One of the nation’s largest residential care providers announced last week it has hired former U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch to audit its practices in the wake of investigative news reports that staff sexually abused dozens of children in its care over a period of years.
Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health President and CEO Carl Clark announced the move Wednesday in an open letter, writing that the Pennsylvania-based nonprofit’s commissioning of the audit was “not based on any regulatory requirement, nor is it being done at the request of any system partner or outside entity. This is just how Devereux operates – with a genuine dedication to doing the right thing with full transparency and accountability.
“Ultimately, the goal of this audit is to ensure no stone is left unturned in our quest to create the safest and highest quality programs and services possible. We will leverage any recommendations to expand upon the excellent work already being done at our organization every day.”
Devereux, established in 1912, currently serves more than 25,000 vulnerable and marginalized people in facilities located in 12 states. Devereux also has a $40.2 million contract with the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement to house migrant youth in Pennsylvania and other states.
Clark’s announcement that the board had hired Lynch comes about a month after the Philadelphia Inquirer reported a long history of lapses in staff supervision that led to the rape or sexual assault of at least 41 mentally disabled children as young as 12 years old.
The Inquirer said 10 of the children were assaulted at Devereux campuses in the Philadelphia suburbs. Other assaults reportedly happened in New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Connecticut, New York and Arizona.
The news report led Gov. Tom Wolf (D) to swiftly direct state officials to investigate the conditions that allowed the alleged assaults to happen. In addition, the city of Philadelphia stopped sending local children to Devereux facilities and dispatched local officials to the company’s campuses “to fully assess the safety of residents from Philadelphia.”
Lynch was appointed U.S. attorney general by President Barack Obama to replace Eric Holder, and she served from 2015 to 2017. She is now a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. As attorney general, Lynch was known for scathing Justice Department reports on police brutality in several cities, including one that led to reforms in Baltimore.
In announcing Devereux’s hiring of Lynch to conduct the audit, Clark pointed out that providing residential services to disabled youth is a complex undertaking and that the kind of problems uncovered by the Inquirer have been seen across the industry.
In an interview with the Inquirer in July, Devereux executives “vigorously denied” that campuses have staffing or supervision issues. They said the nonprofit has taken steps to reduce the time residents spend alone with staffers, trained workers to recognize signs of potential abuse and installed cameras in its facilities, boosted pay to attract qualified staff and implemented psychological screening of potential employees, the news organization reported.
Devereux plans to raise the pay of frontline staff in a series of steps to $20 an hour by 2023.