Will Evans, Lance Williams, Matt Smith and Aura Bogado / Reveal @ The Center for Investigative Reporting – 2018-08-13 23:40:33
Federal Agency Sent Immigrant Kids to
Dangerous Youth Facility, Despite Warning Signs
Will Evans, Lance Williams and Matt Smith / Reveal @ The Center for Investigative Reporting
This mobile home is the main office of the Shiloh Treatment Center in Manvel. This center has 43 beds, 32 of them set aside for immigrant children.
(August 8, 2018) — By the time the federal government started sending immigrant children to Shiloh Treatment Center in 2009, the warning flags were waving blood red.
Three children had died after being physically restrained at Shiloh and affiliated facilities in rural Texas run by the same man, Clay Dean Hill. A teenager from California died after running away and getting hit by a truck. Texas officials repeatedly had cited Hill’s residential centers for troubled youths after caretakers were found to have slapped, punched and kicked children.
Yet nine years ago, the US Department of Health and Human Services sent its first delivery of federal tax dollars to Hill, a onetime longshoreman-turned-millionaire entrepreneur specializing in the care of vulnerable children. The federal government wanted Hill to take immigrant children with mental health problems who were caught crossing the border without parents or papers.
The funding started a couple of months before a male caretaker in his 40s was caught preying on a 15-year-old girl from California, sexually abusing her at one of Hill’s all-girl dormitories, where he was assigned overnight. He’s now a convicted sex offender.
“It shows you how disgraceful the place was,” said the former resident, now 25, who told her story publicly for the first time to Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.
The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement continued to send immigrant children to Hill’s care after another teenager was killed during a restraint and the state of Texas shut down one of his facilities, deeming it unsafe for children. And this year, after immigrant children said in court declarations that they were forcibly injected with psychiatric drugs, federal officials claimed there was no problem. In all, the federal government has paid Shiloh more than $33 million for the care of immigrant youths.
It took a federal judge to force the refugee office to take action. US District Judge Dolly Gee ruled July 30 that the Office of Refugee Resettlement must remove children from Shiloh unless a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist determines they pose a risk to themselves or others.
It didn’t have to get to this point. The history of death and abuse at Hill’s rural outpost for troubled children was no secret. Hill, 69, has remained a go-to provider for the Office of Refugee Resettlement even after multiple exposes by Texas newspapers, calls by members of Congress for Shiloh to be shut down and warnings from the local district attorney.
The story of Shiloh shows just how bad it can get at a child care operation the federal government deems worthy of taxpayer dollars and acceptable for immigrant children. Reveal previously found that private companies operating immigrant youth shelters across the nation have racked up citations for serious lapses in care. A ProPublica analysis of police reports found hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse, fights and missing children at these shelters.
Hill and Shiloh employees have not returned multiple calls by Reveal seeking comment.
Immigrant Children Forcibly Injected with Drugs, Lawsuit Claims
lawsuit that in 2008 stopped the federal government from forcibly administering antipsychotic drugs to deportees.
“You don’t need to administer these kinds of drugs unless someone is plucking out their eyeball or some such. The facility should not use these drugs to control behavior. That’s not what antipsychotics should be used for. That’s like the old Soviet Union used to do.”
The records were filed in connection with an ongoing class-action status lawsuit alleging poor treatment of immigrant children in US custody. An attorney representing the children said youth separated from their parents often become depressed, angry, anxious and, sometimes, unruly and that, in turn, encourages prescription of inappropriate medication.
One child was prescribed 10 different shots and pills, including the antipsychotic drugs Latuda, Geodon and Olanzapine, the Parkinson’s medication Benztropine, the seizure medications Clonazepam and Divalproex, the nerve pain medication and antidepressant Duloxetine, and the cognition enhancer Guanfacine.
Dosage recommendations at Shiloh gave orderlies what Mills called an unusually wide berth to determine how much medicine to give the children.
Maribel Bernardez first suspected her son was being drugged at the Shiloh facility when she saw a video sent by his caseworker via WhatsApp.
“He was completely hypnotized and lethargic,” Bernardez told Reveal.
Bernardez, now reunited with her son in New Orleans and seeking asylum from Honduras, provided Reveal with records showing her son was held at the Shiloh facility for six months. He was 9 when he landed at Shiloh in November after being referred for what staff considered psychological issues. Reveal is not publishing his name at his mother’s request.
Medical records show that Bernardez’s son was administered psychotropic drugs at Shiloh. She told Reveal that she repeatedly objected and did not sign any consent form.
The Shiloh Treatment Center has not responded to a request from Reveal for comment about the case. The government Office of Refugee Resettlement has not responded either.
Side effects of the medications make some children feel even more desperate, leading to the prescription of increasingly powerful medications, said Carlos Holguin, an attorney for the Los Angeles-based Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law. Holguin is asking a judge to require parents’ permission or a court order before children in the country illegally can be medicated.
Shiloh already had a reputation for mistreating children. In December 2014, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, called for Shiloh to be shut down, citing reports from the Houston Chronicle of “physical violence, unreasonable and excessive use of physical restraints, administering emergency medications without notice to governmental authorities, and several deaths of minor children while in custody,” she said in a statement.
But the US Department of Health and Human Services continued sending children and funds to Shiloh â€“ a total of more than $19 million after the congresswoman called for its closure, according to federal payment records.
Shiloh has contracted to house immigrant children since 2013. Last year, the most lucrative yet under its agreement, Shiloh collected $5.6 million.
Children and parents interviewed by the attorneys described being forcibly injected or made to take as many as 18 pills a day. One record reviewed by Mills showed a child taking a battery of shots and pills that included three different types of antipsychotic drugs, which Mills said were improperly prescribed for “agitation” and “aggressive behavior.”
Of the 20 or so children Holguin and his colleagues interviewed, all had been medicated. Parents he interviewed described the results.
“I understand they are requiring (my daughter) to take very powerful medications for anxiety. I have noted that (my daughter) is becoming more nervous, fearful, and she trembles,” one said. “(My daughter) tells me that she has fallen several times and has injured her head and arms, to the point that she ended up in a wheelchair, because the medications were too powerful and she couldn’t walk. She has complained about the medications to the staff, that they make her afraid of people.”
Medical records included in the court exhibits suggest improper use of medications, according to Mills.
Asked how such drugs and dosages would make children feel, Mills said: “They feel like shit. They feel like they have given up their own control. The long-term complications are weight gain and developing adult onset diabetes. These drugs are not benign.”
Matt Smith can be reached at msmith@Revealnews.org and Aura Bogado can be reached at abogado@Revealnews.org.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, for noncommercial, educational purposes.