When Torrington police found five young children living in squalor over the weekend, it took 30 minutes before they were able to speak with staff from the state Department of Children and Families’ hotline, and as a result, DCF Commissioner Susan I. Hamilton has ordered a review of the case.
When police investigated on Sunday, they found the children, between the ages of 4 months and 5 years, with a babysitter who would not have been able to get up if they needed help, police said.
The sitter had been drinking and has a handicap, the Waterbury Republican-American reported.
One of the children was sleeping in a dirty crib and another was sleeping on the floor near some food, officials said.
One child was so sick with fever that she needed medical care.
Police notified DCF about the conditions and the children were evaluated at the hospital. On Monday morning, they were returned to their mother, Erica Shaw, 28, at DCF's recommendation, police said.
"I was extremely surprised after the children were checked out at the hospital, DCF recommended they go back with the mother. Are you kidding me?" said Alice Trella, who lives a few doors down from the family.
Then, on Tuesday afternoon, DCF obtained a temporary custody order for five of the couple’s children -- three girls and two boys -- and went for the children, but they were nowhere to be found, police said.
A Watertown police dispatcher tracked the family down to a broken down vehicle in Middlebury just before an Amber Alert was to be issued, The children were hungry and thirst, and the car had only three car seats and several dirty diapers inside, police said.
Shaw and Johnson were charged with risk of injury to a minor and have been told to get a public defender.
"The safety of children is our paramount concern," Commissioner Hamilton said in a news release issued on Thursday evening. "The Department works to keep families together whenever that can be accomplished safely, but I personally recognize and share some of the concerns that this case has raised. We are taking them very seriously and are examining how we intervened in this entire matter."
The children are now in state custody and the State has initiated legal proceedings to seek legal guardianship.
Hamilton has ordered a thorough review of the handling of the case. It will include examining the history of the case and the department's involvement to determine whether the actions taken were appropriate under the circumstances and to identify and implement any necessary corrective actions.
They review is also meant to determine whether a more immediate removal of the children was warranted under existing state law following the most recent report.
Hamilton said she commends the Torrington Police Department for their response and said a 30-minute wait to speak to hotline staff is uncommon but “unacceptable.” She said the average wait time for any caller has been less than two minutes, and the “Department is examining why the wait time was so atypically long that evening in order to prevent this in the future.”
However, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is calling for an independent investigation into how DCF handled the case. He wants the Office of the Child Advocate to figure out what happened and why it happened.
"I was astonished and even outraged by the potential danger and harm that might have been caused to these children. And as a parent, as well as a public official, my feeling is the state must do better," said Blumenthal.