Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Employee should be held accountable for sex with foster youth

Young adult 'independent living' program defended
No criminal charges for employee's sexual liason
Kocher, Greg. Lexington Herald-Leader, Jan. 27, 2007, pg. A1.

State officials and the president of the Kentucky United Methodist Homes for Children and Youth yesterday defended an "independent living" program that was misused by a male employee of the foster home and a teenage girl for a sexual liaison. But officials acknowledged that such programs can be difficult to supervise.

"It is a difficult program to run," said Kathy Adams, assistant director of the state Division of Protection and Permanency. "Teenagers, by their very nature, are at a stage in their lives where they are making decisions, and sometimes they're not always good decisions." - WHAT ABOUT THE STAFF MEMBER?

Also yesterday, officials said they have been told that no criminal charges will be filed as a result of the incident that happened about a month ago at a Lexington apartment rented for the independent-living program.

The aim of such programs is to help youths between the ages of 17 and 21 in foster care learn skills such as budgeting and cooking so they can make the transition to adulthood, said Adams. The program is needed if foster children are to be successful living on their own, she said.

"As with any human-services field, you're going to have a few failures, and we never want the few failures to blemish a program that benefits so many children," Adams said.

About 140 youths are currently in independent living arrangements through 13 private institutions in Kentucky like the Methodist Home in Versailles. The home is a residential treatment center for youths who have been abused, neglected or abandoned.

Children typically leave foster care at 18, when they are considered adult, but they can extend their commitment up to age 21 for education purposes or to learn independent living skills.

Methodist Home President Alex Carmichel said the institution has five apartments for youths in Lexington. Three are occupied, and two will have occupants in the next couple of weeks. A Methodist Home employee checks on apartment residents several times a day. Each youth receives help with rent, clothing, furniture and food.

Participants in these programs typically have a job or are going to school, said Fawn Conley, state coordinator for independent living.

"They're usually selected for maturity, and for academic achievement and community service, and those kinds of things," Conley said.

In addition, participants voluntarily commit to rules and standards that they're going to live by, Carmichel said.

"We tell them they're not allowed to smoke in the apartments," he said. "There's no alcohol. There are no overnight guests. If they do have a guest, there's a curfew time that the guest must leave by. And if they do have a guest, we want to know who the guest is."

In the case that prompted an investigation, one 17-year-old girl in the home's care apparently visited an Appian Way apartment for a weekend, and a male employee of the home was found in the apartment. But officials said they understand there will be no charges.

"The last we were told is that law enforcement would not be pursuing charges," Adams said.

That's because the sex was apparently consensual and, under state law, 16 is the age at which a teen can legally engage in consensual sex, Carmichel said.

"What they're telling me now is that there is no law broken," Carmichel said after discussing the matter with police.

Because of a string of recent firings and a staff restructuring, the home closed three girls' cottages on the Versailles campus. More than 30 teens that were living at the home have been relocated to other facilities in Kentucky. The home is in the process of hiring and training staff so it can reopen the girls' cottages. Fourteen boys remain at the site.

Carmichel said Thursday that he thought Lexington police were investigating the incident because it allegedly happened at the independent living apartment in Lexington. But Lexington Police Sgt. Jesse Harris, supervisor of the Crimes Against Children Unit, said that department has no investigation related to the Methodist Home or its residents.

"There's been no report made to us, and there's no investigation that we're doing," Harris said.

Versailles police had looked into the allegation about a month ago, but filed no charges, said Detective Matt Mitchell.

"There was no criminal activity that we discovered," Mitchell said. "We didn't bring any charges at that time."

Mitchell wouldn't go into specifics, but said, "there are a lot of variables that play into why we didn't bring any charges."

"They (the Methodist Home) may have some more administrative procedures violated than we had criminal violations," Mitchell said. - THE GUY BETTER BE FIRED

The Office of the Inspector General of the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services has conducted an investigation of the home, and is expected to issue a report in a week to 10 days.


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