SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

January 30, 2013

Report: Lack of policies hurt shelter

HAWC staff cleared of most serious complaints

SALEM — A state investigation into alleged abuses at the North Shore’s only domestic violence shelter found that the Salem 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, a Salem-based nonprofit. The 11-page DCF report was provided to The Salem News yesterday 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 and 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 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 yesterday that the shelter could reopen as early as this week.

The report found the most serious allegations, including humiliating or retaliatory treatment of residents, to be unsupported, while noting that the environment in the shelter had deteriorated to the point that closing the shelter to new residents was a “sound administrative decision.”

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