Cover-up: no cause for worry at Florida abuse shelters
The nation’s abuse shelters are bedeviled by an epidemic of violence, illicit drug use, shoddy financial procedures, ill-trained staff, and more. Last year I wrote a series of columns detailing widespread child abuse, misuse of public monies, and lack of public accountability at Florida domestic violence shelters. Recently the Florida Department of Children and Families released the results of two investigations that confirmed my earlier reports.
One such shelter is Harbor House, located in Orlando. Before delving into the findings of the probe, I’ll excerpt the message I received last year from a distraught Caucasian woman whom I’ll call Mrs. R:
“I went to a shelter in Orlando, Fl. Orange County called Harbor House back in 1990…There were women there who were there to get welfare benefits only. One woman stole quite a bit of cash from me.”
One day Mrs. R noticed the husband of a shelter resident cruising the street in front of the facility. She then recounted the following:
“I told her [the man’s wife] we have to go in and alert the others for lock down. Next thing I know, all of the black residents were plotting against me…They accused me of being a snitch….None of the counselors were on premises at night. After she [the wife] was moved away, one very big woman threatened to kill me.”
Not surprisingly, Mrs. R fled the shelter and returned to her abusive relationship.
So how is Harbor House faring these days? Not much better, according to the recent Inspector General report.
One afternoon a two-year-old boy in the shelter was left without adult supervision. During that time the child reportedly jumped off a counter, injuring his head. By law, a staff member is required to immediately report the incident to the Florida Abuse Hotline.
But when the staffer told her supervisor she planned to file a report, she was summoned to the office of director Carol Wick, who instructed the worker that Ms. Wick was the CEO and “the only person allowed to call the Hotline.” Fearing for her job, the employee remained silent about the incident.
The IG Investigation 2008-0106 dated July 14, 2009 somberly concludes, “Chief Executive Officer Carol Wick failed to make a mandatory child abuse report to the Florida Abuse Hotline and prohibited a staff member from making a mandatory child abuse report.”
The second IG report probed a shelter known as Another Way, located in the sleepy northern Florida town of Lake City. A year ago I published an exposé documenting so many tribulations at this facility that its motto should read, “Another Way: Any Way but Our Way.” www.renewamerica.com/columns/roberts/080728 …
Of grave concern, I reported a sexual assault that had taken place on shelter premises:
“On June 5, 2008, a four-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by a nine-year-old female at the shelter while the two were left unattended… The incident took place around 9:30 on Saturday evening. But the assault wasn’t reported to the police until noon the following day.” www.renewamerica.com/columns/roberts/080722
Thanks the courageous efforts of a (now former) shelter employee, a complaint was lodged with the Office of the Inspector General. Bearing an eerie resemblance to the Harbor House incident, the Another Way case also involved ill-supervised children, failure to promptly report child abuse, and attempts to dissuade others from doing so.
In this case, when the girl’s mother learned of the assault, she demanded that the incident be reported to the abuse hotline and to local police. But the shelter advocate discouraged her from this course of action, warning the mother that state investigators would come in and ruin her life, and instructed her to instead “go to bed.”
The name of the shelter employee is Gloria Taylor. Ms. Taylor had been previously convicted for a series of violent crimes, including improper exhibition of a dangerous weapon and two counts of written threats to kill or injure. These charges landed Taylor in prison for 32 months: www.renewamerica.com/columns/roberts/081009 …
The IG report also looked into allegations of financial misconduct, concluding Another Way managers had repeatedly squandered shelter assets. Executive director Donna Fagan had used the shelter vans for personal use and allowed long-distance phone calls from her son for non-work-related purposes.
The complete report can be seen in the IG Investigation 2008-0074 dated July 17, 2009.
In both investigations, the problem was traced to the highest management levels. In a sane world, both Carol Wick and Donna Fagan would now be out on the street looking for a job, shamed by the memory that they failed to meet their fiduciary duties to shelter residents, staff, and taxpayers.
But to this day both Wick and Fagan remain on the payroll, drawing handsome salaries of $75,000 and $95,000 respectively. In Florida, being a shelter director means never having to say you’re sorry.
© Carey Roberts