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Audit finds DCF leaving federal dollars on the table, not submitting required reports

The Connecticut Department of Children and Families, which has been under federal review for decades, may be foregoing federal funds by not properly reviewing debit card purchases or misclassifying services, according to a report from the Auditors of Public Accounts.

The auditors identified nearly $300,000 in DCF administrative costs that could have been eligible for federal reimbursement because the department classified it as “maintenance costs.”

“The administrative costs that DCF incorrectly classified resulted in a $299,968 loss of federal revenue,” the report says.

DCF responded that they are implementing a new Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System that “will be able to provide more detailed reporting.”

The report also noted the department does not monitor receipts for purchases made by employees using state-issued debit cards. The debit cards are meant to enable social workers to purchase “items necessary or the well-being of children,” according to the report.

Some of the debit card purchases may be reimbursable by the federal government, potentially leaving federal dollars on the table that could otherwise be used to supplement state funds. 

The auditors also noted that failure to collect and check receipts means “there is no assurance that debit cards were used as intended.” Although the cards cannot be used for tobacco or alcohol purchases, they can be used at approved vendors, including grocery stores.

“DCF does not require debit card users to submit receipts to support debit card purchases, because it does not believe clients or employees would comply,” the auditors wrote.

However, due to sheer number of debit cards in use – which DCF pegged at 7,000 during the audited period – and the number of receipts, the DCF said it “would be difficult” to monitor and categorize purchases. 

DCF said they will try to work with the issuing bank to develop reports to track purchases and card numbers.

The auditors also found the DCF also did not submit eight different statutorily required reports for either one or both of the audited years. Those reports included monitoring at-risk children in DCF custody and monitoring the outcomes of behavioral treatment for DCF facility residents.

DCF said their “Legislative Program Manager maintains a list of all statutorily required reports however this individual is not assigned the task of monitoring the reporting requirements to ensure agency compliance.”

DCF said they are assigning responsibility for each of the eight required reports to specific DCF units.

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Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, held onto his seat in the 90th district by a very tight margin after Wallingford learned of a mistake in Tuesday’s vote counting in which one district did not count any votes.  Wallingford officials realized the mistake after the Office of the Secretary of State requested ...

