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The Institute for Innovative Practice®

Using research to improve social service practice, through new approaches and partnerships.

PURPOSE: The Connection Institute for Innovative Practice® was created in 2010 by the staff of The Connection Inc, to bridge the gap between researchers and practitioners in the behavioral health and criminal justice fields.

The Connection was founded in 1972 and our 600 staff have since learned a great deal about the prevailing research in the field, as well as how to work effectively with our clients, which include people diagnosed with severe mental illness, those with an incarceration history, and people with substance use problems.

We have found that there is excellent research and there are excellent service providers but the two worlds rarely spoke to one another. Or if they did, they spoke a different language.

The Institute was created to bridge that gap — and thereby improve the quality of both the research and the services provided to our clients.

We work in a number of practical ways:
  • We collaborate with leading universities to analyze our agency data and adjust our services based on what we learn works best for our clients.
  • We simplify and refine the data we collect at The Connection to capture the most important things: are our clients getting housed? Are they getting employed? Are they substance-free? Are they more independent? Are we promoting public safety? Are our services cost-effective?
  • We conduct our own research on the life stories of our clients, to learn directly from them what helps them and how we can assist them further.

In the last three years, we have published a number of articles, both scholarly and for the general public, as well as conducted five completed or on-going studies with scholars from UConn, Yale, Wesleyan, Central Connecticut State University, and the University of New Haven. In conjunction with the Department of Children and Families and the University of Connecticut, we were awarded a $5 million federal grant to enhance services at The Connection’s Supportive Housing for Families® program, and study the impact of these services, including their cost-effectiveness. In the fall of 2013, we held a conference, Narrative in the Age of Distraction, at Wesleyan on the importance of stories in the healing and recovery process.

We welcome your interest. For more information and to become involved in our work, please contact Charles Barber, Institute Director, at (860) 343-5500 x1050 or at cbarber@theconnectioninc.org.


INSTITUTE STAFF

Charles Barber, Institute Director


Charles Barber has written widely on the issues of mental health and recovery, including two books, Songs from the Black Chair: A Memoir of Mental Interiors (2005), which won a Pushcart Prize, and Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry is Medicating a Nation (2008), which was a “Discover Great New Writers” selection by Barnes and Noble. He has lectured nationally on recovery issues and been interviewed on CNN, The Early Show, BBC World News, NPR’s Fresh Air, and C-SPAN Book TV. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, Salon and Scientific American Mind.  He is also a Lecturer in Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, and a Visiting Writer at Wesleyan University. Click here for a listing of Charles Barber’s published writings. 

David Sells, Research Director


David Sells, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and research scientist on the faculty at the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine. His research addresses the lives and therapeutic relationships of persons with severe mental illness and/or cancer. He has over 30 professional publications and has presented his work both nationally and internationally. David has received training and service awards through the National Institutes of Health, and served as Principal Investigator on funded grants. He received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Northern Illinois University and did his pre- and post-doctoral fellowships at Yale. Click here for a listing of David Sells’ published writings. 

Michael Rowe, Senior Research Consultant


Michael Rowe, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Yale School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Connecticut Mental Health Center, Co-director of the Yale Program for Recovery & Community Health, and Principal Investigator of the CMHC Citizenship Project. A medical sociologist with training in ethnographic and qualitative methods, Dr. Rowe has conducted research in the areas of homelessness and mental illness, community integration for persons with psychiatric disabilities, and has written in the areas of medical humanities, narrative medicine, and bioethics. He has written two books: Crossing the Border: Encounters between Homeless People and Outreach Workers (1999) and The Book of Jesse: A Story of Youth, Illness, and Medicine (2002). Click here for a listing of Michael Rowe’s published writings. 

Michele Klimczak, Director of Practice


Michele Klimczak, MA, MSW, is the Director of The Connection’s Connecting Children and Families therapeutic foster care program, where she has worked for more than 15 years. She is a long-time affiliate of the Non-Violence Alliance in Middletown, providing assessment and treatment for men convicted of family violence offenses. Michele has over 20 years of experience working with families impacted by trauma. She received her degrees from Southern Connecticut State University and Yale University, where she pursued joint studies in ethics and social work. 

