The Office of the Child Advocate is criticizing the Connecticut Department of Children and Families for its "public shaming" of Jane Doe after a recent incident at the state locked unit for troubled girls. Child advocate Sarah Eagan is also concerned about how often DCF staff is restraining youth at the state's locked facilities for girls and boys.
On July 13, DCF issued a press release about an alleged assault involving Jane Doe, a 16 year old transgender teen who was at the Pueblo Unit for just a short time. She was moved there in late June after being held for more than two months at York Correctional Institution.
Child Advocate Sarah Eagan said in a lengthy statement on Wednesday that DCF "singled out Jane Doe's behavior" when at the time the incident had not been investigated and the youth was not charged by police. Eagan said DCF's actions were "inexplicable in light of the fact the July 12 incident involved four girls all of whom were restrained, all of whom were described in DCF records as hitting each other and staff."
Jane Doe's public defender raised the same point last week when speaking to WNPR. At the time, DCF would not comment about the alleged assault, beyond the fact it moved the transgender girl to the Connecticut Juvenile Training School.
Eagan said one of the girls involved in the fight at Pueblo was restrained on five separate occasions during the same night. She stressed DCF did not transfer any of the other girls who were involved in the incident.
The child welfare agency is Jane's guardian, Eagan said, and is legally obligated to make decisions that protect her interests. "DCF's rush to publicize a fraction of an incident is difficult to reconcile with its parental role," she said, questioning whether the department has a conflict of interest between its roles as Jane's guardian, and managing juvenile services for the state.
Eagan was also critical of DCF's decision to discontinue Jane Doe's clinical relationship with the community based psychologist she began working with while at York. This was despite the recommendations of her office, the federal court appointed Guardian Ad Litem, and Jane's public defender. She said the disruption is not helping the teen, with a history of physical and sexual abuse, to make progress in treatment. Eagan said in the last seven months, Jane Doe has been moved four times and switched therapists at least five times.
Jane's struggles with aggressive behavior and frequent placements are not unique, the child advocate said. Her office conducted a recent review of incidents at the girls' Pueblo Unit and at the boys' Connecticut Juvenile Training School, both in Middletown. Eagan said there have been over 200 incidents in the last three months where staff reported using physical or mechanical restraints to control youth.
"What is the staffing levels, what are the credentials of staff?" Eagan asked. "The incident that led to the press release from DCF last Sunday happened at night, on the weekend. Is there somebody clinical on the unit at all times? Is there somebody with clinical expertise on call and available to de-escalate kids before we see repeated use of restraints, seclusion, handcuffs, and citations that potentially lead to criminal charges for these kids?"
All of this raises questions about the effectiveness of programming and clinical support at DCF youth facilities, Eagan said, saying there is an urgent need for greater transparency in the multi-million-dollar juvenile services system. She said an independent audit of conditions of confinement at the CJTS may be necessary.
Eagan pointed to DCF's recent rejection of recommendations from an advisory committee that recommended the department allow an ombudsman to review youth grievances at the Juvenile Training School, and begin using a quality assurance program to improve conditions of juvenile confinement.
In a statement, DCF said its public statement was driven by "extensive media coverage." The state agency disclosed that a Massachusetts facility that had tentatively accepted Jane Doe has now rejected her admission. She's been at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School for boys since July 12, when DCF moved her after the incident at Pueblo Unit in Middletown.
The ACLU of Connecticut praised the child advocate's findings. Legal Director Sandra Staub said, "It has demolished the fiction that Jane Doe is uniquely dangerous or violent." Staub said the ACLU is supporting the teen's lawyers in court to protect her from DCF, which she said has proven it is not acting in the girl's best interests.