NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Charles Montorio-Archer stepped in to lead St. Mary’s Home for Children just two days after a shocking report exposed abuse, neglect, poorly trained staff, and chaos at the residential home for troubled and abused youths.
The longtime executive director, Carlene Casciano-McCann, hastily retired in the wake of the report by the state Office of the Child Advocate, in which she was quoted as telling investigators that she wouldn’t let her own dog stay at St. Mary’s. The child advocate’s investigators “found evidence of countless violations of state law, licensing regulations and internal policies by St. Mary’s,” the report said.
Now, just over a month since the report became public, the nonprofit’s new interim CEO concedes that it was accurate and called it “beyond disturbing.”
“Those things should have never happened,” Montorio-Archer told the Globe in a recent interview. “The one thing that you will hear definitely from me, and the team knows this, there is no denying what’s in the report. There’s only, ‘How do we respond to it?’”
The child advocate’s office is continuing to investigate at St. Mary’s, which offers residential services at its campus in North Providence, along with outpatient services for children, adults, and families impacted by sexual abuse and exploitation, and a residential and day school for children with various learning, emotional, and behavioral challenges. State health officials and the Rhode Island Disability Rights and Rhode Island are also conducting reviews at St. Mary’s.
The Department of Children, Youth, and Families, which has contracted with St. Mary’s to provide psychiatric residential treatment services since 2019, placed the facility’s license on probation and stopped sending children there in November 2023, after a boy fleeing a staff member was hit by a Jeep and state officials determined that the nonprofit hadn’t made “significant progress” to improve.
Montorio-Archer said he doesn’t know when St. Mary’s will be approved to take in more children. There are 17 youths still living at the facility.
In the last several weeks, Montorio-Archer said, St. Mary’s has been working on hiring and retraining staff, fixing up the facilities, and increasing communication with families, staff, and management.
He is also working to address the more than 30 recommendations in the child advocate’s report, which range from having freshly prepared meals for the children and keeping the facilities clean, to hiring a compliance officer to ensure laws and regulations are followed and reevaluating the organizational structure and administration.
Even as Montorio-Archer is recruiting and training new staff, the same administrators remain, including those who were responsible for the problems flagged by the child advocate’s office. Also still in place: All 14 members of the nonprofit’s board of directors, who have said they were unaware of the problems until a meeting in December with DCYF officials and the Department of Health and Human Services.
None of the current board members, who include Lt. Governor Sabina Matos and North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi, have child welfare or social service experience. St. Mary’s board said it is adding a member with relevant experience this week: Marianne Raimondo, director of the healthcare administration program at Rhode Island College and co-founder of Age-Friendly Rhode Island.
Montorio-Archer said that he will be responding to the investigative report by early March, and will comply with any monitoring the state requires.
“I think right now, no matter what, we’re going to be on probation for the next couple of months,” he said.
Montorio-Archer was recommended for the position of interim CEO by Ashley Deckert, the director of the state Department of Children, Youth, and Families. She knew him through her work as the deputy director of residential monitoring for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Montorio-Archer was the president and CEO for One Hope United in Chicago, a nonprofit that provides education, foster care, adoption, counseling, residential and other support services to more than 9,000 children and families in Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Florida.
Montorio-Archer also cofounded of the Thrive Network, which merged with the New York Foundling and is now a multi-million dollar nonprofit assisting people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. He is a former assistant district attorney and an author of books including “Everybody Paddles: A Leader’s Blueprint for Creating A Unified Team.”
In a Feb. 5 letter introducing himself to “community partners,” Montorio-Archer acknowledged the “firestorm” around the child advocate’s report and wrote that he had successfully led many organizations out of similar situations.
“Providing psychiatric residential treatment and care to at-risk youth who have experienced significant trauma can be extremely challenging and, unfortunately, while none of us want to experience it, incidents do occur,” Montorio-Archer wrote. “We do not take this lightly or dismissively and understand that we must keep working to mitigate risk to the children and our staff. The incidents outlined in the recent OCA report were beyond disturbing, and rightly triggered an investigation into our residential program.”
The child advocate’s investigation began in May after the child advocate’s office found out about a 17-year-old who nearly died from an overdose at St. Mary’s. DCYF also launched a separate investigation.
The child advocate’s investigators found abuse, neglect, understaffing, an under-trained staff, and an overall lack of leadership and supervision. Children were dirty and disheveled, and so were the rooms where they stayed. The children told the child advocate about feeling unsafe and uncared for.
An investigation by the Globe found that the North Providence police responded to St. Mary’s hundreds of times in two years, mostly for children running away. Neighbors have come forward about children fleeing into their yards, some of them as young as 8 years old.
The House Oversight Committee held a hearing on the problems, and the Senate is expected to follow suit.
Montorio-Archer said that St. Mary’s has taken care of the immediate complaints about the state of the facilities. There’s fresh paint and carpeting, new bedding, repairs to damaged walls and cabinets, and new stoves for the kitchens.
He ticked off a list of organizations involved with staff training: the Parent Support Network, the Building Bridges Initiative, the Institute for Education and Healthcare at Rhode Island College. Some retraining will involve how to properly communicate with children and their families and assessing whether or how to restrain a child.
On Monday, St. Mary’s announced the appointment of Dr. Steven Bonauto as interim medical director. He has been with St. Mary’s since 1999, opened two acute residential treatment programs there in 2004 and opened the psychiatric residential treatment facility there in 2019. Brianna McShane Narodowy, who has been at St. Mary’s since 2016, was promoted to clinical director, residential services.
Montorio-Archer said he meets with Deckert regularly, and teams from the child advocate’s office and DCYF are frequently monitoring the care of children there. He believes St. Mary’s is making progress.
“We all know that we’re not there today. We’re not going to be there next week or even the week after,” Montorio-Archer said. “But beyond that, we’ve done a significant amount of things that will be reflected in the response that hopefully makes [the child advocate’s office], the department and the public, especially our neighbors, feel comfortable that we are moving in the right direction.”
Montorio-Archer said he couldn’t answer why things were allowed to get to this point. He says he’s focused on making sure that it doesn’t happen again, and on regaining the trust of the community.
“I don’t believe that I can hand-hold all the staff all the time,” Montorio-Archer said. “But when things are put in place, we have to ensure accountability, monitoring, and oversight.”