Two Thoughts on the Group Home Incidents

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We can all agree that the sorts of things that Tom Mooney and Jennifer Bogdan report in the Providence Journal shouldn’t be happening:

At least four times in the last five months, workers at state-regulated group homes took actions that left young people in their care hospitalized, endangered or exploited, a Providence Journal investigation has found.

In two cases, group-home employees attempted to cover up slack supervision and management with forged log books or falsified statements, investigators reported.

In one Pawtucket home, an employee used the agency van to help run a teenage sex-trafficking operation, prosecutors allege.

The report raises two thoughts, which are in some respects conflicting.  

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The first is that our reactions should be appropriately tempered by the scope of the apparent problems:

Across the state, 194 children of all ages and up to 21, currently reside in 41 state-regulated group homes. Many have complex behavioral and mental-health challenges. Many are traumatized.

In my view, this paragraph should have come much earlier than 19th in the story because it conveys the information that the reported incidents involve fewer than 10% of group homes and an even smaller percentage of the children in the system, as well as the sorts of children with which the homes are dealing.  That doesn’t excuse the adults who are supposed to be in charge, but it does give some perspective.  One suspects such perspective is why the online headline changed almost immediately from “Chaos in R.I. group homes” to “Danger in R.I. group homes.”

Being lackadaisical about such matters is not an option, but overreacting can do more harm than good.

My second thought is that we risk focusing too much on symptoms in our outrage at these stories.  Clearly processes in the Dept. of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) require immediate review and reform.  With a longer-term view, we should be asking what we need to do as a community to reduce the number of children whom the state sees the need to remove from their homes.

That’s a tough topic, to be sure, but it draws us back to the top priority of helping families and reducing the need for government intervention.

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