Recent days in Connecticut have provided more than the usual causes for alarm.
— In Hartford a 2-year-old boy fell out the window of a third-floor apartment and soon died of his injuries. He and his four siblings, all under 12, had been left alone by their mother as she went to work as a taxi driver. There was no sign of the children’s father or fathers, but then public policy considers fathers unnecessary and journalism never notices that their absence correlates strongly with poverty’s daily disasters. Police said the family’s apartment was an unsanitary shambles, though the state child protection agency, the Department of Children and Families, said it checked on the family a month earlier and found their situation OK.
— In Waterbury a 14-year-old girl riding in a stolen car with three other young teens at 2:20 in the morning was killed when they ran a red light and smashed into another car. The girl and the driver, 15, were reported to be well known to police.
— In New Haven a 13-year-old girl riding in a stolen car involved in a chase with another stolen car was shot several times from the other car at 2:50 in the morning. Fortunately the incident took place next to Yale New Haven Hospital, which has regular experience with gunshot wounds, and she will survive. Police believe the shots were meant for the girl’s boyfriend, who was driving the stolen car in which they were riding. He is also 13.
— The state child advocate reported that eight Connecticut children under age 3 died last year after ingesting the deadly narcotic fentanyl. The report said more than a quarter of the 97 young children who suffered untimely deaths in the state last year lived in homes that were being or recently had been monitored by DCF.
— Indeed, with drug abuse and addiction exploding in Connecticut and throughout the country, controversy has erupted in New Haven over whether city government should open clinics where addicts can inject illegal drugs under the supervision of nurses equipped to treat overdoses. Would such clinics save lives or rationalize and facilitate addiction? Probably both. In any case many New Haven residents don’t want such clinics near them.
— Governor Lamont attended the opening ceremony in Hartford for one of four new state-funded crisis clinics for children, the others being in New Haven, Waterbury, and New London. The clinics will treat children for depression, thoughts of suicide or self-harm, drug abuse, and “out-of-control” behavior and will try to keep them out of hospital emergency rooms, which are likely to remain busy enough with gunshot victims.
The clinics are among a dozen new state programs to help disturbed children, including a psychiatric ward at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford and an outpatient clinic in the Waterbury area.
These initiatives are separate from the nearly $800 million state government spends annually on the Department of Children and Families, which deals with the thousands of households whose children are in danger of neglect or abuse.
The department has been hiring to reduce the case loads of its social workers so they can pay more attention to clients, but it remains difficult work, and not all child neglect may be threatening enough to come under the department’s jurisdiction, as with the 25% of Connecticut students lately classified as chronically absent from school. In the cities the figure is around 50%.
The governor, some of his commissioners, and many state legislators may be old enough to remember a time in Connecticut when so many children were not fatherless, neglected, disturbed, taking drugs, riding around in stolen cars at 2 in the morning, and causing other trouble. This social disintegration had become rampant before the recent virus epidemic, though government’s response to the epidemic, like closing schools under the pressure of the teacher unions, made the disintegration worse.
Something has been changing for a long time — but what exactly? Perhaps more important, who is striving to discern and address the cause of social disintegration rather than just deal with its ever-increasing symptoms?
Chris Powell has written about Connecticut government and politics for many years. (CPowell@cox.net)