Philly removes children from Devereux facilities after sex abuse revelations

A Devereux facility in Devon, Pa.

A Devereux facility in Devon, Pa. (Google Street View)

Updated: 3:30 p.m.

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The Philadelphia Department of Human Services and Community Behavioral Health said Thursday it plans to remove 53 children and youth from Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health facilities.

The move follows an August Philadelphia Inquirer investigation that outlined a pattern of abuse spanning 25 years.

Devereux is one of the country’s largest behavioral health nonprofits, with facilities across multiple states. Among the children and young people Devereux facilities care for there are patients with autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities. The nonprofit also works in specialty mental health and child welfare.

The Inquirer investigation found a pattern of rape and sexual abuse at the hands of staff, which often went overlooked because of understaffing.

The newspaper found 10 Devereux patients who had been assaulted in the Philadelphia suburbs and an additional 31 survivors who’d been sexually assaulted in Devereux’s facilities in New Jersey and six other states.

“Children and youth deserve only the best services,” said DHS Commissioner Kimberly Ali. “We are firm in our commitment that providers are accountable for ensuring quality programming and services.”

Per Ali, that means ending the use of Devereux’s residential programs.

Since the report was published on Aug. 11, DHS reports it has met with children in Devereux’s residential facilities and families.

City spokesperson Mike Dunn said during a six-week assessment of Devereux facilities that followed, staff visited the facilities 13 times and made 15 reviews of video.

In their announcement, DHS and CBH officials did not share the findings that prompted the decision to remove the 53 young people it had at Devereux facilities. But Ali told the Inquirer the review found Devereux staffers “weren’t doing their jobs” and properly watching over the children in their care.

According to city officials, none of the children at Devereux have been removed yet — the city is still looking for suitable placements — but officials plan to keep up with increased monitoring of facilities until all patients are removed.

In a statement, Devereux said the nonprofit was “incredibly saddened” it would no longer be able to provide “the best care available” to the children being removed from its residential programs.

“The treatment disruptions to these children and their families is deeply regrettable, and our thoughts are with them as they must now face a series of very difficult transitions and destabilizations,” read the statement.

“Importantly, our other levels of care for Philadelphia’s children in partnership with DHS, including acute hospital, education, foster care, outpatient and community-based services are unaffected by this decision, and children in those programs will not be disrupted.”

Still, Devereux said it is looking for an additional explanation regarding what influenced the decision to remove children from their residential facilities, arguing the decision feels inconsistent with conversations with CBH and DHS during the assessment, as well as the findings of other independent reviews.

However, the institution has maintained the conditions outlined in the Inquirer investigation are from long ago, and were properly investigated at the time.

In a previous interview, a Devereaux spokesperson told WHYY News a 2018 reorganization had boosted safety to prevent future instances of abuse. The Inquirer reported at least four staffers had abused a total of 11 children since those changes took place.

Earlier this month, Devereux announced it had hired former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and her firm to lead what it called an “independent safety audit” looking into the 25 years of sexual abuse at its facilities.

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Disclosure: WHYY has received funding from the Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health.

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