With reduced funding, New Hope closes its doors
By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Fri., Feb. 1, 2013
Their ages range from 12 to 18. They're mostly girls. Their backgrounds include sexual abuse and homelessness. They've suffered from drug addiction and mental health issues. Their stories are all very different, but they all have one thing in common: they were rescued by New Hope Manor. Based in Manchester but serving clients throughout the state, New Hope offered healing in group settings to some of the most highly-traumatized children in our society. But now, after 40 years, New Hope has closed its doors.
On a budget of $7,483,000, New Hope operated 10 sites throughout the state: seven residential/group homes, six of which are for girls and one for boys; a school, Summit School in Manchester, which provides clinical day treatment for students who don't fit in mainstream education; a counseling center; and its business office. New Hope was reliant on state funding through the Department of Child and Family Services.
In the third week of January, staff members at New Hope were told by the administration that due to reductions in state funding, they were closing down. This will put about 130 staff members out of work.
The reaction of staff, however, was that they were not giving up hope without a fight. Debbie Carpenter of New Hope helped organize staff to send a message to legislators. When Carpenter told New Hope's administration of their plans, they were supportive, but because of their ongoing talks with the state, administration could not take an active role.
Carpenter and staff met with representatives from the regional Healthcare Employees Union 1199 at Whiton Memorial Library on Wednesday, Jan. 16. Given a chance to vent their fears and frustrations, their thoughts always turned to the children who would lose New Hope, rather than their own lay-offs.
One woman, who had worked at New Hope for 38 years, expressed her fear of where DCF will place the children. “They're going to warehouse these kids again, where they'll sit in holding tanks until they find someplace for them to go,” she said.
The group homes run by New Hope are the closest things the children have to a real home, someone said. They are some of the most highly-traumatized children in the state, and to remove them from the only home they know, to place them in a different setting, would not work. At the group homes, children have a chance to have dinner together, play cards, watch TV, do arts and crafts, and have the support of staff 24/7.
“You're closing what works,” a staff member said.
New Hope is not the only nonprofit that suffered in Connecticut. On Wednesday, Jan. 30, many nonprofit, community-based health and human services providers rallied at the State Capitol and Legislative Office Building to make their voices heard and lobby legislators. Just a day earlier, the LOB was filled during a public hearing where legislators heard those speaking on mental health services – and gun control the day before that.
The event was organized by Mary Anne O'Neill, director of public policy at the Connecticut Community Providers Association, who said health and human service providers have suffered “20 years of chronic underfunding.”
Carpenter and some staff members attended the rally. They joined the crowd of at least 700 – the number of “We Are The Safety Net” t-shirts that ran out by 9:30 a.m.
From DCF's perspective, New Hope's closure was “without warning,” and forced the department to step in on behalf of clients.
“There are 21 children in the program now, and we quickly put together a plan to serve 15 girls at the program's residential treatment center and serve six boys in the provider's group home in Somers,” said a statement issued by DCF.
Gary Kleeblatt, communications director for DCF, acknowledges that DCF was going to inform New Hope that they were no longer going to use the services of two of New Hope's group homes. This would represent a loss of funding of $2 million to New Hope. However, Kleeblatt asserts that New Hope's internal announcement of closure preceded DCF announcing that discontinuation.
The philosophy of DCF under its commissioner, Joette Katz, is to keep children in need of care with their own families, whenever possible. If they can't be placed with family or close relatives, then a foster home is the next best thing. Keeping with this philosophy, DCF has worked to reduce the number of children in congregate settings – such as New Hope's group homes.
By April 1, Kleeblatt said that all of the children from New Hope will be assessed, and based on their needs, placed in a community-based setting or within a family setting. For some, that family setting will be their own families, for others, foster families.
At the rally, staff members from New Hope say that the children they work with are at such high levels of trauma that they are potentially a danger to themselves and others. They do not believe that a foster family can be trained to care for children like that in six to eight weeks, when it takes a community to care for them around the clock.
When asked if the community-based settings DCF plans to place the children in are operated by the state, Kleeblatt said not necessarily. “There are many other private programs,” he said.
This too did not satisfy staff members. If the children are removed from the home they know, only to be placed in a similar private facility, some asked how that is any improvement.
While they may have low expectations of what speaking to legislators at the rally will accomplish, Carpenter said the attempt is worth it. “We're fighting because even if it doesn't work, at least we tried,” she said.