The Department of Children and Families has been on the rocks for years. The complaints are familiar: social workers stretched too thin, abuse going unnoticed, corruption within the department, expensive programs that don't work, terrible planning and so on. Now lawmakers, faced with the prospect of sending yet more money DCF's way to close and replace the failed Juvenile Training School in Middletown, are starting to show their frustration:
"You have been a drain and a bloodsucker on the budget," state Rep. Marie Lopez Kirkley-Bey, D-Hartford, told DCF's leadership.
"If I had what it cost for four of your kids, we could have funded summer youth employment programs throughout the state and we could have helped thousands of kids," [Kirkley-Bey] said.
"We've already spent $50 million, and now they're asking us to spend another $50 million," said state Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven. "We're just spending money on top of money without doing anything that is really impacting the kids."
"I have not been persuaded this will work," [State Sen. Mary Ann] Handley said of the training school plan. "I'm concerned about us going blindly into another program and making the same mistakes all over again."
"I agree with you that the [training school] is not user-friendly for the population you are dealing with," [State Rep. DebraLee] Hovey said. "But we're also dealing with huge financial issues in Connecticut and people don't understand how this debacle occurred. There are a lot of us sitting back here saying there are things that make you go, `Hmmmm.'" (Poitras)
It's hard to blame them. DCF always seems just on the brink of either substantial reform or absolute disaster. It has thankfully avoided the latter, but just as little progress has been made toward the former. Social workers are by and large excellent, generous people. But the agency they work for has consistently failed them, time and again.
It's wise of the legislature to really consider any plans for either renovating or replacing the training school very carefully before proceeding. While they're at it, they may want to consider renovating or replacing DCF, as well.
Poitras, Colin. "Rell Plan Draws Doubt." Hartford Courant 3 August, 2005.