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DCYF kids at psychiatric hospital receiving formal education after Target 12 probe

Target 12

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island children and teenagers admitted to Bradley Hospital have begun to receive formal education as part of sweeping changes made in the wake of a Target 12 investigation.

The East Providence psychiatric hospital for children and teenagers has implemented formal educational programs, including the use of Chromebooks — which previously hadn’t been offered.

Meanwhile, the R.I. Department of Youth, Children and Families – which typically has more than a dozen children under state custody living and receiving care at the facility at any given time – has created a new policy to notify local school districts whenever one of their students is admitted.

“DCYF has also asked our staff to follow up with each youth’s Bradley Hospital clinician every week to confirm that the school district has provided education to these children,” DCYF spokesperson Sean McFarland said this week.

The changes come after Target 12 revealed in December that more than 20 young people affiliated with DCYF had been living at the facility – sometimes for months – in part because state officials said they couldn’t find anywhere to send them after treatment. And while stuck in limbo, the student-aged children received no formal education, meaning some went months without school.

The story evoked an outcry from some elected officials and it was the focus of a R.I. Senate Education Committee hearing scheduled for Friday afternoon. Bradley behavioral health specialist Paul Chaput, who spoke out publicly about the problem, testified, along with top officials from Bradley, DCYF, the R.I. Office of the Child Advocate and a representative from the R.I. Department of Education.

“Kids staying at the hospital for so long really affects them — it’s really not a good scene to be in a crisis with a kid who’s kind of stuck at the hospital, waiting to go into placement,” Chaput said, adding that he’s been pleased with the effort between the state agencies and hospital to improve the situation.

The responsibility of providing education to the students falls on the district, but many times students were admitted to the hospital and schools were never notified. In other cases, districts simply lost track of their students and never followed up. DCYF acting director Kevin Aucoin said his agency in the past would regularly reach out to school districts when a student went to Bradley, but he admitted that was an ongoing assumption — without oversight — that educational services were subsequently provided.

“We should not have been making that assumption,” Aucoin said during the hearing, adding that he thought the new protocols in place are designed well to catch any instances of students not receiving educational services.

As part of the new changes, McFarland said Bradley is in the process of interviewing a so-called “Hospital Educational Coordinator,” which would serve as a liaison between the hospital and school districts. Social workers will be managing the coordination of education until that person is put in place, he added.

“All of this progress has been made in coordination with educational advocates to ensure the child’s educational needs are being met,” McFarland said.

Moving forward, if a school district hasn’t provided education within two weeks of a student entering the facility, DCYF lawyers and state education officials will be notified. If the issue still doesn’t get resolved, DCYF will call a hearing with the Education Department and the Child Advocate will be notified, according to the new policy officially put into place last month.  

Lifespan, Bradley’s owner and the state’s largest network of hospitals, confirmed the psychiatric facility had implemented “daily blocks of time for school districts to provide virtual education services/tutoring for students,” according to spokesperson Kathleen Hart.  

“Bradley Hospital is committed to the well-being of all patients and our staff will support and facilitate patients’ participation in their district’s educational opportunities, in coordination with their overall plan of care,” Hart said in a statement.

Dr. Henry Sachs, president of Bradley, also testified at the Senate hearing, saying he thought this new system of ensuring students receive regular education would ultimately help the patients.

“School is part of being a kid, so having them do that is really important,” he said.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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