Chambers of Horror – April 16, 2021



Stop the Harm and Start the Healing

The case is clear. Philadelphia’s children need the protection of an independent Ombudsperson office mandated to conduct investigations when youth or parents report abuse of any sort while children are forced to live in institutions.

At PCCY’s request, the City Council Committee on Children and Youth held a hearing on the need for a Philadelphia Youth Services Ombudsperson Office. Committee Chair Helen Gym compassionately facilitated four hours of gut-wrenching testimony from experts about the risk of abuse in institutions, starting off with youth whose living situations sounded like chambers of horror. Anyone listening would have been convinced of the need for the City to take action, create an office with independent investigatory powers, and get to work immediately to stop the abuses in these facilities. 

“We need a position like this. I don’t think that’s a question, that’s a given,” said Councilmember Mark Squilla.

The Philadelphia Commissioner of Human Services said for the record that the City agrees that an Ombudsperson Office is necessary but rejected the idea of a Philadelphia office in favor of state oversight.

The Support Center for Child Advocates pointed out at the hearing that Philadelphia sends more children to residential facilities across the state than all other 66 counties send combined. To put it simply, the kids in these facilities are Philadelphia’s kids, and as such, Philadelphia needs to take responsibility for doing a better job protecting them by creating a Philadelphia office.

Duane, who was sent to an institution when he was 12-years-old, told the assembled Council members, “There were times when I did speak up on violence and mistreatments and nothing changed.”

Geneva, whose Philadelphia daughter was moved repeatedly throughout Pennsylvania and Texas said, “My daughter…was attacked and beat up. When I put a complaint in that she was attacked and abused, nothing ever happened; the other staff covered up for their coworker and the abuse continued.’” 

The compelling first-hand accounts of abuse and witnesses who described cover-ups of the horrifying treatment were jaw dropping. PCCY, the Defenders Association, Juvenile Law Center, Education Law Center, and the Support Center demonstrated that the anecdotal evidence presented by youth and parents is backed by shocking data over many, many years.  

– More than 2,200 Philadelphia youth are required to live in privately- or state-run institutions every year. 

– At least 300 reports of abuse – ranging from assault to rape to prostituting residents at private parties – in four area facilities have been reported over the last 20 years, with action taken only after newspaper exposés. 

– More than 90% of children sent to these facilities are children of color, a stunning indicator that Black and Hispanic children face a much greater risk of being impacted by physical, sexual, and/or emotional harm than their White peers by being “sent to a facility.”

Stating the obvious to Council, Estelle Richman, the former Secretary of the state agency responsible for oversight of all residential facilities and Vice President of our Board of Directors, said “The Philadelphia Inquirer should not be the Ombudsperson – telling us about the atrocities that have occurred at some of these facilities for decades – facilities such as Devereux, Glen Mills School, and Wordsworth Academy. In fact, too often The Inquirer is the place where we learn about the physical, sexual, and mental abuse that residents of these facilities have experienced. The time to create a Philadelphia Ombudsperson is now.”  

It’s long past due to create the Philadelphia Youth Services Ombudsperson’s Office to Stop the Harm and Start the Healing of our children. Sign on to our petition to get these protections in place now! 

Join the Education Equity Funding Parent Summit next Saturday to learn about the education funding crisis in our public schools. Registrar aquí.


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