A Connecticut legislative committee will host an informational hearing Wednesday to review allegations of crime, abuse, and sex trafficking related to a state-financed group home for girls in Harwinton.
The Children’s Committee will convene the hearing at 1 p.m. in the Legislative Office Building in Hartford to investigate the string of allegations around the Short Term Assessment & Respite (STAR) Home in Harwinton, first reported by Connecticut Inside Investigator last month.
The report detailed a pattern of emergency calls to the Bridge Family Center shelter for youths under the care of the state Department of Children and Families. Those calls have resulted in the arrests of both the home’s young residents and staff members on charges related to assaults, and theft. Another adult who did not work at the shelter was charged with sex-trafficking, according to the report.
“As Children’s Committee Co-Chairs, our responsibility is to ensure the safety of Connecticut’s children,” Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, said last week. “It is imperative this hearing is focused solely on the system and adults who may have failed these children, and not on the children themselves. This will not be a referendum on the victims, but a thorough and thoughtful review of the programs which are supposed to support our most vulnerable kids.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for DCF said the agency has been aware of problems at the home since last November, when State Police reached out. Since then, the agency has met with officials in the small town of Harwinton, police and local EMS. In May of this year, DCF placed a hold on new admissions to the home.
“Admissions have been closed for almost 4 months with only one youth remaining at the program,” the DCF spokesperson wrote. “No further youth will be placed there until we are satisfied that the conditions of the corrective action plan have been met. We have been in constant contact with town officials, the police and legislators regarding our progress which included two meetings with them.”
Last month, a group of Republican legislators wrote to DCF Commissioner Vanessa Dorantes seeking more information about the agency’s response and issued a press release calling for a hearing to review the allegations.
“What is alleged to have happened to the kids under the care of this shelter, including but not limited to sex trafficking, and sexual assaults committed by staff on minors is nauseating if not infuriating,” Rep. Lezlye Zupkus, R-Prospect, said. “This is a flashing red light telling us that something is broken in the process of providing help to these children.”