State officials and parent advocates gave different versions Tuesday of how often, and why, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) takes custody of children with severe behavioral health problems – and whether the practice should continue. Advocates, including a group of adoptive parents, told the legislature’s Committee on Children that a proposed bill that would prohibit DCF from “requesting, recommending or requiring” that parents relinquish their custodial rights when seeking mental health treatment for their children is needed to stop a practice known as ‘trading custody for care.’ The bill, drafted by state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, was prompted by an October C-HIT story that described DCF’s use of “uncared for” custody petitions against parents who could not manage their children at home and insisted on specialized residential care. In testimony Tuesday, DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said the agency resorts to taking over custody only in rare cases in which parents refuse to take their children home from inpatient settings or “will not cooperate” with clinician-recommended in-home or community-based treatment services. “We disagree with the notion that DCF requires parents to completely relinquish custody of their children” to receive suitable behavioral health care, Katz said. She acknowledged that the agency has sharply reduced the number of children it places in residential treatment.
In the last few years, groups that previously hadn’t worked together are joining forces to combat human trafficking. Yes, human trafficking right here in Connecticut. Those entities include agencies such as the Department of Children and Families, which you might imagine would work against trafficking, as well as groups such as the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut and the Connecticut Lodging Association. Truck drivers and motel workers see trafficking firsthand, and they need training to recognize it and act appropriately. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, an anti-trafficking hotline, has received some 730 calls since 2007 that referenced Connecticut.
The growing number of children and teens exposed to traumatic events in everyday life has forced the state’s crisis intervention teams to respond to a broader range of behavioral and mental health issues, and those teams often serve as a bridge until at-risk youth find appropriate outpatient or inpatient services. Sixty-four percent of Connecticut’s youth who use Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Services (EMPS), the state’s mobile crisis intervention team, have experienced one or more traumatic incidents, such as domestic violence, cyber-bullying, physical assaults, or gang warfare, experts report. Research shows childhood exposure to violence, physical or sexual abuse, and other traumatic events can cause chronic health and behavioral health problems, and such exposure is associated with increased involvement with the child welfare and criminal justice systems.
“The number of children who have been exposed to trauma is a significant concern. It’s a common occurrence among young people,” said Jeffrey Vanderploeg, vice president for mental health initiatives for the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut (CHDI). He is director of the EMPS Performance Improvement Center, which is housed at CHDI.
A preliminary review by the Office of the Child Advocate of conditions at the state’s controversial locked treatment program for troubled girls in Middletown raises concerns about the improper use of restraints, inadequate access to mental health services, and inconsistent reporting of abuse and neglect. The report, which was distributed to members of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS) Advisory Committee and obtained by the Connecticut Health I-Team, cites concerns that youths in both the 12-bed girls’ Pueblo Unit and the larger CJTS facility for boys have been subjected to inappropriate or unsafe restraint, including the use of “prone restraint” on youths with respiratory problems. Prone restraint means that a person is laid in a facedown position. “I know that DCF (the Department of Children and Families) shares our concern regarding the use of potentially dangerous restraint for children with contraindicated medical conditions,” Child Advocate Sarah Eagan wrote. “Our review of these incident reports raises questions regarding the adequacy of staff training on the use of restraint (and de-escalation strategies), and the effective dissemination of critical information regarding children’s special health care needs.”
The report echoes concerns about the CJTS’ use of restraint that were cited in a report a decade ago by the former child advocate and attorney general’s office. The new review comes just six months after the girls’ facility opened — and as state agencies seek to reduce the unnecessary use of restraint among children.
If Connecticut officials are going to continue to allow schools to use seclusion as a behavioral intervention, can’t they at least make sure that seclusion rooms have chairs? That was the understated, soft-spoken plea from a 19-year-old student named Laquandria, who told a gathering of state agency leaders, educators and parents Thursday that she had been secluded and restrained multiple times while attending public schools and special education programs in Connecticut. “The walls weren’t padded, there was nowhere to sit – I felt like an animal,” said Laquandria, whose last name was withheld because of her family’s involvement with the Department of Children and Families. She is now finishing her high school education at a Hamden residential program. “I feel like, you know,” she told the assembled state officials, “we should at least have somewhere to sit.”
Her comments punctuated a three-hour forum on the use of restraints and seclusion in state schools, convened by the Office of the Child Advocate and the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities.