Videotape Puts Program in Jeopardy

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The chance videotaping of a boot-camp foster home staffer slamming a 16-year-old to the ground and pinning him down - because the youth fell asleep in a worship service - has led to the removal of two dozen youths from four Ohio group homes, as well as criminal and licensing investigations.

The girls and boys, ages 13 to 18, were taken on Sept. 11 through 13 from homes operated by Springfield-based Visions for Youth - almost six weeks after the alleged incident on Aug. 2, and six weeks after it was reported to the Clark County (Springfield) Prosecutor's Office, which was provided with the videotape, according to William Stout, who was conducting the worship service and who turned over the tape.

Police who responded to the scene originally charged the youth who was involved, saying they were told that the boy attacked the staff member, Stout said. Those charges were dropped.

Caught on Tape

The images of the incident were captured by two of several security cameras that are located throughout the Inside-Out community center in Springfield, a former alternative school that includes classrooms, a gym and a library. The library was the setting for the regular Saturday night youth service. The tape shows Stout, who runs Inside-Out, at the lectern speaking to about 60 people. (Click here to view the video).

A large man dressed in a light tee shirt is seen walking behind a person sitting in the last row on the left. Stout said that the man, a Visions for Youth staff member, hit the youth in the throat, awakening him. The video shows the staff member walking toward the camera and apparently out of the room, with the youth, dressed in camouflage, following a short time later.

Brady Webb, a director at Inside Out, said that in their training at Visions for Youth, the foster children are told that if the staff member leaves the room, they should follow.

Next, the video shows the staffer walk into a hallway and wait for someone. The youth arrives, holding a hand to his neck, and the two are seen on the tape (which has no sound) seeming to argue. The staffer gestures in the boy's face and moves closer and closer to the youth, who tries to back up.

Suddenly, the man tackles the boy and holds him down on his back for about 20 seconds. Then several youths appear in the hallway, and the youth escapes. He runs out a door, and the staffer walks after him.

Webb said that when the staff member and the youth were outside, they were in separate groups, and that staffers and other adults encouraged the youth to come back to their side. After the boy complied, Webb said, he was bloodied by the staff member.

The youth was returned to his residential facility, Stout said.

Ralph Williams, the president of Visions for Youth, did not respond to several messages to comment on the incident.

Getting Action

Stout said he took the videotape to the social services agency with jurisdiction over most of the residents - nearby Montgomery County - only after the prosecutor failed to take action. After seeing the tapes, Montgomery County Department of Job and Family Services (DOJFS) immediately removed its foster children from the homes.

Twenty-four foster children from the counties of Montgomery (Dayton), Allen (Lima) and Hamilton (Cincinnati) were removed from the four sites.

Ann Stevens, manager of communications for Montgomery County DOJFS, said her agency doesn't "intend to place any more children" at Visions for Youth. "We have grave concerns," raised by the incident depicted on the videotape, she said.

The Ohio state DOJFS confirmed it is investigating whether the facilities should continue to be licensed. First approved to care for foster children in 1997, Visions for Youth is licensed through March 2009, according to Dennis Evans, spokesman for the state department.

The Springfield Police Department is also investigating the alleged assault on the 16-year-old boy at the worship service.

Stout, head of Inside Out Youth, a outreach service to at-risk urban youth, said in an e-mail that since he reported the incident, his group's facilities have been vandalized and he has been threatened.

Webb, the director at Inside Out, said staffers there heard reports in the past that children were being mistreated at the Visions for Youth facilities, but that the youths have said they were usually intimidated into recanting their accusations and were sometimes charged with filing false statements.

Stout gave social services officials copies of interviews with other residents of the program who described instances of mistreatment.

Evans, of the state DOJFS, said corporal punishment is not allowed in Ohio's foster care homes, and provided state regulations about the use of physical restraints. Those regulations say restraints they are permitted only if the techniques are justified and used properly, essentially as part of an overall behavior intervention policy that dictates use of the least intrusive and least disruptive measures.

  • Debra R. Stout

    It is wrong that the 16 year old received charges beacause adult staff lied on him. The prosecutor should have dropped the charges immediately since he had a video to prove the childs innocence.

