Saturday, June 2, 2007

3 homes for disabled kids suspended

MIAMI-DADE news article:

Three Miami-Dade group homes lost their licenses after state regulators said they presented a danger to the health, safety and welfare of the disabled children who lived in them.

June 2, 2007

Emergency Order (click here)

State regulators suspended the licenses of three Miami-Dade group homes for developmentally disabled children on Friday, claiming that caregivers over-medicated children until they drooled and trembled, let them go hungry, and paid so little attention that the children beat and raped each other.

The state Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) filed an emergency suspension order for three Rainbow Ranch homes' licenses effective 6 p.m. Friday, essentially shutting the places down and leaving the eight children who lived in them in need of new homes.

An attorney for Rainbow Ranch's owners said they deny any wrongdoing.

On Friday, child-welfare agencies scrambled to find new homes for the four children who are under the supervision of the Department of Children & Families.

At the same time, Juvenile Court Judge Cindy Lederman held a hearing to find out if the four were getting the services they needed.

''I'm concerned about are they safe? Where are they? Are their medical and psychological needs being met?'' she said before directing a DCF attorney to find out how seriously the residents' routines would be disrupted.

Lederman urged officials to keep as many familiar therapists as possible involved with the children at their new homes.

A 12-year-old autistic boy's May 23 death in a Rainbow Ranch van outside a flea market partly precipitated the suspension order, but Melanie Etters, APD spokesperson, called it ``the straw that broke the camel's back.''

Etters said that ``based on a variety of incidents and the death of the boy, we felt it was not a safe environment and we had to take immediate action.''

The boy, identified in court papers as D.M., died after being restrained by a Rainbow Ranch staff member during a field trip to get haircuts, according to the order, which calls his death ``unexplained.''

But Rainbow Ranch had been the subject of numerous reports and complaints in recent months, the order says.

''These fragile residents are especially susceptible to health and safety risks generated by environmental conditions, poor management practices, inadequate supervision or neglect,'' the agency wrote in the 20-page order.

Alan I. Mishael, Rainbow Ranch attorney, said ``it's obviously a tragedy when any child dies, but placement of the other kids is being disrupted.''

He said that his clients, David and Therese Glatt, ''categorically deny'' the allegations ``and look forward to [their] day in court.''

Therese Glatt, 26, wept throughout the proceedings in Lederman's courtroom, especially when child-welfare officials offered impassioned defenses of the homes.

Mark Jones, executive director of Neighbors to Families, said that the two violent, autistic boys in his agency's care ``have done fantastic there and it ethically bothers me that we didn't have a chance to mediate this thing. They have exceeded our expectations, [and] this is heartbreaking for these kids.''

Karen McGhie, general counsel to Charlee Homes for Children, said that the boy her agency placed at a Rainbow Ranch home ``is doing much better. . . . Today will be very traumatic for him.''

APD's Etters doubted that. ``They have high turnover, so it's not like [the children] have long-term relationships.''

She said DCF is still investigating D.M.'s death and might ultimately conclude that he died of natural causes, ``but there was reason to suspect abuse and lack of supervision. There is a history of lack of supervision and of children being sexually molested, so in the interest of safety, we felt it was the best thing to move the children.''

Rainbow Ranch operates three homes: at 310 Northwest Dr., Miami, and 1890 NE 37th Ave. and 17335 SW 248th St., Homestead.

Beginning in 2005, DCF, which investigates most child abuse and neglect allegations, received six reports that D.M. had been maltreated. Among them: that another child had hit the pre-teen.

While noting welts and bruises after several of the incidents and lax supervision in two, investigators found no evidence of serious injury, ''bizarre punishment,'' beatings or ``failure to protect.''

DCF also got 10 other reports of maltreatment at the homes. Investigations into seven of the 10 ''confirmed supervision deficiencies to some degree,'' records show.

Some complaints came from private caseworkers, a school psychologist and former employees.

APD's local administrator, Evelyn Alvarez, said in the report that she had received complaints from case managers that David Glatt treated both residents and caseworkers ''with disrespect,'' calling the children ``f------ animals.''

At least twice, APD received complaints that residents were being knocked out by psychiatric drugs and sexually abused.

In February, the mother of G.C. complained that her boy ''appeared to be over-medicated when she took him home for Thanksgiving,'' and that she was concerned about a bite mark on his face.

In March, Jackson Rape Treatment Center personnel ''diagnosed anal penetration,'' possibly by G.C.'s roommate.

G.C., who couldn't communicate, left the home.

A teacher's October 2006 complaint alleged that one child was being doped at his group home, ``causing the side effects of sleepiness, excessive drooling and tremors.''

Former Rainbow Ranch employee Anne Seide told disability administrators that a restaurant delivered food during the week, ``but on weekends, there was hardly any food to eat.''

One weekend, Seide told investigators, staffers found only a few hotdogs for the children, one of whom punched a staffer in the eye because he was still hungry.