Commentary: Heads Need to Roll Over FamiliesFirst Situation


The immediate incident is shocking enough – an 11-year-old girl held down and raped by two boys ages 13 and 14.  The individuals involved were all residents at the FamiliesFirst treatment facility on Fifth Street in Davis.

What was more shocking is that as police investigated this complaint, which occurred two weeks before the girl finally reported the assault on June 4, they found a web of sexual assaults and assaults at the facility.

The police report that more than 500 calls for service occurred at the Fifth Street facility in the first part of this year, though some officials caution that a lot of those calls are within the normal scope of business for a facility that deals with runaways.

One of the residents told a local news station that many of the problems stem from lack of supervision.  There were also layoffs to critical staff positions that leave the facility without sufficient staff to supervise the kids.

“They just let the kids walk off,” the 14-year-old resident told a news station. “And they don’t supervise them at all.”

While the reports are unconfirmed, he told the news he witnessed workers abusing kids at the facility.

“It’s really violent there” the teen added. “And the staff gives a lot of attitude to kids and disrespect and are just too strict on the kids. And they tend to hurt the kids a lot.”

“The kids have obviously done something and they are there,” the boy’s father said. “It has the makings to be a fabulous place, but in my opinion, they’re just there for a paycheck.”

On other hand, the Vanguard got an anonymous post last night from a person claiming to be the parent of a teen at FamiliesFirst.

They write, “Not all of the kids placed there have these severe issues. There are many different reasons a child may be placed at families first. Not all of them are criminals or delinquents with severe mental issues. Many come from traumatic homes or have been placed in the foster care system and due to abuse, trauma and/or neglect are now acting out. Someone in their life has failed them, and my heart breaks for them.”

Their son is autistic and bipolar, but comes from a loving and caring home.  They said, “Thankfully he is not involved in any way with these incidents and has virtually no knowledge of what is going on. He knows kids have been leaving campus and are now in trouble, but that is the extent of his knowledge.”

In their experience, “The staff at FF works very hard in a challenging environment, I have witnessed the care and compassion of those that work there. Sadly there are limitations set upon the staff that prevent them from ensuring that kids do not leave campus, which is when these crimes are committed – off-campus, when a resident has gone ‘awol.’ “

They write, “The kids are well aware of the limits set upon staff and they take advantage.”

One of the problems in a situation like this one is no one wants to talk.  The police limited the details due to the age of those involved.  The city of Davis declined to comment.  We got a few comments from councilmembers but those were mainly expressions of disbelief and shock.

The Vanguard got a statement from the Department of Social Services, but calls to that office were not returned despite multiple attempts.  We got a statement from Gordon Richardson of FamiliesFirst, but he refused to speak with us and cited the ongoing investigation.

Assemblymember Mariko Yamada is a social worker by training, but her office declined to comment, suggesting that not enough information was known.

Still, a statement from the police lets us know the beginning of the problem: “Each of the youth 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.”

The question becomes, how this has been allowed to occur and whose responsibility is it to make sure that the kids are properly supervised?

From the statement of the parent, the problem could be a lack of staffing to sufficiently supervise, or it could be a lack of oversight from either state regulators or FamiliesFirst itself.

While we understand some of the 500 calls are part of the normal course of business, at the same time, the fact that the police disclosed this information is telling.  It tells us they believe there was a problem at the facility and that they believe that number to be a high number.

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.”

This statement from the police is very telling.

It tells us that the police have been concerned with the hundreds of reports of teens running away from the facility.

It tells us that the police were proactive – trying to work with staff and management to deal with the problems.

It tells us that, despite those efforts, minors were continuing to leave the facility.

And now we know the result of those problems has produced a worse-case scenario where a little girl under their care was harmed.

The question I have is, where was the Department of Social Services during all of this?  They refused to allow us to speak to them yesterday.

Somebody has dropped the ball here and heads need to roll.  Because the primary job that these facilities have is to ensure the safety of those under their care – particularly young children who are most vulnerable.

Someone failed this girl and unfortunately probably others like here.  It is up to us to find out who did so, and to hold them accountable.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. JimmysDaughter

    A good time to telephone a state office is around 7:15 a.m. due to staff working flex hours, furloughs, etc. Some staff do not work Monday or Friday, due to 10 hour days and 9/8/80 schedules. (It also helps freeway congestion & it helps for carpools.) When staff are stretched to the breaking point, general, non-emergency calls from the public might take a few days to get answered. If the public is not satisfied, vote for more staff.

