EMQ FamiliesFirst Denies All Allegations

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Last week, the state agency reviewing the FamiliesFirst situation in Davis, the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), completed its investigation, in the wake of reports of a sexual assault and rape of an 11-year-old by residents at the facility who are 13 and 14 years old.

In a statement from Michael Weston, Deputy Director of Public Affairs and Outreach Programs at CDSS, “The children accused of sexual assaults and other abuse have been removed from the facility and additional staff put in place to ensure the appropriate levels of care, safety and supervision is being provided for the children who reside there. The Department is also conducting daily monitoring of the facility.”

“The Department has taken action to revoke Families First Inc.’s, license to operate a group home and to exclude both Audrie L. Meyer, Families First Inc.’s Clinical Director and Administrator, and Gordon Richardson, Families First Inc.’s Executive Director, from any future employment in, presence in, and any contact with any facility licensed by the Department,” Mr. Weston said.

Per California law, the facility and the administrators had 15 days to file a notice of defense with the Department and request a hearing before an Administrative Law judge.

“Respondents hereby deny generally and specifically each and every allegation contained in the Accusation pursuant to the provisions of Government Code § 11506,” attorney Linda Kollar from the Los Angeles based law firm of Hooper, Lundy & Bookman wrote on behalf of FamiliesFirst, Inc. and Gordon Richardson.

In their defense they object to the accusation “on the ground that it does not state acts or 16 omissions on which the Department of Social Services… may proceed.”  They further argue that the accusation is “indefinite or uncertain” and that they are unable to “identify incidents sufficient enough in order to prepare for their defense.”

They argue that the acts “did not take place at the licensed facility” and that the department  lacks “jurisdiction over events that occur outside the licensed facility.”

Furthermore, they allege, “The Department has violated its own policies and procedures in that the Department failed to hold a Noncompliance Conference giving notice to the licensee of alleged deficiencies and allowing the licensee to come into compliance before taking legal action.”

They also argue that “clients cannot be prohibited from leaving or departing the facility when to do so would result in violations of their personal rights.”

They argue that they have been denied due process under California law that they argue “allows licensees to come into compliance with alleged regulatory deficiencies before seeking revocation of licensure.”

“The Department’s acts reflect an arbitrary and discriminatory application of regulations and laws in violation of the Respondents’ rights to Equal Protection under the United States and the California Constitutions,” Ms. Kollar writes.

This becomes an interesting showdown.  One of the centerpieces at issue here is one of the most disputed points of fact – the state of the law with regard to the ability of the facility to restrain children.

Ms. Kollar argues here on behalf of her clients that the facility cannot prohibit them from leaving or departing the facility.

Carroll Schroeder is the executive director of the California Alliance of Child and Family services, and he seems to agree, telling the Sacramento Bee, “You can’t restrain the child from leaving. But if the child leaves and hurts somebody, you’re going to be responsible.”

What we have been told previously from the Davis Police officials and others is that current state law prevents a Level 14 facility from restraining a minor in the sense of either locking them up or holding them down.

However, if the minors pose an imminent risk of harm to themselves or others, the staff can use physical restraint, but only if it’s done according to their state-approved restraint plan.

FamiliesFirst, we are told, has a state-approved plan, and they have received training on what to do for a wide variety of circumstances to prevent the need for restraint, and to keep a minor on campus – or least under constant observation at all times if they leave campus.

However, that is where the staffing ratio comes into play.

Budget cuts led to the layoff of all of their part-time employees who were essential in the ability to fill in when there was a sickness or when full-time staff took vacation.

At a stressful facility of this sort, there is a high rate of illness and downtime needed.  That was previously backfilled through the part-time staff who would enable the facility to maintain compliance with state regulations on staffing, which requires one adult for every three children.

The problem is that the facility has left themselves so short-staffed that they did not have enough staff to restrain a child.

For safety reasons, at least two staffers are required to restrain the child – otherwise the situation poses too much of a threat to the safety of both the child and the staff person.

So while FamiliesFirst claims that they made a decision to change their restraint policy, the reality is that they simply had too few staff at critical times to be able to properly restrain a child.

Instead, what we learned is that they simply allowed the children to leave and then relied on the police to pick them up and return them to the facility.

The problem escalated as the children quickly learned that no one was able to control them.  They learned that they could simply walk off campus and that no one would be able to follow them until and unless the police picked them up.

Both the police records and the complaint filed by CDSS shows that this happened, but in the meantime, children were assaulted physically, often sexually assaulted, and it put the community at risk.

EMQ FamiliesFirst will continue to operate the facility during the appeal process.  38 children still reside in the facility, which marks a decline from the 63 that were there when the investigation began.

The California Office of Administrative Hearings is required to hear the case within 90 days. DSS has the option of closing the facility, even if the administrative law judge sides with EMQ.

The last recourse for EMQ FamiliesFirst would be to sue DSS in civil court – an expensive proposition that is likely not going to find many sympathetic jurors.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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21 thoughts on “EMQ FamiliesFirst Denies All Allegations”

  1. JimmysDaughter

    “Budget cuts led to the layoff of all of their part-time employees who were essential in the ability to fill in when there was a sickness or when full-time staff took vacation.”