  • Ann K Wood

    There are many troubling issues with this incident.
    why has not the public defender acted to have all charges against the youth dismissed? why have the reports from Inside Out been ignored by the public defender’s and the prosecutor’s offices? if there is no investigation of those offices, why not? has the youth been examined by comptetent medical personnel to determine if he has injuires from the incident? to determine if he has medical problems which may have caused him to fall asleep? if not, why not? how has it been determined that the youth is incompetent to testify? if that is so, why was he placed in Visions in the first place? where is the youth now? what is the status of charges brought against the adult who pounded the youth? if nonoe have been filed, why not? what sort of “legal” court action was taken to sustain custody of the youth? which judge(s) and other officials were a party to that? on what did they lawfully base their actions? is there no youth advocate involved? if not, why not?
    the incident is alarming; the events occuring after the incident are horrific and involve a large number of adults charged with and paid for requiring proof before one is found guilty.
    Inside Out is to be commended for its actions.
    the wrong-doers extend far beyond the counselor who assaulted the youth.

    Ann K Wood

  • Brendan King

    Sadly, once again another youth is abused in a facility that surely needs to rethink their hiring practices, training methods, and series of checks and balances on employee conduct. Crisis Intervention Training provides proper techniques and skills to use when dealing with youth–especially during crisis situations. Sleeping in a sermon surely happens in just about every church around the nation. Staffers that react in this way don’t belong anywhere near children, nor in any other human services profession for that matter.

  • Otli Henriksson

    I will ask my co-workers at our NGO if the program should appear among many other programs where behavior modification, abuse and even deaths are a part of the daily life.

    The link for the database is here: http://wiki.fornits.com/index.php?title=Main_Page

    It never stops. Children get hurt, none is held accountable, the same lesson they are trying to learn the children.

  • J Robinson

    Apalling. After watching the tape I wouldn’t be surprised if this was not “business as usual”. The students did not seem surpised when they went into the hallway and saw what was going on neither did they run to get an adult they just ran.

    The children who need us the most are the ones we often fail.

  • latisha hardin

    I totally disagree with the accusations of Visions for Youth program being unfit. I was in the Visions Alternatives program for eight months. Had it not been for the program and the counselors there I do not know where I would be today. The program taught me the skills I needed to succeed in the world as an adult. I am proud to say that I was a resident there. Never did I see anyone abused nor do I believe it was tolerated my Mr. Williams. You can not let the actions of one staff member discredit the whole program.

  • Jason Burkhard

    I worked with VFY for the last 2-3 years and I think you are all speaking from a very uninformed position. I’d be happy to discuss the matter further with anyone that wishes. I see some of the points some of you are making are clearly advertising in your own interest. That’s neat. So maybe I’ll put in a plug myself…Visions For Youth has worked very hard for, and very closely with the poor and undereducated kids that the “educational/justice system” sifts out and forgets. It was a daily struggle to balance tough love with compassion, to stay objective but let the kids know we cared about them all as individuals, to keep them focused and moving forward, and the staff at VFY, as a whole, demonstrated that better than any group of individuals I have ever worked with in the eleven years i have been teaching. As previously stated I’ll answer whatever questions I can, but I won’t argue for the sake of profit. People that make judgments based on the grainy video from a cheap security camera would do well to try and view the footage from a first person point of view… you might be surprised how much the images change.

  • R GRAN

    The antics of Vision of Youth employees is not a surprise. One of the employees displays “other than normal” behaviors on-line. They have bragged about using their work connections to obtain background checks and records. Those documents are then distributed online in attempts to discredit and embarrass people that she (WDH) doesn’t like. The behaviors of this particular employee, because of the readily apparent psychological issues and because they have expungements and court records themselves, shows that a higher level of importance be placed on employee hiring and screening policies of Visions of Youth. The organization does have the concern needed for our youth, however, they need to delve deeper into the qualities needed in their employees.

