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WSHU's ongoing coverage of issues surrounding Connecticut's Department of Children and Families.

Conn. DCF Officials Answer To Lawmakers After Graphic Video Release

Officials with Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families testified at a hearing with lawmakers and advocates on Thursday, two days after the state’s Child Advocate released videos showing boys and girls being illegally restrained and secluded at the state’s two juvenile detention facilities.

Under Connecticut law, the use of seclusion or restraint is only legal if someone poses a serious physical threat to themselves or others.

One of the videos released this week shows staff members restraining a resident, known under the pseudonym “Jennie,” while she appears to be calm.

No audio is featured on the surveillance video, but the staff report released with it says Jennie’s unit was on lockdown because of a fight between some girls the night before. The next morning, Jennie exited her room to go to the bathroom, but did not know she was on lockdown. According to the staff report, Jennie refused to go back in her locked cell for the next two hours and did not want to leave the bathroom when staff asked.

“She came out in a very seemingly relaxed state of mind,” State Rep. Robyn Porter (D-Hamden) said of the video. “And then she was slammed into a wall, and it was about four or five workers on her. And they had her down, prone position.”

Prone position is a face-down restraint that can cause physical danger to people with asthma and other health issues. DCF officials said the video was taken 14 months ago, and the agency banned prone restraints at the facility this July.

Bill Rosenbeck, the Superintendent of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School for Boys, told Porter that the DCF staff uses de-escalation to talk kids down. He said that technique helps kids take control of their emotions so staff members can avoid placing them in handcuffs or in locked cells.

Porter wanted to know how a situation like the one captured in the video footage of Jennie happens.

“So help me understand, how does something go from zero, to a hundred, but you sit here and tell me that you use de-escalation?” Porter asked.

Rosenbeck said the roughly 10-minute long video released by the Office of the Child Advocate did not show the whole interaction.

“Anytime you put hands on a kid we do feel that’s a failure,” Rosenbeck said. “In those cases, there’s a lot more to each one of those that we would be very glad to sit down and show you, but they’ve been condensed somewhat with some of the video not a hundred percent there. It was sort of, you know, modified for time.”

Rosenbeck said DCF has posted longer versions of the videos published by the office of the Child Advocate to the DCF website to show the context of the incidents.

“You saw a lot of those interventions and those are really the outliers,” Rosenbeck told Porter.

In her final and only remarks at the hearing, DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said the agency wants to do a better job tracking all of the successful interventions staff have led with children at the facility. She said DCF tracks the interventions that escalate into restraints and seclusion, but does not show all the staff interventions that help children.

Cassandra Basler, a former senior editor at WSHU, came to the station by way of Columbia Journalism School in New York City. When she's not reporting on wealth and poverty, she's writing about food and family.
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