State Agency Blasts Families First, Recommends Closing Facility

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In a scathing report, the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) completed its investigation of FamiliesFirst, a group home that is located on Fifth Street in Davis, 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 have 15 days to file a notice of defense with the Department and request a hearing before an Administrative Law judge.

Darrell Evora told the Vanguard, in a statement forwarded to the Vanguard, stating, “Nothing is more important to FamiliesFirst than the safety of the children in our care and our long-standing reputation for programs recognized as some of the finest in California.”

“We have received the complaint from the Department of Social Services about our facility in Davis, and it is being reviewed currently. We plan to fully respond,” he said.  “We will defend the agency and its programs which serve some of the most challenging children. This matter is now in litigation, and we do not discuss pending litigation.”

Mr. Evora concluded, “We will continue to work with CCL to make improvements and plans of correction at the facility; and we will continue to operate both the residential program and Non-Public School during this administrative process.”

The complaint filed by Community Care Licensing focuses on Audrie Meyer, the Clinical Director and Administrator of the FamiliesFirst facility.  She was certified on May 17, 2012 to be the group home administrator, with Gordon Richardson as the FamiliesFirst Executive Director in the Capital Region.

The report cites them for a violation of personal rights, lack of care and supervision, and inadequate staffing, personnel requirements and runaway plan.

According to the complaint, from January 2012 to June 4, 2013, FamiliesFirst, Audrie Meyer, and Gordon Richardson “failed to ensure the personal rights of children in care and provide for their care and safety without exploitation or prejudice; failed to ensure the provision of adequate care and supervision; failed to ensure that there was adequate and competent staffing to meet the needs of the children; allowed children to leave the facility without maintaining appropriate supervision of the children; and, further, endangered the health and safety of children in care by failing to comply with their respective responsibilities.”

The complaint alleges, “During the period between February 3, 2012 and June 4, 2013, and for an unknown period before, the exact dates of which are unknown to the complainant, respondent Families First, Audrie L. Meyer and Gordon Richardson failed to ensure that there was appropriate supervision and adequate staff to child ratios in that children were routinely and frequently leaving the facility without adult supervision.”

Further, the complaint continues, “Respondents failed to ensure that facility staff was proper1y trained and utilizing proper non-physical interventions to discourage children from leaving or who were attempting to leave the facility.”

It goes on, “While AWOL, one or more children were subjected to sexual abuse or exploitation by persons in the community; engaged in inappropriate sexual activity with each other or others in the community; and, further, engaged in illegal activity such as shoplifting, theft, fighting, loitering, panhandling, consuming alcohol, smoking cigarettes, doing drugs and other self-endangering behavior in the local community.”

In addition, in at least one instance, “a child purchased or stole two knives from a store, returned to the facility, brandished the knives and threatened staff.”

In aggravation to these violations is the fact that “Families First, Audrie L. Meyer and Gordon Richardson failed or otherwise refused to comply, maintain, implement or operate in compliance with the facility’s own Plan of Operation and Emergency Intervention Plan, including their Plan for Dealing with Runaway Behavior.”

The report cites a number of specific incidents to illustrate these allegations.  Each of these occurred in the last month prior to June 4, 2013.

They cite a June 1, 2013 incident in which a 14-year-old assaulted an 11-year-old in a local park.  All of the children involved – at least five others – were absent without leave from the facility and unsupervised in the community.  The child sustained injuries as the result of the assault.

The day before, that same child had assaulted another child, this time age 14, at the same park with at least nine other children present.

The complaint alleges, “Two persons in the community intervened to stop the fight. All of the children involved were AWOL from the facility. Respondents knew or should have known about this incident and failed to take appropriate action to ensure appropriate supervision of one or more of the same children who subsequently went AWOL again on June 1, 2013.”

The same day, another 11-year-old was sexually assault by a 14-year-old.  Four other children were “present and assisted in the assault.”

“The children left the facility without appropriate supervision by facility staff; Child No. 11 was AWOL from the facility for approximately six hours unsupervised before she returned on her own,” the complaint alleges.  “Respondents failed to report this incident to the Licensing Agency as required.”

A few days earlier, the same child, on May 29, “engaged in sexual intercourse with another child who did so out of fear because Child No.3 had a temper and was reportedly physically abusive.”

The complaint alleges the facility knew or should have known about this incident.

On May 30, a 12-year-old was sexually assaulted by a 14-year-old (the same individual who assaulted the 11-year-old physically in the park) “after the children went AWOL from the facility and were out most of the night consuming alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Respondents failed to report this incident to Child No. 9’s authorized representative in a timely manner; and further, failed to report the incident to the Licensing Agency as required.”

