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 SUMMARY OF THE CHERRY HILL ESTATES MEETING WITH MENTORS

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Posts : 37
Join date : 2007-08-22

PostSubject: SUMMARY OF THE CHERRY HILL ESTATES MEETING WITH MENTORS   Mon Sep 24, 2007 10:46 pm

[
A Meeting of homeowners and members of the Cherry Hill Estates Civic Association and New Jersey Mentor (“Mentor”) representatives and members of the State of New Jersey Department of Children and Families occurred at the Cherry Hill Public Library at 7:30PM on September 17, 2007.

This meeting was organized at the request of Mentor by members of Mayor Platt’s Office and the Association. Mentor and DCFS stated purposes in this meeting were to share information about the Group Home Program and to listen to the concerns residents of Cherry Hill Estates residents. It was stated by Dr. Robinson of DCFS that her office and Mentor would not participate in a meeting of the size and type that took place at the Cherry Hill Municipal Building in August.

The meeting was amiable and fairly organized. Approximately 25 Homeowners attended. Homeowners asked direct questions. Mentor and DCFS were engaged. They responded and provided answers to questions. Mentor and DCFS asked what they could do to make this group home issue easier on those in attendance.

The meeting was opened with a promotional Mentor video.

size=12]It was stated in a general way that the “law” does not allow Mentor or the State to announce their presence and plans for groups homes. This is not something that will allow many in the concerned Cherry Hill communities to trust or believe any Government Official in this matter. It indicates that no consideration has been given to community impact. It also does not explain how, if this is a statewide program, the first 2 homes of this kind are being located in just 1 of 21 New Jersey Counties, in the same Township and School District. The requirements/targeting/steering that went into Cherry Hill receiving the first of these homes has not been made public. A public records request is hereby requested for any and all discussions, memos, e-mails and all pertinent communications related to the site selections by and between the State of New Jersey, DCFS and NJ Mentor and its parent Corporation and or Scioto Properties and or Scioto’s related companies. This is an OPRA request.[/size]

Several times during the meeting, Dr. Robinson mentioned that the RFP was made available to our Association. That was no accurate. Dr. Robinson was advised by me, twice, that if the RFP was provided to an Association, it was likely sent to the Brookfield Association.

I hereby request the RFP for this proposed DCFS-NJ Mentor program be sent to me. This is an OPRA request.

Questions and concerns about the impacts on JoyceKilmerElementary School and Students were directed to Mentor. The questioning homeowner and parent of a Kilmer Student is an experienced Philadelphia Educator with lengthy and ongoing daily exposure to disruptive students having similar classifications and “disability” issues. This individual is a witness to the inadequacy of “wrap around” or TSS workers. Mentor’s youth specialist, Suzanne Carney, and Dr. Robinson responded. The Mentor youth specialist and the hand-out documents provided by Mentor indicated that Mentor does not use such workers in the schools. When asked directly about what school the Group Home client children would attend, Dr Robinson responded, only generally, that they would attend the local elementary school. The homeowners understand this to mean that Joyce Kilmer Elementary will become responsible for all 5 children from the proposed Group Home on Tanforan Drive.

Dr. Reynolds of Mentor stated that he had been in contact with Dr. Campbell, Superintendent of Cherry Hill Schools. Dr. Robinson stated that the Children may or may not have IEPs; that those with special education needs would come to Cherry Hill Schools with the IEPs. Dr. Reynolds of Mentor stated that Cherry Hill School District will be repaid for any costs related to non-resident Cherry Hill Students by the “sending districts”. Dr. Robinson stated that this is part of the requirements/compliance that her office will monitor and enforce. More than 1 Homeowner expressed skepticism about the funding actually materializing. Doubt exits about DCFS authority in school funding.

It was agreed among some in the meeting that the Cherry HillSchool District claims at every annual budget vote and School Board election that our schools do not receive our fair share of state funding. Funding is already a problem.

