State regulators are investigating a series of complaints against the Casa Pacifica home for abused children, the most recent probe focusing on sexual contact between two young boys as recently as two weeks ago.
Group home administrators said Friday that a 12-year-old boy bullied two younger children into performing sex acts and then intimidated nearby witnesses, who later came forward to report the incident.
Licensing officials, meanwhile, say that incident is only the latest in a series of allegations against the group home that opened south of Camarillo two years ago.
Attorneys for the state Department of Social Services are reviewing the growing problems at Casa Pacifica to determine whether the home should be allowed to keep its license to care for abused children, said Myron Taylor, a licensing supervisor for the state agency.
"This case is being reviewed by our legal staff in Sacramento, and we'll be addressing the ongoing violations that have occurred," Taylor said. "We're talking about some pretty serious issues here."
Steve Elson, Casa Pacifica's executive director, said the sexual misconduct took place between two boys ages 9 and 3, after the 12-year-old boy was apparently "egging them on."
Two other boys watched as the 9-year-old fondled the 3-year-old and forced the toddler to engage in sex acts at least twice, investigators said.
The abuse took place as four of five staff members assigned to that particular cottage were attending to other business away from the cabin, Casa Pacifica administrators said.
The fifth child care supervisor was attending to other boys in the 14-bed cottage during the five to 10 minutes that the sexual abuse took place, Elson said.
Some group home employees were disciplined as a result of the lapse in supervision, and a report on new precautions being implemented is due to state regulators by Thursday.
Casa Pacifica already has been cited in the latest case for careless supervision, but other penalties may be imposed when the investigation is completed, Taylor said.
Elson said Casa Pacifica does not normally house a 12-year-old with younger children, but that in this case there was no evidence of potential danger to the younger boys.
"We had no indication that for those kids there was any risk," he said.
The 12-year-old remains at Casa Pacifica, but he is now housed with children age 12 to 18. The four younger boys have been placed in alternate facilities, but those transfers were scheduled even before the sexual abuse took place, Elson said.
Children living at Casa Pacifica are referred by counselors at the county Public Social Services Agency, which also uses a number of other group homes.
No one at the Public Social Services Agency on Friday would discuss the ongoing investigation of the incident or whether they would continue to send children to the shelter.
Taylor said the increasing number of violations at Casa Pacifica has prompted high-level meetings between his office and members of the group home's board of directors.
"It has escalated to the point where we are taking administrative action against them," he said. "What that administrative action may be, at this time, I cannot say."
The nonprofit group home already has endured a series of setbacks, including a staff member accidentally breaking the jaw of a child during a scuffle last June, and another boy being struck by a car on Lewis Road as he tried to escape the facility.
"He was pretty seriously injured," Taylor said.
Casa Pacifica has since adopted new guidelines for pursuing runaway children. Counselors are not allowed to chase youngsters once they cross a dotted line painted on the Casa Pacifica driveway 40 feet from Lewis Road.
Investigations into other allegations of staff members slapping, spanking and grabbing children were inconclusive, according to documents on file with the community care licensing division of the Department of Social Services in Santa Barbara.
But in an August letter to Taylor, Elson argued that Casa Pacifica has tried to correct its shortcomings, and urged licensing officials not to refer the case to lawyers for possible revocation of its permits.
"All of the changes we have put in place as well as those that are ongoing are not 'quick fixes,' " Elson wrote, "but long-term changes that will resolve the issues and concerns discussed at the compliance conference."