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CT revamps group homes for troubled youth

Connecticut State Capitol
Molly Ingram
Connecticut State Capitol

Reports of abuse, underpaid staff and inadequate mental health support at Connecticut’s group homes for troubled children have prompted an overhaul of the program.

The program is keeping the same “STARR” acronym, but it will now stand for Specialized Trauma-Informed Treatment Assessment and Reunification, instead of Short-Term Assessment and Respite.

The Department of Children and Families runs the state’s 7 homes. Each home has 6 beds.

STARR homes were initially meant to be short-term housing for kids in crisis. According to state child advocate Sarah Eagan, until recently, children stayed longer than 500 days in some cases.

DCF commissioner designate Jodi Hill-Lily said the enhanced program will have more staff, activities, and treatment options for kids who need help beyond what STARR can provide.

“We acknowledge that STARR homes have experienced significant challenges in trying to meet the needs of youth in their care. In many instances, those complex needs, particularly post-pandemic, exceed what STARR programs were originally intended and equipped to address,” Hill-Lily said. “As Connecticut's lead agency on children's behavioral health, it's imperative that we collectively evolve as the complex needs of our children evolve.”

According to State Representative Liz Linehan, co-chair of the children's committee, the changes will be implemented immediately.

“Perhaps the most important part of this announcement is that these substantive changes we've been working on will be put into place almost immediately, bypassing a long legislative process so our children can start to receive this necessary care as soon as possible,” Linehan said.

Governor Ned Lamont (D) said he supports the changes.

“This plan enables more resources to be dedicated toward providing services that help youths in need and support their behavioral health and development. I am very appreciative of the staff at the Department of Children and Families and those who work with all of our community providers, whose valuable work supports critical care for the youngest members of our communities," Lamont said.

The program will cost $6.2 million and is funded through DCF’s existing budget.

Last fall, the Office of the Child Advocate told lawmakers that the homes were operating with underpaid staff and inadequate mental health treatment. A teenage girl also alleged in a lawsuit she was sexually assaulted while in a group home in Harwinton.

Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.