Sarah Eagan, the state's child advocate, released her long-awaited report on 2013 child fatalities. It includes this chilling conclusion: "2013 was an unprecedented year for infant and toddler homicide." The 34-page report highlights fatal failures of the Department of Children and Families that are condemning some babies to death.
Eagan makes recommendations on improvements in DCF procedures. The essential one, however, is missing. DCF Commissioner Joette Katz must be fired. Katz's failures at the head of DCF are manifest throughout the disturbing report.
More child fatalities have been the cost of Katz's emphasis on what is euphemistically called "family preservation." Katz had no experience in leading a large organization and had been a cosseted member of the state's judiciary for more than two decades before Gov. Dannel P. Malloy chose her for what has become a vanity production at the head of one of the state's more important agencies.
The child advocate's report highlights the stories of infants and toddlers whom DCF should have protected but did not. A number of these tragedies follow similar paths. In some of them, a newborn screens positive for illegal drugs. The source can only be the baby's mother. The child is sent home with the mother, and some DCF monitoring and services follow. Or they do not. Mothers and fathers and boyfriends who are clearly using illegal drugs may not show up for follow-up drug tests. They may fail to participate in drug programs. Mothers are often involved with some horrible man who also is using illegal drugs.
Parents and boyfriends frequently have mental health issues. Those are sometimes only discovered after the baby's death. Ineffective investigations of the baby's living conditions are a serious problem. Eagan's summaries of the 2013 child homicides show a repetition of factors that DCF's leaders must know are warning signs for fatal danger — signs that ought to carry more weight than the fashion for sending children to their killing home.
Consider the short life of Baby AB, who died at 20 months from child abuse. He had been treated at a hospital in 2012 for serious injuries. DCF opened an investigation, and an expert determined the injuries to be not accidental. The case was closed by DCF "one month later despite the severity of Baby AB's injuries and remaining questions about the circumstances surrounding the abuse." DCF offered Baby AB's mother some day care subsidies, got the mother to agree that only she and her mother would watch Baby AB unsupervised, and then closed the case.
DCF did not keep Baby AB's "case open for ongoing treatment or additional referrals." Baby AB died the next year "from blunt force trauma while under the care of his father."
Baby CS died at 2 months. The infant's mother had a history of drug abuse and mental health issues. The baby died "while co-sleeping with his mother." Records indicate that a visiting nurse and a DCF worker had been to the home and offered services. "The family's case was slated for closure at the time of the child's death."
Eagan writes, "When Baby CS died, police visiting the scene called in a report to DCF alleging that the baby's home conditions were deplorable." No one at DCF had noticed that, or if they had, they decided to ignore it.
We know what the risk factors are for abuse, neglect and death. Eagan identifies what DCF leaders should already know about those risks: parents with a history of DCF involvement, drug abuse, a history of domestic violence, known mental health problems, boyfriends with some of those same issues.
Gov. Malloy's office and his minions like to toss various forms of the word "shame" at those who criticize the unpopular leader. With their promiscuous use of the word, they have diminished its meaning in state politics. There is, however, real shame to be assigned in state government. You will find it in Eagan's report. Page after page of it.
Signs of infants and toddlers in danger were minimized or ignored. This year, Connecticut is on track for even more child fatalities that could be prevented. This is Connecticut's shame. It requires competent leadership at DCF. That can only happen with Joette Katz's departure.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at email@example.com.