By Duaa Eldeib, Jodi S. Cohen & Melissa Sanchez
Soon after Christmas 2015, three boys were left unattended in the TV room of a Des Plaines shelter that houses immigrant children and is operated by Heartland Human Care Services.
One boy performed oral sex on an older boy, state child welfare records show. The older boy then tried to penetrate him from behind. When that was unsuccessful, the younger boy performed oral sex on the older boy a second time.
The third boy in the room, the youngest, had been playing video games. He then walked to the door to act as a lookout, according to documents based on video of the incident.
The Department of Children and Family Services, the state agency charged with licensing the facilities and investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect, cited Heartland for not providing appropriate supervision — a failing that has been repeated multiple times during the past 3-½ years, ProPublica Illinois reporting has found.
Among other incidents, an employee at a Heartland shelter in Chicago was investigated for an alleged sexual relationship with a teenager. And at least 10 children have run away while in Heartland’s care in recent years, including one who was supposed to be individually monitored by a staff member.
Records also show that on more than one occasion, not enough staff was on duty to meet the needs of children or employees didn’t have plans to properly monitor them. One supervisor told an investigator the environment at one shelter had become “lax,” while another employee acknowledged staff there had grown “too comfortable.”
A ProPublica Illinois investigation last week included initial reports of some of these troubling incidents. Late Wednesday, ProPublica Illinois obtained additional DCFS documents detailing the complaints the agency substantiated — meaning, it found credible evidence the incidents occurred.
Three employees were disciplined in the case of the boys who engaged in oral sex at the Des Plaines shelter, known as Casa Guadalupe. The boys were tested for sexually transmitted diseases and one was transferred to another shelter. The oldest boy was 15 and one of the other two was 11, with a history of trauma and abuse, but it is unclear which boy he was. Records did not include the age of the third boy.
Operating under the radar
Heartland Human Care Services — the division of Heartland Alliance that cares for about 3,000 detained children a year — has largely operated under the radar. Even those living next door to Heartland shelters are often unaware who the children are.
Since fiscal year 2015, Heartland has received more federal money than all but three organizations that contract with the federal government to house immigrant children detained by the government. The shelters are overseen by the U.S. Health and Human Services department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Heartland officials have said ORR officials provide regular oversight, from conducting weekly meetings with staff to visiting the shelters on a routine basis. ORR has not responded to a ProPublica Illinois public records request.
The newly obtained documents shed more light on some of the trouble inside the Heartland shelters in recent years. They also mirror the findings of a separate ProPublica investigation last week that revealed hundreds of allegations of sexual offenses, fights and missing children at the more than 100 shelters for immigrant children across the country.
Heartland officials declined to address specific incidents, saying doing so would compromise the privacy of children. They said the incidents “represent highly rare occasions” and that while employees are well-trained and dedicated, they “are human beings taking care of human beings.” They said they take “swift and appropriate action” and report all incidents to state and federal authorities.
“If the goal is to call into question the quality of care that we are providing by releasing sensitive information about minor children without context, and using that as if it defines our work, then that’s a shame,” Heartland said in a statement to ProPublica Illinois. “During the five-year time period you reviewed, we cared for more than 15,000 children.”
Heartland opened its first shelter for unaccompanied minors more than 20 years ago, and now runs nine shelters in and around Chicago, housing up to 500 children at a time. Five sites operate in Chicago, including a converted nursing home in Bronzeville that can shelter up to 250 children. Heartland also houses children in suburban Des Plaines in four cottages called Casa Guadalupe on the campus of Maryville Academy, a nonprofit Catholic child welfare agency.
Some of the most concerning recent allegations, detailed in news reports and a pending lawsuit, involve Casa Guadalupe. Heartland announced this week that the organization concluded its own investigation into allegations of abuse and neglect made by several children housed there in recent months, including that an employee injected a child with a sedative. It said it found no evidence to support the claims. DCFS and federal authorities continue to investigate.
Current and former employees say problems exist. A current worker at Casa Guadalupe told ProPublica Illinois this week that children are neglected because of insufficient staffing. The worker, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, said two employees are sometimes expected to supervise as many as 32 children at a time — in addition to performing other duties such as laundry, or preparing and serving meals.
“If I have to do things that are not in my job description, then those children are going to be left alone sometimes,” the worker said in an interview. “If you don’t have enough staff to take care of the kids, that’s negligence.”
A lack of supervision has resulted in accidents, and some of the youngest children at the shelters — those under the age of 5 — have gone days days without bathing, the employee said. …
Worker Charged With Sexually Molesting Eight Children At Immigrant Shelter
By Topher Sanders & Michael Grabell
This story includes graphic details of alleged sexual violence against minors.
A youth care worker for Southwest Key has been charged with 11 sex offenses after authorities accused him of molesting at least eight unaccompanied immigrant boys over nearly a year at one of the company’s shelters in Mesa, Arizona, federal court records show.
The allegations against Levian D. Pacheco, who is HIV-positive, include that he performed oral sex on two of the teenagers and tried to force one of them to penetrate him anally. The other six teens — all between 15 and 17 — said Pacheco had groped them through their clothing. All of the incidents are alleged to have taken place between August 2016 and July 2017, according to a court filing last week that laid out the government’s case.
The case, initially investigated by local police, is now proceeding through U.S. District Court in Phoenix. Pacheco had worked at Southwest Key’s Casa Kokopelli shelter, one of eight the company runs in Arizona, since May 2016.
Federal officials had known about the case when answering questions from ProPublica last week and when describing the conditions of the shelters before Congress, but did not mention it.
In addition to Pacheco, two other cases involving abuse at other Southwest Key shelters have recently surfaced.
Casa Kokopelli was cited by the Arizona Department of Health Services in 2017 for failing to complete background checks, including fingerprinting, to ensure that employees hadn’t previously committed sex offenses and other crimes, records show. Pacheco worked for nearly four months without a complete background check, according to documents and an agency official. Those records did not show any previous arrests or convictions for sex offenses, they said.
Pacheco, 25, was indicted in August 2017 after an investigation by local law enforcement and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services inspector general’s office. The current charges include eight counts of abusive sexual contact with a ward and three counts of sexual acts with a ward. Pacheco, who is in U.S. Marshals’ custody, could not be reached for comment, but he denied the charges in court documents. His federal public defender, Benjamin Good, said, “We are looking forward to defending Mr. Pacheco in court.”
Trump administration officials have repeatedly asserted that the shelters are safe, even fun, places for kids. But there has been increasingly intense scrutiny of the federally funded, privately run shelters after the administration separated some 3,000 children from their parents at the border and sent them to shelters and foster homes across the country. Last week, ProPublica reported that police nationwide have responded to hundreds of calls reporting possible sex crimes at shelters that serve immigrant children. One of those calls resulted in the conviction of a Tucson shelter worker for molestation.
Now further documents have emerged describing alleged incidents in Arizona involving Southwest Key, the largest operator of immigrant youth shelters nationwide. …
(Commoner Call cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2018. Open source and free for non-derivative use with link to www.thecommonercall.org )