Check all references

December 14, 2007

The resignation of a state juvenile services official in the wake of disclosures of past abuse at a Montana facility doesn't end the matter. Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore still has to answer for the agency's failure to fully investigate the employment record of Chris Perkins, who was appointed to run the state's new residential treatment center in Frederick County.

The controversy over Mr. Perkins' employment involves allegations of abuse at the Swan Valley Youth Academy he ran in Montana. Mr. Perkins has insisted that he was exonerated of any abuse at the now-closed center and no criminal charges were filed against him. That's partially true.

This week, a January 2006 report on the allegations by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services was unsealed by a judge in Helena, Mont., and it states plainly that Mr. Perkins, identified as Staff No. 2, "directly abused or neglected youth under his care." Mr. Perkins had appealed the findings, but Montana officials failed to contest them. The findings were dismissed and the report sealed.

With the findings now available for review, two weeks after the City Paper reported on his background, Mr. Perkins resigned yesterday.

How is it that the Department of Juvenile Services officials didn't know the full story? Mr. Perkins says he never told them about the problems at Swan Valley or that he was fired by Cornerstone Programs, the Colorado firm that operated the center. But Mr. DeVore and his staff didn't do their jobs either.

DJS never contacted Cornerstone, even though Mr. DeVore knew Mr. Perkins worked there and had a gap in his employment history. Checking references is a basic in vetting applicants, and one call to a previous employer wasn't sufficient for the job Mr. Perkins applied for: to run the first new residential treatment facility in Maryland and a model for reform.

Mr. Perkins was wrong to withhold the information - even allegations of abuse should be disclosed - and Mr. DeVore was wrong to rely solely on one past employer's review of Mr. Perkins' work. That shows a lack of judgment and dedication to ensuring that the best professionals are hired to serve Maryland's most troubled juveniles.

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