NewsTeam 10 Investigates


Police Chief calls for state to close local foster home

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Posted at 9:21 PM, Dec 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-02 00:23:48-05

ESCONDIDO, Calif. (KGTV) - The Escondido Police Chief says there have been more violent acts at a state-licensed foster home in Escondido.

Chief Ed Varso made the comment on Wednesday at a press conference where a local civil rights advocate called on the County of San Diego to remove all foster youth from the Circle of Friends short-term residential treatment facility.

Varso said police have responded to two allegedly violent acts in the past month.

"A youth had used rocks to smash out all the front windows at the house, threw a rock at another minor that was staying at the home striking him in the face and bit a staff member," Varso said. "That incident was followed up just a few days later by another incident where a minor had climbed onto the roof of the home, was breaking property, throwing property at people who were standing on the ground trying to get him off of the rooftop."

Varso said in the past five years, police have responded to more than 350 calls for service. Through eleven months in 2021, he says police responded to more than 100 calls for service.

Varso said the department has tried to work with the facility operators but has seen very few changes.

"My officers have seized drugs, ammunition, and weapons from the home. This activity is obviously alarming, but it's particularly concerning when you realize that at any given time, there's no more than six youth staying at this home. The staff has repeatedly expressed their fears of working at the home to our officers as well as their feeling that they do not have the adequate resources and training available to provide the kind of safe atmosphere that the kids staying there should have," Varso said.

Varso also questioned state and county decision-making regarding the Circle of Friends home.

"If 350 police calls for service, sexual abuse at the hands of staff, an overdose death, and a youth who was lit on fire is not enough to close down this home, then what does it take to get to that point," he said.

Varso wasn't the only one with questions regarding the Circle of Friends home.

Shane Harris, the head of the civil rights organization, the People's Association of Justice Advocates, called on the county to step in.

"They (Circle of Friends) have proven that they cannot provide the safe service to these youth, not just in the city of Escondido but in the County of San Diego."

On Wednesday, Harris sent a letter to county leaders asking that "Supervisors make a motion to issue a letter to the California Department of Social Services requesting the state pull its license from the Circle of Friends Group Home to operate in California." It also recommends that county supervisors request county staff review its current contractual agreement with the Circle of Friends Group Home and how it could end all county funding going into the Circle of Friends Group Home. Another recommendation in the letter was "for county supervisors to bring forth a motion to direct county staff in the child welfare Services Department and its director to remove all youth currently placed at the Escondido location of the Circle of Friends Group Home immediately and to refer those youth to new placements."

Wednesday afternoon ABC 10News reached out to Circle of Friends leadership for comment on the statements from Harris and Varso. As of this writing, we've yet to hear back.

A spokesperson for the County of San Diego said nothing has changed since their last comments about the facility and stated, “There is nothing further to add at this stage.”