PA 12-82—sHB 5217

Select Committee on Children

Human Services Committee

Government Administration and Elections Committee

Judiciary Committee

AN ACT CONCERNING REVISIONS TO STATUTES CONCERNING THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES

SUMMARY: This act permits the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to file adoption petitions in the Superior Court, instead of the probate court, when the child's biological parents' rights have been terminated by that court. However, the law, unchanged by the act, still requires these petitions to be filed in probate court. ( 143 of PA 12-1, June 12 Special Session makes an exception to this requirement. )

The act sets up a parallel process for Superior Court adoption proceedings. It requires that all of the studies and other court documents filed in the termination proceedings be made available to the court and requires DCF to prepare a social study similar to what it currently prepares for the probate court. The study is admissible in evidence, and the person preparing it is subject to examination in court.

The act requires the Superior Court to (1) set times and dates for hearings on these petitions and (2) provide notice to the parties to the agreement and certain others. It entitles the adoptive parents to access records and other information relating to the child's history, provided these records are disclosed in accordance with confidentiality laws. The act also eliminates a requirement relative to probate court adoptions.

The act also makes several changes in other laws governing DCF. It:

1. changes the appointing authority and composition of the State Advisory Council on Children and Families and increases the number of consecutive terms members may serve;

2. directs the DCF commissioner, instead of the council, to appoint certain members of the Children's Behavioral Health Advisory Committee;

3. allows additional DCF records to be disclosed without the consent of the person who is the subject of the record;

4. places additional limits on how DCF records that are legally disclosable can be further disclosed;

5. requires individuals who falsely report child abuse or neglect to be referred to the chief state's attorney for criminal investigation; and

6. exempts DCF attorneys from having to pay certain court fees.

The act renames:

1. Riverview Hospital for Children and Youth (which is on the campus of Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown) the Albert J. Solnit Children's Center—South Campus and

2. Connecticut Children's Place in East Windsor the Albert J. Solnit Children's Center—North Campus ( 6-7).

Finally, the act makes technical changes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2012, except that a technical change related to DCF regulations for reports of child abuse and neglect is effective upon passage.

SUPERIOR COURT AUTHORIZED TO FINALIZE ADOPTIONS ( 16-19)

The act permits the DCF commissioner to file an adoption petition along with a written adoption agreement in the Superior Court when (1) that court has granted a petition to terminate the parental rights, (2) the court has appointed DCF as statutory parent, and (3) the appeal or period to appeal the termination has expired. The petition must be filed in the same court that terminated the parental rights. Under prior law, these adoption agreements could be filed only in the probate court. Under the act, they can be filed in Superior Court, but still must be filed in probate court. ( 143 of PA 12-1, June 12 Special Session makes an exception to this requirement. )

Studies

The act requires all social studies, psychological reports, and court documents previously filed in the termination proceeding to be available to the court, subject to the rules of evidence, for the court's review and consideration in acting on the adoption petition. The court must protect the biological relatives' confidentiality, to the extent possible, unless the information was previously disclosed.

The act requires DCF to prepare and submit with its petition a social study regarding the proposed adoption. This study must include at least enough information as required in reports currently filed with the probate court in adoptions under its jurisdiction. This includes enough information about the child and the parties to the adoption agreement, including their physical and mental status, to enable the court to determine whether the adoption is in the child's best interest. Any studies and reports filed with the petition or afterwards must be available to the adoptive parents.

Any study or report is admissible in evidence subject to the right of any interested party to require that the person making it appear as a witness, if available, and be subject to examination. Here again, the court must protect the biological relatives' confidentiality, to the extent possible, unless the information was previously disclosed.

Hearings and Court Actions

The act requires the Superior Court, once it receives such petitions and social studies, to set a time and date for a hearing and give reasonable notice to (1) DCF and all other parties of the agreement; (2) the child, if he or she is over age 12; (3) the child's attorney; and (4) any other parties that the court requires.

Before acting on the petition, the court can continue the matter for further investigation and report, issue orders of notice, or take other action. At the hearing, the court can deny the petition or, if it is satisfied that the adoption is in the child's best interest, enter a decree approving the adoption.

Records

Under the act, adoptive parents are entitled to receive copies of the records and other information relating to the child's history that the DCF commissioner maintains. Such records must be edited, if required by law, to protect the identity of the biological parents and any other person whose identity is confidential.

The act provides that records of juvenile matter cases involving adoption proceedings, or any part of these records, are confidential and can be disclosed only in accordance with the law governing the availability and confidentiality of adoption records.

Elimination of Requirement that Probate Court Adoption Applications Be Signed

The act eliminates (1) a requirement that probate court adoption applications be signed by one or more of the parties to the adoption agreement and (2) the authority these parties have to waive notice of the hearing on the agreement.

