Impact Feature Issue on Children with Disabilities in the Child Welfare System
Supporting Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children and Parents in Connecticut
The Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) continues to move in the direction of “…working within individual cultures and communities in Connecticut” by incorporating cultural competence as one of its mission statement guiding principles. Until recently, the current cultural competence trend has inadequately addressed the needs of Deaf and hard of hearing children and families. The Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – Section 504, mandates sign language interpreting and communication access as accommodations for persons with disabilities. Connecticut Public Act 97-272 – Section 6, Subsection 17a-3, specifically identifies Deaf and hearing-impaired children in the defined population to be served by DCF. These concerns, along with the goal of removing communication barriers that might prevent any DCF clients from receiving appropriate services, and the commitment and efforts of a collaboration of determined individuals and agencies, led to the establishment of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families Task Force on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons in February 2000.
The task force was created to address ongoing concerns related to the lack of services accessible to Deaf and hard of hearing children and/or families known to the DCF. Recurring issues such as the inability of the DCF to count the number children and/or families who were Deaf or hard of hearing, and marginal compliance with federal and state laws related to access to services for this population were identified as clear indicators of the lack of progress the DCF had made in serving this population. Other concerns were the lack of the knowledge regarding the application of culturally competent case practices for protective services investigators and social workers, and strategies for bridging gaps between Deaf culture, DCF, and service providers.
Initiated by a DCF social work supervisor, agencies initially committed to the task force included the Connecticut Commission on Deaf and Hearing Impaired (CDHI), the American School for the Deaf, the Connecticut Association of Foster and Adoptive Parents, Family Services Woodfield (a private provider with a Deaf services program), and Klingberg Family Services. The Task Force identified three priority areas: 1) Recruitment of Deaf foster parents or homes where foster parents are able to sign; 2) identification of resources for Deaf parents, foster parents, and children; and 3) provision of training to DCF staff and service providers regarding Deaf culture, communication, legal access requirements, and strategies and skills for working with this population.
In the first year alone, the task force was responsible for initiating significant system changes within the DCF. Their accomplishments included but were not limited to, two administrative policies that raised social workers’ awareness regarding cultural considerations in working with diverse clients, and the delivery of services in native language. The 24-hour emergency hotline installed a TTY machine and staff was trained. A DCF informational foster care meeting for Deaf and hard of hearing families was held at CDHI. The DCF Training Academy, in collaboration with a CDHI community educator, began training on deafness and Deaf culture at each of the regional offices and all pre-service social worker trainings. This same trainer provided training for all hotline staff. Funds were secured to film a sign language interpreted version of the DCF video “Be a Hero, Be a Foster Parent.” However, perhaps the most momentous project accomplished by the task force in the first year was a statewide conference for DCF social workers and community providers. With Adoption and Safe Families Act funding, the committee organized the “Keeping Families Together: Working with Deaf and Hearing Impaired Clients” conference. The conference was attended by over 150 DCF social workers, Deaf or hearing-impaired foster parents, and community service providers. Subsequent conferences in 2003 and 2005 were equally well-attended.
The task force has now expanded to include the director of the Division of Multicultural Affairs, a DCF staff representative from each of the DCF area offices and three facilities, the DCF Training Academy, the DCF Office of the Ombudsman, the Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy, foster parents of Deaf and hard of hearing children, children and Deaf adults, Saint Francis Hospital, and social service providers throughout the state. It continues to meet bi-monthly to identify and address emerging issues that affect services to the Deaf children and families in DCF care. In addition to the outcomes of its work listed above, TTY machines are now installed in every office and facility, all workers have been trained and are tested on the procedures for utilizing and working with sign language interpreters, and the Division of Multicultural Affairs maintains resources for workers needing to contact sign language interpreters. Also, the DCF recently approved a contract with a service provider to train and certify an additional 40 sign language interpreters for use with DCF services.