Foster cam­pus vi­o­lates rights

Dozens of health, safety ci­ta­tions is­sued to agency

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Karen de Sá, Cyn­thia Dizikes and Joaquin Palomino

A Sacra­mento agency run­ning one of the few re­main­ing foster care shel­ters in Cal­i­for­nia has vi­o­lated health and safety laws and the per­sonal rights of chil­dren more than 120 times in re­cent years — a num­ber matched only by statelicensed fa­cil­i­ties that have been shut down or placed on pro­ba­tion.

State ci­ta­tions since 2012 at the Chil­dren’s Re­ceiv­ing Home of Sacra­mento de­scribe poorly trained staff, mis­han­dled med­i­ca­tions and filthy dorms. This year, an em­ployee was ter­mi­nated for an “in­ap­pro­pri­ate re­la­tion­ship” with an un­der­age client and for smok­ing mar­i­juana with run­away foster youth. On Sept. 8, a state in­spec­tor was un­able to re­main in a bed­room be­cause the stench of urine over­whelmed her.

The pri­vately run fa­cil­ity has a trou­bled his­tory of poor per­for­mance it has not yet over­come. Three years ago, state reg­u­la­tors placed the Re­ceiv­ing Home on an ex­ten­sive 12-

month cor­rec­tion plan, af­ter its fail­ure to make ear­lier, promised re­forms.

Su­per­vi­sors “failed to re­port mul­ti­ple al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual and other in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct by staff to­ward clients at the fa­cil­ity”; chil­dren were as­saulted and in­jured due to lack of care and su­per­vi­sion; and staff failed to call 911 when a child nearly drowned in the fa­cil­ity’s pool, a Jan­uary 2014 let­ter from the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of So­cial Ser­vices states.

The num­ber of ci­ta­tions at the 89-bed fa­cil­ity on Auburn Boule­vard “doesn’t sur­prise me, not at all. It sounds about right,” said foster youth Ma­lik Pinck­ney, 18, who was sent as a younger teen to the Re­ceiv­ing Home cam­pus. “It’s al­most like they want to get shut down, like they don’t think peo­ple are go­ing to check. It’s just ne­glect­ful, pure ne­glect, of ev­ery­thing at the place — the build­ings, and the kids.”

Li­cens­ing vi­o­la­tions can be found through­out Cal­i­for­nia’s network of more than 900 chil­dren’s res­i­den­tial care fa­cil­i­ties, which range from two to 216 beds. But the to­tal num­ber of ci­ta­tions at the shel­ter and ad­join­ing res­i­den­tial pro­grams run by the Chil­dren’s Re­ceiv­ing Home of Sacra­mento stands out, state records show, with a no­tably high num­ber of vi­o­la­tions that pose “an im­me­di­ate risk.”

David Bal­lard, long­time CEO of the non­profit Chil­dren’s Re­ceiv­ing Home, said his agency strives to pro­vide the best of care for foster youth, and he at­trib­uted the high num­ber of ci­ta­tions to par­tic­u­larly dili­gent re­port­ing to state au­thor­i­ties.

“We’ve made a de­ci­sion to err on the side of cau­tion and over-re­port­ing,” Bal­lard said. “If we think we have a prob­lem, we don’t de­bate it here, we re­port it to li­cens­ing and they come out. That’s some­thing we have asked for to make sure we have a crisp and clean op­er­a­tion.”

State and county of­fi­cials de­clined to com­ment on the sig­nif­i­cance of the high num­ber of ci­ta­tions, say­ing in­di­vid­ual foster care fa­cil­i­ties are unique and should not be com­pared.

A Chron­i­cle in­ves­ti­ga­tion pub­lished this year re­vealed ad­di­tional hazards for youth placed at the fa­cil­ity. The re­port doc­u­mented hun­dreds of ques­tion­able ar­rests on shel­ter cam­puses fol­low­ing mi­nor mis­be­hav­ior by foster youth. In Sacra­mento, there were more than 40 in­stances of foster youth be­ing ar­rested and booked at the county’s ju­ve­nile hall in 2015 and 2016 from the Chil­dren’s Re­ceiv­ing Home cam­pus, in­clud­ing some chil­dren as young as 9 and 10.