ADVISORY COUNCIL ON CHILDREN AND FAMILIES ( 2)

By law, this council is composed of 19 members. The act decreases the number of gubernatorial appointments and gives these appointments to DCF Regional Advisory Councils (which advise the DCF commissioner on service development and delivery in those areas). It also makes changes to the council's composition, as shown in Table 1.

Table 1: State Advisory Council on Children and Families

Composition

Prior Law

The Act

Gubernatorial appointments

19

13

Representatives of young people, parents, and others interested in service delivery to children and youth

Balance of council after at least nine designated appointments

7

Child care professionals

At least 5

At least 2 (in fact, it cannot be more than two)

Parents, foster parents, or family members of children receiving DCF behavioral health, child welfare, or juvenile services

At least 10

At least 4

Regional Advisory Council appointments

   

Members representing the councils

0

6

The act also increases from two to three the number of consecutive two-year terms council members may serve.

Under prior law, no more than half of the council members could receive income from (1) the private practice of or (2) any public agency that delivered mental health, substance abuse, child abuse prevention and treatment, or child welfare or juvenile services. Under the act, this limitation does not apply between October 1, 2012 and October 1, 2014.

CHILDREN'S BEHAVIORAL HEALTH ADVISORY COMMITTEE ( 3)

The Children's Behavioral Health Advisory Committee promotes and enhances the provision of children's behavioral health services in the state. Its members include state agency heads and public members appointed by the governor and legislative leaders. Previously, the State Advisory Council on Children and Families appointed 16 members. The act directs the DCF commissioner to make these appointments instead.

The act also requires the council to submit its (1) annual report on local systems of care and practice standards for state-funded behavioral health programs and (2) biennial recommendations (in odd-numbered years) concerning children's behavioral health to the DCF commissioner as well as the State Advisory Council on Children and Families.

DCF RECORDS ( 4 & 5)

Additional Disclosures

DCF records are generally confidential but can be disclosed (1) with the consent of the person who is the subject of them or (2) without consent under certain circumstances. By law, when records are legally disclosed, they cannot be further disclosed without consent except (1) when the disclosure pertains to the licensure of a child care facility and is otherwise permitted by DCF law or (2) by a court order. The act allows further disclosure when the law otherwise provides for it.

Disclosures Allowed Without Consent

The law requires disclosure without the person's consent to the chief public defender (CPD) or her designee. The act provides that such disclosures are allowed for purposes of competent representation by the attorneys with whom the CPD contracts (1) to provide legal and guardian ad litem services to the records' subjects and (2) for ensuring accurate payments for services these attorneys provide. (Currently, the office of the CPD is consolidating the operations of the former Commission on Child Protection, whose duties included hiring attorneys to represent families in these proceedings and which was eliminated with the passage of PA 11-51 and merged into that agency. )

The act also requires DCF to disclose records to school superintendents for the purpose of determining a potential employee's suitability for a job in a public school. By law, applicants for public school positions must submit to both criminal history record and, in most cases, DCF child abuse registry, checks. The act also requires record disclosures to (1) public school superintendents, (2) the executive director or other head of a public or private institution for children providing their care, or (3) a private school with respect to the laws governing alleged child abuse or neglect involving school personnel (see BACKGROUND).

By law, DCF can disclose information without consent to DMV for the purpose of conducting criminal history background checks (which include checks of the DCF abuse registry) for prospective school bus drivers. Under prior law, the information DCF could disclose included that related to abuse or neglect investigations and information in the child abuse and neglect registry. The act permits DCF to disclose information in the registry only, provided the disclosure is made in accordance with the law, which generally prohibits disclosure until an alleged perpetrator of abuse or neglect has exhausted appeals of a child abuse or neglect substantiation.

FALSE REPORTS OF ABUSE OR NEGLECT ( 10)

By law, anyone who knowingly makes a false report of child abuse or neglect can be fined up to $2,000, imprisoned for up to one year, or both. The act requires that anyone who is alleged to have made such a false report be referred to the office of the chief state's attorney for purposes of a criminal investigation. Reports of child abuse and neglect typically go to either DCF's hotline or the local police.

DCF EXEMPTION FROM COURT FILING FEES ( 14)

The act exempts DCF attorneys acting in their official capacity from having to pay a variety of court filing fees. Prior law already exempted other enumerated state agencies' attorneys from paying these fees.

BACKGROUND

Related Law

PA 11-93 expanded the law governing the reporting and investigation of suspected child abuse and neglect, with particular focus on school employees who are the alleged perpetrators and the response of local or regional school districts and private schools and facilities.

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