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THE HARTFORD COURANT
DCF Reaches Out To State's Latinos
Improved Service Is Agency's Goal
By COLIN POITRAS, Courant Staff Writer
April 24, 2004
Leaders of the state's troubled child welfare agency Friday urged members of Hartford's Latino community to become active partners in their efforts to improve services to Hispanic and other minority families that have traditionally been underserved.
"Until we put communities in the forefront of the process, we will continue to struggle to make a difference," said Michael Williams, director of the Hartford office of the Department of Children and Families.
Speaking to a small group at the Trinity College Latino Student Center Friday afternoon, Williams and other top DCF officials said the agency must form "sustainable partnerships" with community leaders to overcome the dissent and distrust that has plagued the department for years.
Latino and African American children continue to be grossly overrepresented in the state's child protection and juvenile justice systems, officials said.
Latino children are often forced to wait twice as long for mental health counseling because of a lack of available bilingual therapists in Connecticut. There is a shortage of Latino foster homes.
Rather than seizing children because their parents are struggling with poverty or substance abuse, the DCF must work harder to help parents get the financial assistance or the counseling they need, without tearing their families apart, said D. Ray Sirry, the federal court monitor helping overhaul the DCF.
Sirry urged those present to lobby their legislators to support reforms such as more supportive housing vouchers for parents struggling with substance abuse, more community-based mental health care and more flexible funding to help target money for families where they need it most - for rent, clothing or food.
The initial reaction to Friday's discussion was positive.
"I think it's wonderful, the fact that the DCF is actually coming into the communities and asking people to give them feedback," said Edna Negrón Rosario, regional director for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.
Julio Morales, professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut's School of Social Work and a longstanding advocate for Hartford's Latino community, appreciated the department's willingness to reach out to a community that has always worked hard to help its own.
"It seems to be their philosophy that this is important and it's going to be validated and that's appreciated, it's welcomed," Morales said.
The department launched a similar partnership last year with the city's African American community.