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Op-ed: My conversation with DCF Deputy Commissioner Krisina Stevens

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I attended a press conference last week that announced a joint venture between City Hall, the United Way, and the Department of Children and Family services.

“Healthy From Day One” is a fabulous program that promotes family wellness in the community, the campaign has four pillars.

Physical Health, Emotional Health, Healthy Relationships, and community supports.

Further backround on the program can be found here.

Originally I was going to cover the rollout of the program exclusively, but it ended up taking a backseat to the conversation I had with DCF Deputy Commissioner Kristina Stevens in the aftermath of the press conference.

I have spent a good amount of time working with at risk children, and through that work I often came face to face with DCF.

Based on my experience, DCF is a very important resource for children, some would argue the last defense, but there is a problem with the system that I have been eager to address.

Correction, Deputy Commissioner Kristina Stevens repeatedly told those in attenance that the DCF is an agency, not a system.

At the time I was confused by the statements, it felt like the “agency” was attempting to distance itself from absolute accountibility for all the children in the state of Connecticut.

The perception of DCF is not that of an agency, it as viewed as a critical system that is counted upon to bring balance to an atmosphere that is inherently unstable, it’s an unbelievably important check upon the perservation of childeren, and the sustainability of families.

I find any notion to the contrary to be irresponsible.

During my conversation with Kristina Stevens, I expressed disagreement that the administration officials within the DCF would go that far out of their way to define the organization as an agency when there is no other such resource for children to rely upon.

Essentially, Stevens believes that DCF is but one resource among many, therefore, the burden of serving all familes that need help should not exclusively fall upon DCF.

Which confirmed my assumption that the organization seems focused on limiting it’s liability for everyone who needs service.

I also asked Stevens about the 18 year old age limit, the premise that kids badly in need of service “age out” before they may be ready too.

I had several kids who claimed DCF cut them off at the age of 18, and other kids who were dreading their 18th birthday.

I told Stevens that an 18 year old age limit within the at risk community is flawed, the same way 27 is the new 21 for kids with advantages, 23 is the new 18 for kids that lack them, and that is my personal observation in the field, not something I read in a book.

Stevens countered that the DCF is “committed to helping these children” grow, what are we teaching them if we don’t encourage them to go to school, or get a job?”.

Which is a fair point, DCF does provide assistance to kids for that are in college, or have a job, but what about the population that lacks the grades or the resume to succeed?

Some kids have to go back to high school for a 5th year, some get in trouble, and emerge needing help, the list goes on and on.

There is kids here that are not being accounted for, there is no doubt about it.

To unilateraly designate the age of 18 as the cutoff point for an at risk group of children does not compute sociologically, and the Deputy Commissioner could not totally refute the academics behind my position, citing that I had been reading “my brain development literature”.

I found Kristina Stevens to be eloquent, pleasant, and professional with her responses, but I fundementally disagreed with her agency’s basic approach to the teen population I am referring too, treating at risk youth in the same manner you would treat suburban kids is a institutional failure in judgement, and it’s having a chilling effect.

I know, I have seen it in motion, but I am curious if the administrators over at the DCF are pausing to have a look themselves, I just don’t get the sense upper management is connected to the forgotten population I speak of.

Perhaps I am wrong, time will tell.

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