RESEARCH PARTNERS

Moe Armstrong


Moe Armstrong is a founder of Vet to Vet, a program in which veterans counsel and support other veterans suffering from the traumas of war. He served as a medical corpsman in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he was decorated with a Navy Commendation medal for saving a Marine under hostile fire. Mr. Armstrong subsequently developed mental illness and after a prolonged recovery has spent the last 30 years as a national leader advocating for veterans rights and peer support for veterans suffering from mental illness. Moe has received numerous awards, including the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency, the Ken Book Award for the book of poems, Through the Seasons, the psychiatric rehabilitation practitioner of the year award from the Psychological Association in 2006, one of Boston’s “most loved people” award by Boston Magazine in 2004, the Consumer Advocate of the year from the International Psychosocial Rehabilitation Services in 2002. He is on the Board of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Mr. Armstrong received his M.A. at Webster University, and B.A. and M.B.A. at the College of Santa Fe. He also was lead singer in the rock band, Daddy Longlegs, featured on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1970, and is an accomplished cartoonist.

Preston Britner


Preston Britner, Ph.D., is Professor and Philip E. Austin Endowed Chair of Human Development and Family Studies (with joint appointments in Educational Psychology and the Ph.D. program in Public Health) at the University of Connecticut. He is Co-Chair of the University’s Public Engagement Forum, a University Teaching Fellow, and Editor Emeritus of The Journal of Primary Prevention. Preston holds several editorial appointments and numerous administrative and elected positions at university, state, and national levels. Professor Britner’s research interests include single-system design evaluation, attachment-caregiving relationships, youth mentoring, child maltreatment prevention, foster care, and family-focused, community-based prevention/diversion programs for children, youth, and families. He has partnered with The Connection on a number of studies and evaluations since 2001, including an evaluation of The Connection’s Supportive Housing for Families program through the Center for Applied Research in Human Development at the University of Connecticut. For further information about Dr. Britner’s research, please follow this linkClick here for a listing of Preston Britner’s published writings.

Amory Carr


W. Amory Carr, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of New Haven, and a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in New York State. His research interests include the assessment, treatment and management of mentally ill offenders in the community. He is also a Consulting Psychologist at the Bronx Mental Health Court, where he evaluates criminal defendants being considered for diversion to community treatment.

Lisa Dierker


Lisa Dierker, Ph.D. is chair and Professor of Psychology at Wesleyan University. Her areas of expertise are: development of nicotine dependence; group-based statistical methods; and psychiatric and substance use comorbidity. She was selected as a faculty scholar by the Tobacco Etiology Research Network. Dr. Dierker has won research grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health/National Institute on Drug Abuse. Click here for a listing of Lisa Dierker’s published writings.

Anne Farrell


Dr. Anne Farrell is a Clinical and School Psychologist, Associate Professor of Human Development & Family Studies (HDFS), and Research Associate in the Center for Applied Research in Human Development at the University of Connecticut. She teaches in the undergraduate and graduate HDFS programs at UConn and coordinates the HDFS program at the Stamford campus. Anne serves on the editorial boards of Family Relations, Infants & Young Children, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, and The Dictionary of Developmental Disabilities Terminology. She co-authored Positive Strategies (a book on individualized positive behavior supports for individual with problem behavior). Dr. Farrell serves on the Stamford School Readiness Council where she leads the Education Subcommittee. Her research addresses vulnerable populations, including families involved in the child welfare system, at-risk youth, and individuals with disabilities and their families. A public engaged scholar, Dr. Farrell also conducts program evaluation, training, and technical assistance to communities and agencies. Click here for a listing of Anne Farrell’s published writings.

Arthur Frank


Arthur Frank, Ph.D., is a professor in the sociology department at University of Calgary, where he has taught since 1975. He is the author of a memoir of critical illness, At the Will of the Body (1991; new edition 2002). Other works include The Wounded Storyteller (1995), The Renewal of Generosity: Illness, Medicine and How to Live (2004); and most recently Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio-narratology (2010). He is an elected Fellow of The Hastings Center and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He was the 2008 recipient of the Abbyann Lynch Medal for Bioethics, awarded by the Royal Society of Canada. The Wounded Storyteller has recently been issued in a second edition (University of Chicago, 2013).

Shadd Maruna


Shadd Maruna, Ph.D., is Professor of Justice Studies and Human Development and the Director of the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice for Queen’s Law. Previously he taught at the State University of New York and the University of Cambridge, and he has a Ph.D. in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University. His book Making Good was named the “Outstanding Contribution to Criminology” by the American Society of Criminology in 2001. In 2011, he received the inaugural Research Medal from the Howard League for Penal Reform. He has been a Soros Justice Fellow, a Fulbright Scholar and an H. F. Guggenheim Fellow. With his mentor Dan McAdams of Northwestern University, he has written widely about narrative in the process of personal redemption. Click here for a listing of Shadd Maruna’s published writings.

