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Home to help vulnerable youth closes doors

by Mindy Aguon

Guam - The Department of Mental Health is looking to close down the educational component of the rays of Hope Home come June 30.  The decision, has prompted a number of concerns about whether the Department of Education can now take over and what will happen to these vulnerable kids who have been receiving the services and having success participating in the program. 

Six years ago the Department of Mental Health opened its home in Tamuning. The two-story home came with a $560,000 price tag and was first established as a pilot program to help the mental health minor clients with their educational instruction. Children's services administrator Annie Unpingco says the intent of Rays of Hope was simply a transition place for the youth to eventually transition back into school. 

"Our intent is not to abandon these kids. Truly there are some kids that need that kind of setting and we'll work with the schools to provide that but the venue doesn't have to be a mental health venue," she said.  "Should DOE not provide a venue for these kids, we're looking at other options."

Acting Mental Health Director Elisabeth Cruz says the agency can no longer afford the $1,200 per child, per month for educational costs.  She told KUAM News, "We're not closing down rays of hope we're asking DOE to take care of that educational component for those individuals. We, of course, will take care of our children who are going through the Latte system and we will have a day treatment and educational facility for them to take care of them that is party of the contract."

So now mental health wants to spend more than half of what they paid for the home, $290,000 in federal money to be exact, to renovate this home and turn it into a transitional home for teens transitioning into adult services.  Said Unpingco, "We are thinking why don't we just invest the whole money, fix it up and make it workable and use it for a transition home?"

Public Health's Rosanna Rabago said they found numerous areas of concern during a recent impromptu visit of the home, noting, "It doesn't look like it's in its best conditions from both the flooring, the walls, the water facility regarding the restrooms there needs to be doors put in place."

But some in the community, like advocate Attorney Daniel Sommerfleck, have concerns about transforming the two-story home.  "I still say it has too many access areas and isn't appropriate to run a residential facility in, too many corners, too many places for kids to hide," he explained.

Other stakeholders have concerns about whether the Department of Education will be able to provide the educational component and ensure clients are still seen by a psychiatrist and psychologist each week at various schools.  DOE Legal Counsel Fred Nishihara said, "Can we do it? Yes. Will the students not receive services? Probably from Mental Health will they receive from DOE special education, yes? But the whole reason they're in Rays of Hope is the mental health component, so I think if that's the route we're going to go, we're going to need some assurances that these other services are going to be ramped up with the same number of settings or schools that are going to be put in too, because you can't have it both ways."

Whether the Rays of Hope Home will be renovated and turned into a therapeutic group home, or whether the education component will continue on past the proposed June 30 deadline remains to be seen, that is, until the system of care council meets again on April 19.

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