Troubled Children / Social Failure in California

Contrary to popular belief, The United States has never put people before profit. Incompetency yields greater profit than do actual solutions .

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Level 14

How a home for troubled children came undone and what it means for California’s chance at reform.

by Joaquin Sapien, ProPublica, April 2, 2015 Link to full article under “How we reported” below.

The (failed) Road to Reform (It’s all about the dollars.)

California lawmakers have struggled with how best to care for the state’s most troubled youth for decades. Many group homes throughout the state grew out of what were originally orphanages and family-run foster care centers. Over the last 100 years, the homes evolved, growing to serve not just foster youth, but also children sent by juvenile courts and school districts. This timeline reflects a series of the state’s efforts to reform the system over the last 25 years. Changes are often fueled by scandal and stalled by bureaucratic lethargy.

1990

California rolls out its “Rate Classification Level” system to align costs of group care to the extent of services. There are 14 levels — the higher the level, the more educated, experienced and credentialed a group home’s staff and the higher the rate paid per child. The shift came as a result of a lawsuit filed by group care providers against the state. Prior to that, rates were capped at the home’s budget for the previous year plus a small cost of living increase.

1995

EMQ helps persuade the California legislature to launch a pilot program for “wraparound services,” a model of treatment that involves bringing counselors and therapists into the homes of troubled youth.

1998

A 16-year-old Sacramento boy dies at a probation ranch in the Arizona desert. In response, the California legislature passes a raft of reform bills and orders the Department of Social Services (DSS) to examine the role of group care, including California’s policy of sending some emotionally disturbed children out of state.

2001

DSS delivers a report to the legislature— a 31 recommendation proposal to overhaul the system. Many of the department’s recommendations never make it into final bills and are re-proposed repeatedly over the next 15 years.

2002

Child advocates file class action lawsuit Katie A. v. Bonta against Los Angeles County and the State of California, arguing that they fail to provide mental health services for children in foster care.

2006

The California Alliance of Child and Family Services, a provider advocacy organization, sues the state for underfinancing group homes. Rates had been flat for five years.

2007

California legislature authorizes a pilot program designed to reduce long-term stays in group homes through Residentially Based Services (RBS), integrating “wraparound care” into the homes.

2009

Federal courts rule in favor of the California Alliance and force the state to increase group home rates by 32 percent. The monthly rate for a Level 14 home rose from nearly $7,000 per month to nearly $9,000. (When these children become adults and end up in jails and prisons, that “BOUNTY” rises to $30,000-50,000 per year.)

2010

The state issues a freeze on applications to open new group homes, citing budget concerns and an ongoing effort to reduce the state’s reliance on group care.

2011

After 10 years of litigation, DSS settles Katie A. v. Bonta. The state agrees to use Medi-Cal dollars to pay for the mental healthcare of foster children. That same year, a state legislative committee issues a report criticizing the pace of reform, noting that proposals made a decade earlier still hadn’t been implemented.

2013

EMQ FamiliesFirst campus in Davis descends into chaos: children leave the campus for days at a time, often in large groups. Sexual assault allegations fly. Two boys are arrested for raping an 11-year-old girl. DSS moves to revoke the organization’s license.

2015

DSS files a 56-page report on reform based on recommendations from stakeholders and advocates, including better training for group care workers, more varied therapeutic services, and improvements in screening and placing children. Similar proposals had been made more than a decade ago.

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How We Reported ‘Level 14’

by Joaquin Sapien ProPublica, April 2, 2015, 8 a.m.

The reporting for “Level 14: How a home for troubled children came undone and what it means for California’s chance at reform” took place over the course of several months beginning in July 2014.

We drew on interviews with more than three dozen subjects, including former EMQ FamiliesFirst executives, social workers, therapists, administrative staff, counselors, managers, teachers and supervisors who worked on the home’s Davis, Calif., campus. We also interviewed children who lived on the campus and their parents. As well, we interviewed group care industry leaders and experts and a representative of the California Department of Social Services, which oversees group homes throughout the state.

We obtained thousands of pages of documents through public records requests, including three years of summary “unusual incident reports” filed by EMQ FamiliesFirst staff to DSS, six months of full reports from the first half of 2013, and five years of complaint investigations and facility evaluation reports. We reviewed similar records for about 50 other licensed Level 14 facilities throughout the state.

We also examined EMQ FamiliesFirst budgets, organizational charts, training manuals, financial statements, audits, county records, deeds, trusts, and mortgage documents. We reviewed court records from three lawsuits filed against the facility by residents and former employees.

We were denied access to full Davis Police Department reports for the facility, but we obtained a spreadsheet that listed every 911 call going back 18 months prior to the home’s closure, which includes the location and nature of each call. We interviewed several police officers who responded to calls related to runaways, assaults, rape allegations and other abuses that took place on and around the campus.

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