Friday, December 22, 2006

Emergency shelter for children shut down, and all employees fired except director

Shelter closes - all workers let go
Action temporary, decision voluntary, facility to be upgraded
Vos, Sarah and Linda Blackford, Lexington Herald-Leader, July 18, 2006, pg. C1.

An emergency shelter for children and youth in downtown Lexington has been temporarily closed, and all its employees except the director were let go, as the Kentucky Office of Inspector General investigates an accusation about the facility.

Officials at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services declined to comment on the nature of the accusation at MASH Services of the Bluegrass, saying that the investigation was ongoing.

MASH Director Rebecca Graff declined to discuss the investigation, but said that the closing was voluntary.

"We've closed temporarily so we can address some facility issues and programming and personnel issues in a comprehensive way," Graff said.

The staff members were laid off Wednesday, said Jim Capillo, former chairman of the organization's board.

Yesterday, a sign on the door at the West Third Street shelter gave visitors a number to call for assistance.

Capillo said the facilities were old and did not meet current code requirements.

"We need to upgrade them so that we can better assure the safety of the children who are there," he said.

The shelter helps reunite runaways with their families. It includes a three-day cool-off program, so that teens can go to the shelter while they work out problems with their families. It serves all of Central Kentucky.

Beth Crace, a spokeswoman for the cabinet, said that the program would be closed for seven weeks.

MASH also runs a transitional housing program for teens who have aged-out of the foster care system. That program has not been closed.

The teenagers who were staying at the shelter, which has a capacity of 10, have been placed with foster families, said Alayne White, the commissioner of Fayette County's Department of Social Services. Any youths who need shelter while the program is closed will be placed with foster families, she said.

The county provides the organization with $152,000 a year. It has decided to keep funding the program during the closing, White said. According to the group's latest tax return, its budget in 2004 was $656,000.

White said that the closing was an appropriate step.

"It's a chance for the organization to do a comprehensive reorganization," she said. "It's very difficult to reorganize and make substantial changes in an organization that functions 24-7."

The program also receives money from United Way of the Bluegrass. President Kathy Plomin said that the organization would decide today whether to continue funding the program during its reorganization.

Graff said she had been considering changes since she took over in April.

"The more I looked at things, I realized that they could not be dealt with with the kids in the shelter," she said. "It made sense to go ahead and suspend services."

Graff said she hopes to raise employee salaries and hire more qualified staff members. "The facility will be a more welcoming and warmer place for kids."


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