Homeowner concerns about the disruptions that the Group Home children may cause in the classrooms and small learning community at Joyce Kilmer were not assuaged. The Philadelphia educator expects that the Joyce Kilmer staff will be burdened with the actual handling of any disruptions caused by the concentration of these 5 group home children/students in this small elementary school; all within only 3 grade levels and mathematical certainty of more than 1 child per affected grade. The educator expressed that there will very likely be an impact on school staff morale. Further, she expects that there will be an impact on the case loads of resource room teachers, special education teachers, and sole school counselor. Another homeowner and Philadelphia educator agreed with these assessments.

The questioning parent went on to share their personal anguish and disappointment. This family’s valid concerns are quite acute because of having moved to the Cherry Hill School District (and paying high Cherry Hill taxes) so that their children would not have their educational opportunities and safety compromised by these very possible disruptions and resource insufficiencies that are the norm in Philadelphia Schools.

The issues of safety and risk in the neighborhood and school are the prime concerns. These well considered and reasonable concerns have been not been ameliorated since the first accidental discoveries of the proposed group homes. I told the group and Drs. Robinson and Reynolds that I am not willing to accept the concomitant adult risks that exist, inseparably, within the framework of this model and the proposed group homes’ clientele. At the August town meeting Dr. Robinson stated, by way of an example and in response to questions about the course of therapies and activities at the proposed group homes that a mother, just released from prison would be re-united with their child/group home client at the home. This statement was lost amongst the other points and statements in the August meeting. Most attendees of this meeting were unaware this fact. I attempted to clarify this point with the Doctors for our Association. I told the meeting attendees that I see this as the biggest risk to our children and the neighborhood associated with a high turnover and highly transient group home population. The very people who have been alienated from these group home clients will be brought into our community as a matter of course. This is an unacceptable concentration of risk for my family and the Cherry Hill Estates community. It is not just about the children in the proposed homes! Dr. Robinson stated that DCFS and Mentor would not allow unauthorized visits/contacts with parents/family members of the group home children. Dr. Reynolds said that Mentor has made use of restraining orders. He also said that initial meeting and evaluations of the appropriateness of family member access to my neighborhood would take place at their offices, first; that Mentor will “eyeball” such parties. I do not believe that a restraining order will have the required prohibitive effect on someone who has already demonstrated disregard of the law and societal norms, someone who may be unable to control their own behavior. Further, is Mentor qualified to be the arbiter my neighborhood’s security as related to persons already demonstrated to be a significant risk? The inadequacy of restraining orders in keeping abusing offenders away from their victims and families is a tragic and well known failing of our society.

A retired educator and homeowner expressed compassion for the group home children. She is not alone in her charitable thoughts. She also expressed her concerns about what activities will be available to keep the proposed group home children busy in the summertime and during school breaks. This neighbor already has a group home immediately next to her home. She shared with the meeting attendees that the group home is not a very good neighbor in maintaining that property. The Drs. responded that contact phone numbers have been and will be made available for any issues at this proposed (Mentor) group home. Dr. Reynolds, in a general way, indicated that the proposed residents would be kept busy. The children, when not in school, are supposed to be supervised by 2 Mentor staffers in each of 3 eight (Cool hour shifts.

Several homeowners asked about what the group home may become after Mentor’s contract has been completed or not renewed. No assurances could be given about uses or types of group homes that might takes over, later. While Mentor has stated that this location, under this contract, is not suitable for and will not house adjudicated sexual offenders, this for profit entity can not guarantee a change in the future. No one at the meeting could tell us that any law protects a community from too many group homes or any types of group homes; apparently, there is no consideration of “too many” permitted because of the ADA and stare decisis. The fact that this property on Tanforan Drive is already owned by Scioto Properties, a site provider/investor to the group home industry, guarantees that in the immediate area around Tanforan Drive, a small section of the Cherry Hill Estates community of less than 75 homes, at least 3 properties (4% and counting) will be group homes of some sort (2 already exist).

More group homes may follow.

This Tanforan residence, while not now planned as, may eventually become a “second chance” sexual offender group home, or a halfway house prison release home, or a group home for older children and / or teens up to 21 years of age. Because of the protections afforded group home clients and providers under current law, we are powerless to resist even these extremely risky and distasteful uses. We may have already suffered and even greater or fatal wound to this community, as yet, not completely manifest. Can a tipping point be estimated for a neighborhood? This is not considered in the awarding and locating of group homes to the detriment of our vibrant community.

