SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — California State Senator Brian Jones is calling for a hearing into a law that created specialized treatment homes for minors.
In an email to the head of the Senate Human Services Committee, Jones wrote, "I'm requesting that the Senate Human Services Committee conduct an informational hearing on the implementation of Assembly Bill 403."
In the letter, Jones says AB 403 revised the rules governing group homes and instead instituted a new category of home called a Short Term Residential Treatment Center (STRTC).
In the letter, Jones cited a Team 10 investigation into a home in Escondido, writing, "Given a situation that has occurred in my district, and maybe occurring through the state, I think our committee should review how AB 403 is working. Specifically, how is the newly created entity of a STRTC is working for the clients, caregivers and the community."
In an interview with ABC 10News, Jones said taxpayers pay a lot of money to take care of children in the state child welfare system and need to know they're safe.
"Because of what you guys are doing now, we're hearing about other problems around the state and we want to get a grip on this and find out what's going on," he said.
In October, ABC 10News uncovered a series of disturbing incidents at a short-term residential therapeutic treatment program in Escondido. In response, child welfare experts called for local and state government officials to step in.
"I have never seen a facility that has this volume of not just calls for police service but violent behavior going on," Escondido Police Chief Ed Varso said at the time.
Records obtained by Team 10 show nearly 350 police calls to the address listed for the facility from 2017 through the middle of September of this year. Many of the calls are for reports of runaway juveniles.
Short Term Residential Therapeutic Programs
Short Term Residential Therapeutic Programs (STRTPs) were established in 2017 by Assembly Bill 403.
According to the lawmaker behind the bill, the idea was to get kids the help and services they need with early counseling and early intervention in a shorter-term setting.
"The idea was protecting children in the system," said Assemblymember Mark Stone. "As often happens in systems is they end up making decisions for the benefit of the system and not the children. We saw too many kids languishing in group homes."
Stone says kids would often be in group homes for years and not really getting their needs met, so they created the STRTP.
"It was supposed to be a shorter-term stay for the kid, not more than six months, although that can certainly be extended depending on the needs of the child and it's a therapeutic type of a placement so that a child who is not ready to go into an individualized placement for whatever reason should get the help and supports out of the shorter term residential therapeutic program," Stone said.
The California Department of Social Services describes STRTPs as “a residential facility operated by a public agency or private organization that provides an integrated program of specialized and intensive care and supervision, services and supports, treatment, and short-term 24-hour care and supervision to children and nonminor dependents. The care and supervision provided by a STRTP shall be nonmedical.”
According to the officials with the County of San Diego, the youth served by STRTPs have higher-level behavioral health needs than youth previously served when they were a group home. Youth placed in STRTPs must meet medical necessity for Specialty Mental Health Services, and those treatment needs are not able to be met in a family placement.
State data records show there are more than 400 licensed STRTPs across California and more than 60 licenses still pending.
ABC 10News reporter Adam Racusin asked Assemblymember Stone if he believed the program is working.
"Yes, I think it's working. Whether or not it's a success really depends on a lot of factors. One of my commitments in 2015 was to continually work on implementation every year, so I've done a bill every year. That's really more of an implementation update so that we're constantly checking what's working and what's not working," Stone said.
Stone said ultimately the child welfare system would be successful when the state no longer needs it.