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Rell Tells DCF To Focus On Drug Abuse, Violence

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 said.

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 neglect.

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 problem.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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