published Thursday, February 25th, 2010

State pulls girls from foster care after riot

More than a dozen girls find themselves in limbo after their foster care center lost its contract with Georgia's Division of Family and Children Services.

"We are going to find other places for them within 30 days," said Kelli Clark, president and co-founder of the Downing Clark Center in Adairsville, Ga., about seven miles from Calhoun.

"We have some girls that will be difficult to place elsewhere, but we are going to do our very best to work with (the Division of Family and Children Services) to find a place for them," she said.

The children are being removed after a Jan. 4 incident in which one of the girls made a prank call to 911 and a riot erupted when Gordon County Sheriff's deputies arrived, Mrs. Clark said. Twenty girls were arrested, she said.

In a news release, Gordon County Sheriff Mitch Ralston said deputies responding to the call "found the resident juveniles and young adults out of control, divided into opposing groups, and displaying hostility toward the few staff members on site as well as the officers."

Dena Smith, spokeswoman for the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, said the department did a review of the facility and had concerns other than the riot incident.

"There are no further details to go into," she said. "We make a decision based on our reviews. In this case, we made the decision to terminate the contract."

The Downing Clark Center will remain open, Ms. Clark said.

"We are not closing, we are just not taking DFCS kids anymore," she said.

The center, located on 25 acres of land, opened in 2005 to serve as a residential treatment program for young girls with serious emotional, behavioral and mental challenges.

On Jan. 4, a couple of girls had an altercation, Ms. Clark said. One threatened to call 911 and, although not allowed to have cell phones in the center, one of the girls had snuck one in with the help of her mother.

"She called and said there was a domestic violence situation," said Ms. Clark.

ABOUT THE CENTER

The Downing Clark Center is a residential treatment center in Adairsville, Ga., that includes an academic and job training program for girls ages six to 17 with serious emotional, behavioral and mental challenges. Information is at http://downingclark.com.

Soon after, she said, 17 deputies came in, aggravating the situation.

"They were very harsh with our girls, physically and verbally, and we have mentally challenged girls here, so when they came in, it began to cause our girls to get extremely agitated and upset," she said.

Gordon County Chief Deputy Robert Paris, who was among the deputies that responded to Downing Clark on Jan. 4, said "our deputies did not use any abusive language nor did they behave in an unprofessional manner."

about Perla Trevizo...

Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...

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