April 30, 2007
By COLIN POITRAS, Courant Staff Writer
For the past five years, Fay Evans has been a professional den mother to dozens of youngsters in Greater Hartford.
As director of the STAR Mentoring program on Gillett Street, Evans employs more than 30 trained mentors who spend many hours each week making sure their young charges get to school on time, stay out of trouble and have someone to talk to when they're feeling stressed.
Such mentoring represents the brave new world of community services the Department of Children and Families is pushing as an alternative to expensive institutional care for children at risk.
But Evans says her program and dozens of others like it around the state are imperiled if DCF follows through on its intention to dramatically overhaul its existing service contracts. The proposed changes include cutting hourly provider rates, increasing training and insurance requirements and adding additional layers of bureaucracy for increased accountability.
Acting DCF Commissioner Brian Mattiello said the changes - scheduled to take effect July 1 - are necessary because the program has grown from $5 million a year to nearly $25 million and recent state and federal audits showed instances of over-billing, double-billing and wide discrepancies in rates for comparable services.
While providers such as Evans say they understand DCF's desire to make the programs more business-like, they believe the agency's strict new credentialing standards will force them to spend more time on administrative paperwork and less time providing services. Providers are most upset that DCF tried to enforce the changes without consulting them.
"We have felt the commissioner's respect for providers totally lacking," said Anthony Grandazzo, senior vice president of the Northern Middlesex YMCA in Middletown, which has more than 150 mentors serving families across the state.
"You can't fulfill your mandate without us," Grandazzo told Mattiello during a mediation session at the Capitol April 27 attended by about two-dozen providers and parents. "You have proceeded in the process without any involvement from us, and that is not the way to treat your partners."
Brett Rayford, DCF's bureau chief overseeing the mentoring programs, apologized and agreed to work with the providers in the coming weeks to modify the proposed changes. During last week's session, Mattiello announced DCF was raising the proposed new rates by up to $5 more an hour in response to the providers' complaints.
Mattiello pointed out that the rate change, while seemingly small, was a $1.5 million decision when all the providers are factored in.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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