Advocate
Denise Scruggs, Administrative Assistant
Janet Santiago, Processing Tech
Statutory authority - CGS §46a-13k, et seq.
Central office - 18-20 Trinity Street,
5th floor, Hartford, CT 06106
Number of employees - 8
Recurring operating expenses - $623,204
The Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) speaks for Connecticut’s children. The OCA was created in 1995 to be an independent voice for children rather than an administrator of programs. OCA’s mission is to oversee the care and protection of Connecticut’s children and to advocate for their well-being. OCA is committed to ensuring that all children receive the care and supports they need.
The statutory responsibilities include evaluating the procedures for and the delivery of state-funded services to children; investigating inquiries or complaints regarding children; recommending changes in state policy; conducting programs of public education; legislative advocacy and proposing systemic reform; reviewing conditions and procedures of all public and private facilities where children are placed; providing training and technical assistance to children’s attorneys; initiating or intervening in court cases on behalf of children; serving on the Child Fatality Review Panel and conducting a fatality review on the circumstances of the death of a child due to unexpected or unexplained causes and to facilitate development of prevention strategies to address identified trends and patterns of risk and to improve coordination of services for children and families in the state.
During its eight-year history, OCA has brought about significant change for Connecticut families and children. OCA helps families by educating and informing them about services for children, coaching them through various public systems, reviewing individual cases, advocating for children at risk, and addressing broad public policy issues. These reviews and investigations not only help the OCA address individual problems, but also assist the OCA in identifying the systems issues that need to be addressed. The activities of the OCA benefit the children of this state, and serve as a catalyst for policy and legislative change.
During the reporting period, OCA succeeded in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, Civ. No. 302CV429 (RNC), being granted intervener status in the case of WR v. Dunbar, Commissioner of Department of Children and Families. OCA will advocate that children should be placed in the least restrictive environment. The lawsuit is pending.
OCA also obtained intervener status in the case of Karen L. v. HealthNet. This lawsuit was recently dismissed by the court. However, OCA continues to monitor this issue of restrictive access to treatment and medication, as the question is one of continuing challenge for children in placement.
In March 2004, OCA announced a comprehensive joint investigation with the Office of the Attorney General to look into the woeful circumstances of mental health services and health insurance for children, including but not limited to issues of availability, access to the most appropriate medical care, cost, and cost-shifting. This investigation will be ongoing throughout the next several months and reflects, in part, OCA’s commitment to deal with the struggle of state systems to adequately provide mental health services for children in placement.
During this reporting period, OCA, together with the DCF Court Monitor’s Office and the Emily J. Court monitor, has vigorously advocated for some concrete and realizable short- and long-term solutions to the crisis of the lack of services for girls. We have worked closely with the Commissioner of DCF and the Director of the Court Support Services Division to forge priorities and plans to meet the needs of these girls.
OCA is currently involved, as well, in review of length-of-stay issues in Emergency Adolescent Shelters to determine, among other things, whether planning and placement issues are being effectively addressed and whether children’s psychological, physical safety and health needs are being met. This review is ongoing and in the early stages.
OCA continues to monitor and review all congregate care and children’s facilities and to intervene, where necessary and appropriate, to obtain and retain supports and services.
The Child Advocate continues to serve as chairperson of the Child Fatality Review Panel (CFRP). CFRP investigated 75 child fatalities, which included 23 accidental deaths, 2 suicides and 9 homicides. On February 18, 2004, the CFRP released its report of the in-depth investigation of the death of Makayla K., whose teenage death from alcohol intake and the use of the drug “Ecstasy” exposed a child whose mental health needs fell through the cracks of public systems and private providers.
During the reporting period, OCA has begun vigorous oversight in meaningful review of what appears to be significant systemic problems with the delivery of special education services in public schools throughout the state. We intuited that the delivery of special education systems, programs and protections is uneven and unequal in the public schools. Our oversight, thus far, has borne out that initial impression. OCA will continue to monitor this situation and advocate for quality and equal quantity of program content.
