To all those children and their families that were harmed due the State of Georgia’s agencies’ continued obfuscation of the truth, negligence, and incompetence with regard to their oversight of the former Ridge Creek School facility, its former affiliate entities such as Hidden Lake Academy and Ridge Creek Wilderness, this is for you.To those citizen advocates, one teacher, an admission’s administrator, a counselor, and only one DFCS employee, decent human beings, tirelessly fighting to expose the truth and ensure the safety and welfare of the children at the Ridge Creek School facility, while being continually vilified by Ridge Creek School, Inc.'s hierarchy - a machine of spineless attorneys, staff lackey’s, incompetent clergy, town groupies, and the like, this is for you.
To those individuals at the State level that were contacted by families for help, only to have their pleas fall on your insensitive, lying, condescending, placating, deaf ears and stone hearts, for over a decade - ignoring children's rights - this is for you.For those individuals that ignored the safety and well-being of our children, and to those parties that did not take personal responsibility for their own egregious behavior as mandated reporters, this is for you.
For those in power within the State of Georgia that ignored our cries, the cries of our children, and did not take needed divisive action to remedy the imminent disaster and debacle of the Ridge Creek School facility, take a bow with your co-horts:
All staff under the Ridge Creek School, Inc. corporate entity as mandated reporters; Georgia’s ORS/ORCC under DHS, including DFCS, DBHDD, and the DJJ; ADVANC-ED-SACS, Lumpkin County Police Department, Local, State, and Federal Judges, the GBI, the FBI, Gov. Nathan Deal, Gov. Deal’s Office of the Child Advocate, Children and Youth Committee, the State Attorney General’s Office, Lumpkin County District Attorney, Secretary of State Kemp, ORCC Commissioner Clyde Reese, and lastly, the pathetic Georgia Board of Examiners of Psychologists – this is for you.
Special recognition to NATSAP, the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs and IECA, Independent Educational Consultants Association, trade associations, both of which continued to be blinded by their own greed and totally incompetent when it comes to understanding that they, too, are mandated reporters. Educational Consultants continued to send children to this facility, in
spite of damning, documented state evidence. NATSAP ignored complaints. Take a bow. This is for you.Recalling the first conversation in the Spring of 2011 with the GAO Director of Investigations, the conversation moved to the number of children that attempted suicides by hanging at the Ridge Creek School facility. He replied, “A hanging?” Response,“No, Sir, at last count six.” Shocked, he repeated, "Six, you say?” Reply, “Yes, Sir.” He responded, “One is enough.” Apparently, it was not enough for the State of Georgia to intercede. But, hey, after all, “He is politically connected in downtown Atlanta.” Our final count before closure of this facility, within one year, was in the double digits.
Below is a summary of the findings stemming from the investigation in 2011 of the former Ridge Creek School facility in Georgia, the ORCC, and State of Georgia agencies by the Georgia Advocacy Office (GAO), Protection and Advocacy for the State of Georgia which is mandated by Congress. *Note: Permission was given by the GAO to share this document. It has been formatted for this article. The addressed individual has been deleted; Mr. McDaniel's signature did not transfer in formatting.
ADVOCACY The Protection and Advocacy System for People with Disabilities in Georgia
November 15, 2012
Re: Ridge Creek School, Dahlonega, Georgia
Thank you for your inquiry regarding the findings of the Georgia Advocacy Office (GAO) with regard to the facility formerly operated by Ridge Creek School in Dahlonega, Georgia. As you know, Ridge Creek School provided what has been described as a therapeutic school to incorporate both education and counseling in a residential program for children experiencing emotional disturbances. Multiple state human services agencies utilized this program, including the Department of Human Services/Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Oversight was the responsibility of these agencies, in addition to the licensing responsibility exercised by the Department of Human Services/Office of Residential Child Care (ORCC) and the Department of Education. The school was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Over the course of several years, ORCC identified multiple and serious deficiencies in performance at the school in the course of investigating complaints and incidents and during annual reviews of the facility. Ridge Creek School was cited by ORCC repeatedly for multiple regulatory violations including insufficient staffing, medications not administered accurately, failure to provide protective care and oversight and failure to report incidents. Often there were multiple and repeated citations for the same deficiency, thereby demonstrating Ridge Creek's failure to identify, correct, and maintain improvements. ORCC failed to follow through to ensure that the documented deficiencies were ultimately remedied and the children confined there were protected from harm.