On May 30, a group of 10 children “caused a disturbance at a local Taco Bell in Davis while AWOL from the facility and unsupervised in the community; specifically, one or more of the children yelled profanities at the clerks and asked customers for money.”

On May 14, a 13-year-old was assaulted by a child, a non-resident minor, after she went AWOL from the facility.  The child “was threatened with harm if she disclosed the assault. On or about May 6, 2013, respondents knew or should have known that Child No. 15 was leaving the facility multiple times a day and night and engaging in high risk behaviors.”

The report cites numerous other incidents, including sexual activity with minors due to fear, multiple hours of children AWOL without appropriate supervision, and engaging in high risk behaviors.

A non-resident male met a 13-year-old at a local park after she went AWOL from the facility, and provided her with alcohol, took her to a local hotel and sexually assaulted her on several occasions.

The complaint further alleges the use of inappropriate restraints, violation of personal rights, lack of care and supervision, and lack of an emergency intervention plan.

The complaint alleges, “On or about October 13, 2012, respondents Families First, Audrie L. Meyer and Gordon Richardson failed to ensure that the personal rights of children in care were protected. and further, failed to ensure that facility staff were competent and properly trained in emergency intervention procedures designed to protect the safety of children.”

Here two staff persons, in violation of a host of policies, “improperly restrained” a child when “the child’s behavior did not warrant the restraint and the staff failed to utilize non-physical interventions prior to the restraint.”

The child sustained multiple fractures of his right arm, which required emergency surgery.  The complaint notes, “Because of the severity of the child’s injury, surgery was performed to repair the fractures which resulted in two titanium plates and seven screws.”

FamiliesFirst failed to report this injury and medical treatment.  Only the restraint was reported and “the incident report falsely reported that there were no visible injuries” to the child.

As a result of these allegations, the state licensing agency is recommending that the state “revoke the license to operate the facility.”

They further move to “prohibit respondent Audrie L. Meyer’s employment in, presence in, and contact with clients of, any facility licensed by the Department or certified by a licensed foster family agency and from holding the position of member of the board of directors, executive director, or officer of the licensee of any facility licensed by the Department.”

They argue that these facts provide cause to prohibit her employment in, presence in, or contact with clients of any facility licensed by the state.  They find cause to revoke or consider forfeited her administrator certification.

Finally, the statement moves to also prohibit Gordon Richardson, the executive director, from either working for a foster family agency or holding the position of member of a board of director or executive director of any licensed agency.

They write, reporting “conduct by respondent Gordon Richardson which is inimical to the health. morals, welfare or safety of either children in or receiving services from the facility, or the people of the State of California.”

In short, they recommend revoking the license of FamiliesFirst to operate the group home in Davis, and recommend against the ability of Audrie Meyer and Gordon Richardson to work in this sector for the remainder of their lives.

—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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10 thoughts on “State Agency Blasts Families First, Recommends Closing Facility”

  1. jake wallace

    Community Care Licensing (CCL) has a poor record of protecting youth and the community, at the state’s Sacramento regional office. The San Bruno & San Jose CCL offices are less political and more apt to act per the regulations. We do have a new regional manger in Sacramento now. Adios, Michelle Wong! Good riddance!!

    Family First, RCL 14 (approx. $9,000 per youth per month) and their Non Public School (NPS) which serves public school youth through placement via school districts, of the most challenged students, costs us around $25-30k ADA per youth per year. Another word, FF is flowing with millions of dollars of public funds and appears to be squandering our public treasure. They will say and do anything to keep the tap flowing. When the state is red flagged with low quality non complaint staff, low pay and lack of training; children being raped, drugged, running amiss, with no reporting or monitoring, it begs the question. Where is the $$$?

    The clinical director with a master in social work should also be reported and stripped of her state license, for obvious reasons. The executive director also hired by the board of director’s should be canned and banned and the board is equally responsible for hiring and not monitoring their charges. Where is the FF board & president? We need to hear that “flushing” sound of FF swirling down into the abyss.

    These “lapses” are by design and are far from “accidental” if a parent were to expose their children to such abuses they would be criminally charged. The state needs to do a forensic audit and discover where every penny at FF for the past five years has gone. FF is defending itself with OUR money.

    We have several group homes in Stockton (Human Services Projects, Inc. dba Teen Triumph, Children’s Home of Stockton & Harrison Homes) that also cannot account for their massive public funds expenditures beyond annual audits that are “cooked” with several similar features with FF.

    Childcare workers now make $10-$12 dollars an hour which was their pay in 1990. Group homes can easily afford $17-$22 an hour but nobody pays the most important employee in the “treatment” equation. Finally, the state was sued in federal court, and in Dec. 2009, group home rates rose by 33% but not one nickel made it to the youth or line staff. NADDA!

