HARWINTON, Conn. (WTNH) — A group home for teenage girls in Harwinton is the center of an investigation into allegations of sexual assault and trafficking, according to authorities.
The Connecticut General Assembly’s Committee on Children will hold an informational hearing about the ongoing investigation into the group home.
The home was opened in 2008 and is run by a provider called the Bridge Family Center.
According to state police, troopers have responded to 763 calls to the group home on Plymouth Road in Harwinton since 2008.
The group home is part of the Short-Term Assessment and Respite (STAR) program. Residents have curfews but the home is not locked down. The residents leave the home to attend school and jobs. All of the residents are female and between the ages of 13 to 18.
The issues were brought to light when the Harwinton EMS Chief Kevin Ferrarotti raised concerns in July.
“We have seen a drastic increase in calls for assault, behavioral health emergencies, human trafficking, and service calls that resulted in multiple arrests for state police as well as transports to the hospital,” he said.
The Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) confirmed three incidents involving physical abuse or sexual assault between minors and staff since 2021.
Margaret Hann, the executive director of the Bridge Family Center who runs the home — spoke with News 8 about the investigation and previous incidents.
“We certainly did not ignore it and responded appropriately and expeditiously,” she said.
Connecticut Department of Children and Families Commissioner Vanessa Dorantes said there was a case of sex trafficking involving a minor and an adult male outside of the home in April.
The Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) met with Hann and the group home staff.
A corrective action plan was ordered for the home. A consultant was brought in and there was a turnover of 60 percent of staff.
“There were just way too many incidents that started to show a spiraling of what was happening in this particular home,” Dorantes said. DCF said the agency has been aware of these issues and has been addressing them since November 2022.
Admissions to the group home have been closed since June with only one youth remaining at the program.
DCF said no further youth will be placed there until the agency is satisfied that the conditions of the corrective action plan have been met. The center has 60 days to complete the plan.
The Bridge Family Center also faces a lawsuit. The mother of a 14-year-old girl alleges that staff failed to properly supervise her daughter, who stayed at the home from April to June of 2023.
The lawsuit claims the girl was physically assaulted at the home and exposed to sexual assault of minors.
In response to the lawsuit, Hann issued a statement:
“Since the Bridge opened in 1969 and in my 25 years here as executive director, we have never been in a situation where a lawsuit has been filed against us of this nature. Last year alone, we served the needs of more than 9,000 people through our programs, many of whom have suffered through unimaginable situations. The allegations that have come forward are something that we never want to see happen to anyone and because it is now a legal matter, we cannot discuss it publicly, even though there are additional details in this case that will eventually be divulged. Immediate and corrective measures were taken and we are in constant communication with DCF and those involved in this ongoing matter. Our main focus continues to be addressing the immediate and day-to-day needs of our residents, many of whom are trauma survivors through no fault of their own and to offer them the care and support that they need and deserve.”
The allegations captured the attention of state lawmakers.
State Sen. Lisa Seminara (R) represents Harwinton. She and other legislators requested DCF to provide information on the Harwinton group home and the other facilities run by the Bridge Family Center.
“We don’t want this happening in the state of Connecticut, it shouldn’t be happening anywhere. Kids need to be safe,” she said.