Karen L. Morales, Manager of CT Department of Developmental Services

“I like to work with people that need help.”

Karen Lisette Morales (33) was born in Sullana, Peru and arrived in West Hartford, Connecticut when she was only 9 years old. For the past thirteen years, she has worked with mental health service institutions including six years as an aid coordinator for families in the Hartford Association for Retarded Citizens, Inc (HARC”). She then joined the Department of Service Development (DSD) of State of Connecticut, where she acted as Manager on cases of children with mental health problems from ages 8 to 21 years in the Bristol and New Britain areas, where she provided counseling and referral services. This year, she will graduate from Bay Path College on the Accelerated Program with a degree in Psychology and she strives to get a Certificate of Behavior Analyst.

-How did the vocation of working with children with mental problems start?
-I entered first as a volunteer in the private company Hartford Association for Retarded Citizens, Inc, HARC which is at Asylum Ave. in Hartford, because I’ve always liked to work with people who need help, not even if they’re seniors or people with disabilities. The people I work with liked how I work and shortly after, my position was promoted. While I worked I was also studying for my associate’s in Human Services and I also got a certificate for Mental Health and this year I’m graduating from Psychology at Bay Path College.

-Why did the Department of Service Development (DSD) change their name?
-The Department of Service Development (DSD) until 2 years ago was named DMR, The Department of Mental Retardation, which made a lot of children who had autism and not mental retardation, not able to qualify. Now the DSD accepts children with autism as well. A lot of children are referred to our company by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and are eligible for our service because they have mental retardation, are abused or suffer from negligence.

-What is the maximum age for children that are seen here?
-The Department specializes in children from 8 years old to 18 years old and then another group attends from 18 and older. My specialty is the children under 21 years.

-How are people accepted to receive the service provided by the Department?
-Usually after 6 to 8 years old, the child can be diagnosed with a specific problem to be eligible for the State. There is a unit of eligibility that is admitted by doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and nurses. They elaborate a document that is later sent to see if it’s eligible.

-Does the service have a cost or restriction by the status of the people?
-The service is free and to those that apply they should qualify for State health.

-Has the economy provoked changes in the acceptance of cases?
-Now that there are economic problems in the State, there’s a lower budget and to be picked depends on the age and the necessity of the child. Before, they used to assign a social worker for each one of them. For example, if the child was in school and doesn’t need our service anymore, we engage with them when they are about to graduate. The school itself is responsible until 21 years of age, provided that they have an Individual Education Plan that indicates that the child requires special education. There are kids that, although they have a diagnosis, can still be taught to in regular schools, but they need a person around them always, other cases that are more complex are if they go to other different schools. Generally, the school refers them to the Department if they need an assistant or social worker; they usually help the family with the process.

-What are the signs that a child is having trouble in school?
-They have to send in medical and psychological evaluations, which they typically do in the school. There, they determine if there are mental problems in the child. The school first says that the child is not performing well in class, they have a problem. They make an evaluation and if their status is not good; there is a number that is called Intelligence Quotient (IQ). A number lower than 70 is the one that qualifies. The normal is 70+.

-What is your specialty or your area in the Department?
- I am in charge of the people from 8 to 21 years old, the ones that have many needs in their behavior, which is my area; I deal with the parents and families. I attend cases in Bristol and New Britain and the number of cases is up to 52. A 75% of those are people that talk mostly Spanish and most of them are Puerto-Ricans. My position is new; it’s a service program for the parents that take their offspring voluntarily. I work a lot with DCF, with kids that cannot be in their houses. I have cases of children that have displayed severe aggressive behavior towards their own parents and brothers. This position was made to work with those severe cases. We help to find an agency in the State of Connecticut. Approved by the same Department, depending on the location of the family, we find services around them. The final goal of these services is for the parents to receive the learning experience of how to work with their children and to maintain them in their houses for the time being. The service has to contain a plan of behavior, which the parents will be following as strict as possible.

-How is the process as soon as the cases get to you?
-Generally, I first go talk to the parents, I ask them what is going wrong, what they are doing, what they’d like us to do and at what time of day would would they want that help. I need to look for an agency that wishes to work with the parents and the children. I don’t do therapies, my job consists of gathering around the agency and the parents and let them know about the requirements of the voluntarily program. I also deal with observing children at school, comparing the difference in both places, school/home.

-Has there been any person that has influenced you in your job to continue doing it for all these years?
-In the Department, my ex-boss, Stacie Silva always told me that I could do more, to go back to studying; she has also been a good influence on me. Also, my teachers at Bay Path College, they have reconfirmed me that I have chosen a great career and that I am very passionate for it. Purposely, the certificate that I want to get is the Behavior Analyst because nowadays it is very hard to find a Hispanic psychologist that specializes in doing these plans for Hispanic families. Currently, I am working hard with Dr. Rafael Mora who is in psychological services in Hartford, he attends many cases.
Jorge Alatrista

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