Group-home guidelines must change for everyone’s sake


You’re a 35-year-old mother sitting at home with your youngest daughter; your husband is out with the other kids, so it’s one of those nights when you have a little quality time together.

At about 7 p.m. you hear loud noises coming from the area of the family swimming pool, so you head to the back door to see just what or who is making all the noise.

It’s always been a nice, quiet neighborhood without any problems.

That is until now.

Much to your horror, a stranger is in your pool splashing away and having a ball . You ask him to leave but he ignores your request.

And then you remember that rumor passed on to you a week earlier that a “group home” was taking over the house next door.

You make a call to your father and then to the police. In the interim, you see another person running through the neighborhood looking for something or someone.

Because you had information provided second or thirdhand about a group home, you hail the person down and ask if she is looking for a young man.

This person frantically looking through neighborhood was it turns out an employee of Melmark New England, your new neighbor.

The police arrive quickly, and the staff person enters the pool to escort the young man out. The police know nothing of the new neighbor or how to handle this kind of incident because they haven’t heard the rumor that Melmark has moved into the neighborhood.

Why do you have to find out about these group homes or “residential programs for children with severe special needs” through the rumor mill?

Because the law allows them to operate that way, and unless someone does something about the law, it will continue until someone gets hurt.

For those of you who haven’t heard of this program, providers such as Melmark New England have no obligation to tell you they are moving into the neighborhood; they just buy a property, make sure it complies with the building code and move in.

They could be good neighbors and have a neighborhood meeting to explain the very necessary and important work they do, but they chose not to. The reasoning on their part is that if you know they are moving into your neighborhood, you might try to stop them.

It’s not their job to worry about the neighbors.

Whose job is it, you ask?

Well, there is no easy answer here. Under normal circumstances you would think your Board of Selectmen would have something to say about it.

But they are not entitled to any notification, nor is our Police and Fire departments.

The only people that have any authority over this program is the state Legislature, and for many years they have ignored the problem.

This isn’t the first time this program has caused problems for neighborhoods in Dracut or in surrounding towns, and it won’t be the last.

The discussion here is about simple common sense.

In this particular incident, there were no injuries, just a horrified mother and her 7-year-old daughter, who are also my daughter and granddaughter.

It could have been much worse. There could have been young children in the pool or the young man that escaped the “residence” could have drowned.

Under the law, Melmark New England and other service providers like them do whatever the please because we let them get away with it.

There were reasons this young man was able to escape.

Lack of security, a fence under construction but not complete, perhaps poorly trained or distracted personnel, but clearly, the home was not prepared for occupancy.

But they opened anyway because they can.

Warren Shaw is a former Dracut selectman who hosts a popular Saturday morning radio show on WCAP-AM from 6 to 10.