By Julie Manganis
---- — SALEM — The managers of a battered women’s emergency shelter run by the regional Healing Abuse Working for Change — or HAWC — program will be required to develop an improvement plan, provide additional training for employees and establish set policies for terminating services for residents, following a six-month investigation into allegations of mismanagement and a “climate of abuse” at the Salem facility.
The report, completed last month by the Department of Children and Families and turned over to HAWC, found that many of the claims by residents of the Salem shelter were unfounded, including accusations that residents were subjected to humiliating or retaliatory behavior by staff after they complained about conditions, including an allegation that they were forced to fight over donated clothing and beg for supplies or cots.
“Overall, the investigation showed that HAWC was diligent in maintaining good relations with residents, and the complaints were not typical,” said Nancy Sterling, a spokeswoman for the organization, which received the report late this month.
But the shelter has not been accepting any new residents since the allegations first came to light in a letter from attorneys from Neighborhood Legal Services to the Department of Children and Families, which administers grant money used to fund the home. While HAWC is based in Salem, it offers services throughout the North Shore and participates in a number of fund-raising efforts in Gloucester and across Cape Ann, as well.
Neighborhood Legal Services was representing at least six residents of the shelter in eviction proceedings in the Housing Court.
Cayenne Isaksen, a spokeswoman for DCF, said the agency supported the decision by HAWC to stop taking in new residents until the issues, including the development of a clear policy on termination from the program, were addressed. Neither Isaksen nor Sterling could say whether there are currently any residents at the shelter.
The Salem News, sister newspaper to the Gloucester Daily Times, has sought a copy of the report under the state’s public records law. Isaksen said the agency is currently reviewing the request.
But Isaksen offered to outline the report’s chief findings:
HAWC had “inadequate policies and procedures” in place regarding the length of stays and no clear guidelines for terminating services;
HAWC staff “did fail to comply with mandated reporting requirements” concerning suspected child abuse or neglect;
The decision to stop accepting new clients to the shelter “was appropriate” based on the situation that existed at the time;
As Sterling noted, HAWC was “diligent” in maintaining good relationships with those in the shelter and the complaints were “not typical;”
HAWC staff did not engage in retaliatory or humiliating behavior toward residents;
The investigation found no mismanagement of housing assistance funds (an allegation that was also refuted last spring by the area director of the program that administers those funds);
HAWC has been directed to work with the DCF’s domestic violence unit on a “quality improvement plan.”
The staff of the shelter will be required take part in training on the mandated reporting statute and will attend a “debriefing” on other issues raised in the report, Isaksen said.
Sterling said HAWC has agreed to comply with all of the recommendations of the report.
Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, on Twitter @SNJulieManganis, or via jmanganis@gloucestertimes,com.