Beth Merenstein


Beth Merenstein, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Central Connecticut State University where she teaches in the areas of race and ethnicity, immigration, urban studies, and advanced research methods. She has extensive experience with qualitative research and interview analysis in particular. Beth is currently overseeing a program evaluation project examining homelessness prevention. Click here for a listing of Beth Merenstein’s published writings.

Jennifer Rose


Jennifer Rose, Ph.D., is a Research Associate Professor at Wesleyan University with extensive training in statistical methods. Jen is principal investigator on a NIDA funded grant to integrate data from different studies using moderated nonlinear factor analysis to develop equivalent measures across studies. She is co-editor and contributor to the book, Multivariate applications in substance use research: New methods for new questions, published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Dr. Rose has over 20 years of experience in statistical consulting in a number of disciplines. She developed, and currently teaches, a course in statistical consulting that serves as an opportunity to link universities and community institutions in the pursuit of evidence-based decision making, as well as an opportunity for students to apply and build on their newly acquired data analytic skills in a real life statistical consulting setting. Click here for a listing of Jennifer Rose’s published writings.

Ruth White


Ruth Anne White is one of the nation’s leading experts on the nexus between housing policy and child welfare. She is co-founder and Executive Director of the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare and former director of Housing and Homelessness for the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). In 2004, White co-edited the landmark issue of the League’s journal, Child Welfare, documenting best practices to bring affordable housing resources to families and youth in the child welfare system. Prior to joining CWLA, White managed the front-door family shelter and worked as a case manager in Columbus, OH. Ms. White is also a HUD Certified Assisted Housing Manager. Ms. White has a Master of Science Degree in Social Administration from Case Western Reserve University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Social Work from Ohio State University. She is a doctoral candidate and Furfey Scholar at the National Catholic School of Social Service at Catholic University of America. Ms. White was recently appointed to the American Bar Association’s Council on Homeless Children.

INSTITUTE PROJECTS

MEANINGFUL DATA INITIATIVES

Institute Staff lead The Connection’s efforts to make sure that the private and public funding for our work is being put to the best and most efficient use. We track the most important outcomes for our clients and our communities. Are our clients staying free of substance use? Are their psychiatric symptoms being reduced? Are they changing long-standing patterns of criminal behavior? Are they participating in and contributing to their communities?

An example of our work is the Meaningful Data Committee. The Meaningful Data Committee assesses and promotes the “data health” of each TCI program, implementing program-centered interventions as needed to ensure more systematic data collection and documentation, enhance relevant measure selection, and more generally foster a culture supportive to clinical research. Correspondingly, for each Connection program, we will maintain a programmatic Data Health File, which documents programmatic strengths towards the goals of data collection/documentation, assessment instrument selection, and research awareness, as well as obstacles towards these goals.

SERVICE RESEARCH

The Connection Institute works annually with psychology and sociology students at Wesleyan and Central Connecticut State Universities who go on site to our programs and interview clients, and then generate qualitative and quantitative reports. This platform allows student to go beyond theoretical learning and learn how services are implemented in the community. Students have found that this kind of pragmatic exposure to the fields of behavioral health and community justice is of great value. We welcome opportunities to work with additional colleges and universities.

Wesleyan University Statistical Consulting

We have developed an ongoing partnership with the Psychology department and the Quantitative Analysis Center at Wesleyan University. Institute staff collaborate with Wesleyan faculty and teams of students to undertake extensive analysis of program data. The goal of this analysis is to provide Connection program directors and direct care staff with the knowledge to better serve the needs of our clients. Recent studies have focused on client’s use of homeless shelters, as well as psychiatric emergency rooms. Click here for a recent report.

Central Connecticut State University Homelessness Studies

The Connection Institute is the focus of two undergraduate courses in the sociology department. Last year’s study examined The Connection’s Eddy Shelter of Middlesex County. Students conducted interviews with two sets of shelter clients; graduates who have moved onto higher levels of stability, and clients who have returned at least three times to the shelter. Students compared the differences in the stories of these groups.

APPLIED RESEARCH

The following studies are being conducted at The Connection by our university partners:

University of New Haven Recidivism Study

Dr. Amory Carr of the University of New Haven is conducting an outcome study of The Connection’s CREST program. CREST is a day reporting center for offenders diagnosed with mental illness. Dr. Carr is examining the impact of the program on symptomology and criminal recidivism.

Central Connecticut State University Strength-based Study of Offenders

The Strength-Based Assessment project is being conducted by Damon Mitchell. The project evaluates new assessment tools for clients at our residential programs. The measures, developed in part by Dr. Mitchell, assess client’s strengths and motivations, in addition to their criminal risks and deficits. Click to see the following published studies: Prediction of Absconding from a Halfway House and The Adult Substance Use Survey.

