The Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) released a report regarding a serious incident that occurred in a group home for the intellectually disabled on Monday and found that previous incidents had gone unreported by the community living arrangement (CLA) and that state agencies lacked timely follow-ups to correct the issues.
The incident involved a developmentally disabled adolescent under supervision by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) committed to a facility contracted by the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), who “was found attempting to compel sexual intercourse” with an intellectually disabled young woman during a time they were both unsupervised. The boy had a “history of sexually reactive behaviors,” according to the report.
The incident was reported by first responders and led to both DCF and DDS findings of “individual and programmatic neglect,” according to the report.
“OCA found that while efforts have been made to support the care of developmentally disabled children and adults in state-licensed settings, grave concerns persist regarding resources and oversight to ensure safe and high-quality care for these individuals,” Child Advocate Sarah Eagan wrote. “Significant concern also remains regarding the adequacy of resources to support non-profit providers’ recruitment and retention of staff who care for individuals with disabilities in community settings.”
The OCA’s report found that previous incidents at the same facility “were not promptly reported” by the operators. “OCA found that with regard to both critical incidents and citations, DDS did not adhere to agency requirements for prompt and complete follow-up to ensure that concerns identified by regulators and investigators were timely addressed.”
According to the report findings, DDS “lacks resources to ensure independent investigation of allegations of abuse and neglect of individuals in licensed CLA’s, relying on providers to self-investigate the majority of incidents and report back to DDS.”
Of the 150 CLAs sampled by OCA, 49 of them were cited for failing to report harm or failing to have a system in place for reporting incidents. Of those 49, only 7 were revisited by DDS licensing staff within a year of the incidents, and more than half were not revisited over the course of two years.
OCA also found that DCF did not have “adequate information regarding the educational, treatment, and developmental needs and service delivery to the child, and the state-appointed attorney assigned to represent the minor child “did not adhere to state agency performance guidelines.”
The OCA’s latest report comes on the heels of two other OCA reports regarding DCF management of child abuse cases and group homes. In October the office released a report concerning the death of two-year-old Liam Rivera who was under DCF supervision, faulting the agency on a number of issues and recommending greater state oversight of the department.
The OCA also released a report about Connecticut’s Short Term Assessment and Respite (STAR) homes in conjunction with an informational hearing by the General Assembly’s Committee on Children, which convened to address concerns surrounding a STAR Home in Harwinton for adolescent girls that had multiple and escalating incidents of staff abuse and loss of control.
Connecticut House Republicans quickly released a statement regarding OCA’s latest report, saying Gov. Ned Lamont and Democrats “cannot keep brushing off these serious issues.”
“There are clear systemic breakdowns, the least of which is failure to relay critical incidents in a timely manner, or at all, as this latest report from the Office of the Child Advocate has revealed,” said Republican House Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford. “We must begin work on this crisis immediately in preparation for the start of the next legislative session to give us flexibility to act quickly if policy changes are warranted. To do otherwise would be irresponsible, if not negligent.”
Both Candelora and Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, sent a letter to Lamont in October following the OCA’s report on Liam Rivera, calling for a “Blue Ribbon Panel” to be convened to review issues in the OCA’s report and issue recommendations to improve DCF policy.
“To us, and many Connecticut residents, our state’s most-recent failings in helping at-risk children are tragically clear, and we fear these cases, including the recent Short Term Assessment & Respite (STAR) home issue in Harwinton, are emblematic of government’s intervention into the lives of vulnerable children who need our help,” Candelora and Kelly wrote on October 27.
DDS responded to the OCA’s report, indicating they have hired three regional directors of quality assurance and a program manager for critical incidents, to address the concerns raised in the report. DCF wrote that it “is currently assessing the scope of the child abuse and neglect investigations it conducts in DDS-licensed facilities to determine whether these can or should continue to include program concerns not directly related to the abuse or neglect investigation,” and that it will continue to offer staff training on serving children with developmental disabilities.
The Department of Social Services (DSS) indicated that it would “immediately” have a “redundant critical incident response and sustainability plan,” and that there will be a subject matter expert within the Division of Health Services who will review and draft responses to critical incidents that include corrective action plans.
Among OCA’s many recommendations included in the report were possible amendments to state statute, including adding DCF and DDS investigation findings and corrective actions to the state’s database for state-licensed program and facilities; increase budget allocations and reimbursements for community providers and that the legislature should convene a working group to “ensure quality and consistent legal representation,” for children in child protection proceedings.
“OCA’s review of the individual critical incident and ensuing systemic investigation found serious deficiencies in the resources and oversight structure for the safety and care of individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities in DDS-licensed Community Living Arrangements,” the OCA’s report concludes. “Significant work needs to be done to strengthen this system.”