HARTFORD, Conn. — The state’s child advocate on Tuesday blamed “the utter collapse of all safeguards” for the abuse and near-starvation of a toddler who was under the care of the Department of Children and Families.
A scathing report by the Office of the Child Advocate outlines how the child welfare agency last year placed a boy, a little more than a year old at the time, in Groton with relatives who had a history of prior abuse and neglect allegations, a criminal past, no employment income and suspended driver’s licenses.
Various workers involved with the boy’s case told investigators they had been unaware of the foster parents’ history. Records also show caseworkers rarely saw the boy awake.
During the five months the boy lived with the relatives, he received almost no medical care or developmental support. Referred to in the report by the pseudonym Dylan, he later was described by a new relative foster mother as “just skin and bones.”
Then 19 months old, Dylan was unable to walk, talk or feed himself. He was so undernourished he had poor muscle tone and head control. There were broken bones in his arms, a burn, multiple bruises, abrasions and sparse hair on the back of his head, a sign he had been lying on his back for significant periods of time.
“Dylan’s near-death from starvation and abuse — a stunning event in a state-monitored placement for a child — could occur only as a result of the utter collapse of all safeguards,” the child advocate’s report said.
The Department of Children and Families said the boy has recovered from his injuries. But Child Advocate Sarah Eagan noted how he is living in his fifth foster home and still faces many obstacles.
“He has had no stability and no permanency in life. He’s 2. And that has created a very painful trajectory for him that will take a lot of work to rectify,” she said, noting how a child’s first three years of life are the most important for brain development.
DCF Commissioner Joette Katz acknowledged that what happened to the boy was “troubling and unacceptable.” She said all staff members involved with the boy’s case accepted full responsibility, noting how three were subjected to disciplinary action and a fourth retired.
Katz said the agency is taking all possible steps to make sure the problems cited in the child advocate’s report are addressed. However, she said the agency remains committed to keeping more children with their relatives and so-called kinship families.
“National research shows that outcomes are improved for children in kinship homes,” she said, noting how the percentage of Connecticut children in DCF care who are living with relatives has doubled since 2011, to more than 40 percent.
There are more than 2,100 active kinship homes this year in Connecticut. Of those, Katz said, six have been substantiated for maltreatment.
Eagan contended the agency still needs to conduct a rigorous review of how it licenses relative foster homes. That’s among numerous other recommendations the report calls on the agency and the General Assembly to consider.
The case has prompted Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, to reiterate his call for Katz to resign.
“Anybody who has children will find this report chilling,” Fasano said.
Katz was appointed by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has publicly supported her in the past.