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January 31, 2013

Report: Lack of policies hurt HAWC

SALEM — A state investigation into alleged abuses at a Salem-based domestic violence shelter found that the facility lacked a clear, written policy for dealing with residents who violated rules and guidelines, and that, in turn, left the organization unable to deal with a series of problems that emerged last year.

That was one of the conclusions of a Department of Children and Families investigation into the shelter run by Healing Abuse Working for Change, or HAWC, the Salem-based nonprofit that also serves women from Gloucester and Cape Ann. The 11-page DCF report was provided Tuesday to The Salem News, sister paper to the Gloucester Daily Times, in response to a request last month under the state’s public records law.

The six-bed shelter stopped accepting new residents last spring, and has been empty since October after lawyers representing residents of the shelter wrote a letter alleging a “climate of abuse” at the facility.

The DCF report lays much of the blame on residents who had stayed well beyond the shelter’s typical 12 weeks, who were unwilling to accept placements in longer-term housing or who violated safety rules. Overall, the report concluded, “HAWC was diligent in maintaining good relationships with guests” and “the complaints were not typical.”

The report called on HAWC to take three steps, including developing a “quality improvement plan” with the DCF’s domestic violence unit; training employees in the state’s mandated child abuse or neglect reporting requirements; and “debriefing” staff, “to address the past stressful environment and to foster development of a stable and healthy program.”

The agency, which participates in a number of fund-raising activities in Gloucester and across Cape Ann, has also been working with DCF to develop new written policies regarding discharging residents from the program.

HAWC Executive Director Candace Waldron indicated in an interview Tuesday that the shelter could reopen as early as this week.

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