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  1. Olivia Ahearn

    February 19, 2020 10:39 pm

    02/19/2020
    To whom it may concern,
    First off, I’d like to say excuse any grammatical errors and formatting errors because this letter will be all over the place. I’m writing this letter on my own without any help.
    Hello, my name is Olivia Ahearn, formally Owens, and I am writing to you about my pending DCF case. I’ll go into a little background. I had my daughter on August 3rd, 2017 at William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich, CT. It was one of the best days of my life. She was born happy and healthy and negative of all and any substances. That same day I had her a DCF worker from Willimantic, CT (Laura Wilkerson) come into the room demanding to talk to me. The nurses advised her that I had just had a C-section and to give talking to me or my Husband a few days because we had just shared the experience of having a child and also, I was on painkillers so I was sleepy and very tired. She didn’t take the nurses advice and was very persistent.
    At that time my Husband and I lived in Ashford, CT which was about an hour away from the Hospital. She insisted that my Husband and her drive out to Ashford to see our house because she wanted to see where the baby would be sleeping, taking away precious time my Husband was spending with our new baby and myself.
    The reason Mrs. Wilkerson came to the Hospital was because I guess the Hospital called DCF in regards to my mental history past. In the past I have dealt with depression and suicidal tendencies resulting in hospitalization.
    I am not blaming DCF for coming into my life and that is not what this letter is about. This letter is about how Willimantic, CT DCF has handled our case from the beginning until now. They have made many mistakes, falsified things and treated my Husband and I with absolute disrespect.
    Laura Wilkerson was our first initial DCF worker who was assigned to us to do the 45-day investigation. At one point she came into our house and started yelling at my Husband and I after I answered a question and when my Husband asked her to please leave because she was upsetting myself and my child she refused. She continued to sit on our couch and tell us our wrongdoings and what was going to happen. She was rude and disrespectful from the beginning. She constantly told my Husband that joining the Army was a bad idea and that if he continued to go to basic training he would most likely get a call from her that our child would be removed. It was as if she was punishing my Husband for joining the military. I will get into more about my Husband later in the letter.
    My Husband left on August 27thto Basic training at Fort Benning, GA and I dealt with DCF on my own. Laura Wilkerson constantly talked down to me and made me feel less than. During this investigation my daughter was removed due to my drinking and falling into a deep depression.
    DCF scheduled a meeting with myself and my supporters ran by Minerva Johnson on what the next steps to regaining custody would be. We concluded that I would complete a mother child program, which I did successfully and I would get her back after 90 days. Dealing with Mrs. Johnson has never been easy. She constantly disrespected my Husband and I. She constantly talked down to my Husband in regards to him being in the service and not being helpful to me which was never the case. My Husband is my biggest supporter. During this meeting I had a family friend, Vanessa Shalev, on the phone who is a social worker in New York. She is very skilled in her profession and I value her opinion very much. I asked that she be a part of this meeting over the phone because she has experience in the field and knows me and what recommendations would work best in support of getting my daughter back. While my friend was making suggestions over the phone Mrs. Johnson would constantly interrupt her and cut her off and at one point rolled her eyes to her other coworkers. I’m sure you don’t care about the he said, she said but I am doing my best to write the facts and the way this case has been handled and the people involved from the beginning.
    After successful completion of the program I got my daughter back and moved into my Mother’s house. At that point being in a program and paying 200 a month there and paying 1000 a month and my house in Ashford wasn’t reasonable so we ended our lease because wherever my Husband was going to be stationed we were planning to move with him anyways.
    My current worker then was Cynthia Cunningham. She has just graduated in 2014 and didn’t have much experience as a social worker so she was difficult to deal with as well. Her demeanor was never in good spirits with me and at times we bumped heads. She never acknowledged any suggestions I gave to her and always told me that I had to do what the department recommended. I told her before I left the program and moved into my Mom’s house that it wasn’t a good idea to stay with her because I would be around the same people, places and things that haven’t been good for me in the past. I told her that I would be better off and successful living with my brother until the case ended but she completely disregarded my recommendation. Her reasoning was because my brother had a past with drugs but at that time he was successfully engaged in probation, taking and passing drug screens and fully engaged in treatment services. My brother to this day is clean and sober and has been for almost two years and is one of my biggest supporters.
    I went back to my Mom’s and fell back into my old ways. I didn’t get along well with my Mother and I eventually relapsed. When I didn’t come home the next morning after leaving my daughter with my Mother she called DCF and they came and took my daughter.
    The first time my daughter got taken my Husband was away at basic training at Fort Benning, GA and the second time he was deployed to South Korea. Again, I’m sorry this letter is all over the place. I just want to be heard and have a lot to say.
    My issue with DCF is the way they have treated us throughout this whole case. DCF constantly belittles my Husband and I and treats us as if we’re murderers. They say the goal has been reunification and that they are here to help us but DCF isn’t helping anybody but themselves.
    When my Husband found out I was pregnant he joined the Army so that our family could get out of CT and live better lives. He joined the Army so that we could have the best health insurance, we wouldn’t be in debt down the line putting our daughter through college and so that we could be able to travel the world together.
    DCF uses that fact that my Husband is in the Army to label him as a bad Father. I get that I’ve made mistakes but my Husband has done nothing wrong but provided for his family from day one.
