By Josh LaBella
For more than 40 years, Robert Morton has been the steward of a city department which has impacted the lives of thousands of West Haven residents.
Morton, the director of Child and Family Services, said he got his start in 1977. He said at the time of the job posting he was looking to work in a school as a guidance counselor or as in public services for a city.
“I came for the interview,” said Morton, “was given the opportunity to work, and here I am.”
The Director said he got both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Southern Connecticut State University. He said his work has changed over the years.
“When I first came to West Haven, there was no Youth Services,” said Morton. “I was probably the first director. So, a lot of my time was spent going out and working with the school system. I actually did a lot of one-on-one counseling with the kids.”
Morton said as the program grew his responsibilities became more administrative rather than service based. The majority of his time now is dedicated to writing and overseeing grants and managing the departments various programs and budgets.
“I don’t want to toot my own horn but Youth Services today in West Haven is the evolution of the program that I put through from beginning to end,” he said.
Morton said managing grants and continuing the funding of Youth Services is the biggest challenge in his job. He said the program primarily relies on grants but the amount of money available to Youth Services fluctuates from year to year.
Morton said he continues to use undergraduates and graduates from his alma mater as interns and clinicians in his department.
“So that relationship has always been there and continues to be there today,” said Morton. “At one point, we used to have eight to ten students here from Southern.”
Back when he started, Youth Services used to be more of a “drop-in center” where kids could come and hang out in a safe place after school. Eventually, Morton developed a myriad of programs ranging from family counseling to special needs programs.
“I would say it’s more professional now than it was when it started,” said Morton. “Not that a drop-in center isn’t professional. Today we do a lot of counseling and therapy programs.”
Morton cited his tenure as evidence that he has enjoyed his work in West Haven, adding that he would have left if he did not. He said the city has always been very supportive of the department.
He said he is approached fairly frequently by people who used to be in one or more of his programs. The director said they tell him about the positive effects he and Youth Services have had on their lives.
According to Morton, it is rewarding to hear those stories especially when he does not know if he will ever encounter a person again after they leave one of his programs.
With the wide variety of programs Youth and Family Services offer, Morton said they service nearly a two thousand kids and families in any given year. Morton listed off more than two dozen programs and events the department hosts or co-hosts.
“We do everything,” said Morton. “We do a lot. There’s one full-time person: that’s me.”
Morton said he has been talking to his wife about retiring soon, but hopes that, when he does so, he can take part in the process of hiring a replacement.
“I would like them [the next director] to provide the best services that they think they can provide to the community,” he said. “If they can do that, that would be great.”
Morton said he will miss coming in and working with people every day. He said his job has been as fulfilling as he could have hoped for.