No children left in troubled Davis group home

Published: Tuesday, Sep. 10, 2013 - 7:18 pm
Last Modified: Wednesday, Sep. 11, 2013 - 6:13 am

Three months ago, EMQ FamiliesFirst served 63 children with mental health issues at its sprawling Davis group home on Fifth Street.

Today, it serves zero.

The facility was a ghost town Tuesday, with only a handful of staff members remaining. The laughter of children on the playground was replaced by the chirping of birds. Classrooms and dormitories lay deserted, as a cluster of desks stood watch over the largely empty parking lot.

The last child at the group home left Sept. 3, according to the state Department of Social Services – the agency that moved to revoke the facility’s license this summer when allegations of sexual assaults, unsupervised children and dozens of runaways were reported to the Davis Police Department.

While nearby residents and other community care advocates declared that the home’s future is seriously in doubt, a spokeswoman for the Los Gatos nonprofit insisted that it still intends to operate the Davis facility

“I can’t speak to all of our plans because quite frankly, it hinges on a settlement with licensing,” spokeswoman Kristine Austin said. “As long as the license is in question, we are in a holding pattern. Once that is settled, the goal is to have children referred into the program.”

Carroll Schroeder, executive director for the California Alliance of Child and Family Services, called the revocation order a “death mark.”

“Counties were removing kids because of political pressure from press reports and licensing. The revocation action in effect closed the place,” he said.

Davis elected officials are watching the episode play out.

“We’re in a wait-and-see mode,” Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza said. “The hurricane has come through, and we’ve cleaned up most of the mess.”

Krovoza said he would like to see children return, but emphasized the need for local oversight to prevent a repeat of history.

The California Department of Social Services yanked the facility’s license June 13. Yolo County followed suit and revoked the home’s mental health certification July 3.

EMQ FamiliesFirst formally appealed the revocation order June 21, denying that the state had jurisdiction over events that occur outside the campus. A state administrative court judge is set to hear the appeal in June.

Meanwhile, the agency’s licensing issues had a immediate effect.

At its height, EMQ FamiliesFirst hosted children from 25 counties and employed 120 staff members to care for them. After the allegations of misconduct surfaced, counties throughout the state rushed to pull their children from the home. Sacramento, Placer and Fresno counties removed a total of seven children within a week of the news. By the end of July, the number of residents dropped to a half dozen children.

EMQ FamiliesFirst announced a bruising round of layoffs, cutting 77 staff from its roster.

The organization had received $9,419 a month for each child age 6 to 14 housed at the group home, according to DSS.

The rapid decline for the group home began in June after Davis police arrested two of its teen residents, ages 13 and 14, on suspicion of raping an 11-year-old girl, also a client, at a nearby park. In the six months leading up to the incident, police responded to more than 500 calls for assistance from the group home and documented 100 cases of runaways.

DSS spokesman Michael Weston said Tuesday that the agency doesn’t require a minimum amount of children for a facility to stay licensed.

“You don’t need to have children to stay licensed,” he said.

The hearing next June could become a high-stakes battle. If the judge sides with the nonprofit, the state still could reject the ruling and close the facility for good, Weston said. At that point, EMQ FamiliesFirst could sue the department in civil court, he said.

EMQ FamiliesFirst operates 33 youth care facilities in California and another group home in Los Gatos. It had an operating budget of $103 million in 2010, according to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service.


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

Read more articles by Richard Chang



Sacramento Bee Job listing powered by Careerbuilder.com
Quick Job Search
Sacramento Bee Jobs »
Buy
Used Cars
Dealer and private-party ads
Make:

Model:

Price Range:
to
Search within:
miles of ZIP

Advanced Search | 1982 & Older

TODAY'S CIRCULARS