BANGOR, Maine — A South Portland nonprofit organization has closed a program at three locations around the state that provided services to bolster children and families.
Stepping Stones ended its Family Stabilization Program in Saco, Harrington and Bangor on June 30, Charles Daily, the organization’s CEO, confirmed Tuesday.
However, Stepping Stones will continue to have a presence — albeit different — in at least two of the communities. The facility in Saco will be converted to serve birth mothers in support of its adoption program, and its Bangor location will house a shelter program.
The Family Stabilization Program in Houlton will remain open for about a year, and Stepping Stones will continue to accept new clients at the location as it seeks alternative sources of funding.
Each of the three locations served four families in the Family Stabilization Program, said Daily. The program served an average of 87 children across the state, he added.
The Stepping Stones program was one of three that provided such services to help support families, noted Daily. State funding to the organization and other providers was eliminated in the 2013 legislative session.
Each of the three Stepping Stones locations employed 15 people who were available to provide services around the clock, seven days a week.
The organization was exploring ways to improve efficiency and provide services, said Daily.
The Stepping Stones Family Stabilization Program offered infant/child assessment and mental health services, teaching and assessment for men and women, evaluative services for mothers and fathers, life skills classes, nurturing/parenting groups, on-site childbirth education and other programs to meet the needs of homeless, pregnant, parenting and at-risk young people. The purpose of the program was to reduce the risk of abuse and neglect to children by providing services to children and families.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services ceased funding infant mental health services through private, nonmedical institutions, Daily wrote in a letter posted on the Stepping Stones website.
“It is our understanding that future services will be funded by competitive [requests for proposals] and contracts,” wrote Daily. “The [requests for proposals] have not been developed in time to provide continuity of service to families in the Family Stabilization Program,” he said.
“We have been informed that the DHHS will develop different approaches for those families where the State of Maine has taken custody of the children and families are under consideration of termination of parental rights. Our understanding is that future funding for programs to support the state goal of family reunification will not include residential programs,” Daily’s letter continued. “We stand ready to expand our services to support clients in need of services to attain reunification provided it is in the best interest of the child and look forward to the new approaches and funding currently being developed,” he said.
Families in the residential Family Stabilization Program will be allowed to complete their education, treatment and work toward their reunification goals, and Stepping Stones will accommodate them until completion of the program after June 30 at the organization’s expense.
Stepping Stones plans to participate in the competitive bidding process, Daily said, but details have been slow in coming from state officials.
“Very little has come out so far” from the state Office of Child Family Services, he said. The office has developed an outpatient case management requests for proposals, but it has changed several times, according to Daily.
What state officials have drafted so far is not comparable in terms of the intent and direction of the programs whose funds were eliminated, he said.
DHHS spokesman John Martins said Thursday that the proposal the agency made to the Legislature in the spring has not changed, and there has been no delay in issuing requests for proposals.
DHHS is focused on prevention and a proactive approach to family stabilization, Martins added.
“Staff from the Office of Child and Family Services has been meeting with community partners and other stakeholders to gather input on the scope of services that would most benefit Maine families,” he said.