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Rays of Hope Home closes temporarily

by Michele Catahay

Guam - The Rays of Hope facility has been shut down temporarily in order for renovations to be completed during the summer months. But concerns have been raised about the Department of Mental Health's plans for the program that was designed to educate children with mental illnesses.

Hope is dwindling that the program will continue and children will receive an adequate education.

A program designed to bring hope to children with mental illness - educating and caring for them - that has proven successful, is seeing changes that some believe will result in the government backing out on providing services to those kids who really need them.  In 2004, the Department of Mental Health spent more than a half-million dollars to open the Rays of Hope Home in Tamuning.

Mental Health is closing the facility earlier than the projected June 30 timeline, to conduct renovations to the facility that were never done when the program began.  Rays of Hope Special Education Teacher Deanna Quitugua said, "The bottom line is that the children were ordered to go to the JFK Annex for the summer school and in the fall, there's no clear solution."

Mental Health Deputy Director Elisabeth Cruz has said the agency can't afford the $1,200 per child per month educational costs and with the kids now attending classes at the JFK Annex, it appears the department's bigger plans are being revealed.  "We're going to assess every week on how it goes whether the children really need the Rays of Hope component or they can actually go into their own home schools," she explained.

And that's exactly what Quitugua fears will happen if the department closes the Rays of Hope Home, as officials have indicated they intend to do and open a transitional home for teens transitioning into adult services. Quitugua says day treatment for clients will be severely impacted or eliminated by the attempt to move kids back to home schools.

What's worse, she says, is that the Department of Education doesn't have a mental health component to fill the void.  It's something DOE Legal Counsel Fred Nishihara admits they're working on, saying, "We've been working together. Even today, we did a walk through of the JFK campus. We'll be meeting weekly with Mental Health to transition both for mental health services, as well as educational services to ensure the transition is smooth and connected as can be."

Mental Health has yet to issue a request for proposal for the renovations to the Rays of Hope Home, although Cruz says they have identified Department of the Interior money to pay for the repairs.  "Basically, there are repairs that need to be made," she said.  "There is a leaky roof, we have issues with the flooring. We just feel that it's unsafe and needs to be repaired."

Cruz expects the repairs to the home will be made before the end of the summer.  In the meantime, she says Mental Health will continue to provide services to all 17 students. Nine of them are currently living at the Latte Treatment Facility, which provides 24/7 services.  Said Cruz, "The staff there is following the children. The services are still being rendered. It's just that there's a change in venue."

Quitugua questions what happens to her students after the summer as mental health has not indicated plans to reopen the Rays of Hope Home.  "The psychologists will go to JFK for the counseling at that site. There are only three and a half weeks left for those services. At the same time, we're looking at discharging six clients back to the public schools. And that's the part that concerns me," said Quitugua.

DOE admits it's trying to develop a contingency plan.  "We're also preparing that in case the renovations are not completed by the end of the summer school, that we will be transitioning these students to their home district school. So we're using summertime to not only bus students not only to the JFK annex but to their home school, whether it be Benavente Middle School or JFK High School to make sure they're familiar with those particular schools."

The concerns are expected to be further addressed during a Systems of Care Council meeting scheduled for June 21 in Judge Arthur Barcinas' courtroom.

 

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