‘Horrified’ Council members call for cancellation of Wordsworth contracts

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Nine members of Philadelphia City Council on Tuesday called for sweeping reforms in oversight of the city’s child welfare system, saying it had failed to protect scores of vulnerable children.


In a letter to the heads of two city agencies charged with helping children in need, the council members said said they were “horrified” and “sickened” by an Inquirer and Daily News investigation over the weekend detailing violence and abuse at Wordsworth, the only residential treatment center for troubled young people in the city.

“It is clear that for far too long, residential treatment facilities for children have operated without adequate oversight, public accountability, and transparency,” said the letter, signed by Helen Gym, chair of the Council committee on children and youth, and eight colleagues.


The Inquirer and Daily News reported that Wordsworth’s now-shuttered facility in West Philadelphia had a hidden history of abuse. Over the past decade, more than four dozen sex crimes, including 12 rapes, were reported at the center, which served mentally ill and behaviorally challenged children. Other children suffered broken bones and assaults there. And last October, David Hess, 17, was killed in a clash with staffers, prompting state officials to close the facility on Ford Road.

The Medical Examiner’s Office later ruled the death a homicide. Police continue to investigate.

Since Wordsworth’s opening in 2006, police were summoned there more than 800 times, records show, for incidents ranging from minor disturbances and tripped fire alarms to sexual assaults. 





In their letter Tuesday, the council members said the situation was “unacceptable” and called on the city’s Department of Human Services to cancel $55 million in contracts with Wordsworth to provide foster care, education, and social services for Philadelphia children who have been abused or neglected or are at risk of delinquency.

Gym and her colleagues called for a “complete overhaul” of the way residential treatment facilities are monitored in Philadelphia. They also faulted city agencies charged with overseeing Wordsworth and other facilities for “a profound failure of oversight.”

“We believe that the city must seriously address the deficiencies documented at Wordsworth,” the letter said. “The lives of our children depend on it.”



















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