Youth center head's past was unknown

Superintendent had been cleared in Mont. abuse case

December 01, 2007|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

The superintendent of a Maryland program for juvenile offenders once headed a military-style youth academy in Montana that closed amid findings of child mistreatment, the Department of Juvenile Services acknowledged yesterday.

But Secretary Donald W. DeVore said he had full confidence in Chris Perkins -- now superintendent of the Victor Cullen Center in Frederick County -- and pointed out that Montana authorities cleared Perkins of all allegations of child abuse or neglect last December.

DeVore also said, however, that he had been unaware of allegations against Perkins and the Montana Swan Valley Youth Academy when he hired him.

Maryland's long-troubled department brought in Perkins this summer to reopen the Cullen campus as its flagship residential treatment facility.

Perkins, who is being promoted to director of statewide detention facilities, said yesterday that he didn't share his Montana troubles with state officials because he had been exonerated and worried the information would taint him. "It's unfairly prejudicial," he said.

But Marlana R. Valdez, Maryland's independent juvenile justice monitor, said that the revelations about Perkins' previous employment showed that the DJS hiring process "failed miserably."

Valdez emphasized that her monitors have found no mistreatment of youth at the Cullen center, and that she has every reason to believe the students "are safe and well cared for" under Perkins' oversight.

Valdez said she would investigate the DJS's hiring and background-check processes.

Joe Newman, president of Colorado-based Cornerstone Programs, which ran Swan Valley, said yesterday that no Maryland officials contacted his company for information about Perkins.

Perkins left Cornerstone in 2006 to work for a similar company in Pennsylvania, which DeVore said provided glowing recommendations.

Perkins was the director of the Montana facility from October 2003 until July 2005, he said. He returned in October of that year to replace a director who resigned and stayed until the program closed in early 2006, he said.

Around the time of Perkins' return to Montana, a youth advocacy organization alleged that one of its juvenile clients had been abused by staff at Swan Valley. An investigation by the state licensing agency found 19 violations, including excessive restraint and seclusion of youth to verbal assaults and humiliation by staff.

Disclosure of the findings led to the voluntary closure of Swan Valley, said Newman. The publicly available report was detailed this week on the Web site of Baltimore's City Paper.

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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