OLR Bill Analysis

sSB 1199 (File 465, as amended by Senate "A" and "B")*

AN ACT CONCERNING THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES' DIFFERENTIAL RESPONSE AND POVERTY EXEMPTION.

SUMMARY:

This bill allows the Department of Children and Families (DCF) commissioner or a designee, when the department receives reports of alleged child abuse or neglect, to refer to community providers for family assessments and services, rather than investigate, those cases that it classifies as presenting a lower risk. 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 prohibits a child or youth from being found to be neglected solely because his or her parents are impoverished. Second, it eliminates children or youth who have been abused from the definition of “neglect.

The bill also changes the definition of “abuse” of children and youth by providing that a child or youth can be found to be abused if he or she is found to have statutorily specified adverse conditions. Under current law, a child or youth who presents with these conditions is deemed to have been abused.

The bill also removes the definition of “dependent” children in the law governing petitions for commitment to DCF.

Finally, the bill requires DCF, in its annual report on children and youth in its custody, to include specific information about children and youth who have unauthorized absences from DCF's care.

*Senate Amendment “A” (1) makes it clear that DCF classifies the abuse or neglect reports as lower risk for purposes of the differential response; (2) provides that no child can be found neglected solely on the basis of impoverishment; (3) changes the definition of abuse; and (4) makes technical, conforming changes.

*Senate Amendment “B” adds information to that which the DCF commissioner must report annually on children and youth who are runaways or homeless.

EFFECTIVE DATE: July 1, 2011; and July 1, 2012, for the duplicate definition section, the date that conforms to 2009 changes to laws affecting juveniles.

DIFFERENTIAL RESPONSE TO LOWER RISK CASES

Referrals to Family Assessments

By law, DCF classifies and immediately evaluates reports it receives 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.

If a 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 the DCF commissioner or her designee 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 records 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's 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 NEGLECT AND ABUSE, REMOVAL OF DEPENDENT, DEFINITIONS

Neglected

Currently, children or youth can be found 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 (existing law has a separate definition of abuse). And it provides that no child or youth can be found neglected solely because his or her parents or guardian are impoverished.

Abused

The bill changes how the law defines a child who may be abused. Under current child welfare law, the term “abused” means that a child or youth (1) has been inflicted with physical injury or injuries other than by accidental means; (2) has injuries that are at variance with the history given of them; or (3) is in a condition that is the result of maltreatment, including malnutrition, sexual molestation or exploitation, deprivation of necessities, emotional maltreatment or cruel punishment. The bill instead provides that a determination must be made for a child to be found abused when one of the three circumstances listed above occurs.

Dependent

The bill removes the statutory definition of a “dependent” child or youth in 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's or youth's specialized care needs. This change appears to eliminate DCF authority over claims of dependency unless they also satisfy the definition of either abuse or neglect.

ANNUAL REPORT ON CHILDREN AND YOUTH

By law, the DCF commissioner must submit an annual report to the Human Services and Children's committees indicating, for the preceding calendar year, a variety of information about children and youth in out-of-home care. Currently, the report must include (1) the number and age of children and youth who are runaways or homeless and the (2) number of days that each child or youth has been a runaway or homeless. The bill eliminates the second requirement and instead requires that the report also include:

1. the number of episodes of unauthorized absence from DCF care for a full day or more;

2. the total number of children and youth involved in such episodes and of these, how many have one, two, three, or more than three episodes;

3. the average number of children and youth who, without authorization, are absent from DCF care each day;

4. the number of children and youth having without such authorization by the following age ranges: (a) under six, (b) six to nine, (c) 10 to 12, (d) 13 to 15, and (e) 16 and 17; and

5. the number of unauthorized absences according to the duration of absences as follows: (a) less than two days, (b) three to seven days, (c) eight to 14 days, (d) 15 to 30 days, (e) 31 to 60 days, (f) 61 to 120 days, (g) 121 to 180 days, and (h) more than 180 days.

The bill also requires the report to include a description of strategies DCF employed and policies it implemented to address runaways and homelessness and reduce the number and duration of absence episodes.

COMMITTEE ACTION

Human Services Committee

Joint Favorable Substitute

Yea

18

Nay

0

(03/22/2011)