EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A growing number of Rhode Island lawmakers are speaking out against a lack of education provided to children stuck living at a psychiatric hospital, including one representative who plans to hold hearings to investigate the issue.
As Target 12 first reported last week, more than 20 children and teenagers under the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families were stuck living sometimes for months at Bradley Hospital, a behavioral and psychiatric hospital in East Providence.
While awaiting placement in foster and group homes, the children were not receiving any formal education, even though their psychiatric or behavioral treatment programs – which typically last six to nine days at Bradley – had long since ended.
The investigative report evoked bipartisan outrage from several lawmakers, including incoming R.I. Senate Education Committee chairperson Sen. Sandra Cano, D-Pawtucket, who told Target 12 she plans to launch a series of hearings into the issue. The idea has been endorsed by outgoing chairperson Sen. Hanna Gallo, D-Cranston.
“There is a breakdown,” Cano said.
The issue also came up Wednesday during a floor debate in the R.I. House of Representatives, as lawmakers scrambled to pass the state’s long-overdue $12.8 billion budget for the fiscal year that started July 1.
Rep. Mike Chippendale, R-Foster, introduced a $2.6 million amendment that would reallocate some funds to add 25 full-time jobs to DCYF, saying social workers cannot keep up with their caseloads at the agency.
“What we’re seeing now on WPRI is that we’re warehousing some of these kids at a psychiatric institution without any access to education,” Chippendale said. “No virtual learning, no hybrid, no in-person – we’re just sticking them in Bradley and saying you guys just go over there and sit down.”
The amendment was voted down.
On the other side of the political aisle, Rep. Julie Casimiro, D-North Kingstown, called on the R.I. Department of Education to investigate why no education is being provided. She called the situation unacceptable, adding, “the finger-pointing I saw in the WPRI story was disgusting.”
“I have yet to hear one responsible explanation of how and why these vulnerable children under state care are being denied an education,” Casimiro said in a statement. “A complete investigation will determine who failed these vulnerable children. We can then determine steps to prevent this from happening again.”
The hospital’s adolescent program for years has been a place where DCYF children and teenagers have lived for extended periods of time while awaiting placement, but the issue has become worse during the pandemic, according to hospital and state officials.
DCYF declined a request to interview the children at Bradley, but state officials said it’s the responsibility of local school districts to ensure children are receiving their formal education. Target 12 contacted all 16 school districts with student-aged children at the hospital, as of last month, and only six responded.
The story came to light in part because Bradley behavioral health specialist Paul Chaput was willing to speak publicly about what happens inside the facility. Chaput, who described the lack of education as “inhumane,” argues the state needs to come to some sort of solution that allows these children to move out of the facility safely.
“There’s no reason why a kid should be in a facility for that long,” Chaput told Target 12. “These kids need to move on with their lives so they can be successful.”
Cano said she plans to call Chaput to testify at her legislative hearings.
“Once the legislative session starts in a few weeks, my goal is that the Senate Education Committee will be leading an intensive investigation to get to the bottom of this serious issue,” she said.