A recent newspaper investigation revealed that Arizona's would-be oversight of residential treatment centers (RTCs) for at-risk children is as duplicitous and unjust as the state's prisons and jails.
A February report from The Arizona Republic found that the agencies supposedly regulating Arizona's 11 juvenile RTCs–which treat children for emotional and behavioral problems, provide healthcare, 24-hour supervision and on-campus schooling, and are often used as lockdown facilities–have mostly ignored allegations of sexual misconduct and physical violence.
Worse, by not publicly disseminating information about the allegations, the two regulatory agencies–the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) and the state Supreme Court's Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC)– are protecting contractors at the expense of vulnerable kids.
Both the ADHS and AOC argue it would be unfair to the contractors who run the RTCs to make it easier for the public to access information about the allegations or to post incident reports online.
"If you put it on the website for people to see, one facility may report 70 incidents and one has three... and that is misleading," says Chad Campbell, director of AOC's juvenile-justice services division.
In cases alleging sexual misconduct between RTC staff and children, Campbell and Barbara Lang, head of ADHS' office of behavioral-health licensing, contend that, unless they result in criminal convictions, allegations against RTC employees are unsubstantiated.
"Allegations are just allegations," says Lang, who is also a licensed counselor and certified clinical sex-offender treatment specialist. "We have to prove a factual basis before we can post it for the public."
After reviewing more than 2,100 incident reports filed with ADHS and AOC over the past three years, the Republic found more than a dozen allegations of RTC staff sexually abusing the kids under their care, as well as hundreds of reports of physical abuse and runaways.
The AOC claims it took corrective action against some of the RTCs based on the reports, but provided the Republic with records for just a few cases. Those records revealed that AOC did little more than send a few e-mails and require one RTC to draft a corrective-action plan.
The ADHS says it didn't pursue sexual-abuse allegations because the accused RTC staff members had been fired.
The Republic found just two enforcement actions by ADHS: a $1,900 fine in 2011 against a Scottsdale contractor, the New Foundation for failing to
examine a client face-to-face within an hour after placing the child in restraints; and a $250 fine, also in 2011, against Devereaux Foundation for failing to apply for relicensure on time.
And not only do the ADHS and AOC hinder corrective action by keeping information from the public, they seldom share information–about runaways, fights, self-inflicted injuries or homicidal threats–with each other. As a result, they fail to identify problems that could be corrected to help at-risk kids.
In late 2008, for instance, courts ordered the New Foundation to increase the height of its fences to prevent runaways. Because runaways are only reported to ADHS and not the courts, AOC didn't know that there were a reported 217 runaways at the New Foundation in the previous three years.
Parc Place, a juvenile RTC in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, was required to report 40 instances of self-inflicted injuries to AOC, but reported only five to ADHS. Phoenix's Youth Development Institute (YDI) reported 136 cases of peer-on-peer violence over three years to AOC, as
required, but reported just 11 to ADHS.
And Mingus Mountain Estate Residential Center, an all-girls RTC in Prescott Valley, about two hours northwest of Phoenix, reported to ADHS four instances of staff sexual abuse or sex with clients, but none of them to AOC, even though the RTC was required, by law, to report threats to the health, safety or welfare of clients, even if not placed by the state, to the courts.
The Republic only obtained public records on the allegations and incident reports after months of negotiations with the ADHS and AOC. The newspaper was only able to get as many records as it had because they hadn't yet been destroyed, which is usually the case at ADHS, which destroys most incident reports within a year.
Even though ADHS concedes that such reports comprise "portions of evidence," it claims it doesn't have the resources to store the thousands of records it processes every year.
Anne Ronan, an attorney with the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, questioned just whom the state is trying to protect when it ignores and destroys negative information about the RTCs.
"It's not about being fair to providers–it's about finding out what goes on in these facilities to avoid a tragedy," says Ronan, an expert on juvenile mental-health issues who successfully sued Arizona over children's mental-health care. "They don't even know what to do with the information. That's the sad part. ... They collect a ton of data and do nothing with it."
Source: The Arizona Republic
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