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Home Cleared of Abuse Charge : Inquiry: Authorities find no evidence to support a woman’s allegations that an Orangewood counselor mistreated children.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Juvenile authorities reported Monday that a three-month investigation of the Orangewood Children’s Home has found no evidence to substantiate allegations that a male counselor mistreated children sheltered there.

“At no time is there evidence to support the allegations that Orangewood staff were abusive, negligent or operated in a fashion contrary to the intent of the mandate they serve,” says a report by the Juvenile Justice Commission, which oversees the 166-bed facility for abused, abandoned and neglected children.

The report was issued to presiding Juvenile Court Judge C. Robert Jameson.

“We are pleased that we were cleared of the allegations . . . , and we hope we can put this behind us,” Orangewood Director Robert Theemling said. “It has taken a toll on everybody here.”

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County Social Services Director Lawrence Leaman said that he too is pleased with the outcome, but he expressed anger at what he called Orangewood’s “unjust” treatment in the media.

“What is disheartening is the fact that one person can level sa bunch of very damaging accusations and receive such notoriety,” Leaman said. “Even if charges are unfounded, many people believe that where there is smoke, there is fire.”

Although it clears the counselor--who was never publicly identified--of specific charges, the report does not address broader allegations of mistreatment made by two former staff members who contend that children at the home are treated with military-like rigidity, are often physically restrained and are in constant fear of being punished.

The commission did, however, say that the former staff members’ concerns are serious enough to warrant further study.

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Investigators also determined that Orangewood staff members are not adequately trained to handle physical confrontations with children and that administrators did not communicate with each other when complaints first arose.

Commission Chairman Paul Moreau said the concerns of the former staff members “will not go ignored,” but he would not comment on the scope of that inquiry or when results would be forthcoming.

Moreau said the commission’s findings are in line with previous inspections of Orangewood that found no evidence of abusive behavior at the facility.

“Orangewood has enjoyed an outstanding reputation since the first day it opened its doors,” in 1985, Moreau said.

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The allegations were prompted by Dorothy Moore, a Newport Beach legal secretary who befriended two homeless children and had them placed in Orangewood after their parents ostensibly abandoned them. Moore said the children--a 10-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl--told her they were treated roughly at Orangewood.

The girl charged that a male counselor at the facility walked in on adolescent girls while they were dressing and undressing, and she said that there was an occasion in which the counselor entered a bathroom and forcibly removed her, injuring her hand.

The report says that investigators, after more than 30 interviews and reviews of police and medical reports, concluded that there is insufficient evidence that the counselor had entered girls’ rooms.

The complaint about the use of force “was exaggerated and does not bear up to common-sense scrutiny,” the report says.

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Investigators concluded that the girl and the counselor were engaged in a “test of wills” and that a confrontation was precipitated when the girl made a derogatory remark to the counselor and then entered the restroom. According to witnesses’ accounts, the counselor gave a warning before he followed the girl into the restroom. He did bring the girl out, they said, but he did not manhandle her. Investigators determined that the girl injured her hand herself after she hit her bedroom wall in anger.

The report describes the children that Moore befriended as “street survivors,” and it suggests that she was manipulated.

Investigators also questioned the legality of Moore’s keeping the children. Moore says the parents abandoned the children.


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