    Did the top people take a pay cut, too? When California state workers suffered budget cuts, we all took cuts in pay. Even the top folks. Did FF managers take a pay cut, too? Perhaps if the top people had been paid a little less in the first place, they would not have to lay off the folks getting paid $12 an hour, (guessing) who were actually watching the kids. What was the ratio of staff to kids? 1 staff to 3 kids?

  2. JustSaying

    “So while FamiliesFirst claims that they made a decision to change their restraint policy, the reality is that they simply had too few staff at critical times to be able to properly restrain a child.”

    It takes two to “properly restrain a child.” You’re concluding they had only one staff person at the facility at critical times? What are the “critical times” in your mind?

    Seems as though there might be a continuing battle over what’s allowable and appropriate with respect to “restraining” kids who simply feel like walking away for awhile. I suspect the children always have known the limitations facing FF–there aren’t many secrets in this kind of facility.

    You’re right about the prospects for a favorable civil trial jury. Neither law and order folks nor weeping hearts will like this situation. FF is a day late getting out its story and a lot of it looks like appeals to technicalities.

    Your earlier reports made it clear that DSS failed to respond adequately when Davis police expressed concerns and recommended changes. This hardline DSS response doesn’t eliminate the need to determine how the state failed in its oversight responsibilities for so long.

  3. David M. Greenwald

    “You’re concluding they had only one staff person at the facility at critical times? What are the “critical times” in your mind?”

    Not necessarily only one staff person, but not enough to supervise the remainder of the children and restrain a child.

    The critical times were the times when children sought to leave the facility.

  4. JustSaying

    That seems so subjective and vague as to be meaningless for such an important conclusion. Whose opinion are you providing? How many staff does this person say was on hand at the “critical times.” How many would it have taken to restrain all of those who wanted to walk out?

    It’s also kind of a circular argument–whenever someone wants to leave is a critical time which would require some number of staff which would be inadequate if anyone is successful at leaving.

  5. David M. Greenwald

    They are required to have one staff for every three kids. It seems like that ratio was closer to 1 for every 9 and at critical times (there’s that word again) even less.

  6. dlemongello

    My comments are deductions from what I have read. I would expect first of all that we are dealing with already difficult children, that is why they are there. Protocols in place for handling situations seem inadequate to the task and not following protocol of course is going to be inappropriate/illegal. So the staff had no means by which to address the situations and now they and the facility are blamed. I doubt in fact that any of my reading can give me a real feel for the demeanor and true difficulty of the children here. I imagine they are very difficult to negotiate with and “control”. It looks to me as if the protocols need to be changed to address the actual issues of the situation.

  7. hpierce

    And how much revenue (business license, property tax, etc.) does FF provide to the City/County/State for the calls for service, oversight, etc. that they seem to need to prop up the salaries for their exec’s? If previous accounts are correct they serve no Davis nor Yolo County families. Unless the revenue #’s are positive, we should excise this facility from our community.

  8. JimmysDaughter

    “If previous accounts are correct they serve no Davis nor Yolo County families. Unless the revenue #’s are positive, we should excise this facility from our community.”
    hpierce, If a child is removed from a very dangerous home in Davis, we probably don’t want to place that child in FF in Davis. That would also be dangerous, too close.

  9. jake wallace

    The Children’s Family Alliance, sued the state, and in Dec. 2009, a federal judge, ordered that the RCL monthly funds be raised 33%. A level 14 “earns” over $9,000 per youth per month. With 63 youth, FF’s monthly funding would be approximately, $567,000 a month. These are obviously BIG public dollars here. Plenty to hire quality staff to implement the program’s treatment program, shadow the youth in public, staff training and great (education) based activities for the youth. The apathetic treatment of youth & staff created a dysfunctional treatment milieu that senior staff and the board nurtured, and benefited from.

    The only budget cuts would have been internally generated. Where and who are the board of director’s? Let’s publicly list their names? If the board had any moral compass, they would resign from FF, post haste, thereby effectively shutting them down. FF board minutes should show the organization’s decision making process to “cut” the budget but not the client population. A financial audit is now warranted to ferret out FF’s handling of these public funds. FF’s hired guns on our public fund dollars and inability to accept any responsibility for the organization’s conduct, replicates FF’s option to not hold the youth accountable. FF is so poorly mismanaged that shuttering the place is the only option now.

    The executive director and clinical director present as the typical in it for “profit” types and the youth and regulations are damned. They can attempt to blame the state for their violations, but it all rests on the shoulders of FF, who are ethically challenged and should never be allowed around children again. They can always move to Nevada or Utah, and establish another fleecing of the tax payer’s enterprise. Group homes should all operate as cooperatives where all pay is equal; it would stop the likes of FF from operating so unethically, with millions of our dollars.

  10. jake wallace

    Two attorneys a CPA, MBA-and they still can’t get it right!

    ———————–
    EMQ Family First- Board of Directors

    CHAIR OF THE BOARDR. Donald McNeil, Esq.

