August 22, 2019
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Midcoast social service agency closes abruptly, imperiling care for at-risk children and clients

Abigail Curtis | BDN
Abigail Curtis | BDN
Broadreach Family & Community Services, a Belfast-based agency that was founded 35 years ago, last week announced its imminent closure.

After 35 years and thousands of people helped, a Belfast-based nonprofit agency that provides mental health, early child intervention and other services to people in three counties last week abruptly announced its imminent closure.

The end of the road for Broadreach Family and Community Services came not because of one factor but because of the accumulation of many, according to Executive Director Todd Goodwin.

“We, the board and staff, collectively put forward any number of bold efforts to overcome any number of historical challenges,” he said Wednesday. “We just got to a point where the cost of doing our business exceeded our available revenue. We just had to make the very, very hard choice to recognize that reality.”

At the time of last week’s decision to close, the agency, which has a $3 million operating budget, employed 79 social workers, case managers, teachers, trainers and others who worked in Waldo, Knox and Lincoln counties.

Layoffs began last Wednesday, first affecting Broadreach’s behavioral health and prevention personnel. Two days later, the people who worked in the after-school programs were let go, and two programs that serve youth, Youthlinks and Sprouts, were discontinued. The administrative staff was let go Tuesday, and the rest of the agency’s early childhood education staff will lose their jobs by the end of the week

Broadreach officials had tried to stabilize the floundering organization this year by creating a formal partnership with a different agency, but that did not pan out, Goodwin said.

“We just ran out of time to keep things going,” he said.

What the closure will mean to the agency’s many programs and clients is not yet completely clear, according to board member Steve Fein. He hopes Youthlinks, a popular Rockland-based after-school program that is part of Broadreach, will find a new home with a Knox County organization. He also hopes that Sprouts, a nature-based early childhood education program located in Belfast, will manage to survive the demise of its parent organization.

“We’re negotiating with other organizations in hopes that it gets picked up and will remain alive,” Fein said Tuesday. “We’ve been scrambling to try and connect our clients with other care providers. … We’ve been scrambling to connect with other agencies in our area to pick up the programs that we have and pick up the staff, too.”

The past week or so has been very difficult, Fein said, adding that the people who are left are trying their hardest to give the agency as good an ending as possible.

“Broadreach has been around for 35 years and has worked hard to provide services to the community. We know that it has had a positive impact. We hope that that positive impact lives in some way through its programs being picked up by other programs, and that’s the best we can hope for right now,” he said. “If we saw that most everything was picked up and most of our staff was picked up, at least we could walk away saying we did the best we could.”

One area lawmaker, though, feels that Broadreach officials could have done more to create a smooth transition. Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center, D-Rockland, is a big proponent of Community Partnerships for Protecting Children, a program that aims to prevent child abuse by working directly with at-risk families. Two years ago, Broadreach entered into a partnership with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to provide the program in the midcoast.

Beebe-Center said that it, and other programs run by the agency, are important to Mainers and she is distressed by the agency’s abrupt closure.

“The way Broadreach handled this was so disappointing,” she said. “We could have found homes for all the different programs … They laid all the staff off, except for a skeleton crew. That’s a mess. I’m upset, and a lot of people are upset.”

Jackie Farwell, the spokesperson for Maine DHHS, said Wednesday that the state agency will transition child abuse prevention services to a well-qualified local providers in order to minimize the disruption to families.

“The department is committed to advancing a seamless system of mental and behavioral health care in Maine, including community-based services that promote the well-being of Maine people,” she said.

That’s reassuring to Beebe-Center, but the fact that Youthlinks is still looking for a fiscal agent is not.

“I thought they would have made sure there was continuity to the services they offered first, through collaboration and through community relationships,” the lawmaker said of Broadreach. “I thought they’d look after their people, and they didn’t. There’s disruption in services. It just was not done well.”

But Broadreach officials said that they are trying their best despite challenging circumstances. Fein, the board member, said that the agency had expanded its services in the years that funding sources were more available. But that has changed, he said, with the money that nonprofit agencies depend on becoming less reliable and less dependable. That was especially acute during the eight-year administration of former Gov. Paul LePage, who in 2018 proposed eliminating funding for the $2.2 million Community Partnerships for Protecting Children program.

“During the previous governor’s time, they changed criteria for some of the clients we served so that we were no longer paid to serve them,” Fein said. “They changed the rules. It just became tougher and more expensive to provide services.”

In recent years, he has felt that the safety net for people who need help has become more and more frayed.

“It’s a little narrower, a little harder,” he said, adding that he and others from Broadreach grew hopeful when Gov. Janet Mills was elected in November. “We were encouraged in getting the new governor, but the change hasn’t trickled down to us yet.”

But Beebe-Center said that the various branches of Maine government are now working together as fast, and as well, as they can to create that change.

“There were so many holes to plug, and we’re not just plugging holes,” she said. “We’re actually talking and building a system that meets our needs that’s sustainable.”

 



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