The Public Eye

The Public Eye: Davis group home company had sex allegations at second site

Published: Sunday, Jun. 23, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Jun. 30, 2013 - 12:23 pm

EMQ FamiliesFirst, the embattled group home operator, has faced dozens of complaints in recent years at its youth facilities in Davis and Los Gatos, according to state documents obtained by The Bee.

At the nonprofit's Los Gatos group home, minutes away from its Campbell headquarters, the state Department of Social Services concluded in late 2011 that a staff member had sexually abused a client. A few months later, an agency inspector found that two residents at the group home had "sexual contact with each other" on two to three occasions.

In Davis, in 2010, a child was placed in a "quiet room" overnight for 8 1/2 hours "without a bed, food and water, and was denied the right to use the restroom," according to licensing records.

"When the client asked to use the restroom, the staff gave client a bucket and told client to use it," DSS investigator Zenobia Bradley wrote in a report. It was one of numerous incidents in which staff members were found to have violated the rights of residents.

State regulators began their latest investigation at the Davis home after two male residents, ages 13 and 14, were arrested June 5 on suspicion of raping an 11-year-old female resident at a nearby park. The three were unsupervised at the time.

Citing the rape and other examples of illegal behavior by youth residents in the Davis community, the Department of Social Services announced June 13 that it was revoking the group home's license and moving to shut the facility.

About a week before the sexual assault allegedly occurred, officials met with the home administrator, Audrie Meyer, to discuss issues with children leaving the campus without permission.

"It is advised that the facility immediately hire additional staff and have a higher level of supervision," DSS inspector Ashley Sinclaire wrote on May 23.

A similar meeting took place in February, but the documents show no substantial action was taken to address the deficiencies. During the six-month period leading up to the alleged rape, Davis police responded to more than 500 service calls involving the home, including 100 runaways.

"Sadly, this is part of being in the business," EMQ FamiliesFirst spokeswoman Kristine Austin said of the complaints. "We are legally required to report every incident to licensing. Everyone wants to make sure the kids are protected."

On Friday, EMQ FamiliesFirst formally appealed the state's closure order, calling the agency's actions "an arbitrary and discriminatory application of regulations and laws." The nonprofit contends it should not be held responsible for its residents' off-campus behavior and that under state law it cannot force children to remain at the home.

Separately, EMQ FamiliesFirst faces a lawsuit alleging the nonprofit was negligent in allowing a counselor to molest children at its Los Gatos campus. In one incident, a 12-year-old girl living at the group home in 2009 was allegedly forced to perform oral sex on a counselor, according to the lawsuit filed in Santa Clara Superior Court. The suspect is in jail, awaiting trial.

EMQ FamiliesFirst declined to comment on the case, citing the ongoing litigation.

The nonprofit operates youth care facilities in 33 California counties.

Statewide, EMQ FamiliesFirst employs 1,400 and serves 18,000 children and their family members. The Davis and Los Gatos properties are the firm's only group homes offering around-the-clock care for youths up to 17 years old. Other facilities operate services that include a crisis nursery, addiction prevention and adoption placement.

The organization has grown through various mergers of care providers, the most recent in 2009 between Campbell-based EMQ and Davis-based FamiliesFirst Inc.

EMQ traces its roots to two organizations founded in the 19th century, Eastfield Home of Benevolence (1867) and Ming Quong Presbyterian Mission Home (1874). The two merged in 1987.

FamiliesFirst was founded by Evelyn Praul in 1974 as the Praul Center in Davis. The facility won accolades for being one of the best in the region and soon expanded into other parts of the state.

EMQ FamiliesFirst had an operating budget of $103 million in 2010, and it paid CEO Darrell Evora a salary of $277,893, according to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

The nonprofit receives $9,419 a month for each child housed in its two group homes, according to DSS. About 38 residents are at the Davis location, down from 63 when DSS began its investigation after the alleged rape. The Los Gatos property is licensed to serve 20 residents. The state sets the rates based on the level of care provided to clients, with federal, state and county funds largely footing the bill.

Industry experts say running a group home is difficult and that the children who live there usually have a history of behavioral problems. Many are foster children, while others have had previous run-ins with the law.

"Family difficulties and problems lead to their removal to group homes," said Joe Spector, a psychologist who has worked with group homes. "There's abuse and neglect."

Walter Grubbs, the last CEO at FamiliesFirst, orchestrated the merger into what is known today as EMQ FamiliesFirst.

Grubbs said he was "surprised and saddened" by the recent controversy.

"Knowing the people there, I wouldn't think this would happen," he said.

Licensing records show the Davis facility received far more complaints after FamiliesFirst merged with EMQ. Two years before the merger, a DSS inspector wrote that the "facility was found in substantial compliance" during an annual inspection.

Earlier this year, Sinclaire found that the facility was in "disarray."

Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Richard Chang



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