DCYF revokes license for day care at nonprofit led by Rep. Williams

Long-troubled John Hope Settlement House seeking emergency stay from judge

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – After a three-month battle, the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families is moving ahead with a decision to revoke the child care license of a nonprofit chaired by state Rep. Anastasia Williams.

DCYF first informed the long-troubled nonprofit, the John Hope Settlement House, that its license would be revoked last November, after discovering an employee was working at its day care center despite being barred by DCYF. John Hope sued to block the move, and a judge ordered a December appeal hearing.

The hearing officer, Benjamin Copple, sided with DCYF in a decision issued Tuesday. DCYF spokeswoman Kerri White said John Hope will be given until March 3 to close the day care so parents can make other arrangements, calling its closure a “difficult decision.”

John Hope’s attorney is Peter Petrarca, himself a former state lawmaker. Petrarca told Eyewitness News he has filed a motion in Superior Court for an emergency stay of DCYF’s decision so the day care can remain open, and said the two sides will be in court Thursday.

“We don’t believe there’s any harm in keeping them open, since they’ve been open 60 days since the end of the [appeal] hearing,” Petrarca said. He called the DCYF decision “wrong,” and said monitors who have been visiting John Hope at least every two weeks have found its compliance to be “perfect” recently.

Williams, a Providence Democrat first elected in 1992, did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment. Earlier this week she denied a report that John Hope would be closing its doors.

John Hope, a fixture in Providence since 1929, has been battered by negative headlines for years now as its finances came under increasing scrutiny and competing factions fought for control of the organization. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello both withdrew government funding for John Hope last June.

John Hope received $850,000 in taxpayer-funded grants from the General Assembly over the three years before Mattiello pulled funding. The R.I. Department of Human Services also paid its day care center $629,000 in 2015 and $455,000 in 2014, a spokeswoman said.

Last year Mattiello also ordered Auditor General Dennis Hoyle, who works for the legislature, to conduct a review of John Hope’s finances. A spokesman said Hoyle’s report is not yet complete.

State officials failed to acknowledge DCYF’s dispute with John Hope in response to an inquiry from Eyewitness News last month, but the matter came to light in response to an Access to Public Records Act request. John Hope’s day care license has been on and off probationary status since August 2013, documents show.

“Since this licensing action was not final as it was under appeal, DCYF and EOHHS were not at able to speak to the specifics of their appeal,” White said, referring in the second case to the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

In his decision, Copple said an inspection Oct. 27 at John Hope found a “lack of documentation” that two employees had undergone a background check. The agency also said one staffer “was working with children even though she had received a notice of disqualification from [DCYF] for child care employment.”

In one letter last fall, a DCYF official summarized the problems at John Hope as “ongoing regulatory violations that continuously jeopardize the health and safety of children in the program’s care.”

“It is significant to note that in September of 2015, the Department had cited the John Hope Day Care Center for hiring a child care staff without any documentation on file of a DCYF clearance,” the letter alleged. “Subsequently, this staff member was found to have disqualifying information for child care employment.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Dan McGowan contributed to this report.