A D.C. Superior Court judge, making a highly unusual pronouncement on the city's handling of juveniles in its care, yesterday called on District officials to develop their own facilities for neglected and disturbed youths.
"I cannot understand why we have not developed our own programs in the District before this," said Judge Gladys Kessler, head of the court's family division, who yesterday heard the cases of six teen-agers who were removed from a treatment facility in Massachusetts this week following allegations that they had been abused.
Speaking of numbers of children placed by the city in sometimes-distant care facilities, Kessler said: "The trauma suffered by these children is profoundly distressing. The District is paying a great deal of money to send them to these facilities and getting nothing for its money.
"It is absolutely essential that the Department of Human Services develop appropriate and effective facilities in and around the District of Columbia for D.C. youngsters."
Kessler's comments followed a court hearing at which the six youths, ranging in age from 13 to 19, were assigned temporarily to city shelters pending their placement in different treatment facilities.
They had been placed at the Avalon Center in Brookside, Mass., at a cost of $41,000 a year per student.
Normally court procedings involving juveniles are strictly confidential. And although Kessler declined to divulge details of yesterdays court action, she said she wanted to go on the record about the city practices in general because of the distress she felt over this and three other similar recent incidents involving other facilities.
"If you could see the kids, you would understand the depths of my feelings about it," Kessler said.
Audrey Rowe, D.C. commissioner of social services, said Thursday that potential abuse "is one of the problems with placing kids out of state--we can't get to them." She could not be reached for comment on Kessler's remarks yesterday.
Amiel Segal, executive director of the Avalon School, yesterday issued a statement saying that the school had initiated its own investigation and had asked the Massachusetts Department of Education to make an inquiry, as well.