Tuesday, October 21, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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FamiliesFirst CEO vows to battle license revocation as new allegations raised

President and CEO of EMQ FamiliesFirst Darrell Evora, left, spoke at a press conference Friday, June 14, in response to allegations of inadequate supervision and criminal activity at the troubled local group home. He was joined by Neal Sternberg, a residential and youth services consultant. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | June 16, 2013 |

The president and CEO of EMQ FamiliesFirst returned to Davis on Friday vowing to fight the attempted closure of the troubled group home — even as the number of sexual-assault reports coming from the Fifth Street facility grew to about 10.

Assistant Police Chief Darren Pytel confirmed Saturday night that a 10-year-old boy who had been living at FamiliesFirst raised new allegations of oral copulation and “other unlawful sexual activity” Friday to a social worker who had removed him from the facility last week.

Previously, police had reported opening a half-dozen sex-assault cases stemming from its FamiliesFirst probe, including one involving the same boy. The child now alleges he was abused three times in early June by another resident of the home, whose age Pytel declined to disclose.

“The minors involved are very young,” so young that it’s unlikely the boy’s alleged assailant could face criminal charges, Pytel said. “But it’s being looked at as part of the various issues at FamiliesFirst that are being investigated.”

Police received the new report less than two hours after FamiliesFirst head Darrell Evora held a news conference in response to state Department of Social Services allegations of inadequate supervision and criminal activity related to the group home. State officials have taken steps to revoke the home’s license and prevent both its clinical director and executive director from any future employment or other involvement with a licensed foster agency.

“I know we’re going to fix it. I don’t think it should be closed,” Evora said during the 20-minute news conference at the Hyatt Place hotel at UC Davis. “The reality is, there aren’t a lot of people who want to serve who we serve — it’s hard, but the kids need and deserve it.”

Evora also vowed to continue working with both Davis police and Community Care Licensing, a division of the Department of Social Services (DSS), as FamiliesFirst conducts its own internal investigation into the state and police allegations.

At Evora’s side was Neal Sternberg, a residential and youth services consultant, who said he’s been hired to establish “best practices” at the Davis facility, including training the staff in safety intervention techniques to curb the AWOL — absent without leave — behaviors that have accounted for many of FamiliesFirst’s 500-plus contacts with local police this year.

“This behavior is the most difficult to deal with,” both statewide and across the nation, Sternberg said. “We’re talking about 12 kids and their acting out (in Davis), and yet in every agency they’re challenged with this behavior.”

State regulations call for imminent danger to be present “before you can place hands on that youngster to stop them, so your best bet is to convince them.”

Sternberg said FamiliesFirst’s calls to police “have gone down dramatically” since the facility underwent staffing and security increases earlier this month, which Pytel later confirmed.

“Since we have gone in and started working with the state, the situation has greatly improved from where it was before,” Pytel told The Enterprise on Friday, prior to the latest sexual assault allegations. “We still have had a couple of runaways from the facility, which causes us concern. However, it’s not causing the same problems in the community it has previously, and it seems to be isolated.”

As for Sternberg’s contention that many of the police calls involved roughly a dozen youths who were repeat offenders, “that’s a fair statement,” Pytel said. “It may be slightly higher, but that appears to be accurate.”

Friday’s news conference came a day after the Department of Social Services released a blistering 16-page complaint alleging eight separate incidents of criminal activity involving FamiliesFirst children between May 7 and June 1 of this year. The incidents ranged from public disturbances to alcohol and drug consumption to forcible sexual assault, the alleged victims ranging in age from 10 to 17.

State investigators also noted 81 instances of children leaving the 2100 Fifth St. group home without permission since Jan. 1, with staff failing to follow the youths upon their departures and in some cases failing to report alleged illegal activity to the licensing agency.

The complaint also alleges that Audrie L. Meyer, clinical director and administrator at FamiliesFirst, and Gordon Richardson, executive director of the nonprofit organization’s capital region, failed to ensure adequate staffing and supervision at the Davis facility and, in doing so, “endangered the health and safety of children in care by failing to comply with their respective responsibilities.”

“We will defend them,” Evora said Friday. He would not disclose whether anyone has been fired or disciplined as a result of the allegations or offer specific responses to the state’s complaint, citing the pending litigation, but said following the investigation, “we’ll make whatever changes to personnel are necessary.”

EMQ FamiliesFirst, Meyer and Richardson have a 15-day window from the date the accusation was served to submit an appeal, or notice of defense. The matter then goes to a hearing before an administrative law judge within 90 days, DSS spokesman Michael Weston said Friday.
Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, issued a statement Friday applauding the state’s actions “to ensure the safety of the remaining residents at FamiliesFirst by requiring additional staff to supervise the children until the disposition of the facility is settled. The safety of these children is paramount.”

“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,” Yamada said. “In addition, the impacts to local law enforcement must be part of a larger review.”

Davis police say FamiliesFirst-related incidents drained the law-enforcement agency’s resources as officers responded to more than 500 calls for service since the beginning of the year.

Earlier this month, police arrested three boys — 13- and 14-year-olds who were residents of FamiliesFirst and a 17-year-old who was not — in connection with two of the reported sexual assaults. Police say the younger boys forcibly raped an 11-year-old girl at Playfields, while the older teen engaged in unlawful sexual activity with a 13-year-old girl at a home on Lehigh Drive.

Both alleged victims also resided at FamiliesFirst.

The Yolo County District Attorney’s Office confirmed it has filed charges against the three boys but declined to release specifics.

“In reading the Welfare and Institutions Code, which discusses the confidentiality of juvenile records and the Legislature’s belief that confidentiality in these cases is necessary to further the rehabilitative efforts in the juvenile justice system, we believe that presently we are precluded from providing any information or documents in this matter,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven said Friday.

About 38 children remained at the Davis facility, which is licensed to house 62, as of Thursday, according to Weston, the DSS spokesman. Police took 10 of the residents into protective custody during their recent investigation, while others were removed from the counties that placed them there.

Reports of the DSS action came as welcome news to Shirley Boekman, a Nampa, Idaho, resident whose 17-year-old granddaughter diagnosed with bipolar disorder spent nine months at the Davis group home until she and two other residents were transferred to another facility in mid-May.

“That place was a mess,” Boekman said in a phone interview last week. “From what I’ve seen as an outsider, I don’t think they had any control over those kids.”

Boekman said she would place phone calls to her granddaughter only to hear other children “screaming and yelling” in the background. She said the teen was allowed to sleep when she should have been in school, and was among the youths who frequently walked away at night.

Staff would place them on restriction and assign them extra chores upon their return, “but then they’d just walk off again,” Boekman said.

After several weeks in the new facility, “she’s doing much better. She’s going to school every day, and when I talk to her she sounds like she has a smile on her face,” Boekman said. As for the state’s recent actions, “I’m happy about it. Somebody’s doing something right.”
— Reach Lauren Keene at lkeene@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene

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