Officials at a state-run juvenile detention center in Prince George's County falsified records for more than a year to make it look as if workers were getting training, required by law, on how to deal with the troubled youths housed there, an independent monitor has found.
In response to the findings by the state Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services said the training coordinator at the Cheltenham Youth Facility was dismissed last week and officials are reviewing training practices elsewhere to see whether similar problems exist at other juvenile jails and youth treatment centers.
"Preliminary inquiries have not suggested improprieties elsewhere," said Edward Hopkins, the spokesman.
The problems with the training program at Cheltenham - a juvenile jail housing youths accused of assault, drug dealing, car theft and other crimes - were discovered in late May after workers reported them to a member of the monitor's office, according to a report by the office released yesterday.
"Staff members stated that the training coordinator instructed them to falsify their timesheets by adding eight to 16 hours of overtime for training that had not occurred," the monitor's report said.
Hopkins said the agency is in the process of recovering $6,500 to $7,000 in improper overtime payments that were made to 11 Cheltenham workers. "Not everyone that participated took the overtime," Hopkins said. "Those that did have been demoted and ordered to repay the monies that were paid to them in overtime."
Direct-care workers in state juvenile detention centers often have only a high school diploma. State law requires that they take 18 hours of in-service training each year in suicide prevention, the proper use of restraints, how to write reports about youth violence or other incidents, and similar matters. The training ordinarily takes place in classrooms with an instructor, either at the facility or at administrative headquarters, officials said.
But the monitor's report said workers at Cheltenham were given information packets to study while working their regular shifts. "The training coordinator ... was requiring staff to study mandated training materials and test themselves while supervising youth," the report said.
One worker showed a monitor a packet of training materials she was told to complete on the day shift while supervising youth during school hours. "She said she protested by stating `it would be next to impossible to study for and complete the two tests while supervising the children,'" the monitor's report said.
"She said the training coordinator told her to add 16 hours of overtime for her timesheet for the day due to the training and that [Cheltenham's superintendent] would approve it."
Hopkins said the training coordinator did not have authority to approve the overtime payment. The worker's supervisor also should not have approved the payment and was disciplined for doing so, Hopkins said.
The monitor's report said Cheltenham's superintendent was "aware of and authorized staff to receive training credit hours while they were supervising youth on the housing units." However, juvenile services officials said yesterday that the superintendent believed the training was being conducted properly and was not aware of the improper overtime payments.
Katherine A. Perez, who heads the monitor's office, said she does not know whether the problems at Cheltenham are occurring at other centers run by the Department of Juvenile Services.
"We brought this to their attention, and we're relying on their internal investigation to give us some indication of that, to make sure that it is not happening elsewhere in the system," she said.
Hopkins said the review process by his department will take time. "We are conducting an audit of all of our facilities statewide to make sure that this has not occurred elsewhere," he said. "We fully expect it to take several months for that to be completed."
Perez said the Department of Juvenile Services refused to share with her office information that its internal investigators found in reviewing the training problems at Cheltenham. "We were given assurances that once they had done their report, it would be released to us, but we were denied access to the report," she said.
She said proper staff training is important for juvenile detention centers to function properly.
"Having someone just read a pamphlet is not training," Perez said. "It should have been done in an appropriate classroom setting with trainers training them."
The state has had trouble finding workers to take jobs involving the direct care of juvenile offenders.
A review by The Sun two years ago found that Maryland's juvenile service workers were paid 8 percent to 34 percent less than juvenile service workers in nearby states. Advocates for children say that the low pay and high staff turnover contribute to turmoil in the juvenile justice system.