In late February, Ned Breslin mysteriously disappeared from the leadership of Colorado’s Tennyson Center for Children, which is smack dab in the middle of overseeing a child welfare reform initiative that has garnered some national interest.
Tennyson is still silent on what happened with its former CEO, and so is Breslin. But it may be related to the recent decision by the organization to shutter its residential care campus in the wake of stern accusations by the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS).
A February 4 letter sent to Breslin by CDHS, which provided a copy to Youth Services Insider, shows that the state had deep concerns about the staffing and safety compliance activities of the group care facility.
“The Department has received information regarding consistent, willful and deliberate violation of child care licensing standards,” the letter said. It then itemizes 41 examples of documented complaints against the Tennyson program dating back to 2015, 25 of which occurred in 2020. Some of the complaints had come into the state agency from the Colorado Child Protection Ombudsman Office, according to a statement provided to Youth Services Insider by CHDS Deputy Communications Director Madlynn Ruble.
CDHS made clear that Tennyson’s community-based operations were in good standing. This includes the Rewiring initiative, a partnership with the state and 10 Colorado counties aimed at testing ways to improve upstream efforts to support families. Each county has developed its own plan to use philanthropic dollars to offer new services that are meant to avoid the sort of situations that lead to child maltreatment investigations and, in some cases, removal of children into foster care.
Tennyson at first responded to the state with a detailed plan to ensure appropriate staff levels and safety protocols. In a corrective action plan to CDHS dated February 23, Tennyson noted that changes to the campus program would be led by “Interim CEO James Young.”
Three weeks later, Tennyson’s board announced in a March 15 letter to supporters that it had elected to close the residential program “to address operational and compliance concerns identified by the Colorado Department of Human Services … and our own internal review.” In the letter, the board suggests that the nature of behavioral problems experienced by young people on the campus had worsened in 2020.
“The compliance concerns are due to many factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, which have resulted in significant dysregulation and increases in the acuity of the trauma experienced by the children we serve,” Tennyson’s board said. “As an organization, we will do better.”
While the framing suggests the campus would open again at some point, the board also said that the organization would eliminate 33 positions connected to operation of the campus.
Ruble said CDHS is supportive of Tennyson’s decision to shut the program down, and “will also support county departments of human/social services in identifying safe placements for children and youth currently living at Tennyson.”
The board noted to supporters in the March 15 letter that Breslin “has stepped down as President, CEO and Executive Director of Rewiring” and that he is “no longer with Tennyson.” It does not make any explicit connection between this statement and the news that the residential program was being shuttered.
Asked by Youth Services Insider if there was a connection, chief marketing and development officer Andrea Zediker said, “I can’t discuss the personnel matters behind Ned’s departure in any more detail.”
Breslin, who spent decades working on international water and sanitation projects before joining the Tennyson Center, had become the face of Rewiring, presenting the project at numerous web events during the coronavirus pandemic. At an emotional 2019 TEDx talk he gave in Boulder, Breslin connected his own childhood sexual abuse experiences to the early roots of the initiative. The recording has been viewed nearly 100,000 times.
Breslin was a guest on an episode of The Imprint Weekly Podcast in late February to discuss the Rewiring initiative. The episode was released on February 22, one day before Tennyson sent a corrective plan to CDHS noting that Breslin was no longer the head of the organization.
Zediker told Youth Services Insider in early March that Tennyson is “taking its leadership in a new direction,” and that “we thank him for his years of service and wish him the best in his next endeavors.”