Un­like group homes in Cal­i­for­nia, which are shift­ing to short-term treat­ment cen­ters, shel­ters sim­ply house chil­dren that the foster care sys­tem can’t place. Most Cal­i­for­nia coun­ties have moved away from the shel­ter model, which is con­sid­ered out­moded. Next year, just seven of the state’s 58 coun­ties will op­er­ate shel­ters, un­der new re­quire­ments that chil­dren re­main no more than 10 days.

The Sacra­mento fa­cil­ity, how­ever, is ex­pand­ing its ser­vices to ac­com­mo­date more chil­dren, and is set to re­ceive an ad­di­tional $700,000 in county fund­ing.

The Chil­dren’s Re­ceiv­ing Home is in some ways unique. Its main cam­pus con­tains the 49-bed emer­gency shel­ter for new­borns through chil­dren up to 18 years old, and sev­eral res­i­den­tial treat­ment pro­grams. It also leases space to Sacra­mento County, which op­er­ates a cen­tral in­take of­fice where so­cial work­ers and po­lice bring chil­dren im­me­di­ately af­ter they’ve been re­moved from trou­bled homes.

As The Chron­i­cle re­ported in July, for years, hun­dreds of chil­dren have been left to sleep on the floor of the county in­take of­fice, in an il­le­gal, makeshift ar­range­ment that left teenagers vul­ner­a­ble to hu­man traf­fick­ing in the neigh­bor­hood and other safety hazards.

Fol­low­ing ex­po­sure, county of­fi­cials re­spon­si­ble for the in­take of­fice are now tak­ing steps to end the il­le­gal hous­ing prac­tice — mainly by shift­ing chil­dren with more chal­leng­ing be­hav­iors into the ad­ja­cent shel­ter, with one-on-one staffing and ad­di­tional men­tal health ser­vices.

Pinck­ney, who now lives with a foster fam­ily, re­calls some employees’ kind­nesses at the Sacra­mento fa­cil­ity — grant­ing ex­tra time on the bas­ket­ball court, or sim­ply lis­ten­ing when kids needed to talk. But twice in 10 days, he said, “sav­age” fights broke out that coun­selors failed to break up with any ur­gency, and girls left cam­pus alone late at night with no one try­ing to stop them. Pinck­ney de­scribed con­di­tions in the dorms and bath­rooms as “nasty.”

Al­though foster youths’ med­i­cal records are of­ten hard to ac­cess amid their many moves, the Sacra­mento fa­cil­ity has re­peat­edly been cited for avoid­able er­rors, such as an in­ci­dent where a child was mis­tak­enly given a sib­ling’s med­i­ca­tions. Au­thor­i­ties also noted: “There have been nu­mer­ous in­ci­dents in which clients did not re­ceive their med­i­ca­tions as pre­scribed due to er­rors, com­mu­ni­ca­tion prob­lems and med­i­ca­tions not filled timely.”

In some cases, employees’ poor choices re­sulted in in­juries, such as staff fail­ing to take a child to the doc­tor in time to get stitches af­ter a fight broke out.

State ci­ta­tions also re­veal short­com­ings in en­sur­ing chil­dren are pro­vided struc­tured ac­tiv­i­ties to make their lives in in­sti­tu­tional care more normal and less dull. The fa­cil­ity has not “uti­lized an ac­tiv­ity plan to keep the chil­dren en­gaged,” in­ves­ti­ga­tors noted in one re­port, can­cel­ing ac­tiv­i­ties for some youth that prompted them to run away.

On rarer oc­ca­sions, abuse by staffers has also been doc­u­mented, in­clud­ing a for­mer coun­selor sen­tenced to a year in jail in 2013 for hav­ing sex with a 16-year-old client and fur­nish­ing her with mar­i­juana. An­other ci­ta­tion for a staffer smok­ing mar­i­juana with clients was is­sued just last month.

