New Department Foster Care Director Sees Opportunities To Strengthen Inclusive Approach To Benefit Children
A “family systems” approach to helping vulnerable children strives to strengthen the family in order to benefit the child.
So, when a child is removed from his or her family and taken into foster care, how do you take a family systems approach?
We are going to find out.
Deb Borzellino is a licensed marriage and family therapist whose first day as the Department of Children and Families' statewide director of foster care was March 13, 2020. That was right when the COVID-19 pandemic slammed fully into state government – shutting offices and turning state business on its head along with everything else in Connecticut.
Now Ms. Borzellino is looking to turn foster care in Connecticut on its head too.
Obtaining her master’s degree in family therapy from Southern Connecticut State University, Ms. Borzellino said the basic premise of this discipline is “looking at the family as a system instead of seeing the child as the client.”
Ms. Borzellino said, "When the family gets better, the parents and the child get better together. That's the direction we are going in."
She said the Department will maintain its focus on the use of relatives and kin (others who know the child) for children who must enter state care. The Department now has more than 40 percent of children in care living with relatives and kin -- more than double what it was a decade ago. "My vision is to increase the number of children living with people they know," she said.
That, Ms. Borzellino said, can open the door to healing relationships with biological parents and, often, lead to reunification.
"From the beginning, we need to encourage and support biological and foster parents to work together, in conjunction with the child, so the child does not have to choose one family or the other," she said. "It is also important that there are good relationships between the biological parents and the foster parents so that the biological parents know who their child is with and that they know the child is safe."
Ms. Borzellino said, "Our child welfare system is moving to an inclusive system where foster families and biological families work together in the interest of the child.
"Parents involved in child welfare have the same aspirations all parent do -- that our children are safe and well cared for," she added. "By being inclusive and treating parents with respect, openness and kindness, we are proving the support that all parents need from time to time."
Ms. Borzellino recognized that "we have to focus on child safety and welfare," and that in doing so the Department also will enhance family safety and welfare.
She said another point of emphasis needs to be making the first home the child goes to upon removal the last one he or she lives in -- until the child returns to the biological family or attains permanency through other means.
Ms. Borzellino came to the Department after a number of years of private practice and then worked in the Connecticut nonprofit sector for organizations serving children and families. Her most recent role was with The Connection, Inc. as director of family support services overseeing its therapeutic foster care program, supportive housing and several other mental health and substance use disorder treatment for women and children. She also worked for Community Mental Health Affiliates as a program officer managing multiple programs funded by the Department, including Intensive Family Preservation, Reunification and Therapeutic Family Time and a substance use treatment program designed to keep children out of foster care, known as Family Based Recovery. Ms. Borzellino also worked as a probate court officer in the Waterbury Probate Court.
In addition, Ms. Borzellino served on the Statewide Racial Justice Workgroup for approximately five years before coming to the Department, and she said this experience has been a highlight of her professional career.
It also gave her the opportunity to become acquainted with the current Department leadership when they were regional administrators, including Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes and Child Welfare Bureau Chief Tina Jefferson.
So, when the chance arose to serve as the Department's foster care director, it was very appealing. "I gained such respect in watching the Department transform itself," Ms. Borzellino said. "I wanted to be part of it."