The Public Eye

The Public Eye: Yolo revokes Davis group home's top certification

Published: Sunday, Jul. 7, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Jul. 8, 2013 - 9:17 am

Yolo County officials revoked the mental health certification for EMQ FamiliesFirst last week in another blow for the group home operator that has been fighting to hold onto its Davis license.

EMQ FamiliesFirst has faced scrutiny ever since two of its teenage residents, 13 and 14, were arrested last month on suspicion of raping an 11-year-old girl who also lived at the Davis group home. EMQ FamiliesFirst is appealing a closure order issued by the Department of Social Services on June 13.

As of Friday, 14 residents remained at the facility, down from 63 before the allegations came to light.

Kim Suderman, director of the Yolo County Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health, said Friday that the county's action was part of an annual review process. It disqualifies the Davis facility as a level 14 group home provider, the highest classification possible.

Without the certification, she said the operator would no longer get the full $9,419 monthly payment it received for each child in its care. But she noted that day-to-day operations – including administering mental health programs – would not be affected.

"They are still licensed as a group home," Suderman said. "This only affects their reimbursement."

California Department of Social Services spokesman Michael Weston said in an email that the county's actions will force EMQ FamiliesFirst to "apply for a new rate classification level."

EMQ FamiliesFirst issued a statement, saying that it was reviewing the county's action.

In a Wednesday letter to EMQ FamiliesFirst, Suderman said the group home failed 10 of 11 certification requirements. Among them: no on-call staff list, no 24-hour-a-day psychiatrist availability and no one-to-one staffing capability.

The county reviewed the group home on June 20 and 24 and asked questions about the deficiencies in a June 26 interview, according to the letter.

The group home's treatment plan instructed staff to contact Davis police for "all transportation" during emergency psychiatric hospital visits, the letter stated.

"It doesn't make sense," Suderman said of the plan. "You should only be calling law enforcement when you cannot transport children safely."

Davis police have responded to more than 500 calls for service from the group home this year, including 100 calls when residents ran away.

The group home is licensed by the state, but it must receive county approval for its mental health treatment program to become a level 14 facility, Suderman said. The state sets rates based on the level of care provided to clients, with federal, state and county funds largely footing the bill.

Over half of California's 1,101 group homes are rated at level 12 and are paid $8,309 a month per child, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office. Altogether, the state's group homes have capacity for 10,989 residents.

"It makes financial sense to qualify for a higher level," said Eric Harper, a child welfare analyst at LAO.

Taxpayers paid about $635 million in 2011-12 to group home operators statewide, according to data from LAO and county governments. Other foster care venues cost far less than group homes, LAO data shows. County-licensed foster homes are paid an average of $957 a month per child, while private agency homes are paid $2,056 a month. Group homes, on the other hand, cost taxpayers an average of $7,900.

Group home advocates contend the costs are necessary.

"Twenty-four-hour supervision is very expensive to do," said Carroll Schroeder, executive director of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services. The advocacy group has 120 member organizations – including EMQ FamiliesFirst – that serve vulnerable youths across the state.

Harper said the state has convened discussions to revamp the child welfare system, with recommendations to the Legislature expected in October 2014.

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

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