Lose Your Group Home License, Get A $4 Million Contract To Open A Baby Jail
Now that the Trump administration got the billions in new funding it wanted for locking up undocumented immigrants, conditions in the baby jails are sure to get a lot better, right? Or not, at least as we learn in a new story by WRAL and Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Seems there's this outfit in North Carolina, "New Horizon Group Home LLC," that opened a group home for kids with mental illnesses -- US American kids -- last year, but the place was so horribly run that the state shut it down within 45 days, because the conditions posed "an imminent danger to the health, safety and welfare" of the seven boys housed there.
So OF COURSE the federal Administration for Children and Families, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, awarded a $3.9 million grant to New Horizons, to open a brand new, much bigger facility to house up to 72 undocumented migrant kids between the ages of seven and 17. Just to add another agency into the mix, the facility would operate under contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) which oversees the nation's network of immigration baby jails.
New Horizons is still fighting to overturn its license revocation in the 2018 case. It's never operated a facility for migrant kids, and has never run anywhere near as large a facility as the new contract calls for. And here's the best part! If New Horizons loses its appeal of the 2018 group home closure, it won't be eligible to get a new license until 2023 -- a year after the end of the grant it was awarded in April. Hope nobody's cashed any checks yet.
This is one of those investigative reporting stories where each subsequent paragraph makes you open your eyes just a little wider in horrified amazement.
First off, there's the little group home in Lumber Bridge, North Carolina, that got New Horizons in all that trouble last year. Here's just part of the state Department of Health And Human Services (DHHS) report of what went wrong at the home:
The facility currently serves clients ages 9 to 16. The facility currently has no professional staff, Licensed Professional (LP) or Qualified Professional (QP) to provide supervision or coordinate other services for the clients. The direct care staff have not been trained as required in rule in the following: alternatives to restrictive interventions, physical restraint and isolation time-out, medication administration, incident reporting, treatment plans, diagnoses of consumers, and how to implement strategies to meet the needs of clients.
After listing the mental disorders the boys were diagnosed with, the report notes the kids' treatment plans just plain lacked any strategies to address the kids' diagnoses "or corresponding aggressive behaviors, property damage and smearing of feces." The home was never staffed adequately, and kids were subjected to all sorts of residential care no-nos:
Staff reported the use of an unapproved Time-Out room for seclusion as punishment. Clients are placed in the Time-Out room with the door locked while staff leave them unattended for varying reported times of up to 15 minutes or longer.
The kids were supposed to have teachers and classes, but instead spent "the majority of the day" watching TV in a common room. The owner of New Horizons, Barbara Brockington, said she was "unaware that she was required to coordinate with the Local Education Agency in order to meet the educational needs of the clients." Staff also reported slamming one kid into the wall, and disciplining another kid by holding the boy's "arm behind his back and pushed up into his back" while staff escorted the client to the Isolation Time-Out room. And there were no required reports filed on any of those incidents.
Yep, let's get 'em a multi-million dollar federal contract! Now, since New Horizons doesn't have a license for any kind of residential facility, no migrant kids are being housed by them at all at the moment. But by golly, New Horizons is working on it! It would need a whole different type of certification from the state than the now-revoked license for the mental health group home, and DHHS spokesperson Sarah Lewis Peel told WRAL the company has never held such a license.
Then there's this weird insistence from the feds that everything is just fine with this grant, and any problems lie with the state bureaucracy:
On July 11, a spokesperson with the federal Administration for Children and Families said "the organization is undergoing this [licensing] process now." Nearly a week later, on July 17, an agency spokesperson said the company told them there is a "backlog" on the state level.
That same day -- two weeks after WRAL News began asking questions about the company -- state records show New Horizon submitted its application to the Division of Social Services for the first time. State officials say they do not have a backlog.
For a grant awarded in April? Maybe that's normal! We're no geologist, so how would we know? Then again, it feels like a lot of things about this grant are weird:
Why the federal agency awarded the grant to the unlicensed North Carolina facility is hard to say. The Administration for Children and Families declined a request for an interview and would only provide limited answers to questions by email.
"ORR has specific requirements for the provision of services," a spokesperson with the agency, who did not provide their name, said in an email. "Award recipients must have the infrastructure, licensing, experience and appropriate level of trained staff to meet those requirements."
Well then, that clears up a lot. Very good guidelines, and so the grant went to an unlicensed company, which has never run anything like a baby jail, and which lost its license because of rampant inadequacies in staffing.
There's also this trivial matter:
The government requires care providers to be licensed within 75 days of an award. For both of the firms, that deadline has already passed.
Probably that "backlog" in state licensing again. But don't worry, everything should be fine, according to Brockington's attorney, who explained the earlier license revocation was completely bogus and will be overturned by an administrative law judge later this month. Other operators of group homes in North Carolina, asked to look at the state report, said it looked pretty damning. But who knows? It's a crazy old world.
Speaking of, there's this, about Thomas McMillan, who New Horizons wants to run the new baby jail that's planned for a former assisted-living facility in Laurinberg, North Carolina.
His resume, attached to the license application submitted to the state, lists him as the recipient of a doctor of arts degree in "Education/Social Welfare" from Rochville University. That institution now appears to be shuttered.
But in 2009, a consumer watchdog group labeled it an online diploma mill after paying $499 to receive an MBA for the organization's dog, Chester. Further reporting by The New York Times tied the university to a Karachi-based tech company called Axact, which operated several other unaccredited institutions.
Rochville isn't listed in the U.S. Department of Education's Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
That guy has no business running a baby jail: He's clearly White House material! Send that resume to Stephen Miller, pronto, and while you're at it, send Chester the dog's application, too.
Go read the whole incredible story of fuckbunglery here. We'll watch for updates and let you know if these clowns actually open a baby jail, or, as seems equally likely, take the money and run.
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