The li­cens­ing di­vi­sion of the state Depart­ment of So­cial Ser­vices re­sponds to com­plaints and con­ducts in­spec­tions of res­i­den­tial care fa­cil­i­ties. When ci­ta­tions are is­sued, a fa­cil­ity must sub­mit a plan of cor­rec­tion. If those plans fail, the depart­ment has a range of en­force­ment op­tions, from is­su­ing ci­ta­tions and civil penal­ties to re­vok­ing a fa­cil­ity’s li­cense.

Ob­servers say the re­peated vi­o­la­tions in Sacra­mento il­lus­trate trou­bling pat­terns. Pay at the Sacra­mento fa­cil­ity is the low­est among 10 shel­ter pro­grams re­viewed by the news­pa­per, with a start­ing hourly wage re­cently raised to $11.50 — $1 less than at the lo­cal In-N-Out Burger.

“It’s most dis­heart­en­ing that they haven’t cleaned up their act in any ap­pre­cia­ble way — the staff has carte blanche to do what­ever they want to do with­out any com­pe­tent su­per­vi­sion by the ad­min­is­tra­tion there,” said Sacra­mento psy­chol­o­gist and at­tor­ney Joseph Ge­orge, who rep­re­sented the abused 16-year-old foster youth and whose of­fice in­ter­viewed more than 18 for­mer employees.

Di­rec­tor Bal­lard would not com­ment on spe­cific staff abuse cases, but said he has been dis­turbed by the re­peated in­ci­dents: “I’ve been very con­scious of that, and I do see that pat­tern,” he said. Bal­lard said the fa­cil­ity has re­sponded to each ci­ta­tion through ter­mi­na­tion, dis­ci­pline, im­proved train­ing or pol­icy changes. “It’s still a work in progress, but my goal is to be re­spon­sive to the fact that I was see­ing too many staff er­rors, and my goal is to see fewer er­rors.”

He later wrote to the news­pa­per to clar­ify those re­marks, stat­ing his fa­cil­ity “does crit­i­cally needed work, for the best kids, de­liv­ered by the most ded­i­cated staff, every day. We make mis­takes. Ev­ery­body does. But the ledger here — the work it­self — is over­whelm­ingly to the good.”

Sacra­mento County is heav­ily re­liant on the Re­ceiv­ing Home to house foster youth who so­cial work­ers have been un­able to place with rel­a­tives or foster par­ents. The fa­cil­ity is well-known lo­cally, vis­ited reg­u­larly by lo­cal and state elected of­fi­cials.

Yet ci­ta­tions in re­cent years in­clude “dirt and grime” through­out bed­rooms, and soiled shower stalls. At the cot­tage hous­ing chil­dren 6 years old and younger, wa­ter ran as hot as 129.5 de­grees, well above scald­ing tem­per­a­ture.

On Sept. 8, a state Li­cens­ing Pro­gram An­a­lyst was re­pelled by what she found on an unan­nounced visit to a dorm: “Bed­room #5 has a very strong smell of urine and there were 6 flies ob­served over the bed of one of the clients,” she wrote. “The odor was so strong LPA was un­able to stay in the room.”

Foster youth Pinck­ney, who is now study­ing mu­sic and psy­chol­ogy at Co­sumnes River Col­lege in Sacra­mento, said the shel­ter en­vi­ron­ment led him to one con­clu­sion: “You just don’t want to be there longer than you have to. It was just an over­all ter­ri­ble ex­pe­ri­ence that I wouldn’t rec­om­mend for any­body.”

Paul Chinn / The Chron­i­cle

The Chil­dren’s Re­ceiv­ing Home of Sacra­mento has been cited more than 120 times in the past few years for in­ap­pro­pri­ate staff con­duct, mis­han­dled med­i­ca­tions and filthy dorms.

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