The Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance is committed to ensuring that our young children can reach their full potential. In 2015, the Alliance policy themes are:
· Funding for early childhood programs – We believe the care and education of Connecticut’s youngest children should be a priority.
· Workforce compensation – The people who care for and educate our youngest children in state funded programs are among the lowest paid in the state. At the same time they face mandates requiring higher qualifications and degrees. It is essential that low wages and barriers to degree attainment be addressed so that the workforce can be stabilized and turnover rates - harmful to child outcomes - can be reduced.
· Infant and toddler care – Lots of attention has been paid to preschool, but brain science shows that the first three years of a child’s life have the most impact on their future. High quality care for infants and toddlers is hard to find and more expensive. Greater availability of infant and toddler spaces, subsidies for parents, and higher rates for this care is needed.
· Mental and behavioral health – Even infants have mental health needs, yet mental and behavioral health services for children under age five is in short supply. The Alliance will work to include our youngest children in mental health plans.
In addition to these areas of focus, the Alliance will advocate for sensible changes to programs that help families and young children.
Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions hold that adolescents, whose brains are still developing, are more capable of rehabilitation than adults. The court ruled that a person under 18 years old cannot be sentenced to mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole and that factors related to youth must be considered before imposing a life sentence. Connecticut law does not meet either standard. To correct this, our state’s Sentencing Commission crafted bipartisan, consensus recommendations. The resulting bill would allow a person serving a long sentence for crimes committed as a juvenile the chance for a parole hearing after a significant portion of the sentence had been served. The bill would also require judges to consider youth when imposing sentences. (ref. 2014 HB 5221)
In most of the state’s juvenile courts, children are routinely shackled for court appearances, despite no indication that they will attempt to run away or be violent. Legislation would prohibit the use of handcuffs, belly chains and leg irons on a child charged with a delinquency offense during a court proceeding, unless a judge determines that the child presents a danger to public safety and there are no less restrictive alternatives. This legislation is in line with a national movement towards best practices around the use of shackles. (ref. 2013 HB 6399)
Transfer to adult court
Currently, for some offenses, a child can be transferred to the adult criminal justice system as young as 14 years old. The legislation would change this to 15, so that all 14 year-olds and younger would stay in the juvenile justice system, where support exists to fix the underlying causes of their misbehavior. Further, all felony A and B charges of these children are automatically transferred to adult court (felony C, D, and unclassified are discretionary: a state’s attorney decides when to transfer). The legislation would make felony B charges discretionary.
Transfer to adult prison with no criminal charges
The Department of Children and Families has the ability to request that a child in its custody –child welfare or juvenile justice - be transferred to adult prison, even when that child is not facing any adult criminal charges. The law is harmful to children and patently unjust. Though the power is rarely exercised, it is enormously damaging on those occasions when it is, as seen in the recent “Jane Doe” case. (ref. CGS 17a-12[a])
The juvenile justice system serves as a default children's mental health system for some youth. The state's Children's Mental Health Implementation Plan must be funded in order to improve access to and quality of care; and DCF and CSSD must receive funding for the critical programs and services needed for youth and families to succeed in their communities. (ref. PA 13-178)
Children who are committed to DCF under child protection are mandated to receive an educational surrogate to advocate for their best educational interests. For a child who is committed delinquent, this is optional (“may,” instead of “shall”). The proposed change would provide an educational surrogate to all kids, with parental consent. Research done by the Center for Children’s Advocacy shows that the reform would affect less than 100 children per year.