In accordance with CGS §46a-13l (a)(3), the OCA must review complaints of persons concerning the actions of any state or municipal agency providing services to children. OCA continues work to refine our database and its usefulness to our mission and the mission of other agencies providing services to children. OCA has received over 1,500 telephone calls, which resulted in over 2,000 referrals to other agencies, systems or information sources.
In September 2003, OCA, jointly with the Office of the Attorney General, released its report of its investigation into DCF Abuse/Neglect investigation practices.
During the reporting period, the Child Advocate had an active and extensive legislative agenda, largely concerned with out-of-home placements, particularly in residential treatment facilities.
OCA proposed four pieces of legislation concerning out of home placement of children. None of the raised bills passed. In addition, OCA supported several pieces of legislation proposed by others. The legislature did not act on any of these proposals in this past session.
OCA has worked vigorously with DCF to promote policy and regulatory changes to enhance the care received by children under the care of DCF. The Child Advocate is promoting with DCF a policy of “Child Dignity” to avoid any number of humiliating and crushing circumstances in which children find themselves in when under the state’s care.
One of OCA’s mandates is to take appropriate steps to advise the public of the services of the OCA. OCA’s website came online in early 2004. It provides traditional information about OCA, as well as direct links to dozens of other websites concerning children’s legal, social, medical, family and educational issues. OCA also began publication of its Newsletter, “Speaking Up for Connecticut’s Children”, which is available online and in hardcopy form. The newsletter highlights current investigations, reports on our legislative agenda, letters from children and the activities of the office.
The Office of the Child Advocate is committed to regular reviews of its current operating procedures aimed at reducing waste and increasing efficiency. The OCA has implemented operating policies and procedures and has computerized office operations. There is more reliance on e-mail than regular mail in an effort to reduce waste of paper. We have met with Department of Administrative Services and have implemented steps to further reduce waste, including more frequent use of our website to distribute reports.
The Child Advocate named the following priorities for the next fiscal year:
• Continue oversight and ongoing monitoring of institutions. It is critical that OCA continue to visit, assess, and monitor the appropriateness, safety and quality of supports and services to children in all DCF owned or contracted congregate care units. We are particularly concerned about facilities that are not licensed or under the regular scrutiny of credible regulatory entities. CJTS and the consequences of the Long Lane School closing will remain a high priority.
• Complete joint investigation with the Attorney General on circumstances of children’s mental health and provide recommendation for change.
• Advocate for stable and reliable services for girls in the juvenile justice system. The situation for girls has worsened since the poorly planned closing of Long Lane School.
• Continue and expand vigilant oversight of children placed in residential facilities. We remain extremely concerned about the numbers of children who languish in residential care. We are particularly alarmed that record numbers of Connecticut children are placed out-of-state.
• Investigate the treatment progress of children who have been in institutional settings for over one year.
• Identify in a timely manner the behavioral/mental health/treatment/ social service needs of children so they do not end up in the juvenile justice system. OCA is concerned that a primarily punitive approach/model of reacting to high-risk juvenile behavior has developed. OCA wants instead to focus on addressing and treating the underlying issues that have contributed to these kinds of negative behaviors. These efforts include expansion of truancy reduction programs, multi-dimensional treatment foster care, multi-systemic therapy and employment programs.
• Complete investigation of the care and access to resources for children with special health care needs. We are alarmed at the apparent substantiation of services and representation of children with disabilities and complex medical conditions. We will endeavor to complete this multi-system investigation and make specific recommendations to protect children and their human and civil rights.
The Office of the Child Advocate has developed an affirmative action plan which complies with Connecticut General Statutes § 46a-70 through 46a-78.
As mandated by Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 46a-13k(f) and 46a-13q(a), the Office of the Child Advocate submitted an annual report for the period of July 1, 2003 through June 30, 2004.