Citing safety issues, Marland Children’s Home cancels Oklahoma DHS contract
PONCA CITY — After seeing an increase in assaults on staff and other behavioral problems, Marland Children's Home has canceled a contract with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to care for disturbed adolescent boys.
The group home terminated the contract to provide care for boys with the most severe behavioral problems in March, said Carey Head, vice president of Marland's board of directors. About 28 adolescent boys left to other placements, she said.
"We just couldn't control them," Head said. "We could not help them and keep them safe."
Marland decided to cancel the DHS contract after it was forced to implement a new program called Managing Aggressive Behavior as part of its contract.
The program does not allow staff members to restrain violent children by holding them down on the floor. Staff members are only allowed to restrain children using a bearhug-like standing hold for five minutes and children frequently attack staff members who are using the new hold, Head said.
"For five minutes you can have a child beating you around campus with your head down and the child knows he has you in his complete control," she said.
Before the change, Marland was allowed to have two staff members restrain a child who had become violent, Head said.
The home continues to house 44 children, but primarily adolescents with less severe behavioral problems. Marland also still has a contract to provide what is known as Level E care for adolescent girls. Level E is the highest level of care for children in DHS custody, usually reserved for kids with severe behavioral, substance abuse or emotional problems.
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Without the contract to care for the more disturbed adolescent boys, the nonprofit Marland home is operating at a financial loss, but made the decision for the safety of staff and other residents, Head said.
Marland is set on 100 acres in Ponca City donated by former Oklahoma governor and oil baron E.W. Marland. The group home has been in operation since 1928 and was known as American Legion Children's Home for much of its history. Teens at the open-campus group home are encouraged to get a part-time job or volunteer in the community as well as play group sports, Head said.
"Generally, the kids here are learning from role models in the community and in our staff about what it's like to have a normal childhood," Head said.
The home typically has a waiting list of about 300 children, she said.
Jami Ledoux, DHS director of child welfare services, said DHS has been meeting with group home operators to address their concerns about the Managing Aggressive Behavior program and is also working to provide additional training and staffing for group homes.
"We have been asking them to do additional work to show that they are progressing in the right direction with meeting the requirements of the contract," Ledoux said. "We are just balancing the accountability of the contract and providing necessary supports — work will be ongoing until we feel like they have successfully transitioned."
DHS implemented Managing Aggressive Behavior as part of its goal to reduce the number of cases of abuse of children in state care. The agency says the program is working to reduce such cases.
From July to September 2016, DHS received 17 "substantiated victims" of abuse cases in Level E group homes, records show. Between January to March 2017, that number dropped to just one.
Managing Aggressive Behavior techniques are only appropriate for younger children, not the larger, sometimes violent adolescent boys that had been in Marland's care, Head said.
"When it comes to applying it in the real world with these very troubled young men, we are not able to provide a safe environment with Managing Aggressive Behavior," Head said. "The kids are still wonderful, still begging for help and begging for boundaries but Managing Aggressive Behavior is not allowing us to provide that environment."
There were more than 360 calls for police and ambulance service from Marland Children's Home during the first three months of 2017, records show. Police frequently responded to the home multiple times a day.
Many calls are to report youth who have run away, frequently for just a few hours, but there are also many reports of fights and vandalism.