Devereux to conduct an independent safety audit of its children’s programs on the heels of Inquirer investigation
Devereux Behavioral Health hired former U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch to conduct a safety audit after the investigation found lapses that led to a history of sexual abuse of children.
Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health has hired former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to conduct an independent audit of child safety, on the heels of an Inquirer investigation that detailed lapses in supervision, training, and care that led to a history of sexual abuse of children.
“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,” Devereux’s chief executive officer, Carl Clark, wrote in “an open letter to our families and community” posted on the nonprofit’s website Thursday.
With headquarters in Villanova, Devereux specializes in treating children with intellectual disabilities, mental disorders, and trauma at 15 residential campuses in nine states, making it the nation’s leading nonprofit health organization of its kind.
Devereux was awarded a $40.2 million federal grant to house and provide services to immigrant children who cross into the United States without an adult or are separated from their parents at the border. It has opened three facilities so far, and plans to open one in Devon, Chester County, and another in Massachusetts.
Lynch, 61, the first Black female attorney general in the nation’s history, has championed civil rights and tackled cases related to political corruption, discrimination against LGBT people, and the 2014 choke-hold death of Eric Garner at the hands of New York Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo.
Lynch served as the country’s top prosecutor from April 2015 to January 2017 under the Obama administration. She is currently a partner in the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. There, she advises clients on government and internal investigations, and other matters.
Clark credited Devereux’s board of trustees for the decision to retain Lynch “following the Philadelphia Inquirer’s review” of incidents of child abuse, published in an investigation last month.
Inquirer reporters found that Devereux staff members had raped or sexually assaulted at least 41 children — as young as 12, and with IQs as low as 50 — in the last 25 years.
Of those, 10 said they were assaulted at Devereux’s three campuses in the Philadelphia suburbs, while the others were abused at facilities in New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Connecticut, New York, and Arizona.
In his letter, Clark said Devereux was committed to “doing the right thing with full transparency and accountability.”
“Devereux’s commissioning of this audit is not based on any regulatory requirement, nor is it being done at the request of any system partner or outside entity,” Clark wrote.
Clark’s letter acknowledged that some children have been harmed by Devereux staff, who care for about 5,000 children annually, calling it an “industrywide” problem.
"The families and communities who know Devereux understand how heartbroken we are any time someone is hurt in our care,” Clark wrote. “Keeping clients safe, while supporting them through what may very well be the most significant moment of crisis in their lives, is what drives us to improve every day.”
Through court documents and interviews, The Inquirer found that Devereux — which brings in more than $467 million in annual revenue, nearly all of it government funding — understaffed its campuses and failed to adequately supervise staff members, who often disappeared for hours and slept through shifts.
After sexual assaults, Devereux identified risk factors that led to the abuse and identified potential solutions, such as increased training or employment screenings. But the initiatives weren’t implemented for years, The Inquirer found.
Even patients who went to Devereux for treatment of past sexual trauma were assaulted by staff.
In an interview last month, Devereux executives vigorously denied that campuses currently have staffing or supervision issues. They said that since Clark took over in January 2018, the company has reduced opportunities for staff to be alone with children, trained employees to detect grooming and potential abuse, added video technology to better monitor employees, and increased pay to attract more qualified staffers, and will use a new psychological test to screen job applicants.
Gov. Tom Wolf recently directed state officials to investigate conditions that led to the sexual abuse of children at Devereux facilities, and Philadelphia has stopped sending local children to Devereux facilities for now.
Also, 14 members of City Council have demanded that city officials immediately remove all of the 62 local children at Devereux facilities and cancel Devereux’s $7.5 million contract with Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services.
Lynch did not reply to a request for comment. Devereux did not reply to a question about whether its audit will be shared with the public.
City Councilmember Helen Gym said in an email Thursday night that “Devereux cannot hide behind internal audits and self-funded investigations. Philadelphia should no longer pay a single cent to an institution that promised to heal the childhood traumas of our most vulnerable girls, but instead failed to establish appropriate protections that resulted in children being exploited, raped, and traumatized all over again.”
Gym said she and fellow Council members were working on legislation to strengthen “the city’s hand in dealing with agencies" that the state has failed to oversee and regulate.