DCYF cuts ties with embattled Pawtucket group home agency

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The state’s child welfare agency has cut ties with a Pawtucket group home agency that was the subject of a scathing report detailing drug use, lack of supervision and even sex trafficking at the agency’s three locations.

The Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) said Tuesday it was canceling its contract with Blackstone Valley Youth & Family Collaborative. The decision came days after a State House hearing where lawmakers grilled DCYF’s director about why the group home agency had not been shut down.

In a press release, DCYF said they had given Blackstone’s executive director, Daniel Brito, time to remedy the problems detailed in a report by the Office of the Child Advocate, a watchdog over DCYF. On March 1, a DCYF team went to review the corrective actions, and determined the concerns were not fully addressed.

”The safety and well-being of our youth is of the utmost importance,” said DCYF director Trista Piccola. “When we learn of incidents or concerns involving institutional care providers, or anyone who is charged with the care of children and youth in our state, we investigate and take action.”

DCYF will have 30 days to find alternative placements for the 5 young people currently living in the two group homes. A third location was also part of the Child Advocate report, but that house burned down last year and has not re-opened.

While DCYF had stopped sending new referrals to the group home agency, which houses youth ages 16-21, lawmakers at the House Oversight committee last week were shocked that the agency’s contract hadn’t immediately been terminated after the report came out in late January.

”It is my hope that when you leave here, that place will be shut down. Because it needs to be shut down. Even burnt down,” said Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence, who stood up and left the meeting after making the remark.

Jennifer Griffith, the Child Advocate, told the committee she didn’t believe the agency could be rehabilitated. The report included revelations about widespread drug abuse, human trafficking and even weapons in the homes run by Blackstone.

A former Blackstone employee is also facing human trafficking charges, accused of housing underage trafficking victims at one of the group homes.