Representatives respond to closure of New Hope Manor

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Fri., Feb. 8, 2013
New Hope Manor staff met with state Sen. Steve Cassano (center) and state Rep. Jason Rojas (right) on Wednesday, Jan. 30, at the State Capitol. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

Many were dismayed to learn of the abrupt closure of New Hope Manor – perhaps none more than its staff and clients. An institution of 40 years in Manchester, New Hope runs seven group homes throughout the state which provide rehabilitation and constant care to teens, mostly girls, who have suffered from severe trauma, drug addition or mental illness.

The announcement came in mid-January, and the Department of Children and Families has been working to place clients elsewhere, be it with family, foster homes or similar congregate care settings. New Hope was dependent on DCF for funding. Gary Kleeblatt, communications director for DCF, said New Hope's announcement came before DCF intended to inform the nonprofit that the department would no longer be using two of the seven group homes run by New Hope, representing a funding loss of roughly $2 million.

Currently, the only group homes still operating are the group home for girls on Hartford Road in Manchester and the group home for boys in Enfield.

According to a source at New Hope, the CEO has been laid off and the organization has been placed under a court-ordered receivership. Staff members recently received their 60-day notices, and are unsure if they will receive payment for accrued vacation time. New Hope is unable to cover staff health insurance, an expense DCF has picked up.

Staff members continued to fight for New Hope even when closure was certain. During a rally protesting the underfunding of nonprofit, community-based health and human services providers on Wednesday, Jan. 30, staff had a chance to tell their stories to two Manchester legislators, state Sen. Steve Cassano (D-4th District) and state Rep. Jason Rojas (D-9th District).

“It's a very difficult situation,” said Cassano in a phone interview after the rally. Cassano himself was on the original board of New Hope Manor.

The intent to discontinue some services at New Hope is consistent with a new philosophy at DCF. “When Commissioner [Joette] Katz [of the Department of Children and Families] came in, she said her goals would be to reduce the number of people in group homes, to get better foster home placements, and better foster home treatment to tie in with that,” said Cassano. “She has, in fact, been successful with that, and unfortunately because of that, places like New Hope are suffering.”

As more clients have been placed in foster programs and fewer placed in congregate care, group homes – many funded on a per-client basis – have seen their state support dwindle. “The state wasn't going to continue to pay for vacancies, so that's what we're left with,” said Cassano.

Cassano recognizes the unfortunate loss of jobs this shift has caused. “They're really dedicated workers,” he said. “The first thing they talk about is the needs of the kids.”

The phasing out of congregate care is not necessarily a move Cassano agrees with. “I still think there's going to be a need for [clients] in group settings,” Cassano said. “There are many who don't agree that the foster home care is the same benefit. But the commissioner believes that this is better for children.”

Cassano was also struck by the abrupt nature of the closure. “Perhaps the most astounding thing about this process is it happened overnight,” said Cassano. “You would have thought there would be some pre-warnings. As a legislator, we heard nothing. And all of a sudden, I get a phone call: New Hope closed, effective tomorrow.” This, he said, was not a good process. “It was so sudden that it really left us no chance to respond and try to help,” he said. Cassano will be meeting with the commissioner's office on Wednesday, Feb. 13.

For Rojas, the closure of New Hope came as a shock. But he also sees it as a “sobering reality.” To Rojas, Connecticut is at a point in the state budgetary process where “we're going to see a lot of disappointing news like this, where important organizations are going to be faced with very difficult decisions like this,” he said.

The ones most dramatically impacted by the closure, however, are the children. “These are kids that are high needs, don't have a lot of options in terms of places to go,” said Rojas. “We don't have other beds to put these kids. The last place we want them is in an emergency room, which is much more costly to all of us as taxpayers than if we had them in a home run by an organization like New Hope.”

Rojas believes that there are benefits and concerns to DCF's philosophy of shifting away from group homes. “It's a costly service that is provided by the state to operate these group homes, and obviously I think there's a better outcome for kids that are at a more stable position like in a family home with a foster family,” he said. “The challenge is, do we have enough foster families for kids in this age bracket?” While many foster families have the ability or willingness to take in a small child, it becomes much more difficult for foster families to take in teens.

“But I would defer to the commissioner to some degree on that because she is much more familiar with these issues than I am,” he said.

Going forward, Rojas would like to advocate further for New Hope. But with many other organizations asking for the same thing, he can make no guarantees. Gov. Dannel Malloy's budget proposal, presented Wednesday, Feb. 6, initiated a long process in which legislators will try to fight for their constituencies.

“There's going to be a lot for everyone to not like,” Rojas said of the budget. “It's going to be a very difficult four months for all of us - legislators, the public, people who are in need of services. It's going to be a long, painful discussion.”

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