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Official: Juvenile abuse persisted

Thursday, March 29, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by James Janega

A court-appointed monitor says six of 19 staff members accused of committing repeated physical abuse at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center allegedly carried out abuses again after retraining.

In a report obtained by the Tribune, Brenda Welch -- appointed by a federal judge in June to oversee reforms at the troubled center -- painted a picture of a facility laboring with a thin staff of overwhelmed supervisors who in February failed to follow up on abuse allegations, didn't ensure proper well-being checks, and had yet to foster a worthwhile grievance process for residents.
Nineteen staff members had been required under the court reforms to undergo more training, counseling and supervision because they were subjects of multiple allegations of physical abuse. But the court-appointed monitors have not approved the training program the accused employees reportedly went through. Parts of the programs contained no lesson plans, the report stated.

Of those staff members, six were accused after the training of additional abuse. In some cases, none of the allegations were passed on to appropriate authorities, Welch said in the report.

"I have been unable to locate any evidence that these allegations were referred to appropriate administrators, assigned for investigation, or followed with other appropriate action," Welch said in her February compliance report to U.S. District Judge John A. Nordberg.

In addition, four employees with pending abuse investigations by the state Department of Children and Family Services were left in direct-care posts in detention center living units, she reported.

"All of the policies -- in particular how to deal with grievances -- are being revised. And as soon as they are revised and approved by compliance administrator, all the staff will be retrained," said Jennifer Koehler, the chief of policy for Cook County Board President Todd Stroger. "In the meantime, the administration is working hard at improving the quality of responses."

Stroger has asked for a full-time investigator to be hired to look into problems on site, in line with recommendations from the court order and other watchdogs, Koehler said.

"The detention center has not yet gotten a handle on monitoring allegations of abuse by staff and dealing with it appropriately. We continue to believe the children there are still exposed to some harm," said Benjamin Wolf, associate legal director of the ACLU of Illinois. "We don't want to paint all staff with a broad brush. But there are some who do abuse children, and we think the detention center fails to properly oversee the behavior of those people."

Also Wednesday, another report and recommendations by a special committee of the John Howard Association listed criticisms and seven recommendations for the facility.

The recommendations included addressing long-term staffing problems; integrating mental health, discipline and behavior programs; creating youth programs with positive reinforcement; and the separation of short-term and long-term residents at the same facility.

The John Howard report also suggested putting the center under the oversight of the chief judge of the Cook County Circuit Court. On Wednesday, the state House passed a measure to do that, which goes on to the state Senate for approval.

Stroger supports such a move, Koehler said.



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