May 25 2018,  Saugus

Foster children removed from group home in the wake of probe

By Mark E. Vogler

UNDER INVESTIGATION: Eliot Community Human Services’ Atlantic House, which is located at 36 Western Ave. in Saugus, has been the subject of an ongoing probe by federal and state agencies after allegations of inappropriate activity involving the care of a foster child surfaced. (Saugus Advocate Photos by Mark E. Vogler)

Several state regulatory and law enforcement agencies are investigating allegations of misconduct that led to the firing of a worker at a foster care residential home at 36 Western Ave. in Saugus. Children who were living at Eliot Community Human Services’ Atlantic House have been removed and placed in other facilities “to ensure their safety and well-being while the investigation occurs,” according to Elissa Snook, a spokesperson for the state Department of Children and Families (DCF).

Eliot Community Human Services’ Atlantic House, which has been the subject of recent investigative reports by Boston television stations, has been licensed by the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) since July 2014 with a licensed capacity to house up to 12 residents.

Investigative officials and a representative of Eliot Community Human Services have declined to elaborate on the specific reasons for the investigation. But Boston 25 News reported last week that it had obtained documents revealing that a female staff member working with foster children at the Eliot Atlantic House in Saugus “is suspected of convincing a then 16-year-old girl at the group home to sell herself for sex on the weekends.”

“That staff member told the foster child she ‘had a way they could make money together,’ the television station said the documents had shown.

“The girl told investigators the staff member took her to Worcester three times and once to Boston “to have sex with unknown men for money’ on the weekends,” according to Boston 25 News.

NBC Boston Channel 10 also reported that the FBI was among those law enforcement agencies that were probing the foster care facility.

Nancy L. Allen Scannell, the director of External Affairs for Eliot Community Human Services, said this week in a written statement to The Saugus Advocate that Eliot officials “identified a situation at Atlantic House and immediately reported it to DCF and law enforcement.”

“The employee in question has been terminated from employment. The top priority of Eliot is the well-being of the children and adults we serve. The allegations are serious and deeply concerning and we are committed to doing everything possible to protect our clients,” Scannell said.

“We have voluntarily suspended services at Atlantic House. We are conducting our own internal review and are fully cooperating with investigators. Given that the investigation remains active, we will have no further comment at this time,” she said.

DCF has a contract with Eliot to provide congregate care for adolescents in care or custody of the department. Meanwhile, EEC licenses the residences and oversees program operations, policies and practices.

DCF has a designated unit that investigates reports of allegations of abuse and neglect by caregivers occurring in institutional settings. Following an investigation, if there are any identified issues, DCF would work with the provider if they are contracted with DCF to address concerns which may result in changes to policy, procedure, retraining staff or making programmatic changes to ensure the safety and well-being of children.

Kathleen Hart, EEC’s director of Communications and External Affairs, said the licensed capacity (12) is the maximum number of residents that the program can house, but added that the actual resident enrollment census may be lower. She would not comment on whether Eliot has had any previous compliance problems with the state. “Due to the department’s open investigation into the Eliot Atlantic House, I am unable to provide further information at this time,” she said.

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