    DCF has told my Husband that the best thing he could do is to divorce me, but he hasn’t because although I’m the reason we are in this situation, we are a unit. We are a family who has dealt with struggles but we have also worked very hard to get to where we are today, as a team and we will continue to fight as a team to bring our little girl home.
    DCF claims that they want to keep families together but suggesting a Husband divorce his wife when things get rough is telling my Husband to give up on me. They would have used that against him in the long run.
    Aside from my own mistakes the only thing DCF is using against my Husband is the relationship he has with the DCF workers and the fact that he is in the military and can deploy at any time, even though the Army has family care plans for situations like that. DCF has been to court and told the judge my Husband was going to deploy in 6 months without any credible evidence. He doesn’t have a scheduled deployment for at least another two years, God forbid something catastrophic happen forcing him to leave earlier.
    Currently our social worker is Sarah Austin and just like our previous workers we have had issues with her from the beginning. The first thing Mrs. Austin said to my Husband when she first met him was that he should just give our daughter up for adoption, that way he could see her whenever he wanted. This is supposed to be a worker who suggests positive things we should do in order to get our daughter back and that is the first thing that she says. How would you feel if your worker said that to you?
    Again, I completely understand why DCF entered my life. My past has been rocky. However, people change. And I have changed for the better.
    My Husband and I currently live in GA on base at Fort Stewart. Before I moved down there DCF told my Husband that me moving down there wouldn’t be a good idea. They wanted me to stay in CT. A place where I have failed and never been happy. I reunited with my Husband in GA and have been on the up and up ever since. I have been striving. I have over a year clean and sober, haven’t had a depressed day in I don’t even know how long and I am fully engaged in drug/alcohol classes, marriage counseling, individual counseling and have completed a parenting class and currently enrolled in my second one. DCF suggested to my drug/alcohol counselor that I give random urines, which I do but then I do it and they still aren’t happy because they can’t test for alcohol. I can’t win against DCF. My therapist finally got new drug screens thatI just started doing for alcohol and all of them to date have been negative
    Again, I know I have made mistakes in the past and I don’t blame anyone but myself but my Husband and I have been doing everything asked of us recommended by the department. We have both completed our treatment plans from the Department. My Husband has completed classes he wasn’t even asked to complete and every time DCF has a requirement he meets it and then they ask for something else from him. They have suggested he go to therapy, which he does, but my Husband doesn’t have a past with mental health issues. He’s in The Army. He has a military security clearance, has a clean bill of health and no priors or drug history. Our therapist wrote DCF that after a couple of sessions with my Husband they don’t recommend he needs anymore counseling but of course he goes anyway to please DCF and also because he benefits from it personally.
    Recently I found out that our current social worker Sarah Austin has been asking my therapist if my Husband gets physical with me. My therapist told me that when she calls it seems as if she is prying more about things in regards to my Husband than me. This is my therapist who I go to alone and have only brought my husband to 4 sessions with me in the past year. I’ve never given off an impression that my Husband has gotten physical with me in anyway because he hasn’t, we haven’t even ever had a domestic since we’ve been together the last five years.
    Sarah Austin doesn’t call to check in on us about our progress. She has spoken negatively about my Husband to my counselor and anytime we have a question or need help with anything regarding the case we have to always be the one to bring it to her attention.
    I brought this up in our last DCF meeting to her supervisor Jenn Wilcox and now she has scheduled days when she is supposed to call me and check in. Sarah has failed to keep this commitment even though I have reminded her numerous times in advance. I’m saying this because in the termination of parental rights paperwork there are a lot of missing details that can help us get our daughter back. There are also a lot of lies. Things were left out that could have been included had our social worker reached out to us.
    The Department also put our daughter in play therapy and failed to inform us. The only reason we found out was because my husband got in touch with Sarah and it came out then. This was about a month after she was already engaged in services. My husband and I travel down to CT every month to visit our daughter for a couple of days, with me usually staying longer and both times my daughter had play therapy we had visits, one of which Sarah supervised. She didn’t tell us at all. We have been in contact with her therapist and she said she would have loved to meet with us. Sarah also lied about how many sessions she had, saying she only had one. I confirmed with the therapist that she had 3 and saying that the foster mom doesn’t sit in the sessions with her. Again, after confirming with the clinician the foster mom is present during every session.
    They say the reason they put my daughter in play therapy is because she’s been having a hard time transitioning back to her foster home after visits with us. I find that odd because we’ve been visiting with my daughter for many many months and she has never had any issues before. They fail to mention that the foster family moved recently and they also foster other children. I’m not a therapist but I would assume those can be things to make a child act out.
    Mrs. Austin has always told us the goal was always “reunification”. I have asked her numerous times to please be honest with me and tell me if the department is recommending adoption and, on every occasion, she has said “reunification”. And then out of nowhere we get an email from her saying that the DCF has petitioned for the termination of our parental rights.
    When I first moved down to GA I asked Mrs. Austin to help me find services because although I was looking for myself it was very hard and I figured with a referral from her things could move a lot faster and smoother. She would always tell me to call my insurance company. After I finally found services on my own she mailed a letter with recommendations.