    VICE CHAIR/CHAIR-ELECTPeter W. Brown, CPA

    SECRETARYJohn F. Hopkins, Esq.

    TREASURERSuanne Ramar

    PRESIDENT & CEO EMQ Families First Darrell Evora, MCP, MBA

  11. dlemongello

    Whoa, I never realized how this works (or doesn’t work). Fostering is often “funding mechanisms for the adults” but this takes it to a whole new level if the picture you paint is honest.

  12. eagle eye

    YCCC’s Safe Harbor receives exactly the same funding – from Yolo County ADMH – for each client and conditions are not good there either.
    A staff person at Safe Harbor raped a resident but there’s been no outcry about it. All 5 County Supervisors are aware of the problems at Safe Harbor, including Saylor and Provenza. Yet they continue the funding and refuse to put any safeguards in place, refuse to contact CCL at all.
    Families First’s problem is not having the right friends.

    If the FF license is revoked for behavior that happened off-campus, foster parents will face a lot of liability for whatever their foster children do.

  13. jake wallace

    The California State Bar bio on EMQ FF’s lofty Chair of the Board
    ———-
    Roderick Donald McNeil – #32702

    Current Status: Active

    This member is active and may practice law in California.

    See below for more details.

    Profile Information

    The following information is from the official records of The State Bar of California.

    Bar Number:32702

    Address: Ferrari Ottoboni Caputo & Wunderling LLP
    333 W Santa Clara St #700
    San Jose, CA 95113-1716
    Phone Number:sad:408) 280-0535
    Fax Number: (408) 280-0151
    e-mail:dmcneil@ferrarilawpartners.com
    County:Santa Clara
    Undergraduate School: Santa Clara Univ; Santa Clara CA
    District: District 6

    Sections:[u]Trusts & Estates [/u]
    Taxation
    Law School:Harvard Univ Law School; Cambridge MA
    Certified Legal Specialty: Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law (State Bar of California)

  14. jake wallace

    dlemongello-

    We don’t have all the facts, but I have worked in the industry for 30 years, and I am currently a DSS certified group home administrator. These frauds are common and the powers that be in California (DA-Reisig/AG-Harris) aren’t interested.

    I’s all bought & paid for!

    eagle eye-

    FF has the political connections enhanced with all these millions of dollars that have vanished. Look at their board and donor list-enough said. Ten years ago, Pete Wilson, rose from the grave to save a large group home after blinding a foster youth through medical neglect after DSS was going to shut them down.

  15. jake wallace

    Bio on EMQ FF’s Secretary—they have some old timers that are Ivy League and the place is still in a shambles-Go Bears!!!

    John Farrell Hopkins – #28109

    Current Status: Inactive

    This member is inactive, but is eligible to become active.

    See below for more details.

    Profile Information

    The following information is from the official records of The State Bar of California.

    Bar Number:28109
    Address: Hopkins & Carley
    P O Box 1469
    San Jose, CA 95109-1469Phone Number:sad:408) 286-9800
    Fax Number: (408) 998-4790
    e-mail:jhopkins@hopkinscarley.com
    County:Santa Clara
    Undergraduate School: Stanford Univ; Stanford CA
    District: District 6
    Sections: NoneLaw School:Stanford Univ Law School; Stanford CA
    Status History

    Effective DateStatus Change
    PresentInactive
    12/31/2012Inactive
    12/18/1957Admitted to The State Bar of California
    Explanation of member status

  16. jake wallace

    Roderick Donald McNeil – #32702 admitted to the bar in 1962 (51 years) and John Farrell Hopkins – #28109 admitted to the bar in 1957-now inactive (56 years)—sounds like their both on life support and in their late 70’s to 80’s.

    So, who’s really running this Circus? The boards are often times for “show” and the puppeteers behind the scene are calling the shots.

  17. jake wallace

    [b]EMQ FF, Vice Chair/ Chair-elect, Peter W. Brown[/b], CPA, sits as the chair of the fraud section while on the board at the same time EMQ FF is more than likely involved in a financial fraud demonstrated through the board’s “budget cuts” and “staffing” issues. It all makes more sense now, this is how it works.

    EMQ FF, is so hard wired we have no state agency that will take them on. DSS is blowing hot air when they talk of shutting the place down. Ain’t gonna happen!
    —————
    California Society of Certified Public Accountants
    Forensic Services Section Sections Steering Committee
    Roster 2012-2013, lists, [b]Peter W. Brown, CPA/ABV[/b], ironically, as the Chair of the Fraud Section.

    Peter W. Brown, CPA, ABV) Chair: Fraud Section Commercial Damages

    PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, Los Angeles

    [url]http://www.calcpa.org/Content/Files/FSS/2012-13 Steering Committee Roster for Web.pdf[/url]

  18. Rose

    The cost of this program is much higher than the $9,000/month cited above. In addition to these residential rates, they receive an additional fee for their special education school program which they are paid for at the rate of at least $160/day/per/child year round. This is more than an additional $3,000/month/child. They are also paid for mental health day treatment programs 5 days per week at a high cost. All combined the total cost of the program is at least $14,000+/month/child and most likely at least $15,000/month/child.

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