A D.C. Superior Court judge yesterday assigned a 9-year-old ward of the city -- a chronic runaway who has been detained in the receiving home for children since September -- to a model program in Pennsylvania that has had success in handling runaways.
Judge Gladys Kessler, who has been critical of the city Human Resources Department's handling of the case, assigned the child to the Pennsylvania Youth Advocate Program, over the objections of DHR, which said it was not "therapy-oriented."
"I'm definetely going to allow placement as of today," said Kessler, after hearing DHR and lawyers for the child, known as Rodney (no his real name). "My feeling is we can't do much worse than we've been doing in terms of where (Rodney) has been -- in the receiving home," a locked facility where children are supposed to stay a maximum of 72 hours.
Rodney will live in Harrisburg, Pa., with a widow an her two sons, aged ££ and 21, whom he met during Christmas. "I really like those people," he told his lawyers after returning to Washington. "Can I go back right now?"
DHR yesterday also objected to the program because it had not inspected the widow's home. DHR urged the judge to send Rodney to Edgemeade, a residential institution in Maryland offering therapy.
Kessler said she was basing her decision on previous testimony by a DHR psychologist that Edgemeade was not the proper placement for Rodney.
And I rely on my judgment that a home is a much more preferable placement for a child that an institution," Kessler said. "The only alternative the Social Rehabilitation Admini stration (DHR) has come up with is Edgemeade. The objections to the Pennsylvania Youth Advocate Program are primarily procedural objections.
"There are now other children from the District placed in the Pennsylvania Youth Advocate Program," Kessler continued. "One or two are under my jurisdiction, and as a matter of fact those placements are working out very well."
The youth advocate program provides a child with a home and a person in the community, called an advocate, to be his friend and counselor 30 hours a week. Other services, such as schooling, medical, psychiatric, and vocational training will be purchased by D.C. from Harrisburg.
Assistant Corporation Council Nan Huhn, representing DHR, argued against the placement."What we're dealing with here is the Department of Human Resources is being asked to trust another agency which tehy don't know an awful lot about. No other government agency has sanctioned it (the Pennsylvania program).
"I think they're pushing Edgemeade because it is an institution that provides therapy," Huhn said. "There is therapy (there) we're looking for (Rodney)."
Minette Bauer, regional director of the advocate program, said it has been licensed by the state of Pennsylvania and children receive therapy from psychiatrists when it is needed. Rodney, she said, would probably receive the services of a psychiatrist once a week.
"The best therapy (Rodney) needs is a family to work through his problems with him," she added.
After the order was issued, DHR agreed to the weekly therapy outlined by Bauer and was assured that it would recelve detailed reports on the boy's progress.
Later yesterday, Bauer and Rodney waited anxiously at the Juvenile court Building to retrieve Rodney's belongings from the cellblock before leaving for Harrisburg.
As they waited, the boy pulled the hood of his new maroon-colored parka securely around his face. In the cellblock locker were the new clothes and Christmas gifts given to him by Bauer, his new family, and a court official. There were also presents from D.C. residents who had learned of Rodney's plight in an earlier Washington Post story.
"The kids basically teach us what they need," Bauer said. "We do a lot of things with holding kids, making them feel comfortable, making sure the parents tuck them in at night . . . We try to make the children feel as normal as possible. It's all people to people.
"I get kids with a history of running. All the kids we get are runners, but they don't run. The people I hire are good parents, and basically the kids feel secure. There's not much to run from."
"He's a kid who's reaching out for relationships," said Bauer. "I don't have any magic formula. All I have is a family that cares about kids."
The Harrisburg program now has 13 youngsters aided by 10 sets of parents and 13 advocates, said Bauer. The oldest youth in the program is 19, and Rodney will be the youngest.
Advocates are community people from all races and backgrounds --housewives, college students, career people -- who are hired by the program to help the children, explained Bauer.
"The advocate is support to the family and support to the child,' she said. "If a kid is one who runs a lot, we set up a place (the advocate's home) where he's going to run to."
Children in the program are given a $5 weekly allowance, said Bauer, and advocates are given $15 a week to pay for recreation trips and transportation to job interviews the youngster may have, she said.
Rodney has run away in the past by boarding a bus, and if no one asked for a ticket, riding it wherever it took him.
"My director jokingly said, 'Don't tell him where the bus station is. Tell him we have a subway,'" Bauer said.
"If he runs away we'll just get him back," she said. "We'll put up with it as long as the court is willing to work with us and as long as we feel we're doing something with the kid.
"I'm making this all sound very simple and it's not," she said. "(But) he's able to make attachments. The problem is fear. As soon as he gets anxious he splits. But 9-year-old kids are pretty neat. They're resilient."