    Another issue I have is that the department placed my daughter in a pre-adoptive home. If the goal was reunification why place her with a foster family that permanently wants a child. My Husband and I have had issues because although my daughter just turned two she calls the foster mom, Mommy. The foster parents and the department said that she learned that in daycare. My Husband and I have talked to two different child psychologists and they said that this is a groomed behavior. The foster parents refuse to correct her and the department hasn’t been a help with this issue. It may not seem like a major issue but hearing my little girl call another woman Mommy kills me every time. Recently my daughter has started calling me Mommy Olivia instead of Mommy like she normally does and my husband Daddy John James instead of Daddy. The social worker claims they have her calling the foster parents Daddy Mike and Mommy Katie but every time we’ve seen our daughter with the foster family she has never once called them that. It is strictly mommy and daddy to her.
    At the beginning the foster family and my husband and I had a really good relationship communication wise. I was sending her things directly to her house for my daughter through amazon and they even let my Husband come over and see her, telling us not to tell DCF. Now it is very hard to communicate with them and I have to send my daughter things to the Willimantic DCF department. The foster Mom doesn’t tell us of milestones going on in her life, she never told me my daughter was lactose intolerant. I found out after a visit because I had given my daughter chocolate milk and she said when she went back to the foster family she had bad diarrhea. Had I known I would’ve never given her chocolate milk.
    At one point, and this is going back to Minerva Johnson, my Husband was on the phone with her and during this phone call she told my Husband “We really didn’t know what we were doing when it came to your case because you’re in the military”. My Husband asked her to please slow down and repeat herself because he let them know he was writing It down and as soon as he told them that she rudely said “You can’t do that”, and hung up the phone. I spoke to David Silva about this and he told me that we are allowed to write anything down.
    DCF doesn’t want to keep families together and they make people’s lives very difficult once they are in them. People make mistakes but people also change. Again, I have made many mistakes but I am nowhere in the same position I was in my past.
    DCF hires workers fresh out of college with no experience, no children of their own, and just throws them on cases. I have done my research and there have been many instances where DCF was at fault for families losing their children. As soon as DCF gets involved in anyone’s life they make it extremely difficult to get children back. They only focus on the person’s past and never acknowledge the success, improvement, or the work they have put in.
    I don’t even understand why I’m still reporting my progress to my DCF worker because at the end of the day her and the department are going to be on the opposite end of that table at court fighting for my daughter to not come home.
    Just because someone has a past with addiction or mental health or both doesn’t mean they can’t get help and get better. 1 in 5 U.S. adults with mental health problems received treatment in 2018. I am a part of that statistic. People can change and receive help and strive from that help. Taking two steps forward with DCF is always taking one step back as well.
    DCF didn’t even acknowledge my Husbands Power of Attorney in court because they said the documents looked fake. A state marshall had to go into DCF and tell them that they can get into a lot of trouble if they don’t recognize his documents. These were documents from the U.S. Army that were very legit. They also didn’t acknowledge any of the family members my husband gave them to place our daughter with or to relocate her down to Georgia and have DCF down here take over the case.
    My Husband and I have a great relationship with our baby girl. She calls him Daddy and me Mommy and even though she is two I know she knows I’m her Mommy. Her clinician has said that our daughter knows we’re her real parents. We have video chats with her every Tuesday and Wednesday for 15 minutes and come and see her monthly and during scheduled court appearances.
    DCF has used the fact that I moved out of CT against me. I wasn’t doing well in CT and I wanted to get my act together so I moved to be with my Husband and so that we can fight this together, as a team. My Husband and I will ALWAYS be a team.
    Maybe this letter will get your attention, maybe not but I will write every organization, every higher up, every news team and every politician to make some noise regarding this case and the way it has been handled.
    My Husband and I have never starved, beaten or neglected our child yet DCF gave my Husband a neglect charge while he was away at basic training.
    We are tired of being judged, ridiculed and talked down to because of my failures. My failures are my stepping stones right now. I can’t change the past but I can do my best every day to make sure I never get to that point and I have been great. I have gotten out of CT and away from negative people, places and things. My attitude is always positive, my days are bright and I’m happy. I love myself now and I couldn’t always say that. I will be complete once my family is back together.
    My Husband and I are good people. He is a specialist in the Army with positive letters of recommendation. Again, we are currently stationed at Fort Stewart in GA and live on base in a safe community with plenty of activities for my daughter to get into and a two bedroom. We live in a safe and loving environment. We attend therapy, individual and together, marriage counseling, parenting classes and I go to substance abuse counseling and have for over a year now. We know that once she is down in GA we will have GA DCF involved and I’m fine with that. I will take advantage of their recommendations as long as she is with us.
    I have made mistakes that have led to all of this but I have done a complete 180 and I have receipts to prove it. I have a therapist that can vouch for me who I see weekly and have seen weekly for a long time now. I am in a good place and have made continuous improvement and continue to do so.
    DCF has made many mistakes in regards to our case and the way they have handled it has been a mess and again, I will write to any and everyone who will hear me because my Husband and I are going to continue doing everything in our power to get our little girl home with help from anybody who is willing.

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