An open house marking the 30th anniversary of the Receiving Home for Children has provided Department of Human Resources (DHR) officials with a rare opportunity to simultaneously promote their youth programs and seek public support for a new receiving home.
For more than a decade, the red-brick, three-story facility at 1000 Mount Olivet Rd. NE has been the subject of criticism by congressional committees and local youth advocates who had found it to be poorly maintained overcrowded, understaffed and lacking proper educational facilities.
Despite continuing complaints, however, efforts to build a new receiving home have been successfully thwarted by youth advocates and public officials since the idea was first proposed by welfare department officials in 1966.
At last week's ceremony, DHR director Albert P. Russo related the history of the home to more than 100 people attending the open house. He called the home a poorly maintained, understaffed, over-crowded "keg of dynamite with the fuse burning and about to blow at any moment."
He praised staff members and volunteers for developing art therapy and tutorial classes, recreational activities and a home detention service where youths live and are counseled at home, as an alternative to incarceration.
With renovations and a reduction in the number of youths confined for long periods of time conditions at the home have improved, Russo told the audience.
"But we do need a new receiving home," he hastily added, as receiving home workers began to murmur, "but not like the present receiving home."
The new home, he said, would expand its screening consultation, educational and detention services for the wide range of youths who pass through the facility. In door and outdoor recreational services would also be provided.
"Another study is being made-I think this is the sixth study being made-to determine the need and size of a new receiving home," Russo said.
Russo's remarks were followed by presentations made by DHR officials and comments from D.C. Superior Court officials, including Chief Judge Carl Moultrie, who expressed support for more youth diversion projects and community-based rehabilitation programs.
"I think they have quite a bit to offer." said Moultrie, presenting his views on community programs after the ceremony. "If we could divert them (the youths) from coming here (to the receiving home), perhaps they wouldn't have to go too much farther through the (juvenile justice) system."
Similar views were shared by youth advocate William Treanor, who said he felt the recent renovations removed the need for a new receiving home. While DHR workers agreed that more shelter homes, home detention and community rehabilitation projects were needed, they said a modern, receiving hoem-with expanded educational, psychiatric and recreational services and accessibility to community services-was also needed to provide a place, other than the Laurel institutions, to hold aggressive youth until they were placed permanently.
Social worker Anne M. Rensberger, who is head of the receiving home's screening committee, said nearly 50 youths pass through the home each day on their way to court, to appointments with attorneys or to await transfer to one of the Laurel detention centers. Ten hard-to-place youths have been ordered by the courts to live at the home, she said. They are usually the chronic runaways, overt homosexuals or emotionally disturbed youths who are not ill enought to be hospitalized.
"Some have live here months, most live here five days," she said. Yet, the home has only one teacher on a part-time basis, no librry, cramped rooms, a small staff and, until recently, no indoor recreational equipment. (Staff members recently bought a pool table and ping-pong table.)
There are long waiting lists to get into the youth group homes and the home detention program, which now serves 63 young people, Rensberger continued. Despite a cardboard model of the proposed receiving home, which was conspiciously evident in an exhibit entitled "The Receiving Home for Children, Past, Present and Future," the new home appears to be more of a moot issue than a tangible reality for DHR.
Last spirng, the department's most recent efforts to build the home were derailed for the second time in five years by community groups and public officials who opposed the project in an intense letter writing campaign after learning that the D.C. Department of General Services had advertised to accept contractors' bids to build a 125-bed, multi-million dollar receiving home.
Most vocal in his criticism, was then-city council member Marion Barry who, in a written statement, criticized "the D.C. government's twisted priorities on wanting to spend (over) $8 million on a children's jail." Barry said he was "glad" DHR was forced to withdraw the bids in response to opposition provided by community groups and elected officials.