Earlier this week, the Boston Globe’s Amanda Milkovits reported that Rhode Island’s Child Advocate has called for changes at foster care programs run by a Massachusetts nonprofit, Communities for People. She joins The Public's Radio reporter Sofia Rudin to discuss the story. 

Sofia Rudin: Amanda, walk us through what you learned about the Child Advocate's findings.  

Amanda Milkovits: So the Child Advocate is mandated to check group homes in the state, and this is one of many [investigations] that they've been conducting. So over a period of three months last year, from August through October, they sent in multiple inspectors from the Child Advocate's office. And what they found is that on paper there is a fact sheet of these programs that says these are the different services that are being offered to these kids. And in reality, they didn't find any evidence that they're getting the therapy that they're supposed to be getting. They found, in at least one home, they weren't being fed. They found a lack of staff, unprofessional staff, staff who appeared to be as young and dressed the same as the youth they were supposed to be watching. And it raises a lot of questions about what exactly was happening there. Since this report was delivered to Communities for People, DCYF has been involved. They say they are conducting an internal review. But it raises a lot of questions about how it got to this point.  

Rudin: And I know Communities for People has said they're going to work with DCYF and make those recommended changes. But what does all this mean for the kids living in those group homes right now?  

Milkovits: Well, really, that's a great question. I mean, right now, all eyes are on the operation there. They have 30 days to respond and make these changes. Things like documenting medication, having a medication log and making sure that kids are receiving what they need to receive. Making sure that there's food -- as basic as that. And proving that they have the staff who are equipped and trained to not only meet the regulations and meet the policies, but actually deliver what they say they're delivering to the youths in the program. One of them, they're mixing children as young as 12 with kids who are 18 years old, and that's not appropriate. So what does it mean for the kids in this right now? Well, right now, all eyes are on them. 

Rudin: One of the things that jumped out at me reading the Child Advocate's investigation is that it includes, just in this three month window, 19 reports to DCYF's Child Protective Services hotline, and it notes that DCYF didn't complete an investigation after any of these calls. It makes me wonder, is DCYF doing enough to make sure the groups it pays for services are keeping kids in state care safe?  

Milkovits: That's a great question. And that's something that I had ask the Child Advocate as well. And I've asked DCYF, "What happened with these reports?" And what I've been hearing so far is that they are inundated with reports and that they say that this is something they're working on. But it does raise a lot of questions about what exactly is happening and how these complaints are being handled. 

Rudin: And Child Advocate Jennifer Griffith has said that this is not an exceptional report, that she has filed--she estimates--75 reports similar to this in her four or five years as Child Advocate. You're a big advocate for transparency. And I wonder what you think it will take to bring the broader issues at group homes in the state to light. 

Milkovits: I think more investigations like this that come to light, because when it comes out, it's pretty shocking. These kids can't speak for themselves. Their families can't speak for them. And we don't really know what's going on at these homes until there is the Child Advocate who investigates and produces a report that we all can see and we can all raise questions about. And that's really what it takes. It will take some action on DCYF's part. It will take some action on the General Assembly's part, as well, to raise these issues in hearings. I mean, that's the kind of thing that needs to happen.