OLR Bill Analysis
AN ACT CONCERNING THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES' DIFFERENTIAL RESPONSE AND POVERTY EXEMPTION.
This bill allows the Department of Children and Families (DCF), when it receives reports of alleged child abuse or neglect, to refer to community providers for family assessments and services those cases that it classifies as presenting a lower risk rather than investigate them. It permits the DCF commissioner to establish such a differential response system for the type of referral the bill authorizes. Under the bill, when warranted, cases that are referred to family assessments can be referred for standard child protection services and vice versa.
The bill modifies the definition of “neglect” as it applies to the child welfare law in two ways. First, it narrows the definition so that it does not include certain acts against a child or youth resulting from impoverishment. Second, it eliminates children who have been abused.
The bill also removes the definition of “dependent” children in the law governing petitions for commitment to DCF, but it does not eliminate the term from the commitment statutes.
EFFECTIVE DATE: July 1, 2011 and July 1, 2012 for the second of the double definition sections (the date 2009 changes to the definitions section become effective).
DIFFERENTIAL RESPONSE TO LOWER RISK CASES
Referrals to Family Assessments
By law, when DCF receives reports of child abuse or neglect and the alleged perpetrator is a person (1) responsible for the child's health, welfare, or care; (2) given access to the child by the person responsible for the child; or (3) entrusted with the child's care, DCF classifies the report and immediately evaluates it.
If the report contains sufficient information to warrant an investigation and indicates that there is imminent risk of physical harm to the child or some other emergency, DCF must begin the investigation within two hours. For all other reports, it has 72 hours to start investigating.
Differential Response Program
Under the bill, if DCF classifies a report as lower-risk, it can refer the case for family assessment and services and not investigate. But such reports can be referred any time after that for standard child protective services (presumably after an investigation) if concerns for the child's safety are evident. Reports referred for standard child protective services can likewise be referred for family assessment and services at any time DCF determines that there is a lower risk to the child.
The bill permits the commissioner to establish a differential response program in which DCF can make referrals to appropriate community providers for family assessment and services, either when DCF decides not to investigate a case that it classifies as presenting a lower risk or, if it decides to investigate, at any time during the investigation. These referrals can only occur when there has been an initial safety assessment of the family's circumstances and criminal background checks have been performed on all adults involved in the report.
The commissioner can adopt regulations to establish a method for DCF to (1) monitor the progress of the children and families referred to the community providers and (2) set standards for reopening investigations. (The bill appears to require the regulations to set standards for reopening any DCF investigation, not just those related to differential response cases. )
Disclosure of Records
The bill requires DCF, subject to the law governing the confidentiality of its records, to disclose all relevant information it possesses concerning the child and family, including previous “child protection activity,” to each provider that receives a report from DCF for use in assessing, diagnosing, and treating the family's unique needs and the prevention of future reports.
Each provider receiving a report, consistent with the confidentiality law, must disclose to DCF all relevant information it gathers during this process. DCF may use the information only to monitor and ensure the child or children's continued safety and well-being.
In general, records maintained by DCF are confidential and may not be disclosed unless the department receives written consent from the person named in the record to do so. But the law permits disclosure without consent in a number of situations, when it is in that person's best interest.
REVISING DEFINITION OF NEGLECT AND REMOVAL OF DEFINITION OF DEPENDENT
Currently, children or youth can be considered to be “neglected” if they (1) have been abandoned; (2) are being denied proper care and attention; (3) are allowed to live under conditions, circumstances, or associations injurious to their well-being; or (4) have been abused. The bill eliminates abuse as a possible basis for finding a child or youth neglected (a separate definition of abuse remains), and permits the finding of any of the other three as a basis for neglect only when the reason for their occurrence is something other than impoverishment.
The bill removes the statutory definition of a “dependent” child or youth for juvenile court matters. These children and youth are defined in current law as those whose home is a suitable one for them but for the financial inability of their parent, guardian, or other person maintaining the home to provide for the child or youth's specialized care needs.
Because the bill does not eliminate references to dependent children and youth in the law governing petitions for commitment, it is unclear whether a petition for commitment to DCF could still be brought for children found to be dependent.
Human Services Committee
Joint Favorable Substitute