University of Connecticut Supportive Housing for Families® Study

The University of Connecticut Evaluation of The Connection’s Supportive Housing for Families® (SHF) project is a multi-year evaluation of our SHF program, which reunifies families by providing supportive case management and housing. The positive outcomes have been documented by Preston Britner of the University of Connecticut, as well as by an extensive program review by the Connecticut State Legislature. This study is supported by a multi-million dollar grant from the federal Administration of Children and Families.

Yale University Citizenship Project
The Connection is incorporating components of the Yale University Citizenship Project to clients at The Connection. Under the direction of Michael Rowe, The Citizens Project uses the framework of citizenship, a model for community integration and social inclusion developed by the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health. The citizens Community Enhancement Project provides the following to its students, who typically have lengthy histories of psychiatric illness and criminal justice involvement:
  • Nontraditional classes geared toward the rights, responsibilities, roles, resources and relationships that are a part of community membership. Class Topics include: Relationship Building, WRAP, Anger Management, Assertiveness Training, Legal Issues and Entitlements, Negotiating the Criminal Justice System, Housing Options & Issues, Vocational & Educational Development, Patient Rights & Advocacy, Healthy Alternatives in Recovery, Stress Management, Public Speaking, HIV Prevention, ADA & Negotiating, Goal Development, and others.
  • A peer support group the students coined, “What’s Up” that allows time in each class for the students to share their challenges and accomplishments with each other to give and receive honest and confidential feedback.
  • Individualized Peer Recovery Specialist support services, provided in or out of the classroom.
  • Individualized and group valued role projects developed by the students through which they can share their knowledge and experiences in ways that educate or help other community members.
  • A ten dollar stipend to each student at the end of each class they attend.
  • An annual holiday party and a yearly student graduation.
  • A weekly pizza party, which gives students and graduates of the project an opportunity to socialize with class members and meet new people.

Click to see the following articles: Citizenship: A Response to the Marginalization of People with Mental Illnesses; Citizens Community Enhancement Project; and Citizenship, Community, and Recovery.

The following research is being conducted by Connection Institute staff:

The Connection Institute’s Narrative Study

Drawing upon the work of Dan McAdams of the Foley Center for the Study of Lives at Northwestern University, Jesse Jacobson and the Institute staff are conducting a multi-year study involving Life Story Interviews of clients at The Connection’s half-way house in New Haven. We are conducting qualitative and quantitative interviews with clients as they arrive at the facility and upon discharge. We analyze the interviews to obtain the clients point of view on engagement in their services, treatment, and to gauge if the clients stories change for the better, towards higher levels of engagement and responsibility.

2nd Story

A group of participants in the Narrative Study will be randomized into a writing group, 2nd Story. In 2nd Story, clients will meet weekly with a writing teacher and therapist and write about their strengths and their histories, The group leaders will share research with clients about criminal recidivism and endeavor to help clients gain insight and enhance their skills in order to prevent future criminal and substance-related behavior. We are endeavoring to help clients re-write, or “re-biography” their life stories. We will track the impact of the intervention by a number of behavioral measures, including future criminal behavior.

The Cultural Exchange Initiative

Each year since 2011, Connection staff have traveled to Cordoba Argentina to exchange ideas and best practices in serving people diagnosed with mental illness. We have worked closely and sponsored conferences with Cordoba’s Asociación Civil Transformadora (ACT). The mission of ACT is “helping the community by developing and managing alternative mental health systems.” At a forum addressing a new provincial law regarding de-instutionalization of persons with mental illness, The Connection was invited to share expertise and experience from our 40 years of community service development. In 2013, Argentinian professionals visited The Connection to further continue the dialogue.

Sexual Offender Recidivism studies with the State of Connecticut

Institute staff have collaborated with the Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division Office of Policy and Management, State of Connecticut, to produce a study, “Recidivism among sex offenders in Connecticut” in 2012. The report showed that only 2.7 percent of all sex offender released from prison in 2005 were convicted of a new sex offense in the five years after their release, a rate far lower than findings from most national studies.

Contact Us

Main Office
100 Roscommon Dr, Ste. 203
Middletown CT 06457
(860) 343-5500

Fraud Alert Line: To report a concern or fraudulent activity, please call 1-855-868-5656. All calls will be handled anonymously and in a timely manner.

For easy access to our services call our Toll-free Helpline at (855)Help955 — (855)435-7955 anytime during business hours. A trained staff member will assist you with your questions and will guide you to the appropriate Connection service.

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