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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Northwest Children’s Home license at risk

By Joel Mills Lewiston Tribune

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare will revoke the operating license of Northwest Children’s Home in Lewiston on Jan. 4 over allegations of sex offenses, assaults, fire safety problems and other deficiencies.

Administrators at the home for troubled youth vowed to appeal the revocation.

“We don’t agree with the interpretation of what the licensing agent feels are infractions against the child care licensing rules,” the home’s Chief Executive Officer Brian Pope said. “We will have a chance to put a brief together with our facts and information and data that counters and rebuts the allegations that are being made against us.”

Pope said the home will file its appeal this morning. If it is accepted, the Jan. 4 date will be put off while the appeal is pending. A call to Health and Welfare Thursday afternoon to ask about the appeal process wasn’t immediately returned, but Pope guessed it could last three or four months.

In the meantime, the home will be allowed to continue housing and treating its approximately 50 clients.

In a letter to the home announcing the revocation, Health and Welfare Division of Licensing and Certification Program Director Eric D. Brown wrote that many of the alleged violations are recurrences of previous problems that were supposed to be fixed.

“(The home’s) administration continues to fail to carry out the program in an environment that is safe and appropriate for the needs of those served and with due regard for the rights and protections of those receiving services as evidenced by numerous conditions that endanger the health and safety of the children served,” Brown wrote.

He said multiple sex offenses occurred at the home over the last year, some with staff present. Most were due to a lack of staff training, supervision and insufficient staff.

“The Department identified numerous severe offenses which placed the children’s health and safety at risk and led to the rape and assault of children under its supervision,” Brown wrote.

In a written response to the allegations addressed to the home’s staff, board members, friends and community partners, Pope said the home maintains a continual ratio of one staff member to four residents during daylight hours, and a 1-to-8 ratio during bedtime hours to assure the health and safety of residents.

Brown also cited the high number of runaways from the home, with 60 “elopements” reported by the Lewiston Police Department between April 1 and Oct. 25.

“During these absences the children engaged in unsafe behaviors like: stealing, using drugs, self-harm and inappropriate sexual contacts,” he wrote.

Pope said many of those calls were for minor incidents, and some were resolved before law enforcement even arrived.

“We have all that broken down in data to support that we have made progress over the last year as we’ve been growing through this,” he said.

The Nez Perce County Prosecutor’s Office reported that police detained 18 children between July 3 and Oct. 24, mostly for assault and battery crimes between staff and children. Brown wrote that staff should have the training to manage such behavior in a nonaggressive manner, and that the home shouldn’t rely on law enforcement to routinely manage such behaviors.

The department also alleged that the home failed to correct deficiencies noted on an April 6 inspection of its fire suppression system. But in his written response, Pope said a contractor corrected the problems, and a follow-up report by the contractor in October also showed full compliance.

Pope blamed much of the negative attention on what he called a “heightened standard” imposed by Kelle Johnson, the licensing program specialist assigned to inspect the home by Health and Welfare. He accused her of skewing information throughout the past two years to justify noncompliance in meeting the minimum requirements of Idaho’s licensing rules for residential care facilities.

“All these allegations have come from one person, one licensing agent,” Pope said. “We asked for another licensing agent to come in as an impartial reviewer to give us a fair shake, and that was denied.”

He added that the home had a positive relationship with the licensing division before Johnson became an agent. And his letter noted that the state of Washington completed a site visit in the last year to review contract requirements for the kids it refers, and the home passed without any deficiencies.

Pope said the home’s license was renewed in May, and it has completed every corrective action plan imposed by Health and Welfare. That’s why the latest action was so unexpected.

“We were pretty shocked, pretty surprised, when they gave us this on Wednesday morning.”