DCF questioned by lawmakers following autistic teen’s death

HARTFORD —  Katiria Tirado was back in court Tuesday for a pre-trial hearing in the case of her son, Matthew Tirado’s death.

Tirado was charged with manslaughter and cruelty to persons, after 17-year-old Matthew’s death in February.  His death came just one month after the Department of Children and Families closed out its case on the teen.

During Tuesday’s hearing the judge requested both sides gather more information to try for a plea deal rather than send the case to trial.  Tirado is due back in court in February.

Tirado’s court appearance happened on the same day the Legislature’s Committee on Children held an informational forum on the matter.  During the hearing, the DCF faced a number of tough questions.

The Committee questioned the DCF Commissioner and raised concerns that there may be gaps in the system when children with intellectual disabilities end up in state’s care.

Matthew had autism, was non-verbal, and was extremely malnourished at the time of his death, according to the medical examiner’s report.

“I don’t think that we can judge a system by one case, it does not for a moment mean that we don’t appreciate and feel very deeply for the loss of this child,” DCF Commissioner, Joette Katz, said.

During the forum, she stressed social workers assigned to Matthew’s case made several attempts to track down his mother and the Hartford teen before his February death.

“We can always do a better job, perfection is something we strive for, could we have done things differently? You can always do more and there’s always more to do, the question though becomes what are you legally able to accomplish and would it have made a difference,” Katz said.

She pointed out the state law restrictions which she said only allows DCF access to a child outside a parent’s permission if there is “reasonable cause” of physical or sexual harm.

“Without the ability to engage mom, have hands on, have eyes on, more importantly have eyes on, our hands were so tied,” Katz said.  She went on to say Matthew’s 10 year history with the DCF was always about reports he did not show up to school, making it a case of educational neglect, not physical abuse.

The Committee repeatedly asked Katz why more was not done after seven orders for Matthew’s mother to appear in court were ignored.

“This hearing really shined a light on developmental disabilities and I think that almost becomes the poor step-child, because we’re so focused on abuse and neglect and those kinds of areas,” Representative Diana Urban (D), co-chair for the Committee on Children, said.

Another issue raised repeatedly during the forum was that Matthew’s case was closed before any DCF workers saw him for themselves.  The case was closed in January 2017, one month before Matthew’s death.

Many of the Committee members said they believe there may be multi-level gaps in the system responsible to protect children.  They called for the OCA and the DCF to recommend changes are needed at the legislative level.

“Yes we think that there were additional investigative steps that could been taken that weren’t, that there were directives given internally that weren’t followed,” Sarah Eagan, with the Office of the Child Advocate, said.

Eagan added DCF was concerned about the well-being of Matthew but said moving forward more needs to be done system-wide in cases like Matthew’s.

“The question is once the parent continued to obstruct the process and in particular once she refused to let anybody see her child what additional steps could have, should have, or should be taken in the future to address that,” Eagen said.

The DCF told FOX61 they are currently handling more than 15,000 cases.  The department said social workers are supposed to have between 12 and 17 cases each, but that more than 100 workers currently exceed that standard.