  • TRAVIS MOORE

    I WAS A CHILD THAT WAS IN VISIONS FOR ABOUT 5 MONTHS! MY MOM WAS A HARD WORKING PARENT SO SHE HIRED ONE OF THE BEST ATTORNEYS (JOHN PAUL RION) TO FIGHT MY CASE! I WASNT FIGHTING A CASE WITH VISIONS BUT WITH MONTGOMERY COUNTY CHILDREN SERVICE! I FEEL CHILDREN SERVICE SHOULD BE MORE WISE ABOUT WHERE THEY PLACE CHILDREN! THE CASE WORKERS ARE OVER WORKED AND UNDER PAID! BUT EVEN IF THAT BEING THE CASE NO ONE MADE THEM CHOOSE THAT POSITION AND THEY KNEW WHAT THEY WERE GOING TO BE FACED WITH! NOW AN INNOCENT CHILD HAD TO SUFFER! BUT ON THE OTHER HAND VFY WAS NOT THE BEST PLACE FOR A CHILD! THE FOOD WAS HORRIBLE! THEY RECIEVED THEIR FOOD FROM LOCAL PANTRIES AND OTHER FOOD DRIVE GIVE AWAYS! WE WERE NOT FED RIGHT! I MEAN TO BE HONEST THE PROGRAM APPEARED TO BE VERY GHETTO! THE KIDS IN THE FACILITY HAD TO PARTICIPATE IN SOMETHING CALLED PT (PHYSICAL TRAINING) WHICH TO ME STOOD FOR PHYSICAL TORTURE! I SAY THIS BECAUSE OUR BODIES BURNED MORE CALORIES THAN WHAT WE CONSUMED DURING THE PROCESS OF US PERFORMING THIS ACTIVITY! ANOTHER THING IS VISIONS MAKE U FEEL AS IF YOU DONT HAVE ANYTHING TO LOOK FOWARD TO BECAUSE THE EVERY OPPORTUNITY DOOR IS SLAMMED IN YOUR FACE! I MEAN DONT GET ME WRONG SOME OF THE STAFF WAS OK BUT ITS NOT WHAT IN THE BEST INTREST FOR THE ADULTS ITS WHATS IN THE BEST INTREST FOR THE CHILD!

  • Teona P.

    I was in visions for youth in 2007 for about 3 months and being there was the worst time of my life. There was this worker named Ms.Love and she called us retarted, stupid, fat, made fun of us and talked about girls to other girls in the group home in their face to upset them. The treatment there was horrendous. I have severe ezema and while i stayed there my skin became very bad, my arms were covered with dry scaly bumps and no one would take me to the doctor. I complained to my case worker and she didnt believe me. If you didnt comply with the orders of the staff instead of giving consequences they tried to FIGHT us. I witness a time where a staff member actually threw a girl on the ground and then called the police and said she attacked her. when i heard the news of what happened at the church i was not suprised at all. I was so suicidal when i stayed in their group home. I thank god that i survived. The people above talking positive about the group home are liening and/or probably people from the agency trying to clean this mess up. I hate the people at Vfy for what they put me through and i wish them all the worst in life. I am a primary source and i want the world to know what that agency put all us kids through.

  • Randy Clapper

    my names randy clapper and i was a resident at vfy and i never seen a youth mistreated even when they should of been. i have the upmost respect for all the vfy staff who have and who still works there and before every one goes off and starts trash talkin that amazing program that helped keep me and others just like me out of jail you need to put your self in there shoes….

  • derrick hardy
  • derrick hardy

    i was in vfy for 6 mos….and i will tell you this….without mr. williams and mr. bob and a couple of other staff…. i would not be breathing right now. that program taught me discipline… structure… how to be a man. there were never instances where staff were over agressive when i was there…. alot of those kids take vfy for a joke when its people taking the time to help them in the longrun…. i wish i could cross paths with these people again because i would shake there hands and tell them thank you for saving me…..

  • Chief Holley

    What a mess this is. I spent a 69 month term at VFY and it was the best thing that ever happend to me as a young man without that program I would not be the person I am Today. I hope Mr. Williams Is ok and that kid should of kept his head up in class. Religion was always optional when i was there. This is CRAP the Williams are good people and I would stand by them in any situation because they stood by me. P.S. Hey derrick glad to see your alive take care