The troubled Casa Pacifica youth home has been placed on probation for three years and has agreed to take a number of steps to improve care and supervision at the shelter in order to keep its license, according to an agreement with the state.
As part of its settlement agreement with the Department of Social Services, the shelter for abused and neglected children has agreed to segregate older boys and girls at its facility, create a separate area for children under 6 years old and provide more training for its staff.
The pact brings to an end a long struggle to stay open for the shelter, which came under investigation after a few well-publicized incidents, including a sexual assault, a boy whose jaw was broken during a struggle with staffers, and another who was hit by a car and seriously hurt while trying to flee the facility.
"We're very glad to sign this, and we're eager to work with the state and the county to ensure that our children get the best possible care," said Steve Elson, executive director of Casa Pacifica.
The agreement, which was announced Friday, does not include any admission to allegations leveled by state officials.
The home's license will be placed on probation until Oct. 1, 2000, so Casa Pacifica will be allowed to continue operating, contingent on a number of conditions, including:
* No admissions of children under 6 years old, except to keep siblings together, or teen parent and child, or if the child has "special treatment needs" that cannot be met elsewhere.
* Construction of a separate area for the younger children by Dec. 1. Elson said the area will be built at minimal cost because space became available when the county chose to place some infants in foster homes instead of at Casa Pacifica.
* A staff ratio of one counselor for every three children under 6 years old.
* Elimination of the "no reject, no eject" policy.
* Establishment of separate cottages for older boys and girls.
* Use of physical restraints only when a child "presents an immediate danger to himself or to others." * Increased training and stress reduction classes for employees.
During the probationary period, the shelter cannot apply for any increase in capacity. There is currently room for 35 children in the temporary shelter, and 28 in the residence portion of the facility.