Many of the children at Ridge Creek were in the custody of DFCS or DJJ and were confined to Ridge Creek under the authority of those agencies. It is unclear to what extent DFCS and DJJ were made aware of the multiple and repeated deficiencies of the facility. In some cases, DFCS and DJJ were made aware of incidents at the facility along with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. In some cases, investigations were carried out, yet no agency focused on the pattern of ongoing issues that contributed to the unsafe environment which led to abuse and neglect of children who were in the care of Ridge Creek School.
Ridge Creek School also frequently requested assistance from Lumpkin County Police for multiple incidents including property destruction, elopement, fights, sexual assault, and riots. In one instance in January 2011, Lumpkin County Police reported that approximately 11 students were causing damage to the school buildings by breaking out windows, setting off fire
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November 15, 2012
extinguishers, making entry into a building without permission, and knocking over office equipment.
Although it is clear that oversight was inadequate, the diffusion of responsibility across agencies also raises significant concerns for the continuing oversight of other residential programs similar to that of Ridge Creek. We will be conducting additional inquiries into similar programs in Georgia to identify ongoing problems and opportunities for improvement. According to information provided by the Georgia Department of Human Services, there are approximately ten other facilities that operate similar programs - residential treatment services with an onsite school operated by the provider - with similar competing oversight agencies, within Georgia.
Problems with Ridge Creek School are emblematic of the multiple oversight agencies that have jurisdiction, and the lack of coordination among the agencies. This lack of coordination has resulted in multiple incidents that posed a threat to the health and safety of children as well as incomplete records and could repeat in other circumstances.
If you have any additional information that would expedite further investigation, please contact us as soon as possible.
Tobin McDanielDirector of Investigations
We remain hopeful that this will be a wake-up call for the State of Georgia, although their record is well-known to be less than stellar in child care and transparency. Perhaps the State of Georgia will look at these findings in a positive light, as grace given, from those that were given none. It's a stretch, but miracles happen.
Documents attest to the fact that this is a systemic problem. Change has to come from the top down, instead of promoting incompetence and nepotism. The mandate held that investigative reports and documents can be subjectively altered by supervisors under the DHS needs to cease immediately.
What was allowed to transpire at the Ridge Creek School facility and the harm it brought could have been stopped years back by the State of Georgia. If their leaders had any backbone, it would have saved far too many hardships. The State was complicit and therefore, culpable, with or without state immunity, which they utilize to shelter themselves. An image of our forefather's tear droplets comes to mind ... Thankfully, we have something they apparently do not have or lost - heart.
We expect reforms from the State of Georgia's DHS and its sister agencies as documents currently reflect systemic troubles in other like residential facilities for children currently operating in Georgia.
To date, there still has been no responsibility taken; state employees, who were mandated reporters, were promoted, no charges. Former staff that were mandated reporters have not been charged and continue to operate with their professional licenses intact - with children.
We are eternally grateful to the Georgia Advocacy Office (GAO) who truly believe that everyone has the right to live their life surrounded by hope, aspirations, respect, love, and community, despite their developmental disabilities. The GAO faces each day that dawns with new challenges; committed, professional, and forever in heart-felt service, they fight for the oppressed and vulnerable who have no voice such as our children. They mentor citizen advocates in their stature, honesty, and dedication. A trait that was quite refreshing after a decade of eye-opening cover-ups and incompetence.
Thank you to Director McDaniel and the entire staff at the GAO.
"For the Children Left Behind" and those to come ...
I am, Jill Ryan
* A true copy of this document can be obtained by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
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