Parents, Lawmakers Concerned with Group Home Closures

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Ben Schuler has a healthy home, a loving family, and a myriad of diagnoses that his mother claims require special treatment.

“I won’t go into all of his diagnoses but there is a long list and so he struggles with behavior, he struggles with learning disabilities, he struggles with attention, verbal issues,” Cindy Schuler said.

In the last year, Ben, 15,  has thrived, Cindy Schuler said. The young man from Bristol attends a Department of Children and Families contracted group home called Pando Home. The home includes trained staff, therapists, and a weekly psychiatrist.

“They were sort of a third person, able to do things that we were unable to accomplish for Ben so, he has made extreme progress in the last year which has been a very, very, wonderful thing,” Schuler said.

Cindy and Ben received some unsettling news in June. DCF will be closing Pando Home at the end of August. It is part of an initiative pushed by DCF Commissioner Joette Katz to reduce institutionalization among DCF children. In all, 6 homes will close and the children they serve will be placed elsewhere.

Some lawmakers are concerned about the possible consequences of the closures. Already, emergency rooms have seen an uptick in children with mental health needs, State Senator Rob Kane (D-Watertown) said.

“This Commissioner has put forth an edict that she must approve any referral to a congregate care facility, regardless of the situation. And that’s wrong,” Kane said.

State Senator Beth Bye (D-West Hartford) has expressed concerns that Katz’s edict could create a chilling effect, preventing DCF workers from referring children to existing group homes.

“It’s having an impact on the system,” Bye said.

A spokesperson for DCF, Gary Kleeblatt, told Fox Connecticut that the six homes that will close are not utilized to their full capacity. Each child will be individually assessed for an appropriate placement, whether in a new group home, foster home, or with a relative, Kleeblatt said.

At a legislative hearing Thursday, Katz denied claims that her policy is driving kids into the ER.

“There is a misperception, forgive me, but a misperception that kids backing up in the ED is a result of my policy on congregate care and that is not accurate,” Katz said.

Cindy Schuler cautions that not all children can be properly treated at home.

“This requires more than we are capable of doing and in order for Ben to be safe, and those around him to be safe, he needs a higher level of supervision and care that a normal home just cannot provide,” Schuler said

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