Editor's Note: The following release was submitted by The Southbury Training School Home & School Association.
State-funded, nonprofit provider organizations were the sole investigative agencies in more than 41 percent of the cases over the past decade of abuse and neglect of intellectually disabled persons in Connecticut, according to data provided by the Department of Developmental Services.
The data, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, show the state relied solely on nonprofit providers, which primarily operate community-based group homes, to investigate 2,750 out of a total of 6,654 abuse and neglect complaints in the state between 2002 and 2012. No state agencies were involved in those investigations, according to the data.
The DDS data show that provider agencies were involved in a total of 4,677 investigations between 2002 and 2012, or 70.3 of the total investigations conducted. In contrast, DDS was involved in just 24.9 percent of the total investigations, and the independent state Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities (OPA) was involved in directly investigating only 7.7 percent of those investigations.
The OPA appears to primarily monitor investigations by other agencies. According to the DDS data, OPA monitored a total of 2,048 investigations, or 30.8 percent of the total number.
The situation is of concern to guardians of residents at the Southbury Training School (STS), who are under increasing pressure from the Malloy administration to move their family members into community-based group homes. "We feel that relying on group home provider organizations to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect in their own programs is putting the fox in charge of the henhouse," said David Kassel, a spokesman for the STS Home & School Assn., a nonprofit organization solely supported by families and guardians of residents of STS. "The providers rely heavily, if not entirely, on DDS funding for their survival. We question their incentive to let DDS or OPA know about the most serious problems of abuse or neglect in their operations that could potentially jeopardize that funding."
If a case of abuse or neglect occurs at STS or in other state-run DDS facilities, it is investigated by either DDS or the OPA. However, an online DDS policies and procedures manual states that investigations of complaints involving providers and their staffs are "usually" conducted by those same providers.
A 2008 interagency agreement between DDS and OPA states that DDS must establish "minimum standards" to ensure that providers have staff that are qualified to carry out abuse and neglect investigations, and that both DDS and OPA will conduct independent reviews of investigative reports done by the providers. The DDS manual states that a provider investigator must not be a supervisor in a program that he or she is investigating and cannot have a personal relationship with employees in that program. But while these restrictions and requirements indicate that DDS recognizes the potential for conflicts of interest in these situations, they do not appear to eliminate the basic conflict in allowing a provider to investigate itself.
The STS Home & School Association checked with the Massachusetts Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC), to see how that neighboring state handles abuse and neglect investigations, and whether providers in Massachusetts are allowed to investigate those cases. The DPPC is an independent state agency that is charged with investigating abuse and neglect of the disabled, and is the Massachusetts counterpart to the OPA in Connecticut.
In response to the query, Emil DeRiggi, deputy executive director of the DPPC, stated in an email that only the DPPC or Massachusetts DDS investigate allegations of abuse and neglect in that state. "DPPC never accepts an evaluation/investigation conducted by a provider agency/vendor as a substitute," DeRiggi stated in his email.
More information about the data provided by DDS on abuse and neglect investigations can be found on the STS Home & School Association's blogsite at http://stshomeandschoolblog.wordpress.com/. A spreadsheet containing the DDS data and totals supplied by the STS Home & School Association will be provided upon request.