Where We Live: Joette Katz And DCF's New Direction

An troubled agency tries to start anew

Chion Wolf, WNPR
Where We Live: Joette Katz talks new Direction for DCF
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Where We Live: Joette Katz talks new Direction for DCF

This year Joette Katz takes over one of the hardest jobs in Connecticut. 

As the new commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, she’s in charge of what many people see as the core function of state government – taking care of its neediest residents.  But over the last few decades, the $900 million a year agency has had trouble doing that job, facing court oversight for the past 20 years and massive criticism for its treatment of children in its care. 

According to a court monitor, Department of Children and Families has failed to meet the basic needs of nearly half the children in its care. 

We talk to the former justice about what she hopes to do to change the culture of the department, and to protect the kids of Connecticut.



Administrative demands

As a professionbal working in the field for 20 years I have seen the explosion of paperwork demands over shadow the personal contact with clients. When kids and families are in crises they need us there not in front of our computers typing up service plans, court reports, or other documentation supposedly of that very contact we are making. This overburden on workers to document in place of the actual doing is concerning. What can be done about this?


I have practiced law for 25 years. Early on I maintained several DCF case, pro bono. Over the years, I became estranged from the agency when I detected to culture the Commissioner speaks of. What is she going to do to bring the generalized bar back to help out?


I am an infant mental health professional and see very young children (under 5). Many of these children have had numerous placements or long stays in a safe home. What are your plans to limit the number of placements for very young children and to ensure they are placed in homes with a primary caregiver rather than a group home setting?


I worked for DCF as a social worker for 5 years mostly in the New Haven office. I quite last year. We were very concerned about the rate of removals, low staff morale, and abuse by management. How do you plan to address problems with certain managers particularly in regard to retaliation against staff? When the staff tried to create a different culture, these staff were retaliated against. In addition, there were many questions about racism as the percentage of minority that left was very concerning. As a white person, I was disturbed by what appeared to be a dominantly white working culture.


With all of the budget cuts, both those already made and those that may come, do you feel you truly have the financial resources to be fully successful in protecting Connecticut's children?

or if you don't like that one....

Do you have anything in place to support your social workers - to help them fight the inevitable burn out that comes from working in this field and help them to continue to see their clients as human beings rather than numbers?


As you might be able to tell from my electronic salutation, I am the director of a private Therapeutic Foster Care agency in East Hartford Ct. Perhaps not being able to pick a single question, I would happily invite you to visit our program, or if not possible, to create a mini forum whereby some of my staff and I might have a conversation regarding existing department strengths and weaknesses form the private sector point of view. I am enjoying your interview as you sound energized and very capable as well as sensitive. Thanks for your consideration.