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  • Serpa ‘Troubled’ by Rhode Island Training School Reports

    The Rhode Island General Assembly has passed legislation introduced by Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick) and Rep. Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson (D-Dist. 21, Warwick) that would make provisions for in-state tuition for members of the military on active duty.

    [CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] The RI State House.

    STATE HOUSE — Rep. Patricia A. Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick), chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, said she is “concerned and troubled” by serious incidents involving the health and safety of youth residents and staff of the Rhode Island Training School, and that the committee will revisit the issue to give the Department of Children, Youth and Families the opportunity to put their solutions into practice.

    The committee on Tuesday heard a presentation from DCYF Director Trista Piccola on the Oct. 6, 2017 assessment of the Rhode Island Training School. On July 27, Gov. Gina Raimondo ordered a top-to-bottom review of the Rhode Island Training School after hearing of the incidents.

    “Of all the agencies we’ve been overseeing with these meetings, DCYF is perhaps of the greatest concern,” said Representative Serpa. “They are burdened with a tremendous responsibility: protecting the children of this state. And it’s troubling to think that children are at serious risk due to the inadequacies of a state agency. We will stay on top of the situation at DCYF until we are satisfied that people who have important, responsible jobs DO those jobs. There are no excuses for those administrators who earn six figures to have been so inattentive that all hell broke loose.”

    Piccola identified three areas — safety and security; leadership, governance and personnel; and services for youth — that will be addressed by the agency.

    According to the report, there were several security system and equipment failures at the training school, protocols and procedures need to be added and improved, communications systems need to be improved, and behavioral incidents require more systematic assessments.

    The report also stated that there is inconsistent administrative oversight between facilities and the multiple units of the training school, deficits in staffing created unsafe conditions, an inadequate curriculum for the training academy for new staffers, and insufficient data collection and reporting regarding effectiveness of operations.

    Lastly, the report states there is a need to improve the array of programming to meet the needs of the entire population, additional services are required relating to gang intervention, family transition and outside placements, and options for job training are limited.

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    Piccola detailed action that has already been taken during the past 60 days to improve safety, security, leadership, personnel and services, including the consolidation of youth housed at the Roosevelt Benton Youth Assessment Center into the Training School’s primary detention facility, and a captain from the State Police dispatched for immediate safety actions.

    In addition, Piccola gave the committee a list of recommendations and next steps to create a better operating environment, including maintaining consolidation of youth all in one building, finalizing contingency plans, completing upgrades to the security system, embedding new safety protocols, and improving consistent communication.

    The Rhode Island Training School is a secure facility where youth are placed by order of the Family Court for findings of waywardness or delinquency. Youth who leave the training school are expected to leave with education, skills, and supports to reduce the likelihood of recidivism.

    The panel also heard an update on DYF’s progress on meeting the recommendations in the March 2017 report by the Child Fatality Review Panel. The update was given by Rhode Island Child Advocate Jennifer Griffith.

    The report by the Child Fatality Review Panel examined the cases of six young children who suffered neglect or abuse from adults in the past year. Four of the children are dead. They ranged in age from 2 to 18 months.

    Since becoming chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee in May 2016, Representative Serpa has continuously investigated several prominent failures within multiple state agencies.  She has led the charge for answers on topics of public importance such as the UHIP fiasco, the deaths and near-deaths of several children under DCYF’s care, the severe tax refund delays last year, and publicly calling for the Attorney General to release all documents related to 38 Studios.

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