Pawtucket group home still open after Child Advocate report of drugs, sex trafficking

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Two group homes run by an embattled Pawtucket business are still in operation despite a report released in late January recommending the agency be shut down due to drug use, human trafficking and a general lack of oversight.

The Office of the Child Advocate, which serves as a watchdog over the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), wrote in a scathing report in January that DCYF should cut ties with the Blackstone Valley Youth and Family Collaborative, which runs two group homes licensed by DCYF.

A third home, on North Bend Street, burned down last year and is also described in the report. The other two are still operating, despite the findings of the Child Advocate’s six month investigation. Blackstone houses young men ages 16 to 21 who are placed in the homes by DCYF.

“That home was being run like a criminal enterprise,” said Rep. Patricia Serpa, the chairwoman of the House Oversight committee. “I mean sex, drugs, you name it. And these are children that are supposed to under the oversight of DCYF? It was appalling.”

The Child Advocate, Jennifer Griffith, detailed the findings of the report at an House Oversight committee hearing Thursday night.

“I can’t see why they should continue to be allowed to have children there,” Griffith said. “They’re not supervising these youth.”

The report found that drugs, weapons, alcohol and stolen merchandise were found among the youth in the home, and staff members were not properly supervising the residents or reporting incidents to the police.

In 2017, staff member Raysean Williams was charged with human trafficking, accused of using the Amey Street house to house human trafficking victims, including underage girls under the care of DCYF.

The hearing became emotional at times, with Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence, abruptly leaving the room after making an impassioned speech aimed at DCYF Director Trista Piccola.

“It is my hope that when you leave here, that place will be shut down,” she said before leaving. “Because it needs to be shut down. Even burnt down.”

“I can’t deal with this,” Williams said as she stood up and left the room.

Griffith agreed with lawmakers, adding that she had initiated steps with Family Court to get the residents at the group homes placed elsewhere.

“I do not think this place can be rehabilitated,” Griffith said. “I don’t know what we’re waiting for.”

Piccola said DCYF has formally suspended future referrals to Blackstone, but was giving executive director Daniel Brito 30 days to fix the problems.

“I’m not afraid to cut ties if we don’t believe that our kids are getting the care,” Piccola said in an interview with Eyewitness news.  “But we want to be fair, we want to give people an opportunity to remediate the concerns. They either will or they won’t. But we’re prepared to cut ties if they don’t do it.”

Piccola added that only one of the eight residents currently living at the two homes is underage. She also said the department was actively working to place youth with foster families instead of group homes.

Efforts to reach Brito for comment about his agency were unsuccessful.

The North Bend Street home has been rebuilt since the fire, but DCYF has not re-issued a license to Blackstone for that house to become a group home.