Senate GOP: Govt must be more accountable to vulnerable kids

February 29, 2024

Third lawsuit filed against STAR Home operator; alleges rape of minor

CT Inside Investigator

On the eve of a Committee on Children public hearing regarding a bill requiring an annual report by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) regarding their Short-Term Assessment and Respite (STAR) home program, a third lawsuit has been filed against one of DCF’s primary STAR home operators over the alleged rape of a young girl in their care by an employee.

The plaintiff – referred to as Mary Roe due to her age – is the second alleged rape victim to come forward with a lawsuit in the last week against Bridge Family Center, a DCF contractor that operated a STAR home in Harwinton that has since been shuttered by DCF due to ongoing problems. An earlier lawsuit by the family of another girl alleged that she was exposed to dangerous and illegal activity, including assault, while residing at the home.

“The child protection professionals failed these children,” attorney for the newest plaintiff Tim O’Keefe said in a statement. “This case is another sad reminder of that. Thankfully, we have a system of civil justice that will allow each of these girls to have an opportunity to seek accountability from the people and institutions that are responsible for the harm caused.”

The lawsuit alleges that Mary Roe was “raped and sexually assaulted by a facility employee and she has suffered significant physical and emotional harm as a result of the rape/sexual assault.” The suit goes on to allege Bridge Family Center failed to properly supervise both its residents and its staff, lacked adequate staff training, and created an “unreasonable risk of injury,” to the plaintiff.

According to reports and documents received by Inside Investigator in 2023, there were multiple arrests of STAR Home staff in Harwinton for sexual assault and physical assault, along with other arrests of men who had traveled to the home to meet up with the girls, who would often run away from the unlocked home.

On Tuesday, Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Lisa Seminara, R-Avon, who is ranking member on the Children’s Committee and whose district includes Harwinton, issued a statement in reaction to the second lawsuit.

“As DCF continues to work with providers to deliver services, we as lawmakers must discuss how to make state government more accountable to these children, how do we get to the root of the problem and how do we fix what is broken?” said Seminara, Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, and Senate Republican Leaders Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield.

The STAR Homes are meant to house adolescents who have been removed from troubled homes and are under the care and custody of DCF. The STAR homes are meant to be a short-term stop as the agency seeks to place them in longer-term care, typically foster homes, or possibly be reunited with their families.

The downward spiral that occurred at the Harwinton STAR home over the course of 2021, 2022 and finally 2023 led to not only the closure of the home and the lawsuits, but also a special informational hearing before the Committee on Children in October of 2023 when DCF officials were called to the floor to answer questions about the STAR home.

The Office of the Child Advocate issued a report on the STAR Home program, indicating that with the closure of many of the state’s group homes and residential facilities for adolescents dealing with severe family trauma, and mental and emotional issues, the state had come to rely on such homes for teenagers whose issues may have been too acute for such a setting.

Bridge Family Center executive director Margaret Hann was unable to attend due to pending litigation but offered a written statement that was read out loud. Bridge Family Center had never been sued prior to 2023 and is now facing their third such lawsuit.

“Our client is extremely courageous for coming forward to tell the truth about what was occurring at this facility. In doing so, I have no doubt she was able to prevent several other young girls from suffering the type of harm that she had to suffer.”

The STAR Home in Harwinton was closed by DCF in November of 2023, following the informational hearing.

The public hearing will be held on Thursday, February 29, in the Legislative Office Building.


Third lawsuit filed against STAR Home operator; alleges rape of minor