    Most group homes are nothing more or less than supersized versions of the foster parent in it to exploit youth and profit!

  2. JustSaying

    Ah, yes, heads should roll, both at Familirs First and at the Dept. of Social Services, in my opinion. The early, vague Davis police statements appear to have been understatements. Now that you’ve reported these specifics (some outrageous and inexcusable), I look forward to reading your commentary on the matter.

    It may be to late to save this facility with new leadership and better state oversight, The place and the new company ownership are without credibility to handle iheir basic mission at this point. It’s a shame because the next stop for these youngsters is much less pleasant and less successful at putting them on a positive path.

    Why did it take so long to stop the abuse when the police just knew something was going downhill fast at the local Families First? Even if incompetence and inadequate staffing might have been the cause–and with Davis police sounding the alarm, why did it take more than six months for the state to evaluate and take action? And why did it take a sexual assault to trigger the thorough investigation that exposed mo other criminal behavior?

    The people entrusted with these children’s safety and futures failed their responsibilities big time.

  3. JimmysDaughter

    “Community Care Licensing (CCL) has a poor record of protecting youth and the community, at the state’s Sacramento regional office.”

    CCL has many dedicated, hard working folks who work overtime and occasionally do not even charge the state for their travel and overtime. They are committed to helping the youth and the elderly of this region.
    I do agree with what you write about the first line staff of these facilities not getting the pay they deserve.

    CCL suffered budget cuts, like every other state agency. They were trying to do more, with less. Let this be a lesson to all CA citizens.

  4. JimmysDaughter

    “Most group homes are nothing more or less than supersized versions of the foster parent in it to exploit youth and profit!”

    Some foster parents slip through the cracks and fit your description. Most are loving, caring people.

  5. David M. Greenwald

    Statement from Assembly member Yamada:

    [quote]“I applaud the quick action of the Department of Social Services to ensure the safety of the remaining residents at Families First by requiring additional staff to supervise the children until the disposition of the facility is settled. The safety of these children is paramount.”

    “Last week’s reported assault on an 11-year old girl is shocking and unacceptable. The apparent breakdown in management and reports of under-supervised and runaway residents at the facility resulting in criminal activity, including additional sexual assaults, is disturbing. In addition, the impacts to local law enforcement must be part of a larger review.”

    “These incidents are especially disturbing since Families First had, until recently, a long and positive history in Davis since its beginnings as the Praul Center in 1974. Our office will continue to be in close contact with the authorities and monitor the results of local and state investigations.”
    [/quote]

  6. B. Nice

    Many heads need to roll. This is insane. This has nothing to do with dedicated hard working people that I’m sure work at this facility. This has to do with the incredibly irresponsible heartless ones that tried to hide, by not reporting them, the horrific incidents listed above, and in doing so allowed them to continue.

  7. Dee Shattuck

    Thank you Mr Greenwald for such a thorough article. One note this commenter would add is that the current name of the organization is EMQ Families First. This is significant in that within the last several years, the original Families First merged with EMQ. Prior to that time, the agency provided enrichment and quality clinical services, with the children’s care and safety put first. There was a long history of positive outcomes. With the organizational change there seems to have come an attitude of business first (ie: the Executive Director holding a degree in Business, not in human services).

    For this reason, responsibility for the organizational decline should go to the Board of Directors for failing to following a truly non profit mission/spirit, and for not making the needs of the children in their care a priority. Hiring and training skilled people who share those values is key.
    This leads in part to the issue of salaries for Child Care staff. It is a crime that these people, working on the front line with such very challenging youth, are not compensated appropriately. A close friend of mine worked for Families First (pre EMQ) while he was an upperclassman at UC Davis. Before he left that position, the intense work had taken it’s toll on him and he had even lost much of his wonderful sense of humor (fortunately it returned).
    Because the dysfunction of this organization was seeping into the Davis community, a community based repair and healing task force is needed. A healthy and supported institution has the potential of being an asset and shining star for Davis. Lets give it a hand.
    PS Most of Mr J. Wallace’s comments are also appreciated by this writer, especially the financial disclosures. However, offense is taken to his generalization about foster parents. Unlike group homes, foster parents are only reimbursed approximately $900 per month for taking a teen into their home, and considerably less for younger children. Of course there are some better foster parents than others. However, in today’s economy, and with the tech & clothing needs/demands of teens, no one is getting rich on this system; not to mention the trauma based behavioral issues all foster children bring with them. Instead of judgmental comments, foster parents deserve our support, empathy, and appreciation.

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