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Message from President and CEO Carl E. Clark II: Devereux’s Response to Issues of Resident Safety

(Spanish language version here.)

August 12, 2020

To Our Families and Supporters:

You may have seen a news article The Philadelphia Inquirer published in today’s print edition. The story details incidents of sexual assault at certain Devereux children’s residential treatment programs, stemming back as far as 25 years. Each and every one of these incidents is heartbreaking, and is completely inconsistent with our commitment to quality and safety, which our dedicated staff embrace and exhibit every single day. In partnership with you, their work saves children’s lives. That is the truth.

Nothing eradicates the significance of the incidents covered in this article. They matter, and the pain and trauma these victims experienced must never be forgotten or minimized.

What also matters is that over the course of recent years, powered by the energy, devotion and commitment to quality of our staff and partners, Devereux has completely reshaped itself – from our new culture of Servant Leadership to full alignment and engagement around operating, clinical and risk-management best practices. Devereux has been remade from the ground up. We did this, because this is what responsible, accountable, best-in-class healthcare organizations do. They honestly review their past performance with clear vision, and they aim to improve every day. They follow developing science and evolving management theory, and they are in a constant process of improvement.

The Inquirer’s article does not reflect the truth of Devereux’s work, or serve to advance our field. While this story is heart-wrenching to read, every incident covered was fully investigated, previously reported in the press, publicly addressed and taken responsibility for – most a decade or longer ago. These cases were terrible, but they were not hidden. They were not ignored. To the contrary, Devereux has learned from them, and we honor what happened to these individuals every day by pushing industry boundaries of excellence and compassion for those in need of care.

As healthcare professionals, we know that sensationalizing trauma, especially absent critically important context, harms real people while also delaying progress toward the common good. These reporters had hundreds of pages of data and dozens of hours of interviews that prove their central reporting premise to be incomplete and lacking in important context to help move the industry forward. The absence of that content in the final article speaks volumes.

Further, while reporting this story they demonstrated a shocking lack of editorial judgement and journalistic integrity by flying a drone over one of our children’s campuses, capturing video and still photos of clients and families – an act which is this moment being reviewed for criminal implications by the District Attorney for Chester County, PA.

As is only appropriate, Devereux took aggressive action to protect our children’s privacy and identities from this egregious violation of civil rights, and filed immediate court action to prevent the Inquirer from publishing those photos or videos. Thankfully, with the support of the court, we were able to prevent the paper from using the illegally obtained photos and video, but their reckless disregard for children’s safety and well-being is deeply concerning.

As you know, many of our children are in treatment because of previous abuse and trauma. Many have protective orders to keep them safe from those who would harm them. The paper knew this too, when they captured these pictures and video which could expose children. We will continue to support and protect our children and their families against this exploitation – both clinically and though all available legal remedies.

Let me say again – each incident reported in this story is significant, and, aside from the individuals themselves, no one is more outraged they occurred than Devereux. Caring for vulnerable children is a sacred trust to us, one to which each of us has dedicated our lives, our careers, and our hearts. I cannot personally report to you on how the incidents which occurred many decades ago were handled, but I can categorically affirm to you that today, there is no exception to the prompt and proper reporting of every single allegation made by anyone in our care, ever.

Devereux is an open book. Trust and transparency are our hallmarks. The Inquirer was offered a multi-day tour of our programs across Pennsylvania. We invited them to spend time with our people in an “open-book” setting, interviewing any member of our staff, on any topic, without restriction. That they summarily refused that invitation, entirely and immediately, speaks for itself.

The stories of trauma survivors are to be carefully protected and valued. They are to be respected. For the best organizations – for Devereux – they are cemented in the organizational conscience as a central driver toward constant improvement and true public service. Over the last 20 years, Devereux has employed more than 61,000 unique staff members, who have faithfully protected and cared for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people. Even at that scope of life-saving services, the importance of individual trauma is not negated. At Devereux, it is never forgotten. It is disappointing that the Inquirer’s story lacks relevant contextual perspective, which would actually help drive meaningful change across the industry.

As for Devereux, we remain laser focused on the right things: quality, safety, compassion and healing for those entrusted to our care. As you know, Devereux has developed a unique nationally-recognized expertise in treating thousands of traumatized and vulnerable children and teens, many who have been victims of sexual trauma and even commercial sex trafficking. Over the years, our clinically-proven programs have grown and matured, along with the science and research of early childhood trauma and best practices in treatment. As the field expanded and improved based on new learning, Devereux broadened our clinical expertise and excellence, with an unrelenting focus on what matters most.

As a result, over the last five years, grounded in evidence-based initiatives, we have invested more than $60 million in our physical plants and new technologies specifically aimed at eliminating risk factors, especially related to safety and abuse prevention. We have invested hundreds of millions more in our human capital, leading the field in increasing direct care and supervisory salaries, staff training, continuing education, professional development and career advancement. There simply is nothing more important to Devereux than the safety of those we treat, the quality of care they receive, and the excellence and appreciation of our staff.

I want to briefly highlight some of our more recent efforts and initiatives aimed at furthering safety and quality. Very few of these enhancements are funded by service payments streams. For the most part, our dedicated donors and investment earnings have allowed Devereux to take steps to push our excellence far past those required by regulations. Our most recent initiatives include:

  1. Reorganizing the entire organization from culture to structure, in service of quality and safety
  2. Conducting a 10-year analysis of incidents in care and conducting a national summit to review every aspect of quality and safety
  3. Creating new cautionary-flag trainings to identify and prevent grooming and sexual abuse of clients
  4. Increasing annual safety training requirements (50 hours for new staff, 40 hours each year after)
  5. Adding additional safety-focused 360 reviews for all direct care staff at 90 days and annually thereafter
  6. Strengthening staff screening protocols to include 15-level background checks and verifications – far greater than that required by regulation
  7. Launching industry-leading direct care compensation initiative to raise pay rates to the highest in the field
  8. Revamping our Supervisory Excellence training program
  9. Launching enhanced incident reporting options and added new investigation protocols, tools and training
  10. Working toward new mental health / PTO allowances to reduce staff stress and increase resilience

We know this important work is never done, but we are committed to leading the field. Our clients and their families deserve nothing less. Guided by our culture of servant leadership, our commitment to safety is central to our century-long mission. Our goal is clear: to enhance and elevate the standards of care in our industry, to best protect, treat and support the safety, privacy, success and dignity of those most vulnerable people in our care.

With my gratitude,

 Carl Clark

Carl E. Clark II
President and CEO
Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health


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