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Videotape Puts Program in Jeopardy

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.

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