Death, Corruption and Cover-Up in For-Profit Foster Care, and Why Education Activists MUST Confront Them

By EMILY TALMAGE and MARY PORTER


The following is an expanded and revised version to the original post , which can found here. 

BuzzFeed News has reported the results of a Congressional Investigation, which was prompted by their own report of corruption and coverup in the deaths of foster children.

In their groundbreaking  2015 report,  reporters Aram Roston and Jeremy Singer-Vine investigated widespread cases of physical and sexual abuse –  including multiple deaths of healthy children – which took place in foster homes that were part of a 36-state for-profit foster care organization known as the Mentor Network.
The report featured former Mentor caseworkers who accused the company of failing children because of its focus on extracting a profit from them – by cutting corners on expensive services, for example, or forcing social workers to carry extremely high caseloads.

“I went there because I care about services for kids,” said one caseworker. “I eventually became a machine that cared about profits. I didn’t care about kids.”

A BUSINESS PLAN FROM HELL

The Senate investigation didn’t pursue the Mentor Network’s business associations, outside of interviewing current officers.

Our own investigation found that a key architect of the profit-mining expansion has since moved on from Mentor to develop the model in several powerful organizations, adapting it to everything from juvenile recidivism to public education.

Tripp Jones has now opened his own shadowy company (called 21c) that specializes in developing the type of public-private partnerships that allowed the Mentor Network to flourish financially.

He reveals in his bio that he served as a leading member of Mentor’s executive team for eight years:

“He and his colleagues worked with their private equity sponsors to successfully complete 45 acquisitions in order to scale and diversify MENTOR’s services from $250 million in revenue operating in 13 states to $1.1 billion in revenue in 38 states with 25,000 employees. While at MENTOR, Tripp Jones focused largely on building the systems to enable the company to manage explosive growth, extensive service-line expansion, complex integration of operations.”

From there, Jones went on to serve as co-managing director at a company called New Profit, where he helped build a “social finance advisory firm” called Third Sector Capital Partners.
Jones and other perpetrators of this giant for-profit foster care firm are sheltered by powerful corporate cartels, which are making new demands for public-private profit opportunities. Jones sits on the boards of MassINC., New Profit, Time and LearningThird Sector Capital Partners, MA Juvenile Justice PFS Initiative, and the Building on What Works Coalition.

And this is where education activists need to pay attention.

Edweek reports that the Gates Foundation and the Zuckerberg-Chan initiative have jointly funded a $12 million initiative to support new ways of tailoring classroom instruction to individual students.

The recipient of their grant is none other than New Profit.

New Profit and Third Sector Capital, both major proponents of the controversial and highly unethical “Pay for Success” model of public financing, are now closely linked with powerful education organizations and lobbyists:

 

new profit

In 2014, New Profit – along with the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative – sponsored a series of meetings with a group called Convergence, in which major education policy-players – including the presidents of both major teacher’s unions – developed what they dubbed a “Transformational Vision of Education” – a “vision” that is little more than a call to transform public education to a data-mining industry that will allow for-profit companies, much like Mentor, to profit off the backs of children.

The Intercept published its own report of the Congressional hearings, which fails to link the actual congressional report, or the new Buzzfeed coverage.  Damage-control may be a more accurate term than report, in fact, because it also fails to even mention the resulting legislation, ‘‘Child Welfare Over-sight and Accountability Act of 2017.’’

In an particularly Orwellian twist, the Intercept article recommends a bill put forward last year which would put federal family assistance programs and foster assistance together into one program, stipulating that only prevention services classified as “promising,” “supported,” or “well-supported,” based on an evidence structure developed by the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse, would be eligible for reimbursement.

That same California Evidence-Based Clearing House has given its endorsement to the Mentor Network’s own proprietary “evidence-based Family Centered Treatment® program.”

FCT© can target children and families in community settings (like “Community Schools”) for its therapeutic intervention, and then designate its own for-profit foster home network as a successful planned placement from their therapy. 

With that system, Mentor was able to claim 89% success in meeting “permanency goals” during the whole horror show described in the Congressional report.

The Mentor Network operates under a corporate name of Civitas Solutions. 

Intercept reported that Civitas’ publicly traded stock dropped suddenly when the Congressional Report was released, then rebounded in a couple of days as it became clear there would be no coverage or follow-up.
Media outlets like the Intercept (but not BuzzFeed)  limit their coverage to this one firm, rather than demanding an investigation of the public-private structures and their architects (like  FCT© and Tripp Jones ) that allow organizations like Mentor to profit off the backs of our most vulnerable populations.
Sadly, this should surprise no one.

The Intercept receives most of its funding from the Omidyar Network, which is deeply linked to the development of the very same pay-for-success schemes that Tripp Jones is building.   Omidyar invested one million dollars in New Profit back in 2000 – and has remained linked to them through many channels.

