March 14, 2006
By COLIN POITRAS, Courant Staff Writer
Gov. M. Jodi Rell on Monday ordered
the Department of Children and Families to expand its substance
abuse and domestic violence services to better protect kids.
Rell wants DCF to shift $750,000 in
its current budget to address domestic violence and substance abuse,
which a recent review showed to be significant factors in child
abuse and neglect cases.
A DCF study of 157 such cases in which a parent or other household
member had previously lost their parental rights showed that 68
percent had identifiable substance abuse issues and another 42 percent
had some indication of domestic violence.
"When we look at the problems
confronting the vulnerable families that DCF serves, we see substance
abuse and domestic violence as recurring themes," DCF Commissioner
Darlene Dunbar said.
Officials at DCF said it was too early
to say exactly where the money would be shifted from inside the
agency's $750 million budget.
The money, $500,000 for substance abuse
and $250,000 for domestic violence, will be used to expand substance
abuse services in areas of the state where they are lacking and
to allow DCF to hire additional domestic violence experts to help
train social workers and improve assessments in DCF's 14 area offices.
Now, DCF has only one outside consultant
under contract to help advise area office staff when domestic violence
is an issue, according to Gary Kleeblatt, an agency spokesman. There
are nine substance abuse counselors serving 14 local offices, he
The governor's order comes two months
after a Waterbury infant died in a home where the parents had a
history of domestic violence and were not cooperative in getting
treatment, state officials have said.
Two-month-old Amanda Camacho died of
a fractured skull on Jan. 23, allegedly at the hands of her father,
Hector Camacho, 45. The girl's mother, Nancy Torres, 36, has also
been charged for allegedly failing to get help for her daughter
after realizing she was badly injured.
Torres' lawyer said his client has
battered woman's syndrome and threats and intimidation from Camacho
may have rendered her unable to help her daughter. Torres had previously
lost five other children she had with another man to state custody
in the late 1990s because of concerns about serious abuse and persistent
Tonya Johnson, director of program
operations for the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence,
said making proper assessments about domestic violence is difficult
work and requires a certain amount of know-how and skill. Many victims
may be reluctant to talk about the problem and even mentioning the
issue or leaving a business card can cause further violence if not
done tactfully and in the right setting, she said.
Connecticut Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein
praised Rell for taking the initiative in addressing these two critical
issues. However, Milstein said that her office and other outside
experts like the Child Welfare League of America have been urging
DCF to improve training and conduct better field assessments for
more than a decade, but the agency continues to struggle with the
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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