Two managers for the Department of Children and Families have been fired for failing to remove two young children placed with a couple in Plainfield – a husband convicted in the 1990s of raping a child, and a wife who was on the child-abuse registry for a previous DCF case.
Managers Leslie Roy and Linda Lukin, who worked in the Willimantic regional office, were fired Monday, according to records obtained Tuesday by The Courant. Discipline is pending against a third DCF employee in the Willimantic office, state sources said. Lawyers for Roy and Lukin said both women are appealing, and they described their clients as exemplary employees with more than 25 years of service.
Despite receiving a complaint on DCF's child-abuse hotline last spring from someone concerned about the safety of the two children, and then learning about the Plainfield couple's background, caseworkers never removed the children. Four months went by before the director of the regional DCF office learned of the situation and had the two children — a 1-year-old and an infant — taken out of the home, DCF officials said. The children were not harmed.
The Plainfield couple had been seeking guardianship of the children, apparently because of abuse or neglect on the part of the children's biological parents.
"[Y]ou failed to recognize the serious risk of associated with this situation, failed to take immediate steps to ensure the safety of the children, and instead allowed the children to remain in this arrangement," stated a portion of the termination letter to both managers, written by DCF's human-resources director.
"The expectation in this case would have been for you to immediately take action with the goal of the children being removed from the home," both letters stated.
Roy had said during DCF's internal investigation that she had consulted with department lawyers and clinical staff members about the case while the children were still with the Plainfield couple, according to DCF records.
That "does not alleviate your managerial responsibility to override the improper decisions made in this case, in the interest of the safety of the children involved," Roy's termination letter said.
Lukin's letter noted that she went on vacation shortly after the case was assigned to her, as did another DCF supervisor involved with the case.
Lukin earned $105,922 per year; Roy earned $107,937 annually.
Roy's lawyer, Richard Rochlin of West Hartford, said Roy has a spotless record and will "vigorously challenge the termination" before the state Employees Review Board, which hears appeals filed by managers.
"This is the most mischaracterized termination letter I've ever seen," Rochlin said Tuesday. "Leslie consulted with the in-house lawyer and the in-house specialist for a case she had in a supervisory capacity for 17 days. All of them indicated they agreed with her, including the children's pediatrician, that the children were thriving, that there was no risk to the children, and that nothing could be done legally to remove the children from the home."
Lukin's lawyer, Gregg Adler of Hartford, said as many as six DCF social workers, a psychologist, and a lawyer were involved with the case. He said the husband was clinically evaluated and deemed to be an extremely low risk to re-offend. He said case workers made several visits to the home.
As program managers, the women supervised social workers.
"Her termination is outrageous," Adler said of Lukin, adding that she will also pursue an appeal before the review board. "Linda was a fabulous DCF employee. There was an unfair rush to judgment here. It was not as if the situation [in the Plainfield household] was being ignored."
DCF officials said that when the director of the regional office learned of the arrangement, the children were immediately removed.
The husband, Charles W. Staples, 54, had been convicted of first-degree sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor and was released from prison in 2001, records show. A previous case of child-abuse had been substantiated against his wife, DCF officials said.
Katz said Tuesday that the firing of the two managers was not an easy decision.
"I know it takes a toll – not just on the staff immediately affected but on the office in question as well as the entire workforce, " Katz said. "But … we must place the children we serve above everything else. In this case, our policies and expectations were clear. Safety factors were ignored, and we must be and are responsible for taking the necessary actions."
Rochlin said he thinks Katz is trying to divert attention from a string of troubling child-protective cases over the last year.
"We are confident that a public hearing which allows us the ability to examine some of the agency's recent shortfalls under oath will expose these terminations as nothing more than self-serving political gamesmanship. We look forward to that opportunity," Rochlin said.