These groups are now busy turning our public education system into one that can be profit-mined as thoroughly as the foster care system.

And so it is up to us, parents and other engaged citizens, to spread the word about what is happening to children, and to make it stop.

 

Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

9 thoughts on “Death, Corruption and Cover-Up in For-Profit Foster Care, and Why Education Activists MUST Confront Them”

  1. My Letter to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey

    Dear Attorney General Healey,

    I am writing out of concerns raised by the newly-released Senate investigation of excess child deaths and reporting irregularities within the Mentor Network, a gigantic multi-state for-profit foster care enterprise whose national headquarters are here in Boston. The report is titled
    AN EXAMINATION OF FOSTER CARE IN THE UNITED STATES AND THE USE OF PRIVATIZATION.
    https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4111642-An-Examination-of-Foster-Care-in-the-United.html#document/p10/a382165

    The Massachusetts DCF’s failure to comply with congressional requests for information is described on page 9 of the report:

    QUOTE
    B. THE 5-STATE IN-DEPTH LETTER AND REQUEST
    In March 2016, the Committee sent in-depth inquiries to five States regarding their child welfare operations in order to obtain more information about MENTOR and its affiliates as well as other for-profit and non-profit providers in each State.40

    The request for additional information was sent to the directors of the State child welfare agencies in Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Texas. These States were selected because they were served by MENTOR and highlighted in news accounts that documented serious allegations of mismanagement of services and mistreatment of children served by private foster care agencies. As of today, MENTOR still provides foster care services in Georgia, Maryland, and Massachusetts; it no longer provides those services in Illinois or Texas.

    The primary goal of the request for additional information was to compare performance indicators of the public agencies and private agencies providing foster care services. The Committee sought information related to standard performance measures for foster care using the Child and Family Services Reviews’ (CFSRs) performance metrics as a basis (see subsection C below). Among the many questions directed to the State agencies, SFC staff focused on the following information from these select States:
    • Physical and behavioral subgroups (special needs, physically disabled, infants, etc.);
    • Maltreatment during a foster care episode;
    • Rate of maltreatment in foster care;
    • Permanency outcomes (reunification, adoption, guardianship);
    • Physical and mental health screenings of children in foster care;
    • Children receiving monthly caseworker visits;
    • Average caseload for each caseworker employed by the contractor; and
    • Total cost to the State under the contract.

    Four out of five States complied with the Committee’s request for this detailed information. Despite repeated contact with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, its public child welfare agency never complied with official requests from the Committee to provide the requested in-depth information.41
    END OF QUOTE

    The Massachusetts DCF answer to the 50-state inquiry suggests that state personnel submitted false and contradictory answers (pg 11):
    QUOTE
    “For example, Massachusetts reported that the public agency handles 96% of placements for the almost 11,000 children in the State who are in out-of-home care. Cases that involve a conflict of interest with the child welfare agency (for example, employees who are the subject of maltreatment allegations), adoptions, or unaccompanied refugees who are minors are handled by private contract agencies. Nevertheless, in that same response, Massachusetts also reported statistics showing that roughly 35% of its foster care caseload is managed by a contracted agency.47”
    END OF QUOTE

    In almost every category, Massachusetts has the worst or near-worst outcomes for foster children in the nation. The report details other instances of outright cover-up and evasion (page 19). I’m afraid if I write too much, nobody will read this.

    Please investigate the DCF relationship to the Mentor Network, and other for-profit “family service” ventures. My greatest fear is that it is already untouchable because of its $1.3 billion revenue stream, and its connections to powerful protectors like New Profit and MassInc.

    [On a personal note, Maura. I heard you speak for your Friend of Education Award at the MTA Representative Assembly in 2015, and have great respect for you. I’m asking you now to risk your political career, and do your job as Attorney General to protect the most vulnerable and voiceless of our people.]
    Sincerely,
    Mary Porter

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  2. The Mentor Network operates under a corporate name of Civitas Solutions. Intercept reported that Civitas’ publicly traded stock dropped suddenly when the Congressional Report was released, then rebounded in a couple of days as it became clear there would be no coverage or follow-up.

    “About Civitas Solutions
    Civitas Solutions, Inc., which markets its services nationally as The MENTOR Network, is the leading national provider of home- and community-based health and human services to must-serve individuals with intellectual, developmental, physical or behavioral disabilities and other special needs. Since our founding in 1980, we have evolved from a single residential program to a diversified national network offering an array of quality services in 36 states.”
    http://civitas-solutions.com/

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  3. I’ve found a company called New Profit. It’s tied to the following: KIPP Foundation, Education for Excellence, an “education” group called CAST, Turnaround for Children, a group called Teach to One, something called Power My Learning, Highlander Institute, and a group called Learning Educators.

    All of these groups above are tied to or funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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  4. Your research is both top notch and shocking. Most people don’t have the vaguest idea that more and more public services are being handed off to for-profits.

