Racial Concerns at Conn. Child Welfare Agency

Susan Haigh, Nashua Telegraph (New Hampshire), November 8, 2009

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The Saturday morning ritual has been going on for the past month in Hartford’s North End, where Lewis’ [Rev. Cornell Lewis] group “The Men of Color,” block by block, is trying to persuade residents of this economically depressed, predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhood to refuse services from the state’s child welfare agency.

They’re attempting to create “A No-DCF Zone,” referring to the Department of Children and Families, to draw attention to what they say is a lack of minority input into a state agency whose clientele are more often black and Hispanic than not.

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While families are not required to cooperate with a DCF investigation, typically prompted by a tip about alleged abuse or neglect, Hamilton [DCF Commissioner Susan Hamilton] said the agency might have to take the adversarial step of seeking a court order against a particular family in order to complete an investigation if the “No-DCF Zone” protest persists.

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Hamilton, who is white, said she’s also concerned there is a perception that her agency, which she has run since 2007, is not racially sensitive. She said issues surrounding the race and ethnicity of DCF employees and clients are taken very seriously.

DCF has among the highest rates of minority hiring in state government. Statistics from 2008 show 47 percent of its 3,400 employees are minorities, including 30 percent of managers. According to U.S. Census estimates for 2008, more than 84 percent of Connecticut’s population of 3.5 million are Caucasian.

“I somewhat question where they’re getting the data in terms of there not being enough diversity at upper levels because I don’t think the numbers reflect that,” Hamilton said. “That’s a concern that I have because if there’s a perception out there that we’re not diverse simply because the commissioner doesn’t fall into one of those categories.”

Despite the employee makeup of the agency, the Men of Color and other groups said they are not satisfied and question the amount of input those minority workers actually have at the agency.

“If you don’t have diversity at the top, you don’t have the cultural competency to deal with the issues that are going on,” said Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut NAACP.

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At the same time, DCF is facing complaints of disparate punishment of minority workers at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown, a DCF facility for troubled youth where Lewis is employed.

“It’s worse than in the South,” said Anthony Gaunichaux of Middletown, a past employee at CJTS, who joined Lewis at Thursday’s meeting with the governor’s office. “I’ve got cases right here, I’ve got cases of people that have been unjustly treated at CJTS and they’re all black males.”

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