Some of the circumstances surrounding the removal of youths from the Tricom Group Home on P Street in Northwest Washington were reported incorrectly in June 13 editions of The Washington Post. In the two months before the youths were removed June 8, social workers from the D.C. Department of Human Services made four announced inspection visits--and no surprise visits--to the facility, according to Karl Banks of DHS. A number of previously existing deficiencies were cited. Jacqueline Churchill, a psychotherapist and clinical social worker who was hired as chief administrator of the residential treatment facility in April, said she had begun corrective measures by recruiting new professionals and developing therapeutic and special education programs. She said she was aware of the need for accreditation of the facility's education program. The P Street home is one of four facilities run by Tricom Training Institute. Unlike the other three, however, the P Street home is a therapeutic facility, offering psychotherapy and medical and social services for emotionally disturbed youth.
The D.C. Department of Human Services, acting on a court order, removed eight youths from the Tricom Group Home in Northwest Washington this week after officials of the home, according to DHS, denied social workers access to the youths.
Karl Banks, acting chief of the department's residential placement unit, said DHS took the unusual action of securing a court order to remove the youths Wednesday. He said counselors locked the doors to the facility June 4 and barred DHS social workers from visiting the youths, who range in age from 13 to 18.
Jacqueline Churchill, the chief administrator at the Tricom home since April, said the facility routinely locks its doors to protect residents and said social workers were not admitted because "DHS did not give any notice they were coming. We didn't know who they were," she said. "We just can't let anybody come in here snatching kids and disrupting the environment."
Banks said the inspection was attempted after the department received reports from social workers who had visited earlier and from former Tricom employes that youths were being physically restrained.
Churchill denied that any youths at the facility had been abused and said the reports were based on allegations "from one disgruntled former employe." She said the home had used "cowhide leather handcuffs" to restrain youths on at least one occasion and that the home had a "time-out" room where counselors took disruptive youths to calm them down.
"We had reports that the children were being physically restrained and strapped to their beds," Banks said. Banks said DHS officials did not witness any physical abuse during visits to the home. But he said they saw a holding cell and restraints at the home and concluded that Tricom provided "a very unstable environment."
David Dale, president of Tricom Training Institute, which runs the home, said the allegations that Tricom counselors were physically abusing youths "are absolutely not true." He said that many group home operators physically restrain residents temporarily to prevent them from injuring couselors or other residents, and that the procedures used by Tricom were no different from those used in other facilities.
"I guess they DHS did what they felt they had to do," said Dale. "I don't feel like fighting any more battles. I didn't get into this business to fight battles. I got in this business to help kids."
Tricom Training Institute has operated the Tricom Group Home, located at 1531 P Street NW, since August 1981 under a $700,000 contract with DHS. Under the terms of the contract, Tricom was to house and care for up to 30 juveniles and emotionally disturbed youths who have been placed under the legal guardianship of the city because they have been abandoned or their parents have been found unfit.
Banks said that in six surprise visits to the home during the last two months, DHS social workers found the facility lacked adequate kitchen facilities, failed to maintain a properly accredited school program and had excessive staff turnover during the last 45 days.
Churchill said she had improved the school program since joining the home's staff in April, adding that she was not aware that accreditation was required.
Banks said the department tried to negotiate with Tricom officials to clear up the problems. However, Banks said, "We were not seeing any progress. They left us no recourse but to go to court."
Those problems and the allegations that the youths were being restrained prompted DHS officials to cancel the $700,000 contract held by the institute, effective June 30. Banks said his department has found no problems with the operation of the four other group homes run by the institute under a separate contract with DHS.