    Without even consulting the expertise of workers in the field, profiteers are allowed to set their own metrics for success. Operating in a closed system, they gather data and then define it themselves – with scant consideration of the impact on individual human beings. To them it’s more to their bottom line.

    One example is corporate run charter school chains. They typically govern themselves without oversight by elected school boards. Consequently they aren’t scrutinized for excessive suspensions or dropouts the way public schools are. Their own metric for success might be scores on standardized tests that they already own.

    First they collect taxpayer dollars for enrollees, then sort kids like cattle, culling the weak, and shipping them back to public schools midyear. No matter the disruption to kids who must struggle to adjust to different teachers, curriculum and credit systems. By eliminating kids who would score low on year-end standardized tests, the school meets it’s own metric of success, while saving money on a lower population.

    It’s a racket and a travesty.

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  5. Form S-1 Civitas Solutions, Inc.
    September 17, 2015 5:35 PM

    Overlapping directorate at Civitas (Mentor owner) and MassInc
    “Gregory T. Torres was elected to our board of directors in 1980 as a member of our first board of directors. Mr. Torres served as Chairman of the board of directors from September 2004 to December 2013. He was also the Company’s Chief Executive Officer from January 1996 to January 2005, as well as its President from January 1996 until September 2004. Prior to joining the Company in 1980, Mr. Torres held prominent positions within the public sector, including chief of staff of the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Ways and Means and assistant secretary of human services. Since May 2007, Mr. Torres has been president and chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, known as “MassINC”, an independent, nonpartisan research and educational institute in Boston. On December 16, 2013, the Board of Directors accepted the resignation of Mr. Torres as Chairman and employee of the Company, effective as of January 1, 2014. Mr. Torres was selected as a director for his knowledge and experience in the human services industry, in the nonprofit, public and private sectors. Mr. Torres earned a B.A. from St. Vincent’s College and an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. On August 14, 2015, Mr. Torres tendered his resignation from our Board of Directors, which will be effective September 30, 2015.”
    pg. 99

    Acquisitions
    From the beginning of fiscal 2009 through June 30, 2015, we have completed 50 acquisitions, including several acquisitions of rights to government contracts or fixed assets from small providers, which we have integrated with our existing operations.
    pg. 48

    Government contacts
    If we fail to establish and maintain relationships with government agencies, we may not be able to successfully procure or retain government-sponsored contracts, which could negatively impact our revenue.
    To facilitate our ability to procure or retain government-sponsored contracts, we rely in part on establishing and maintaining relationships with officials of various government agencies, primarily at the state and local level but also including federal agencies. These relationships enable us to maintain and renew existing contracts and obtain new contracts and referrals. The effectiveness of our relationships may be reduced or eliminated with changes in the personnel holding various government offices or staff positions. We also may lose key personnel who have these relationships, and such personnel may not be subject to non-compete or non-solicitation covenants. Any failure to establish, maintain or manage relationships with government and agency personnel may hinder our ability to procure or retain government-sponsored contracts, and could negatively impact our revenue.
    pg 22

    http://www.streetinsider.com/dr/news.php?id=10902699#toc94542_2

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  6. A horrific 2007 death which was reported under Mentor oversight.

    By Brian R. Ballou
    Globe Staff / December 6, 2007
    Eight years in foster care death
    “Dontel Jeffers endured excruciating pain in the last hours of his brief life, according to doctors. Yesterday, the only person held accountable for his death, his foster mother, was sentenced to a minimum of eight years in prison.”

    “Massachusetts Mentor, which screened Stephen, agreed last year to pay an undisclosed amount of money to settle a wrongful-death case filed by Dontel’s parents, Christal Claiborne and Elary Jeffers, who were not married and were estranged at the time of his death.
    Richard Nangle, spokesman for DSS, declined to comment yesterday.”
    http://archive.boston.com/news/local/articles/2007/12/06/eight_years_in_foster_care_death/

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  7. I have to subscribe.
    March 5, 2014
    MENTOR co-founder defends track record

    By CHRIS CASSIDY | Page 5
    A founding board member of the MENTOR Network defended the organization yesterday despite court records showing DCF’s investigators supported reports of abuse or neglect against foster homes overseen by its local subsidiary — Massachusetts MENTOR.
    “I think given the organization’s history over 30-plus years with literally thousands of very, very difficult cases, I think the track record is very good,” said Gregory Torres, who was a founding board member in 1980 and served as president and…
    » Download full article, 371 words ($3.95)

    http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=BNHB&p_theme=bnhb&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_field_fselect-0=&p_text_fselect-0=MENTOR+co-founder+defends+track+record&s_dispstring=all%28MENTOR+co-founder+defends+track+record%29&p_field_date-0=YMD_date&p_params_date-0=date:B,E&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&xcal_useweights=no

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