Southwest Key to freeze placement of migrant children in AZ shelters, close 2 locations

By: - October 24, 2018 2:04 pm

A Southwest Key facility in Glendale. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Southwest Key will stop accepting new migrant minors at all of its child-care facilities in Arizona and will shut down two of its 13 shelters in the state, according to the terms of a settlement reached between the company and the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The two facilities that will shut down are one Phoenix location on 7th Avenue near Buckeye Road and a facility in Youngtown, which the federal government already closed on Sept. 28 after allegations that employees had physically abused three minors in mid-September.

The Phoenix location was licensed to hold 420 children and the Youngtown facility for 139 minors, said Southwest Key spokesman Jeff Eller.

The settlement follows a move by ADHS to revoke all of Southwest Key’s licences after the company failed to provide adequate evidence that its employees had current background screenings, as required by state law.

The freeze on accepting new minors will be lifted at the discretion of head of ADHS after it “is assured that the health and safety of the residents is no longer in immediate danger,” according to the settlement.

As part of the settlement, Southwest Key will also:

  • Pay $73,000 in civil penalties.
  • Hire a third-party consultant to evaluate its “quality management practices and quality management systems” and “effectiveness in addressing the health and safety concerns of the Department in their Arizona facilities.”
  • Hire an “on-site evaluator” at each of its facilities, appointed by ADHS Director, for at least one year and up to two years.
  • Agree to unannounced inspections by ADHS personnel for two years.

Southwest Key and ADHS representatives held a settlement conference Oct. 9, and a hearing was scheduled before an administrative law judge on Nov. 5.

In a statement, Eller said the company will comply with the agreement.

“We are committed to making the improvements that are spelled out and we look forward to building on these changes for the future,” Eller said. “DHS’s priority of keeping all children in our care safe is one we not only share but embrace.”

ADHS will vacate its notices to revoke, according to the settlement.  

Community groups have been calling for more state oversight over Southwest Key’s shelters. Media reports also exposed a record of sexual misconduct allegations at Southwest Key and other incidents, including runaway cases.

The Texas Tribune reported Southwest Key has hired the country’s oldest child welfare organization, Child Welfare League of America, to review its screening and hiring practices in all of its nationwide shelters. Eller said the third-party consultant hired in Arizona under the settlement agreement will be separate from this probe.

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for education, immigration, political, and public safety reporting and Spanish-language news and feature reporting. Laura worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.

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