Web Sites, Documents and Articles >> Hartford Courant News Articles >

DCF Task Force Disbands

Joint State-Federal Panel No Longer Oversees Agency

October 19, 2005

The joint federal and state task force that has been running the state's troubled child welfare system for the past two years has disbanded, state officials confirmed Tuesday.

Department of Children and Families Commissioner Darlene Dunbar is once again in sole control of the agency's daily operations.

The task force was established in 2003 as a compromise to avoid having the DCF placed in federal receivership for repeatedly failing to comply with court-ordered reforms.

It was made up of Dunbar, former federal court monitor D. Ray Sirry and Office of Police and Management Secretary Robert Genuario.

The task force was contingent on Sirry's presence on the panel, a testament to his prowess as a nationally acclaimed expert in child welfare. Its future has been in doubt since August, when Sirry abruptly resigned as court monitor for what was listed as personal health concerns. Sirry, 59, has Parkinson's disease.

The task force officially disbanded late last week with the appointment of former DCF supervisor Raymond Mancuso as Sirry's replacement. Mancuso left DCF several years ago and most recently served as the deputy court monitor.

The change does not mean the agency is freed from federal court oversight. DCF must still meet 22 court-ordered goals for improved services by Nov. 1, 2006, to free itself from federal supervision.

But a federal court officer is no longer a daily presence in the agency's administration. Instead, a national panel of child welfare experts will periodically advise the agency on its needs and ongoing reforms, officials said.

Although Sirry helped initiate many sweeping reforms at DCF under his tenure, removing the monitor from DCF's administration resolves concerns about the monitor's independence and possible conflicts of interest, children's advocates and those familiar with the situation said.

It is also likely to significantly reduce the court monitor's pay, which was called into question this week.

Once heralded as the savior of Connecticut's beleaguered child welfare system, Sirry is embroiled in a federal and state inquiry into whether he was overpaid.

Tax records show Sirry made more than $2 million during the nearly five years he worked with the state, including more than $636,000 in pay, benefits and deferred compensation in the fiscal year that began July 1, 2003.

On Tuesday, state auditors and officials in the state comptroller's office were still trying to figure out how Sirry was paid and who signed his checks. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, officials at DCF and the governor's office all claim they had no responsibility in overseeing Sirry's pay and budget, which was authorized by the federal court and funded with state tax dollars.

The state agreed to pay for the monitor as part of a 1991 consent decree signed to settle a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of thousand of state foster children. The lawsuit accused DCF of failing to meet the children's needs.

Court records show that the federal trial judge had sole authority in authorizing the monitor's pay and the judge, or another officer appointed by the judge, signs all checks. There was no provision in the consent agreement for the state to challenge the payments.

In a letter to Comptroller Nancy Wyman last June, U.S. Magistrate Judge Holly B. Fitzsimmons summarized the payment process in requesting Sirry's compensation. Fitzsimmons said that Sirry had prepared his anticipated expenditures for July 1, 2005, through Sept. 30, 2005, and both she and the presiding Senior U.S. District Court Judge Alan H. Nevas had approved the amount, $499,171. Fitzsimmons asked that Wyman make a check for that amount payable to the "DCYS Monitoring Panel's Fund" and have it delivered to the court monitor's office in Wallingford .

An attached breakdown of the monitor's expenses included categories for staff salaries, benefits, rent and other costs but did not itemize pay to particular individuals.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
Powered by Hartford Public Library  

Includes option to search related Hartford sites.

Advanced Search
Search Tips

Can't Find It? Have a Question?