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Oregon Slow to Address Problems at Contract Juvenile Facilities

Oregon Slow to Address Problems at Contract Juvenile Facilities

by Mark Wilson

Oregon officials knew of significant problems at two Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) contract facilities for months before taking action.

The Kirkland Institute for Child and Family Study (“Kirkland”) is a secure facility in Burns, Oregon under contract to accept juvenile offenders in OYA custody. The state Department of Human Services also contracts with Kirkland to house teenage boys who are rejected by family foster homes and group homes.

With just two licensing specialists responsible for overseeing all 240 child care facilities in Oregon, including Kirkland, site visits occur just once every two years. Even then, the specialists have little authority. “Short of suspending their license, we have no alternative kind of remedy,” admitted Erinn Kelley-Siel, interim director of Oregon’s Children, Adults and Families Division.

During a Kirkland site visit, Licensing Coordinator Monika Kretzschmar discovered significant deficiencies. Some Kirkland staff members had been convicted of crimes – though the state and Kirkland refused to provide details – while others lacked qualifications for their positions.

Medication logs revealed that some teens had not received their prescribed medications or were issued someone else’s pills. One juvenile was hospitalized after Kirkland staff gave him an accidental drug overdose.

Kretzschmar ordered Kirkland to take 19 corrective actions to avoid losing its license. Weeks later, Kirkland appointed Rich Streeter as its new executive director.

“We’re trying to do everything we can,” claimed Streeter. “You’re talking about some of the most difficult kids in Oregon, and some of the most difficult to place. We’re making sure we’re providing them a safe, secure environment when they’re here.”

However, despite assurances of a “safe, secure environment,” a September 2008 report revealed that a Kirkland employee broke a boy’s collarbone. Staff claimed the injury occurred while attempting to subdue the teen, but an investigation by the State Office of Investigations and Training found that the employee’s conduct amounted to child abuse.

“I just feel uncomfortable with our youth staying there since there have been so many red flags over the last several months,” wrote Erin Fultz, an OYA staff member, in a September 19, 2008 email to her supervisor. But OYA youths remained at Kirkland and problems continued.

In November 2008, the state received another report that a juvenile was treated in an emergency room for injuries sustained during a “run in” with Kirkland staff. That was apparently the last straw, as the state finally stopped sending juveniles to Kirkland and began placing them elsewhere. The last OYA teen was removed from the contract facility on December 18, 2008, according to Streeter. Unfazed, he said Kirkland is working with the state so it can resume accepting OYA youths.

Oregon officials also stopped sending juveniles to another contract child care facility, Pendleton Academies, following an October 2008 incident in which a 17-year-old boy had sex with a 13-year-old girl. The state Addictions and Mental Health Division announced on November 17, 2008 that it would revoke the facility’s certification to provide mental health care for juveniles. Other areas of concern included inadequate supervision, inadequate mental health treatment, and 56 police calls to the facility in the first half of 2008. Previously, Pendleton Academies had been cited for six areas of non-compliance in a 2006 review by the state Department of Human Services.

The OYA is not only experiencing problems at contract facilities. According to a state audit released in May 2009, the Oregon Juvenile Justice Information System, which is utilized by the OYA, contains inconsistent and sometimes unreliable data concerning juvenile offenders. The audit made several recommendations for improvements. See: “Oregon Youth Authority: Improvements Needed in Availability and Reliability of Critical Juvenile Justice Information,” Secretary of State Audit Report, No. 2009-11.

Sources: The Oregonian, Associated Press

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