PHILADELPHIA – A class action lawsuit was filed against Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health this week alleging the nonprofit was negligent in failing to protect at least six children from abuse by employees.
According to the lawsuit, the six children, who were between 8 and 17 years old at the time, were allegedly mistreated on a Devereux campus between 2003 and 2019 – three in Chester County, two in Florida and one in California. The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on Wednesday, does not identify individual employees allegedly responsible for physical, sexual and verbal abuse.
Devereux, headquartered in Villanova, specializes in treating children with intellectual disabilities, mental disorders, and trauma in 15 residential areas in nine states. Devereux has come under increasing public scrutiny following two Philadelphia Inquirer investigations, one in August and one this week, detailing allegations of sexual and physical abuse of children by Devereux employees.
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Devereux did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit sent via email and phone on Wednesday.
Devereux officials previously said they have taken tough measures to prevent sexual abuse since late 2019 as part of a reorganization under CEO Carl Clark II, who took over the helm in January 2018. They said they had reduced opportunities for employees to be alone with themselves, reduced children, trained staff to identify care and potential abuse, additional video technology to better monitor staff, higher wages to attract more skilled staff, and a new psychological test to review of applicants.
“These incidents are heartbreaking and unacceptable,” the company said in a recent statement. “… Every local supplier has to deal with the problem of employees who, despite thorough training, support and monitoring, do the wrong thing in complicated situations.”
The lawsuit lists several alleged incidents of sexual and physical assault, failure to report child abuse, negligent recruitment of unsuitable staff, and sad supervision:
Among the claims:
– Katherine Jines, the only named plaintiff, was 13 years old in 2013 when she was ill-treated at the Devereux Inpatient Treatment Center in Santa Barbara, California. Devereux staff allowed the girl’s roommate to physically attack her. Katherine told the staff, but they did nothing.
A male employee sat on a couch and watched her and other children go in and out of showers naked.
– Beginning in 2003, Jane Doe 1 was physically, sexually and emotionally abused on the Mapleton campus in Malvern at the age of 14. When the girl’s roommate sought a physical relationship with her and she refused, her roommate sexually assaulted her by making unwanted sexual advances.
When Jane Doe 1 reported the abuse to a Devereux employee, she was fined for “complaints” and placed in solitary confinement according to the lawsuit. There, a Devereux employee allegedly raped her, and then she was brought back to the room with the abusive roommate.
On several occasions, Devereux employees have withheld meals from her because, according to court records, she “cried too much”.
– In 2019, at the age of 11, “John Doe 2”, who was suffering from “aggression and suicide”, told his mother that employees on the Devereux campus in Glenmoore were holding him against a wall with her arms over her neck stopped and her knees pressed into his chest. During one visit, his mother noticed that “his wrist was so swollen” that she considered taking him to the hospital. He appeared to be having a “panic attack” when he told his mother what had happened.
The boy’s mother and therapist reported the suspected abuse to ChildLine, the state hotline for reporting suspected child abuse cases. However, an investigator was unable to substantiate the allegations in some cases as no security video or audio was available.
– An 8-year-old boy from Abington, Pennsylvania lived on the Mapleton campus in Malvern for two weeks in 2018 before his parents were allowed to speak to him. When his mother spoke to him on the phone, he was upset, she said in an interview on Wednesday. “He was crying and begging to come home,” she said.
When she saw her son, who has autism, ADHD, and bipolar disorder, she said he was disheveled, extremely excited, and “really scared, angry, and anxious”.
Then he told her that an employee put a stranglehold on him and threw him on his bed where he hit his head on his hard frame, she said.
The mother, who asked for anonymity, said she spoke to a manager at the time who told her the employee had been moved to another building. She said the supervisor told her that Devereux had reported the incident to the State Department of Human Services, but the mother said she called and the state told her she had not received such a report.
“It was not a place of healing for him,” she said in an interview. “It was a place of trauma and pain.” Their 10 year old son lives at home. His stay in Devereux lasted three weeks.
The lawsuit alleges that children often complained to a Devereux worker or social worker, but their calls for help were often ignored and in some cases the abuse continued.
A class action is a type of lawsuit that allows one or more plaintiffs to file and prosecute a case on behalf of a larger group or “class”.
“Given the breadth and gravity of the allegations against Devereux, but also the sheer number of children still living under the control and supervision of Devereux, we are committed to moving this case forward and providing protection and justice for our customers and larger ones Get class asap, “said Joseph Sauder, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified financial damages. The lawsuit also calls on the court to oblige Devereux to “implement and enforce policies and practices to prevent future cases of abuse”.
In addition to Devereux, the lawsuit cites QualityHealth Staffing, a Devereux subsidiary founded in 2018 to recruit staff to work with children with special needs.
© 2021 The Philadelphia Inquirer
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