A woman resident of the neighborhood spoke about her own special-needs child. She described her personal struggles. Her purpose was, presumably, to put a local face to the children who may be sent to the proposed Tanforan Mentor home.

Mentor and DCFS representatives mentioned that their programs are guided by and follow “best practices”. Mentor representatives, in a response to a series of questions, stated that Mentor has never failed in one of its group home contracts.

There were some questions about the for profit status of Mentor.

There were several remarks from Homeowners about the apparent / perceived dumping of unwanted issues and developments on the West side of Cherry Hill Township.

A concern about loss in property values was mentioned.

There was a remark about the lack of visibility and support of the Cherry Hill Town Council and the apparent acquiescence of Mayor Platt.

I made it a point to say that the meeting in August at the Township Building was useful. Despite some lack of decorum and unfortunate and ill mannered remarks, the voices of the homeowners and taxpayers were heard. Had it not been for that spirited and unequivocal demonstration of the community’s objections, fear, outrage and feelings of powerlessness there may not have been any more information sharing and consideration by our elected officials and DCFS. That meeting was not the worst public meeting or debate I’ve ever witnessed; it was, to be sure, difficult and uncomfortable but necessary in a representative democratic society. This series of events reinforces a perception that people have little reason to expect government, at any level to work for them. Less than 1 week removed from the news of 11 more New Jersey officials being arrested / indicted for public corruption, one is left to question the competency, motivations, goals and public trust considerations in any government action. Indeed, it is the hubristic and omnipotent attitudes of elected and appointed officials that has allowed this issue to advance to a point where we, the stakeholders and taxpayers, the bearers of imposed risks and quality of life worries are labeled as mean spirited and somewhat wanting in morals and social responsibility. Our free speech rights to question authority and to object were questioned at the Township Meeting and in subsequent news media coverage.

In the aggregate, the laws (ADA and others), court decisions and state practices that have enabled this group home process are a flawed business. The “Law” needs to be changed. The rights and considerations of one group are too easily set aside and subordinated to what is certainly a complex societal responsibility. While a people may be judged by how it cares for the least capable of it members, the people who are supposed to be served by government are not well served when such a process is imposed in secrecy, without debate and seemingly in an arbitrary or rigged process. Competing social responsibilities and voter/taxpayer/citizen rights should be more balanced. Will more affluent areas also be forced to shoulder the burden that is being imposed on Cherry HillTownship? If it is true that the prices of these houses in the current crisis as well as a DCFS desire to keep the proposed group home children out of failed urban areas are the determinant factors, then Cherry HillTownship must expect to have an unfair and discriminating dumping of similar projects imposed by State fiat. The denial, of equal protection, fairness, safety, quiet enjoyment and equal opportunity should not be allowed to happen. Even to the extent that the denial of our rights may be unintentional consequences in the pursuit of a societal responsibility, it stands as onerous and unacceptable.

Resistance, as an agent of change, to unfair laws and practices is a tradition in our nation’s history. Will the Township, County and State levels of government actively work to help us?

I believe that local consensus is against the current proposed group homes in question in Cherry Hill Estates and in Brookfield.

Whatever the outcomes of these current group home issues, the Law and process must be changed.

[email]rjrbrown@comcast.net[/size[/email]]
September 20, 2007
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ccross



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PostSubject: Re: SUMMARY OF THE CHERRY HILL ESTATES MEETING WITH MENTORS   Mon Sep 24, 2007 11:59 pm

I was not aware that these two homes are the first for placement of emotionally disturbed children, as is indicated in the Estates meeting minutes. If that is true, then Mentor has no track record to prove success or failings and cannot guarantee operational success. Following "Best Practices" shouldn't reassure anyone, but Brookfield might want to obtain from DCF written documentation of exactly what "Best Practices" are. Because Mentor has already "beenin contact" with the Cherry Hill School District (refer again to the Estates meeting minutes), I am of the unfortunate opinion that DCF will go forward with the homes regardless of community protest and that possibly the only recourse is a legal challenge.
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