Paws for Kids

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Animal Cruelty Awareness Month. We discuss the link between domestic abuse and animal abuse, it is a very real and scary statistic. Listen to our interview with Jacqueline Ford, Social Worker from the Bureau of External Affairs for DCF.

Interview with: Jacqueline Ford, MSW - Social Worker from the Bureau of External Affairs for Department of Children & Families


Paws for Kids is a partnership between CT Department of Children and Families and the animal advocacy community to promote child and animal well-being through education, cross-reporting efforts, marketing, and establishing an Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI) for DCF children with trauma.

Through our dedicated collaboration, Paws for Kids launched an AAI service for DCF children who have been exposed to trauma. Our service aims to provide comfort and support to children and reduce stress and anxiety through exposure to therapy animals. Coupled with educational activities, our AAI program hopes to advance children's awareness, empathy, and respect for animals. Paws for Kids also provide education for DCF staff and the animal advocacy community on Cross Reporting and AAI, expanded our partnership with the Department of Agriculture around Cross Reporting activities, and plans to evaluate our AAI service to measure how the work is beneficial to children. 

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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. Phil Arkow, renowned in this field of work and the coordinator of the National Link Coalition states: “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”.

A Connecticut law was implemented in 2011 requiring the state of CT, 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 and DCF must cross reference all animal cruelty reports to determine if there is either an open or prior DCF case, and whether the ACO report should be investigated.

As a result of this legislation, DCF and DOAG have been expanding this collaboration more recently beyond the statutory requirements. “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 [Insert PAWS for Kids link], established in 2019, provides education and awareness about the LINK is being offered statewide and a comprehensive Cross Reporting training was developed for community providers, and mandatory for all DCF staff. Diane Rosell, a DCF Program Supervisor who has been working on advancing this work reports: “We 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 we have 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. In DCF’s 2019 and 2020 annual Cross Reporting report to the state legislature, there has been 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. Social Worker, Liz Burns from the Torrington DCF office, has experienced firsthand the collaboration between DCF and the Department of Agriculture. “I received a frantic call from (Mrs. Smith), a relative foster care provider”, SW Burns 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. SW Burns explained that Mrs. Smith was unable to take the pets into her own home and the driving distance to the apartment was too far away.

She was concerned about the emotional stress this worry was placing on her granddaughter, who was already upset about her Mom’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, SW Burns said. Adding, “we validated her attachments to her pets while creating a safe plan for her beloved animals.” Rebecca Vocatura, social work from the Norwich office was also able to explain a positive experience with ACO reporting. During an investigation concerning child neglect, which included inter-generational living in a very small apartment with financial stressors, a report was initiated to the Careline by the ACO. “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”, she added. SW Vocatura was able to help the Mom understand that the puppy was an added stressor 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. In 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, Kristi Brenek from the Willimantic Office, adding, “Plans were made to clear the home of the clutter by renting a dumpster, and clearing paths to ensure two areas of regress 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”. 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.

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