Leaders at the Glen Mills Schools failed to comply with child-abuse laws while lacking policies and training related to reporting abuse, according to a new report from the state auditor general.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale will say Wednesday that a review of background checks, training logs, and policies at the now-shuttered reformatory revealed lapses and inconsistencies that put children in danger.
“There is no excuse for abuse under any circumstances, and that’s especially true in a facility that is supposed to help troubled youth get back on track,” DePasquale said in a statement. “My audit shows the Glen Mills Schools’ administrators and staff failed to protect the students in their charge.”
The auditor general’s office is one of several agencies that pledged to investigate Glen Mills last year, following an Inquirer report documenting decades of violent abuse and cover-ups at the Delaware County school for court-ordered boys.
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS), which oversees and licenses juvenile-justice programs, concluded its own investigation in April 2019, revoking Glen Mills’ 14 licenses and effectively closing the nation’s oldest reform school.
But with Glen Mills appealing the decision — a hearing is scheduled for Aug. 3 — the auditor general and other agencies investigating the campus said their work would continue. Officials with the Office of the State Inspector General and the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office said Monday that their examinations of Glen Mills are ongoing.
The auditor general’s 95-page report found that Glen Mills did not ensure that its employees had the required background clearances and abuse-prevention training they needed to work with children in Pennsylvania. For example, leaders allowed four new hires to work with students even though they did not obtain their federal background clearances within the required window.
In other cases, the auditor general’s staff said, they had little faith in the records kept by Glen Mills. State law requires residential care programs like Glen Mills to provide 40 hours of training every year for employees. While school records indicated this was occurring, an automated computer program was adding an hour each week to staffers’ logs, on the unchecked assumption that they had received some kind of training from their supervisors. Meanwhile, new staff were told to sign that they had completed a three-week orientation on their first day at work.
When it came to physical abuse, the auditor general found that Glen Mills leaders failed to explain to students that every staff member was a “mandatory reporter,” a person required by Pennsylvania law to report even a suspicion of child abuse to state officials. Additionally, the school’s handbook and other documents did not clarify that abuse reports must be handled separately from the school’s grievance procedure, which requires multiple layers before complaints reach top officials and people outside the school.
“Moving forward, if GMS’s licenses are reinstated to allow students to be placed at GMS, GMS needs to be fully transparent with staff, students and parents as to the process for reporting abuse and promoting a culture that will not only prevent abuse from happening but also ensure that incidents of abuse will be investigated,” the audit notes.
In its official response, Glen Mills leaders told DePasquale’s staff they agreed with the broader findings. They said they would create policies and amend others, such as making it clear that staffers who report physical abuse would not be retaliated against by school officials.
“We have fully embraced the need to improve our practices related to clearances, background checks, and training compliance as we look to restore public confidence in our organization,” said Carolyn Seagraves, president of the Glen Mills Board of Trustees, in a letter to the auditor general. “As you can see in our response, we are making systemic changes to address the findings and to move our organization forward.”
Glen Mills leaders highlighted promises made in recent months to deploy a “trauma-informed” approach, and to forbid the use of physical restraints. But school leaders were also defensive, citing statistics that favored the school and ignoring clerical errors the auditor general raised with those numbers. Glen Mills also pushed back against the auditor general’s assertion that spotty background checks put children in harm’s way.
“Although it is our understanding that this language is standard for performance audits related to schools, GMS does not believe there is any evidence to suggest that any students were potentially put at risk of harm as the result of missing background checks,” Glen Mills leaders told the auditor general.
They also repeatedly referenced “new administration”; a spokesman for Glen Mills said this referred to both Seagraves and Christopher Spriggs, the school’s acting executive director.
Neither leader is especially new to Glen Mills. Prior to being named president last year, Seagraves had served on the trustee board for 15 years, the last six of which she had been the vice president. Her predecessor resigned last year, citing “business and personal reasons,” one week after The Inquirer investigation was published.
Spriggs, the acting director, has worked at Glen Mills for 26 years. Previously, as the director of regulatory compliance, he was charged with ensuring the school adhered to licensing rules it has since been found to have been afoul of, including those concerning the training and background checks of staff, and the protection of students from abuse.
In a statement, Spriggs said the school “shares the same goal of 100% compliance as the auditor general.” He echoed Seagraves’ comments about restoring public trust.
In addition to the investigations by the state inspector general and the district attorney, Glen Mills continues to face lawsuits brought by former students alleging abuse on campus. Attorneys say that more than 700 of these men have retained counsel and are expecting to file soon; a Philadelphia judge agreed last week to consolidate the litigation into a mass tort.
Two class-action lawsuits on behalf of recent students also recently got the go-ahead to move forward, despite attempts to dismiss them.