DCF and DOAG Partner to Prevent Child Abuse and Animal Cruelty
People who hurt animals do not stop with animals and there is mounting evidence that a connection between animal cruelty and human violence exists. Referred to as “The Link,” professionals in a variety of human services and animal welfare disciplines have established significant correlations between animal abuse and neglect, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, elder abuse, and other forms of interpersonal violence.
"The Link evidences that it is critically important that animal cruelty be taken seriously by law enforcement, and by society at large for the sake of the animals and humans," stated Phil Arkow, renowned in this field of work and the coordinator of the National Link Coalition.
Connecticut has taken proactive steps to address these issues. A law was implemented in 2011 requiring state, regional, and municipal animal control officers (ACOs) and Department of Children and Families (DCF) employees to report to the Department of Agriculture (DOAG) Commissioner when they reasonably suspect that an animal is being treated cruelly, harmed, or neglected. As part of this law, DOAG is mandated to forward all animal cruelty reports to DCF for assessment and possible commencement of an investigation to determine the safety of children in the home who may have been exposed to the animal cruelty.
“Animal abuse is a warning sign that can be linked to child endangerment,” said Bryan P. Hurlburt, Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner.
“Connecticut is one of a few states in the country with a cross-reporting requirement. This is a critical communications tool between agencies to identify issues in a timelier manner to provide the necessary assistance for both animals and people.”
Through DCF’s initiative called Paws for Kids established in 2019, education and awareness about the LINK is being offered
statewide and a comprehensive Cross Reporting training was developed for community providers, and DCF staff.
Diane Rosell, a DCF Program Supervisor who has been working on advancing this work, reports the agency, "began ramping up our investment in cross reporting work with DOAG in 2019, marked by a conference that sold out in June, showcasing the work of Phil Arkow and the Link. After the initial launch, we began developing materials for DCF staff and the community to assist in better understanding why there is a Cross Reporting law and the significance of the Link between animal and child cruelty.”
A Cross Reporting survey was also completed by DCF staff in 2019 which evidenced that there was a clear interest in learning more. Of 325 staff that responded, 69% reporting they wanted more information about Cross Reporting. In early 2020, the educational materials were complete but, due delays during COVID, the Cross Reporting training did not launch until February 2021 for DCF staff. To date, approximately 1600 DCF staff have taken the training, and with 138 satisfaction survey responses. Included in the survey results were the following: 77% of 138 staff said that they had no or limited knowledge of Cross Reporting before they took the training. Following the training, 82% stated they had a good understanding of what Cross Reporting and the LINK are and 74% felt that learning about Cross Reporting was valuable and/or useful to their job. In addition, 93% reported that they were comfortable making a report to DOAG as a result of the training.
DCF’s 2019 and 2020 annual Cross Reporting report to the state legislature, documented a noticeable increase in reports received by DCF, concerning animal cruelty. There was an increase in reported cases from 69 reports in 2019 to 120 reports in 2020. In 2020, of the animal cruelty reports received to the Careline, 25% of those cases had prior DCF history. This increase in reporting can be attributed to the collaborated efforts and partnership between DCF and DOAG.
"Maltreatment within family settings can manifest itself in many forms. These collaborative efforts between the Department of Children and Families and Department of Agriculture demonstrate a proactive approach to protecting children and animals. We should be proud of Connecticut's approach," stated Department of Children and Families Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes. "We are very appreciative of Commissioner Hurlburt and his staff for their partnership."
Social Worker, Liz Burne from the Torrington DCF office, has experienced firsthand the collaboration between DCF and the Department of Agriculture. “I received a frantic call from (Ms. Smith) a relative foster care provider," Ms. Burne explained. "Mrs. Smith had just learned that her daughter was being incarcerated directly from an afternoon court date and was not able to make a rehoming plan for her pets. She was concerned about the emotional stress this worry was placing on her granddaughter, who was already upset about her Mother’s incarceration." Together, DCF, the police and the ACO connected with the landlord who gave them access to the apartment. Within a couple of hours, a plan was put in place so that the little girl could visit her pets while she was safely placed with her grandmother. “Despite the added emotional upset for all involved, one positive outcome is that this little girl witnessed adults responding to her distress," Ms. Burne said. Adding, “we validated her attachments to her pets while creating a safe plan for her beloved animals.”
Ms. Rebecca Vocatura, a Social Worker from the Norwich office, was also able to explain a positive experience with ACO reporting. “The ACO's concern about a dog bite gave me an opportunity to further assess and educate the family about how to care for a puppy and remind them of the importance of teaching the children how to properly care for of an animal," Ms. Vocatura stated. She was able to help the Mom understand that the puppy was an added stressor given the family's economic situation and over-crowded living environment. and persuaded her to rehome the puppy.
A partnership between the ACO and the DCF Social Worker, working towards a common purpose, can not only improve the understanding of the link between animal cruelty and child abuse and neglect but can positively impact a family in need more effectively because of the collaboration. For example, earlier this year the Department received a report of neglect on a family who owned a farm with over 200 animals. The ACO was concerned about a hoarding issue inside the home which he believed was creating an unsafe living environment for the children. The home was cluttered with various items. DCF opened a case and was
able to keep the family together by guiding the family on ways to improve the numerous safety conditions. “The family was very cooperative”, explained assigned Social Worker, Kristy Borders from the Willimantic Office. “Plans were made to clear the home of the debris by renting a dumpster and clearing paths to ensure two areas of egress in the children’s bedrooms. The Department also provided the family with gift cards to purchase beds frames because the children were sleeping on mattresses on the floor of the home," she added. The ACO’s report to the Department made a difference in the quality of life for the family.
“We are still early in our work on Cross Reporting but as evidenced with the increase in reports to DCF in 2020, the commitment of collaboration with DOAG, and knowledge and interest by DCF staff in this work, I think we are making some progress” said Rosell.