By Josh Kovner
The state's first "social-impact bond" is a go: Private investors have laid down $11.5 million to help drug-addicted parents shed their habits and hold onto their children — a problem made more insidious with each passing week by an opioid epidemic.
If the work with these 500 new families hits established performance marks — the optimum for each case is no more abuse or neglect complaints to the Department of Children and Families and no child removals during an 18-month period — then investors are paid back with interest by the state. If the marks aren't met, the investors lose their money.
Impact bonds are now funding child-welfare, employment, housing, education, health, farming and criminal-justice initiatives in 11 states.
"Red and blue states alike," Tracy Palandjian, CEO of Social Finance, said at a news conference at the Community Health Center in Middletown on Tuesday morning.
The nonprofit company she runs manages the investment capital, brought the state officials and treatment providers together, spearheaded the development of the performance measures and will work to see that they're reached.
The focus on documentation, measurable performance, and prevention gives the impact bonds broad appeal, Palandjian said.
Designed with major input by the Yale Child Study Center and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, the recovery program is open to parents of children 6 and younger who are struggling with a drug or alcohol habit, and are at risk of losing custody of their children to DCF.
"We're tapping into the most powerful motivation a parent can have," DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said.
Eleven teams of clinicians have fanned out across the state. A four-person team comes to a parent's home up to three times a week for six or 12 months of treatment. The mandate is help the parent get clean and keep the family together.
"It saved my life," said Erin, a parent who has already gone through the program. The impact bond adds 500 families to an existing recovery initiative and expands the pool of eligible children from birth to 3, to birth to 6. The four parents who joined the officials and clinicians at the news conference were identified by their first names. Two brought their infant children and bounced them on their knee. The babies' gurgles and coughs punctuated the comments.
Amanda, another parent, said she got the impression early on that the clinicians were tailoring the treatment to her specific needs, and she said that approach aided her recovery
The individual cases are closely reviewed every two weeks. Setbacks and progress are discussed, said Jake Edwards, project manager for Social Fiance.
The parents are watched for an additional six or 12 months, depending on how long their in-home treatment lasts.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said DCF has taken a less adversarial stance under Katz.
"It used to be what was done to families; now it's what is done with families. We invite them to be partners."
There are 11 percent fewer children in state care overall, and 66 percent fewer children in institutional care, since 2011.
Margaret Flinter, clinical director of the Community Health Center, said the spike in opioid use in Connecticut has substantially increased the risk to young children.
"It is stealing from them. It is the Scrooge of our age," she said.