PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The state child advocate’s office said that the local group homes run by Communities for People were poorly supervised and showed little to no accounting for the services promised to the troubled adolescents in their care.
A three-month investigation into the Providence group homes found “incomplete and substandard” files and medication records, lack of supervision and unprofessional staff, sexual activity between youths, and, at one home, not enough food.
“It was clear there is a disconnect between the mission of [Communities for People] and the staff members,” the investigators wrote in a Jan. 17 letter to Eric Gaboriault, the regional director of Rhode Island residential programs for Boston-based Communities for People. “Unprofessionalism amongst staff members was prevalent not only in reports reviewed by the [Office of Child Advocate]k but with conversations and interactions at all homes and with other pertinent parties. Each program lacked an appropriate level of professionalism.”
The child advocate’s investigation, conducted last August through October, was prompted by numerous complaints from child protective services and outside agencies, staff and the youths, as well as their families.
Copies of the letter were also sent to Family Court Chief Judge Michael Forte and Kevin Aucoin, the acting director of the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families.
“It’s part of my office’s statutory mandate to review group homes,” state child advocate Jennifer Griffith said on Wednesday. “Now that I’ve submitted the report, I’ll work with DCYF for corrective action.”
Some of the recommendations include ongoing training and supervision for the program director and house managers to require professionalism and accountability. The child advocate’s office is also recommending retraining staff and ensuring they are following protocols and performing more frequent supervision.
DCYF said that it is conducting an internal review into the findings.
“We have directed caseworkers and probation staff to meet individually with all youth living in programs managed by Communities for People,” DCYF spokeswoman Kerri White said in an email Wednesday evening. “Additionally, our Child Protective Services and Licensing teams have initiated investigations of all programs run by this provider. If there are any immediate health and safety concerns identified during our investigations, the Department is prepared to take action to protect the safety of all children in its care.”
A spokeswoman for Communities for People in Boston didn’t respond to a request for comment. Gaboriault, the regional director, said Wednesday evening that the agency has been working with DCYF to address the problems of staff not following protocols.
Since the child advocate’s investigators visited last year, some staff have left, been demoted or terminated, Gaboriault said. Remaining staff have undergone retraining, and policies have changed, he said.
The nonprofit agency operates foster care services and runs residential- and home-based programs for youths and families in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. On its 990 tax form, the agency says its mission is to "empower children, youth and families to make meaningful and lasting changes in their abilities to overcome a variety of social and emotional challenges.
Communities for People received $14.4 million in revenue, nearly all of which came from government grants, according to its 2017 IRS tax form.
The agency spent $9.2 million on salaries and other employee benefits. That includes founder and president Joseph M. Leavey, who was paid $116,000, and his wife, Joan McGregor, as the $85,254 director of family networks.
While the agency reported having 369 employees in 2017, it wasn’t clear how many worked at the programs in Providence. The child advocate’s investigation found that problems with consistent staffing came up in each of their conversations with residents and staff.
Gaboriault said the starting wage for staff is $15 an hour, higher than Rhode Island’s minimum wage of $10.50 per hour. “We put a high priority on having well-paid staff,” he said.
The programs run by Communities for People include homes in Providence on Washington Avenue and Hope Street intended to serve adolescent boys with acute emotional and behavioral disorders, and homes on Knight Street and Tappan Street that house older adolescents with chronic or severe mental health needs.
At one of the homes, the child advocate’s office reported, “There is no evidence of program staff assisting with employment, teaching basic life skills and individuals within the home verified this does not happen on a regular basis, if at all.”
Another program on Washington Avenue is meant to support youths with mental health needs and reunite them with their families. The child advocate’s office was “unable to confirm any of the information in the program description were taking place, such as family therapy or evidence based.” The investigators were also concerned about having youths as young as 12 sharing the residence with older teens.
The investigators also found “major concerns” with how staff documented incidents -- filling out reports days after something happened, not signing or completing incident reports, signing off on incidents they weren’t involved in, and even writing in the names of people who didn’t work there any more.
Communities for People has 30 days to respond to the child advocate’s report and make corrections. “We are prepared to adapt and adopt all recommendations,” Gaboriault said.
Amanda Milkovits can be reached at email@example.com