  2. hpierce

    Interesting title… “heads must roll” alludes to decapitation, a form of capital punishment… odd position for you to take, David… might it be better to look for root causes, and correct them, if necessary relieving people of responsibilities that they failed to fulfill, or is this “blood lust”?

  3. jake wallace

    I was jailed last year by a large group home agency in Stockton, Human Services Projects, Inc. dba Teen Triumph, for conduct a Oakland federal judge (NLRB) ruled was constitutionally protected.

    My offense? Discussing foster youth safety, wages & work conditions. They gained the restraining order through perjury and I challenged it but, HSP had special access to the courts, according to my third court appointed legal council. HSP spent over $20,000 to fight the falsely gained restraining order. After admitting in 2010, to their gross failure to pay double time since 1991, in six 24/7 facilities costing them over $250,000 in back wages. While now paying staff $11 an hour which is less than the agency paid in 1991. The RO case was privately filed under the penal code but flipped into a civil case by the wave of a wand by a lowly commissioner who refused to recuse.

    Any attempts to improve these agencies either within or by operating a progressive program, is thwarted by the powers that be. Follow the $$$ trail. A forensic audit on some of these agencies will be required to unsurp the fraud.

    These youth are typically trapped in poorly managed programs often times with illiterate, oppressive, unenlightened staff, who are incapable of engaging in positive communicative techniques; with frequently more intelligent & savvy youth. Threats, warehousing, lack of meaningful youth based objectives all contribute to these low lackluster programs. In fact, in many cases the youth are safer in their own “abusive” households than paying out a tremendous amount of public funds to a third party to abuse and traumatize them.

    This is all on the heels of Karen Bass, and the select committee on foster care, who missed the opportunity to actually regulate these non profits, protect youth and prosecute the operators. It was never about the youth. Davis should demand that FF post their board minutes and full financial audits on their website, for a start.

    Let the Sunshine!

  4. eagle eye

    News 10 was in my neighborhood yesterday, close by FF, talking to people about Families First, seemingly to drum up yet more complaints about FF.

    It was clear News 10 was asked by police to do the “expose” on FF.
    News 10 explained to me the police are upset and frustrated that FF is not being run the way the police dept wants it run.

    If our police dept. wants changes at FF and talking with FF admin. hasn’t worked well, I wonder why the police admin. haven’t gone in person to talk to State Licensing. Or, are the police asking for changes that might be illegal, like locking the kids inside the premises? Or physical restraints?

    The state and the courts set some limits on what can be done when caring for children who have been dreadfully abused and traumatized in their earlier life. There are limits on what birth parents can do to punish or guide their children; there are also legal limits on what facilities can do.

    We ought to be very concerned when our police dept. chooses not to use established channels to investigate and solve problems, but instead resorts to calling out news crews for TV news/entertainment in hopes
    that bad publicity will make something happen.

    I hope we are also clear the rape did not happen on the premises.

  5. David M. Greenwald

    Eagle: I’ve learned a lot about what is going on this morning, I think you have a fairly accurate account. State licensing I believe is part of the problem here or at least was until this blew up on them.

  6. eagle eye

    David, this might not be a good time, but some time it would be informative for you to get a tour of the facility. I toured with a potential volunteer a few years ago and was very impressed with all aspects of FF. (I used to license facilities.)

    One of my neighbors was a volunteer tutor at FF for many, many years.
    She thought they did a great job and was happy to offer her help to FF.

    It appears that many news outlets are being used by the PD on this.

  7. Growth Izzue

    [quote]HPIERCE: Metaphors. [/quote]

    So funny, I vaguely remember, correct me if I’m wrong, you trouncing on Sarah Palin for using the target Democrat metaphors during the election.

  8. David M. Greenwald

    Eagle Eye: I don’t think that’s feasible right now, but in the future would be interesting. I will say, I think that both versions of FF are probably accurate. This seems to be a very specific problem with a small number of kids who are causing problems. There are reasons that this is occurring and ways to fix it. I don’t believe this incident defines the totality of FF, but if it is not dealt with properly, it could lead to its downfall.

