The high court, acting a petition from Jeffrey M.’s lawyers, will review whether the state’s Appellate Court was right when it said only DCF’s commissioner, not a trial judge, has the power to send a child in DCF care out of state.
One year ago, Juvenile Court Judge William L. Wollenberg ordered 15-year-old Jeffrey, who had pleaded guilty to unarmed robbery, to go to Glen Mills School in Concordville, Pa. Everyone involved was in agreement — the child’s mother, the prosecutor, the defense lawyer, and the probation officer.
But Wollenberg’s order coincided with a move by DCF’s new commissioner, former Supreme Court Justice Joette Katz, to drastically reduce the number of children that were being sent out of state. Some lawmakers and many advocates for children had been calling for just that for several years. The problem was, and continues to be, that there is a shortage of treatment centers in Connecticut that are capable of, or willing to, take on the most troubled kids.
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Katz blocked Jeffrey M.’s transfer, citing a state law that appears to give the DCF commissioner the sole authority to send, or not send, children in the agency’s care to out-of-state treatment centers.
The Appellate Court agreed, but lawyers Aaron Romano and Naomi Fetterman were convinced that the law’s subsections did contemplate circumstances in which a trial judge had that discretion as well.
They appealed to the Supreme Court, and the court has taken the case.
Over the last year, Katz and DCF have substantially reduced the number of children staying in institutions and have begun to rely much more heavily on foster care, particularly kinship and relative care. The shift has been noted and supported by the former DCF official who is monitoring the agency’s compliance with a series of reforms and performance benchmarks mandated by the federal court.
But before Katz came on in January 2011, troubled children by the hundreds had been sent out of state over the previous 15 or 20 years. .
Wollenberg had done so himself on number of occasions over the last decade, without intervention by DCF.
Btu Katz laid down an edict: she would personally review every proposed transfer and grant only those that were impossible to accommodate in Connecticut.
Romano argues however, that when a judge has worked with the family, the prosecution and the defense to come up with what all involved believe is the best solution for the child, then it makes sense for the judge to have the power to act.
Now the high court will decide.