HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – The Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) released a new report accusing the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) safety planning and monitoring of being inadequate — finding multiple preventable child deaths over the last three years.

The OCA also released recommendations and the steps they believe DCF must take to address the issues.

The Department of Children and Families disagrees with the OCA’s findings and stated that the organization has already taken steps to improve.

Connecticut’s Child Advocate Sarah Eagan said the new report is not an indictment of the Department of Children and Families but rather a recommendation to better serve its families.

Eagan said 24% of the 99 infants and toddlers, who died in the past three years from preventable causes, were involved with DCF.

“DCF does not yet have a quality assurance framework in place to continuously monitor the safety practice,” Eagan said. 

The report focuses on infant and toddler deaths and near-deaths from 2020 to 2022, including a one-year-old girl who died from fentanyl last February.

Department of Children Families Commissioner Vanessa Dorantes criticized the report, stating that DCF has made policy changes over the last 12 months.   

“The letter, in and of itself, is not timely for us because, over the last year, we have been really working on this issue,” Dorantes said.

That includes working with families more closely, partnering with more state and national experts to understand substance use and treatments, and conducting in-depth reviews to determine the next steps. 

Eagan said while her office credits DCF for taking steps, transparency and reporting those improvements to the public are an issue.

“Staff memos and trainings, in and of themselves, don’t measure progress, don’t evaluate whether problems have been remedied. That’s where we’ve been pushing them for several months,” Eagan said.

Dorantes said DCF is more transparent today than the agency has ever been.

“The Office of the Child Advocate has received everything that the department has. We have been extremely transparent,” Dorantes said.

Both sides agree their focus is on protecting children and their families.

“We are talking, at the end of the day, about service to our most vulnerable infants and their caregivers who we want to be well-served with the support that they need,” Eagan said.

“We all have to link arms together to make sure that children are safe, and we will continue to do that,” Dorantes said.

DCF shared the steps the organization has taken below since the fatality of Kaylee S.

  • February of 2022 – Kaylee S. dies of a Fentanyl ingestion
  • DCF immediately commenced a Critical Incident Case Conference to discuss the initial findings in our review of the case and determine next steps
  • Special Qualitative Review (SQR) commenced
  • We began meeting with local and national experts to learn about best-case practices
  • Updated our Substance Use Disorder Policy
  • Established the Fentanyl Senior Advisory Group
  • August – Updated Safety Practice Guidelines
  • October – Released Interim Guidance for Families where Fentanyl is Suspected or Known
  • November – Held Safety Convening for Department leaders entitled – “Leading Safety in Real Time”
  • November – Conducted Fentanyl Learning Forum, which now reached almost all Regional Offices