State launches Pay for Success substance abuse program for parents (The Day)

By Karen Florin  Day staff writer

Middletown — Five hundred families with substance abuse problems will be receiving treatment in their homes over the next 4.5 years, and the state of Connecticut will be paying the $11.2 million price tag for the first-of-its-kind program only if it works.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz and Rafael López, the commissioner of the U.S. Administration of Children, Youth and Families, gathered at the Community Health Center on Main Street Wednesday with clinicians, families and lenders to launch the Family Based Recovery program.

The state has partnered with the Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab and with Social Finance, a London-based nonprofit company, to launch the program.

Social Finance pioneered the Pay for Success program, in which public and private funds, also referred to as social impact bonds, are used to pay for social programs. If independent evaluators from the University of Connecticut determine the Family Based Recovery program is meeting its goals for success, the state will then repay the lenders.

The program will serve 11 communities in Connecticut, including Norwich and Willimantic, and will be managed at community health centers operated by United Child & Family Services, Community Mental Health Affiliates and Community Health Resources.

"Finding innovative ways to support promising programs that tackle chronic social issues is a continuous endeavor," Malloy said. "Pay for Success is the right tool at the right time."

Substance abuse is involved in at least half of the cases DCF investigates — 18,118 out of 36,131 in 2013 — and the agency has been striving, under Katz's administration, to keep children in their homes while helping their parents.

Waiting for Wednesday's event to begin, Katz worked the room with a 10-month-old boy named Mason on her hip.

"This is what it's all about," Katz said.

The child's mother, identified only as Nicole, said she thought it was "the end of the world" when DCF became involved in her life and she feared losing her child, but after she began receiving the Family Based Recovery services, she realized all they wanted her to do was provide a good home for her baby.

"What helped tremendously is that they came to me," she said. "I had this newborn. I didn't want to take him out."

"They helped me with my day-to-day struggles," said another mother, Amanda. "They helped me through doctor's appointments, court dates, anything I needed."

Erin, the mother of 5-month-old Aiden, said her son was only 2 weeks old when she started receiving services.

"It saved my life," she said. "It kept my child with me."

López, the U.S. Administration of Children, Youth and Families commissioner, carried a binder full of substance abuse and child welfare statistics for Connecticut and the nation that he said he had studied on the plane ride from Washington. The number of children removed from their homes due to substance abuse issues and other disorders, such as mental illness and depression, are up, and López said Connecticut's program could serve as a model for replication around the country.

"I often say that I am these families and they are me," he said, acknowledging that his family, too, has struggled with substance abuse.

Strengthening families will make the country stronger, López said, and partnering with nonprofit groups, the public and private sectors and academia shows "an all-hands-on-deck" approach.

"It makes sense not only spiritually, but financially," López said.

Malloy, who said he was on a schedule, interrupted a roundtable discussion and began questioning the parents and clinicians involved in Family Based Recovery. He shook the hands of mothers who had braved the crowd to share their stories, signed certificates and posed for pictures before leaving.

The Family Based Recovery program, administered by the Yale University Child Study Center, has served some parents with children ages 3 and under and will be scaled up, with the Pay for Success funding, to include families with children up to 6 years old.

Karen Hanson, a professor of social work from the child study center, said two clinicians, a substance abuse specialist and a family support worker start with three weekly home visits, then tailor a program to meet the family needs. She said the clinical teams have learned a lot from the families they have served.

"We've seen what a powerful motivator parenting can be for recovery," she said.

The program will be deemed successful if the evaluators find that it prevents out-of-home placements of children and repeat referrals to DCF, reduces substance abuse and enrolls enough families.

Some of the lenders were in the audience, including Hervé P. Duteil, regional coordinator for corporate social responsibility in North America for BNP Paribas, a Paris-based bank and financial services company. Duteil said that by the end of June 2016, BNP Paribas had 840 million Euros of commitments in support of microfinance and social businesses. He said it is fair that the supporters of the program would be repaid based on performance, and that the money could then be recycled and used for another project.

Duteil said that the Family Based Recovery Program, which has been two years in the works, sounded even better than it had on paper after he listened to the experiences of the mothers who have received help.