  9. JimmysDaughter

    “We ought to be very concerned when our police dept. chooses not to use established channels to investigate and solve problems, but instead resorts to calling out news crews for TV news/entertainment in hopes
    that bad publicity will make something happen.”

    Hear, hear. I agree. Several years ago in South Davis, Channel 13 put a camera on my front lawn & tried to put it inside my front door. Local police & probation people defended them, even after I complained that the media misrepresented themselves as being part of a police operation. Very scary times when the police orchestrate media coverage for their gain. Very scary indeed. Shame on Channel 10, too, for allowing themselves to be used that way.

  10. JustSaying

    I’ve visited Families First in the past and agree with eagle eye’s view of the place and the staff.

    These unfortunate, sometimes disturbed, kids are not incarcerated here. As I understand it, the staff is not empowered to restrain them any more than Davis High School teachers can physically drag truants back into the school.

    Police Lt. Glenn Glasgow, who served as DPD spokesman for the tv news reports, certainly gave the impression that the facility hasn’t been cooperative with police, but wasn’t specific at all.

    The protocols would seem to require notifying police as soon as a resident walks out, but 500 calls suggests that some of these kids need to move on to juvenile lockup or other less desirable. It’s a shame because this is a last-chance, positive-support opportunity for most of them.

    However, which heads need to roll and for what reasons?

  11. David M. Greenwald

    JS: So apparently one issue here is that the organization changed their protocols which to put it in the words of one police official, created problems that were not present previously.

    ” As I understand it, the staff is not empowered to restrain them any more than Davis High School teachers can physically drag truants back into the school. “

    That’s apparently part true, but there is a way that it can be dealt with and FF has not chosen to do so.

  12. Sanity Defense

    [quote]The immediate incident is shocking enough – an 11-year-old girl held down and raped by two boys ages 13 and 14. The individuals involved were all residents at the FamiliesFirst treatment facility on Fifth Street in Davis[/quote]

    So in this case, the individuals charged (minors and FamiliesFirst) are already presumed guilty? Where is the Vanguard’s belief in due process, persecution by the police, and innocent until proven guilty now?

  13. David M. Greenwald

    Where did I state that they were presumed guilty? You’ve made a strange comment particularly since we will likely never know who the defendants are since they are juveniles? That situation will play out in the courts. My concern is the instances where juveniles simply left the facility with no supervision.

  14. eagle eye

    Do some of these kids need to move to juvenile hall? Likely not.

    Many of these kids are “survivors” who need serious psychiatric care as a result of the abuse they’ve suffered before arriving at FF.

    Funding for psychiatric hospitals has historically been far more expensive for counties – they’ve had to pay the full cost from county funds – than for placement in group homes and other facilities for which there’s been state funding given the counties for each placement.

    It’s possible a significant number of placements in FF are driven by economics rather than what is best for the child, and the community.

  15. SoBlessed

    I know a former employee and a current employee of FF. The former employee used to do whatever it took to keep a boy (at that time it was just a boy’s home) from going AWOL, including jumping over walls to follow a running kid/teen. The current employee said the licensing agency, about a month ago, came in and said they could no longer prevent the kids from leaving. It’s their right to go and cannot be interferred with, even though it’s against the rules of the facility to leave without permission. This staff member was quite distraught, predicting that something like this was bound to happen. This is a level 14 group home. Meaning: these are kids that do have serious issues and are there because they are, at some level, a danger to themselves or others. The staff has no desire to allow these kids to AWOL, but their hands are tied – all they can do is call the police. And, of course a current resident feels it’s abusive. They have strict rules and consequences for not following the rules. For many of them, this is the first time they’ve had that in their lives, but that’s part of FF’s attempt to help them learn to function in society. As these kids have learned, they didn’t play by FF’s rules, now they will reap the consequences of society’s rules by heading to jail. This is exactly what FF seeks to avoid.

  16. AdRemmer

    With regard to staff policy/procedure/regulations/codes limitations and the like, as to level 14 establishments:

    [quote]That’s apparently part true, but there is a way that it can be dealt with and FF has not chosen to do so.[/quote]

    Same ol’ same ol’ – Long on reported opinion, short on supporting fact.

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