HARTFORD — The state's child-protection agency fumbled the initial reports in a case that ended with a toddler's death in Plymouth in 2014 and must improve the way it gauges the risk to children posed by troubled parents, a Republican senator on the committee on children said Thursday.
Two-year-old Londyn Raine Sack died in October 2014 of an overdose of her mother's prescription drugs. The mother, Rebekah Robinson, 32, was arrested in June 2015 and charged with manslaughter and multiple counts of risk of injury to a minor. She is jailed on $750,000 bail and is awaiting trial.
A scathing report by the state child advocate's office in December outlined missteps by the Department of Children and Families, including that Plymouth police had called DCF's abuse hotline to report concerns about Robinson's children before Londyn's death, but hotline workers rejected the request to investigate.
"Obviously, the Londyn calls were misassessed and sent to a lower track," Sen. Henri Martin of Bristol, the ranking Republican on the committee on children, said at a meeting of the panel attended by DCF Commissioner Joette Katz and her management team.
"We had [red] flags raising throughout this case that didn't get back to DCF," said Martin, noting that Robinson missed mental-health appointments at a private agency after DCF stopped its ongoing supervision of her.
"There is a lack of communication with the private programs," said Martin.
Child Advocate Sarah Eagan had reported that Robinson had a child-welfare history in North Carolina before moving back to Connecticut in 2013, and that DCF had logged five complaints against her between 2013 and 2015 when she was living in Plymouth.
The Republican minority leader, Sen. Leonard Fasano of North Haven, called for Katz's resignation following Eagan's report on Londyn's death, as he had after revelations about an overreliance on restraints and seclusion at Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown. Katz was appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2011.
Katz and Deputy DCF Commissioner Michael Williams disagreed with Martin's portrayal of the Londyn Sack case. Katz said that in the vast majority of instances, the department's decision to place a family on a low-risk track — that is, to offer services to the family rather than conduct a forensic investigation and possibly remove the child — turns out to be the correct choice.
But Katz did order an internal investigation after Eagan's report on Londyn's death. DCF officials said they are working to refine the methods by which case workers at the abuse hotline, called the Careline, screen and respond to calls.
Also Thursday, DCF officials said they are taking steps to comply with Malloy's plan to close the controversial Connecticut Juvenile Training School by July 2018, rounding up national experts to help the department replace the sprawling juvenile jail with smaller regional treatment centers, and looking for any surplus state property that might be used for those centers. There are 50 boys at the school, down from 140 last year. Still, the high-security compound has cost well over $30 million a year to run.
At a meeting of the legislature's appropriations committee earlier Thursday, Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, said that with more children being kept at home or placed with relatives in the community, it is crucial that DCF avoid further cuts to community and in-home services. DCF is facing $28 million in cuts, but Flexer said the agency should look elsewhere for savings, because the community supports are helping to keep children out of more costly group care.