Parents rally in Bridgeport over concerns with Connecticut Department of Children and Families
A rally was held in Bridgeport Sunday with parents who told News 12 Connecticut they have serious concerns about the Connecticut Department of Children and Families.
Many in attendance at McLevy Green said the agency has negatively impacted families with its heavy-handed approach.
The group's goal was to get the public and officials' attention.
One of their demands is that DCF stop unfairly using parents' mental health history against them.
"They just need to reform the whole system and stop taking away kids from parents,” said Terrel Harley.
"The way they're just splitting families is not healthy,” said Joe Grits.
Ahead of Sunday's rally, News 12 Connecticut spoke to Tina Jefferson, the bureau chief of Child Welfare for DCF.
"We understand the trauma when a child is removed from their home and so we do that as a last resort," says Jefferson.
Jefferson said DCF’s ultimate goal is to support and empower families so kids can remain safely at home.
Decisions to separate kids from parents are made in collaboration between DCF, community partners and juvenile courts, according to Jefferson.
She said since 2019, 2,600 kids have been reunified with parents, representing a 30% decrease in the number of kids in DCF's care and custody.
She also stated that DCF is enhancing supports for families in local communities with the goal of reducing the overall number of families needing intervention.
Bridgeport resident Tabitha McNeill, who organized the rally, recently announced plans to sue DCF after losing custody of her children.
"DCF needs to change policy, do a full background check on people instead of using people's mental health against them,” she said.
However, Jefferson said that the presence of a behavioral health issue within a family is not in and of itself grounds for a report to be made to child protective services. Rather, it's whether any circumstance a child is exposed to has a negative impact.
As a result of statewide public and private partnerships, she said Connecticut has a broad array of supportive services which can be easily accessed.