City Council hears heartbreaking testimony from children in institutional care

Three teenagers testified from their own experience of being placed in a facility.

Pat Loeb
May 19, 2018 - 10:00 pm
Youth in Placement

Pat Loeb | KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- A city council committee, last week, heard horror stories about physical abuse and absent services in the facilities where at least a thousand Philadelphia children are housed, through either the Department of Human Services or juvenile court. 

The facilities are spread throughout the state and the country, some as far away as New Mexico, making the children placed there particularly vulnerable because they are unfamiliar with the environment and their families are too far away to advocate for them.

The hearing included a viewing of a video from a closed-circuit camera in one of the facilities, showing three staffers beating a child. The video (seen below) shows the teenager sitting passively in a chair while a staff member talks to him, then suddenly two other large staff members approach and the three set on the teen, slamming him into a wall and remaining on top of him though what they are doing is unclear because their backs are to the camera.     

Three teenagers testified from their own experience of being placed in a facility.

"What happened to me in placement should not have happened to me or any other youth," said Quilah David, who was 15 when she was sent to an institution for truancy.

David said, when she first arrived, she had a hard time sleeping so one morning, she tried to skip breakfast to sleep in.

"The staff grabbed and twisted me out of bed. Because it hurt, I resisted. When I did, the staff woman swung me around, punched me and when I defended myself the staff facilitator threw her walkie-talkie at my head."

Hid Maye described having his ribs broken in an assault by a guard and Lilly Jimenez said she was body-slammed and deliberately burned by staff. Both described the humiliation of being strip-searched.

All three also testified that their education essentially stopped while they were in placement, despite the fact that the School District of Philadelphia spends $70 million to educate children in placement. 

"Being in placement really messed up my life," said Jimenez

Advocates testified the city must stop sending children outside of Philadelphia and offer better options, including trauma informed care. Child welfare chief Cynthia Figueroa says the city's made progress, decreasing placements, but agreed more should be done.

"You have a commitment from the Department of Human Services and myself as the commissioner that we have to get this better, we have to get this right," she said.