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Group Home Hell
July 16, 2010 permalink
In a Rhode Island group home for teenaged boys the toilets did not flush, clothing was stolen and five boys were confined to a hot room to coerce a confession to the theft.
R.I. shuts down group home for teen boys in Johnston
PROVIDENCE — State officials have shut down a group home for teenage boys in Johnston pending an investigation into allegations that the toilets and showers were not working and that some of the boys had been confined for hours inside a sweltering common room last week following a report that clothing was being stolen.
The problems were reported to the state Department of Children, Youth and Families by Rhode Island Child Advocate Jametta O. Alston after her office’s investigators received a tip and visited the group home, The Johnston House, on Greenville Avenue, last Thursday.
The investigators reported that in the middle of last week’s heat wave, five of the seven boys had been confined to a common room with no air conditioning — a claim that the group home’s chief executive denies —– in an effort to get the boys to confess about the theft of some clothing.
Toilets at the home also couldn’t be flushed and the bathrooms stank of backed-up waste, the child advocate’s office reported. And the showers were not functioning properly, so staff had been taking the boys to a local YMCA to shower.
The DCYF has placed the group home’s license on probation, as is done during any abuse and neglect investigation, and has moved all the boys into other group homes, the agency’s deputy director, Jorge Garcia, said Tuesday.
The Johnston House is operated by the Windsor, Conn.-based nonprofit operation Community Solutions Inc. The company’s chief executive officer, Robert D. Pidgeon, said Tuesday that his employees are cooperating with the DCYF in the investigation.
The Johnston House is one of 102 licensed residential facilities in the state operated by agencies that have contracts with the DCYF. Rhode Island currently has 324 youths in DCYF custody who are living in group homes, according to Garcia.
The state pays a per diem rate of $215.57 per bed to house up to eight teenage boys at the two-story house in Johnston, which has a staff of 12 to 15 people to care for and provide therapeutic services to boys with behavioral and emotional problems.
The problems at The Johnston House surfaced last Thursday when the state child advocate’s office — an independent agency created to serve as a watchdog over the state child-welfare system — received a call from a social worker who had a scheduled visit at The Johnston House last week. The social worker, Alston said, was accompanied by a DCYF employee.
Two investigators from the child advocate’s office visited the group home, Alston said, and interviewed the boys, who repeated the allegations.
“In order to get a confession, you have the children sitting still in a hot room,” she said. “That’s, to me, disturbing.”
Pidgeon, the group home operator’s chief executive, denied that the children were confined to one room.
“It would be impossible to confine them to a room because we don’t lock the doors,” he said. “They have free access to come and go in the building or on the grounds.”
The staff at The Johnston House had placed all but three newly arrived residents on “house restriction,” Pidgeon said, in hopes that one of them would confess to who was stealing clothing. House restriction means that the boys were confined to the house or the yard, he said, so they couldn’t go on trips to the movies or out for Chinese food. However, he said, they were free to move around the property. Their bedrooms had air conditioning, but not the dining room or living room, he said. The restrictions had been in place for 8½ days, he said.
“It’s not part of our policy to have restrictions that last that long,” Pidgeon said. “It just strikes me that’s a little too long.”
The Johnston House also had been having intermittent problems in recent months with its water pump, but it wasn’t until July 1 that the water pressure became so low that it restricted showering and staff began taking the boys to a local YMCA to shower.
“By July, you couldn’t take back-to-back showers [and] couldn’t flush the toilet,” Pidgeon said. “It’s not like they were ever out of water. They just didn’t have the water pressure they needed.”
The two-story house, built in 1920, has a gabled, clay tile roof and decorative glass doorways, but its original clapboards have been replaced with vinyl siding and the wood façade is worn.
The group home’s operator, Community Solutions, bought the house in 1997 through its real-estate arm, Collins Group Inc., for $210,000. At the time, Pidgeon said, the company owned a number of properties used for residential juvenile care. But since then, the company has moved away from residential services for juveniles to home-based care, and the Johnston house is one of the last three properties it owns. The others are a group home in Coventry and a safe house in Windsor, Conn.
Community Solutions operates in 14 states, including Rhode Island, and is accredited by the national nonprofit Council For the Accreditation of Residential Facilities. The DCYF’s Garcia said he could not recall ever having had a problem with the company’s facilities.
Last Friday, the water pump at the Johnston group home was replaced and the pressure problem resolved, Pidgeon, the company’s CEO, said. By then, the residents had been unable to flush the toilets or use the showers for eight days. The same day, investigators from the DCYF’s child protective services and licensing divisions showed up at the home and interviewed residents and staff. The DCYF ordered that the home be shut down and the boys move out pending completion of their investigation.
The group home’s staff has not been working since Friday, Pidgeon said, and is not being paid pending the results of the investigation.
“What was most disturbing to me was that the DCYF social worker [who visited Thursday] didn’t make the calls” to report the problems, Alston, the state’s child advocate, said.
DCYF social workers are required to conduct monthly on-site visits of all children the agency places in group homes, Garcia, the agency’s deputy director, said. However, he said, the plumbing problems at the Johnston home were not necessarily something that a DCYF employee would notice if he or she didn’t use the facilities during the visit.
“I’m not sure if some of those issues would have been obvious,” he said.
Source: Providence Journal