As many people have discovered, getting help for your child,
when you do not have adequate means, is not an easy task. There
is no one agency in Connecticut whose sole mission is “child
welfare.” There are many different agencies which handle child
welfare, and each handles it from its own point of view.
DCF is a child protection agency. It handles claims of child abuse and child neglect. It is not a child welfare agency. If you call DCF and claim that your child needs psychiatric help, or dental care, or newer clothes for school, and you cannot pay for it, DCF may refer you to other agencies.
Agencies that might help you with child welfare include: Social Security; DDS (formerly DMR); DMHAS (Dept of Mental Health and Addiction Services); DSS; Probate Court; Town social services; schools; churches; food banks; and others.
DCF itself may help. It offers: emergency mobile psychiatric services (EMPS) for mental health crises; individualized community-based services (ICBS) for children with significant mental health, drug, or alcohol problems; and voluntary services. Some of these agencies and services can help in some situations. But again, there is no one single coordinated child welfare agency in Connecticut.
To be fair, it must be noted that Connecticut is better than many other states in child welfare. If the federal government implements universal health care, or even socialized medicine, it remains to be seen how effective that will be for children.
you apply for voluntary services for your child, and if DCF
accepts the child into the program, then your child may get
benefits usually offered only to children who are committed to
DCF through the Juvenile Court.
Benefits can include many things: individual counseling (psychological or psychiatric), group counseling, Big Brothers or Big Sisters or other mentoring, guidance for parents, parent aides, domestic violence classes, etc. There is almost no limit. Sometimes children are placed in group homes or foster homes at State expense.
The important thing is “voluntary.” DCF does not have to accept a child for voluntary services. And if they do accept a child, the parent must cooperate, or DCF will drop the child from the voluntary services program.
Of course, what a parent means by “cooperation”, and what any particular social worker might mean by “cooperation”, are not always the same.
DCF voluntary services can be a lifeline for a family. It can lead to a needy child being referred for DMHAS services when the child turns 18. But sometimes things do not work out well. Many parents who ask State or Town agencies for help are told to call DCF for voluntary services. Sometimes, after calling voluntary services, the parents find that a Juvenile Court petition has been filed against them!
In all fairness, DCF is often given near-impossible missions. A class action suit was recently filed, claiming that DCF failed to implement policies and procedures to ensure that mentally ill youth have enough resources available to help them. The difficulty is that while DCF investigates claims of child abuse or child neglect, it does not directly have the resources to “cure” all underlying problems, especially those of mental illness, which defy even experienced psychiatrists and psychologists in many cases. Nevertheless, DCF, which is a child protection agency, and not a child welfare agency, is required to do something.
The class action suit, as settled, required DCF to spend more money on emergency mobile psychiatric services, community based placements, and training of staff and organizations. The settlement, of course, also required a bureaucracy to implement and oversee the agreement. In other words, more work for social workers who are already overburdened in many cases.
Certain individual plaintiffs also received funding for special needs trusts to benefit them.
The upshot is that DCF, like the schools, is given a mandate to do virtually everything, without the resources to accomplish that mission. Of course, some would argue that resources could be found if other DCF actions were curtailed; but that’s another story, told in many articles on this web site.
Therefore – no surprise – the squeaky wheel gets the grease. As I found in attending PPT’s, if you have a lawyer present, you are more likely to be listened to. The same often applies in voluntary services.
Do you trust the State?
In a recent case, our office averted a near-tragedy. A child had been abused and neglected by his psychotic mother. The father meant well, but was mentally unable to care for the child. As a result, the child developed severe and incurable psychological damage.
All seemed to be resolved, however, since the child was placed with his competent and loving paternal grandmother, and was receiving voluntary services from DCF.
Then the local DCF office told the grandmother that the child was “cured”, and that voluntary services were no longer needed. This kindly grandmother trusted the State worker, and it didn’t even occur to her to seek legal help. Hence, voluntary services ended.
Shortly thereafter, the child had several episodes. Further, the grandmother was getting elderly, and was no longer able to care for the child, who by now was twice as big as her. When the grandmother went back to DCF, she was told sorry, voluntary services have ended; and reapplying will be a hassle that is unlikely to be successful.
Fortunately, the grandmother and one of her responsible relatives found us. We assembled the entire case history from DCF and prior service providers, wrote to the Commissioner, and demanded action. Despite much stonewalling, we did not give up.
Finally, DCF filed a petition to get the case into Juvenile Court, based on actions of the father, and voluntary services were reinstated. Even better, we were able to ensure that the child would be transitioned into DMHAS services when he reached 18.
That in fact happened. The young adult man is now receiving the State services that he needs. Without intervention, his future was unpredictable, as he has severe psychological needs that no family member was able to care for.
You might ask why voluntary services were stopped in the first place. The answer is, as it always is: money. The DCF office was under pressure to cut costs, and bulldozing a sweet old lady who was unlikely to make waves was an obvious place to start.Do you trust the State? Perhaps; until you have reason not to.