The Connection Inc.: Supporting Systems Integration and Reunifying Families
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The state of Connecticut is a leader in systems integration, bringing together housing and supportive services to promote child welfare and family reunification. Working alongside state agencies, The Connection, Inc. provides intensive case management and housing support to over 500 families across the state. Betsy Cronin, Program Director, shares The Connection’s model of success for providing a stable platform for families to reunify and grow stronger, together.
“We have kids on our waiting list who really should be home with mom or dad, but the family just doesn’t have the resources. Mom and Dad have done everything they need to do to get their kids back, but you have to have a place to live if you want to reunify your family,” explains Betsy Cronin, Program Director for The Connection, Inc., a non profit human services and community development agency in Connecticut.
At any given time, The Connection’s Supportive Housing for Families Program is working with up to 500 families throughout the state to provide intensive home based case management services and housing support. They work in partnership with the state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Department of Social Services. Housing specialists and case managers collaborate with the child welfare system to provide the highest level of care and stable housing. All 43 of the Connection’s case managers are trained in Motivational Interviewing, which helps them provide a strengths-based system of delivery. Caseloads never exceed 12 families.
This year, Ruth White, the Executive Director of the National Center on Housing and Child Welfare will be honoring Susan Hamilton, the Commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families with an award for being a national leader for child welfare. “There is a lot of pressure to do other things with this money, but for twelve years, the Department of Children and Families has funded this work. Our child welfare leadership understands the value and critical importance of families having good, safe, affordable housing,” explains Betsy.
The Connection uses an evidence-based assessment tool, called the North Carolina Family Assessment Screening Tool (NCFAS), following a complete psychosocial evaluation to map family functioning. The NCFAS is also used to develop a family plan. “This tool is the foundation of our work,” says Betsy. “We re-evaluate the plan every three months. It is a process that evolves. As new areas of focus are identified, new goals are developed with the family.” The NCFAS family plan is integrated into an information system that aids case managers in service planning.
On average, families receive two years of case management services and a permanent housing subsidy. “We would never step out of a case unless housing is stable,” offers Betsy. The Connection works collaboratively with child welfare workers to ensure that families receive appropriate supportive services to address a range of issues faced by families living in poverty, like mental health, substance use, criminal histories, and the need for goal setting, education, and job training.
After a family plan is in place, housing specialists at The Connection will identify housing that meets the standards required by the Family Unification Program’s Section 8. The Connection’s housing specialists are all certified to conduct the housing inspections required by HUD.
The Family Unification Program vouchers are in short supply across the country as a result of an unpredictable system for making them available and the economic recession. The Connection receives transitional housing funding in their contract with child welfare and these funds can be used to help families with security deposits, monthly rent payments, utilities, and household furnishings.
Currently, The Connection is using the transitional housing dollars to cover the rent for 263 housing units for families. This is an important source of funding that helps build a bridge between the cycles of voucher availability. Betsy explains, “We can house people very quickly with transitional housing dollars.” She cautions that programs in this area must be able to carve out a budgetary line item for meeting family transitional housing needs.
The state of Connecticut is a leader in the area of systems integration for family preservation and reunification. Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families, which funds The Connection, and the Department of Social Services, which provides housing subsidies, work alongside The Connection to help preserve and reunify families. “These two state agencies have a strong relationship,” says Betsy. In other states there may be programs that provide one or the other, but rarely both, because systems often do not work in concert with each other.
In addition to collaborative work with the two state agencies, The Connection has partnered with other non-profit agencies across the state to provide case management services. The Connection maintains close relationships with partner agencies to form a cohesive network. A shared training system and electronic database links them together. “We are able to capitalize on the strengths of other agencies throughout the state. These agencies have connections to food pantries, churches and other valuable community resources,” says Betsy.
The work of preserving and reunifying families through supportive housing saves public money. “There is a significant cost savings for the state, because of the high costs of foster and residential care,” notes Betsy.
Peter Nucci, President and CEO of The Connection, Inc began the program in 1997 as Supportive Housing For Recovering Families, dedicated to help parents who had been separated from their children as a result of substance use and the recovery process. Some residential substance use treatment facilities accepted parents and children, but many were separated and children were sent to foster care.
While responding to this need, the Connection learned that many other families had been separated from their children for other reasons. The organization expanded and opened services to a broader population.
If a parent loses his or her housing for any reason, she is at high risk for losing her children to foster care. The Connection offers a powerful model to help both preserve and reunify families, drawing on the strengths of multiple systems to support and strengthen families.
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