The CEO of FamiliesFirst, Darrell Evora, spoke out on Saturday, telling news crews, “I’m outraged… So I understand the public being outraged. We’d never want that to happen to a child in our care.”
“Very sad, and then shocked, and dismayed,” said Mr. Evora. “We’re doing our best now to shadow kids and keep them in line of sight,” he added.
However, as the Davis police announced a third arrest, for another sexual assault, sources have told the Vanguard that some of the problems are self-inflicted.
The Davis Enterprise reports this morning that staff levels at the facility were increased this past week to three adults for every 10 children. He also addressed reports that there were layoffs back in December and January that contributed to the problems, claiming that staffing was reduced because the number of children had dropped from 72 to 62.
While documents released on Friday indicate that there were problems at the facility leading to complaints dating back two years, Davis police officials told the Vanguard that the situation at the facility changed in the past few months to create a series of problems that had not existed previously at the facility.
The documents demonstrate, among other things, that the children who were residents at the facility were leaving the facility without permission and acting out at a very high rate.
State regulators cited the facility for not having sufficient staff to adequately supervise the children.
Sources told the Vanguard that the facility was operating below legally mandated supervision levels, even though it appeared as though staffing was at one adult for every three kids. Several of those adults were not, in fact, in supervisory positions.
However, that problem has likely been exacerbated by other policies implemented recently. State law prevents staff at Level 14 facilities from physically restraining children. The facility itself is not locked. Thus, we have had a number of reports, both in the comment section and elsewhere, that children have figured out they can simply leave the facility at any point in time.
It has been off campus where the rapes and other assaults have occurred.
However, a source told the Vanguard there is a way to deal this issue. By creating a safety plan for the individual children who are causing a problem, the staff would be able to circumvent laws preventing restraint. This would have been done for the safety of the child in question.
FamiliesFirst CEO Evora seems to acknowledge this when he indicated that they “changed their program model to restrain kids less last year, making it easier for them to potentially escape.”
“I knew the running behavior had increased; but, again, we thought that would go down in time as staff used alternative methods,” he told News 13 in Sacramento.
While it appears that FamiliesFirst has moved quickly, once the incident reached the public, to increasing staffing levels, it is unclear whether the staffing levels will be sufficient without additional measures.
Complaints also cited a compounding problem that the Davis facility, a Level 14 facility, accepted clients requiring more care than staff could offer, which produced disruptive behavior and led to a climate that contributed mightily to the current problems facing the organization.
Documents show that, in the last year alone, there have been no fewer than eight complaints to the state – many of which were sustained.
The critical question is why neither FamiliesFirst nor the State Department of Social Services made the necessary changes prior to the rape allegations becoming public last week.
Sources have told the Vanguard that some at the top of FamiliesFirst may be opposed to continuing residential treatment and that an internal struggle may have contributed to this problem. Others have put the blame on the state for failing to come in sooner in the wake of allegations.
FamiliesFirst CEO Evora defended the organization’s policies on the news on Saturday, stating that in addition to increased staffing, they have added security in the parking lot.
They report, “He also says the number of runaways sounds high to him, but it could be because of the definition of runaway.”
“When a kid walks off our campus, even if someone follows him and he comes back, we have to document that incident. So I don’t believe it’s as bad as it sounds,” he said.
“There’s not big tall fences, or razor wire, and we can’t restrain the kids from leaving,” said Mr. Evora. “We can’t lock them in a room.”
However, the Davis police clearly believed when they issued the initial press release that they were getting less than full cooperation from the facility.
The police indicated that those involved in the initial rape allegations – both victim and alleged perpetrators, “had left the Families First facility without permission, which they were required to have, and they were not under the supervision of the Families First staff, as they were required to be.”
That indicates that this was not a case where the staff was following the children off site.
However, what is troubling is that it appears that FamiliesFirst was not responsive to police concerns.
Indeed, the police reported, “Over a hundred reports were made of youth running away from the facility. The police department met with Families First staff and management on multiple occasions in order to come up with ways to reduce the incidents and to ensure the minors were being properly supervised. Despite efforts, minors were routinely leaving the facility.”
The history of both the police comments and the documentation shows that this has been a problem for a long time, and only now do FamiliesFirst and the state appear to be taking matters seriously.
—David M. Greenwald reporting