Office of the Child’s Advocate investigating 3 deaths of foster kids in 1 month
HARTFORD — Several children who were in foster care died in Connecticut in the last month, leading to some serious questions.
The Office of the Child’s Advocate is investigating why and how three children in the care of the state died.
“These deaths are enormous tragedies,” said Faith vos Winkle, of the Office of the Child’s Advocate. “When the state steps in to take on the parent role, we need to make sure we’re doing it as effectively as we can, keeping kids as safe as we can.”
The children include Michael Shore, 14, who was killed while walking on Route 8 in Naugatuck; Michael Citron, 13 months, who was found unresponsive in a Bridgeport home; and Noah McCoy, 6, who was ejected from a pickup truck on Christmas morning after it hit black ice.
Police say that Shore had some type of emotional interaction that caused him to get out of a car and try to cross Route 8 in Naugatuck on December 22. He was hit by a northbound car, and then thrown into the southbound lane and hit by another car.
“We’re in the early stages of reviewing the cases,” said vos Winkle. “When we look at a case like Michael’s, we want to know was he getting the support and services he needed? Did he have the right foster care match, considering his family history? Was the boy getting everything he needed to stay regulated and supported — everything necessary to his well-being, since arriving in state care?”
According to the OCA, Shore’s father, Michael Shore Sr., of Plainville, was arrested in May 2016 on more than 100 counts of sexually assaulting two girls under the age of 18 over a six-year period. He has pleaded guilty to those charges and will be in court next on January 20.
“Because these were children in foster care, who died in an untimely way, they will look into the full circumstances that led up to their deaths,” vos Winkle said.
According to police and the OCA, Noah McCoy, 6, died on Christmas morning in a crash on I-91 north in North Haven. He was in a pickup truck with two other kids and a 23-year-old woman, who was driving. However, McCoy was the only one not wearing a seatbelt, so when the truck hit black ice and flipped over several times he was ejected. He died on Wednesday from the injuries he sustained.
No information was provided on what caused Michael Critron’s death in a Bridgeport home, and the medical examiner is apparently still investigating.
The OCA says all three cases were submitted to the Child Fatality Review Board to be looked at.
“The child fatality review process rests within [our office], so all untimely and unexpected deaths of children are reported to us and the medical examiner,” vos Winkle added.
Report: Foster care has unhappy ending for many
By Linda Conner Lambeck
Ronaele Williams was 16 when she entered the state’s foster care system.
She wasn’t thinking about anything but getting through high school as she bounced from placement to placement, four in all.
“It was really scary, because I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” said Williams, who ended up being one of the lucky ones.
Now 20, she’s living with a friend and her family in New Haven and making her way through college.
Most foster children aren’t as lucky, and continue to need significant support once they turn 18 years old and leave the system, a report released Thursday by Connecticut Voices for Children says.
In 2016, 79 percent of those who aged out of foster care had a high school diploma, compared to 90 percent of all Connecticut adults.
Only 42 percent leave care with a job, and half of those are working just part time.
On average, only 15 percent will go on to get a vocational certificate or licensure.
More than 13 percent leave care pregnant or parenting at least one child.
Follow-up with youth who age out found at least 29 percent had been incarcerated between the ages of 19 and 21.
Source: Connecticut Voices For Children.
At least half of the aged-out youth rely on public assistance, one in five leaves the foster care system without a high school diploma and only 11 percent go on to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree.
“The state needs to do more to prepare them to be self-sufficient,” said Nicole Updegrove, an associate policy fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children, and one of the study’s authors.
The report suggests that though some progress has been made in recent years, it is not enough. The state Department of Children and Families, Updegrove said, now manages to keep more children with their families or relatives. More, however, needs to be done when such arrangements can’t be made, the study says.
Cut loose at 18 or 21
Over the past five years, 1,374 youths have aged out of the state’s foster care system. For many, the cut-off age for receiving services is 18. Those who are still in school, or who meet specific guidelines can stay to age 21. Most who age out leave without a job. By age 21, only 16 percent are working full-time.
This year, 565 foster care recipients are enrolled in some post-secondary program.
DCF Commissioner Joette Katz, who participated in a youth forum Thursday at the State Capitol, said the success of foster children once they leave the system is perhaps the most important measure of how well the agency is serving youth.
“Nationally, we know that the outcomes for children who leave foster care are not good,” Katz said. “(There is) lower educational achievement, greater poverty and homelessness, less success in employment, and greater involvement in adult mental health and criminal justice systems. Unfortunately, Connecticut foster care faces these challenges as well.”
Katz said the state needs to build on existing strengths.
“We need to continue to work to engage youth, to listen to them, and to remove barriers to their success,” she said.
Also during the public forum, several lawmakers said they are focused on making the system better.
State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, said a law passed in the last session could begin to address some concerns.
“It has three components that will be effective as of Jan. 1,” Bartolomeo said.
The law gives children age 12 and older a stronger voice during hearings, requires youth advisory councils at certain child care facilities, and will survey foster children exiting the system to better recruit, train and retain high-quality foster parents.
Williams, who knows the foster care system from the inside, said there needs to be a safety net for young people like her.
“I constantly felt I was bothering people, taking up their time when I had questions,” she said. “You feel like a burden sometimes when you don’t want to be.”
Williams, who is in the process of transferring from Gateway Community College to the University of Connecticut to study human development, said foster youth need more help to prepare for their future and to maintain connections.
She also wants access to someone who can answer questions, even for those who have officially exited the system. “so we don’t freak out,” she said. “There may be something we forgot to ask.”
The Voices report recommends that DCF adopt innovative policies in case planning, and better educate youth about post-secondary policies and support once they leave the system. The group recommends a guaranteed 90-day transition period, homelessness prevention and better data collection so those aging out don’t “face an abrupt cliff once they become legal adults.”