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Connecticut poised to pay $12 million to settle neglect case

The Connecticut state flag flies next to the headquarters of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, in Hartford, Connecticut, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023.
Susan Haigh
The Connecticut state flag flies next to the headquarters of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, in Hartford, Connecticut, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023.

Connecticut is poised to pay $12 million to settle a case involving a neglected 14-month-old boy who was placed by the state's child welfare agency in 2015 with a relative who had allegations of abuse. The boy ended up severely malnourished and physically abused.

The proposed legal settlement comes a year after the Connecticut Department of Children of Families was finally released from three decades of federal oversight.

Michael Williams, deputy commissioner of operations at the agency, tried to assure members of the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that the placement of “Baby Dylan,” who is now eight years old and suffers from complex medical and developmental issues, does not reflect the agency's policies then or now.

“We're totally embarrassed by the practice that occurred on this case. It does not in any way, shape or form represent the standard of practice that we had adhered to then and adhere to now," said Williams, who said the staff involved in the case “chose to cut corners” and that decision led to the boy being harmed.

Williams referred to the situation as a “dump and run,” not representing anything close to the agency's standards for placing a child in so-called kinship foster care, a program that aims to keep at-risk children with family members rather than strangers.

The agency, represented by the Connecticut Attorney General's Office, is seeking legislative approval of the settlement reached with lawyers for boy's adoptive parents. While Judiciary Committee members on Wednesday approved identical House and Senate bills authorizing the settlement, sending them to both chambers for final action, they made it clear they are not happy with the agency or the prospect of paying out such a large legal settlement.

“On the one hand, we as a state have to step up and take responsibility for what one of our state agencies did not do and that is to perform their job without clear negligence,” said Sen. John Kissel, a Republican from Enfield. “On the other hand, as a member of this committee, one of my jobs is to make sure taxpayers' dollars are used wisely.”

Eileen Meskill, deputy attorney general, told lawmakers that while the state rarely admits liability, it became clear through investigations that this case was particularly egregious, and the state could be liable for as much as $20 million.

Department of Children of Families officials had removed the boy from his parents' care because of neglect issues and placed him with the cousin of the boy's mother, without seeking information about the woman's background, which included a criminal history and past allegations of neglect, Meskill said. The woman also had “widespread warning signs,” including failing to complete Department of Children of Families foster licensing requirements or agree to drug testing. She also contacted police about the boy's inconsolable crying and complained to Department of Children of Families workers that she was overwhelmed.

Ultimately, the boy was removed five months later and placed with another relative, who brought the child to the emergency room where he was found to have multiple healed scars and wounds to his feet, untreated broken bones in both arms and a retinal hemorrhage, Meskill said. The boy was also unable to talk or feed himself, suffered from severe malnutrition and showed evidence of a traumatic brain injury.

The cousin was ultimately arrested and pleaded guilty to risk of injury to a minor.

The state Attorney General's office said the full legislature has the opportunity to reject the settlement, but legislators do not need to affirmatively approve it. They have 30 days from submission, which was Feb. 1.

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