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