EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Two high-ranking state senators on Friday lambasted the lack of education provided to children in state custody stuck living at a psychiatric hospital, saying it was against the law and “one of the most horrible things one can do to a child in state care.”

The sharply worded criticism followed a Target 12 investigation on Thursday that revealed at least 20 young people affiliated with the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families have been living at Bradley Hospital for much longer than the typical treatment period of six to nine days. While stuck there, the student-aged children receive no formal education, meaning some go months without school.

State Sens. Sandra Cano, D-Pawtucket, and Hanna Gallo, D-Cranston, said the issue would be investigated by the Senate Education Committee once the new legislative session starts in a few weeks. Gallo is the outgoing chair of the committee, with Cano set to succeed her in January.

“To say that I was heartbroken and angry would be a gross understatement,” Cano said in a statement. “‘These vulnerable children, who have suffered so much already, are being neglected if they are not getting the education that they are rightfully entitled to receive.”

Cano added that the lack of education was against the law and “just another example of how these children are forgotten and cast aside.”

Gallo echoed Cano’s criticism, saying the state is supposed to be taking care of those children and failing to do so by not providing education.

“They are essentially being told that they do not matter and that simply is one of the most horrible things one can do to a child in state care,” Gallo said.

The Target 12 report showed that the children and teenagers come from at least 16 school districts in Rhode Island. A majority of those districts — which are responsible for providing education to all children in their communities — did not respond to requests for comment about the situation.

For years the adolescent program has been a place where DCYF teenagers and sometimes children — some as young as 11 years old — have had to live for extended periods of time while awaiting placements. But state officials claim the situation has grown worse during the pandemic, because demand for services is rising and openings in foster families and group homes are even scarcer than usual.

Nevertheless, Gallo urged DCYF leaders to find solutions. “This is wrong and needs to end immediately,” she said.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. 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.