The boy’s whimpers, sobs and screams emanated from the other side of the scuffed-up door—“Nooo! No, no, no, no, no no!”—followed by a man’s voice telling the child to stop.
The exchange, captured in gut-wrenching cellphone video obtained by San Jose Inside, memorializes 18 seconds of an Oct. 17 incident in which an employee of an emergency children’s intake center allegedly yanked an 8-year-old severely autistic boy out of a bathroom, tackled him to the hardwood floor and restrained him.
When the door opened, a witness reported seeing the child on a twin bed with the man laying on top of him, holding the boy down.
A host of disturbing reports have been surfacing lately about the Santa Clara County Receiving, Assessment and Intake Center (RAIC), a last-resort placement facility in San Jose for abused children taken from their guardians.
Earlier this month, records show that first-responders rushed to the center after two kids overdosed on meth. Meanwhile, foster parents have been sounding the alarm after hearing about numerous assaults at the processing center and a recent report that a sexually compulsive teenage boy molested a little girl.
Despite years of pushback against the policy, RAIC houses kids of all ages together, instead separating them based on whether they’ve been admitted before or are new to the system. Concerned citizens have also criticized the RAIC for keeping some kids for months on end—in violation of state law—even though the facility is designed for only 24-hour stays before placing kids with relatives, foster parents or a small care homes.
In response to myriad complaints about RAIC, county supervisors Cindy Chavez and Dave Cortese are now calling for its immediate closure. In a Wednesday morning press release demanding a moratorium on the Enborg Lane center, they expressed doubt about its ability to meet the needs of the troubled, vulnerable kids in its care.
Chavez and Cortese, who serve on the county’s Children, Seniors and Families Committee, want the administration to look for alternative sites for an emergency children’s intake and placement center. They placed the matter on the agenda for next week’s Board of Supervisors meeting and expect the county to report back with a list of RAIC alternatives by Nov. 19.
“We have repeatedly expressed our concerns about the RAIC and called for reforms,” Cortese. “One of those reforms, the common-sense separation for younger children from older children, has not been followed.”
Chavez echoed her colleague, saying she’s worried about the people who work at RAIC, too. “We are also concerned about the health and safety of our county staff as they deal with a challenging mission,” she said.
When asked for comment about the reported abuse at RAIC, county Social Services Agency spokeswoman Kayla Cushing declined to disclose any details.
“Confidentiality laws prohibit the county from commenting on any specific allegations of child abuse or on personnel matters,” she wrote in an email. “However, the county takes any allegation of child abuse extremely seriously, and any allegations of misconduct by county staff are immediately and thoroughly investigated.”
Denise Marchu, who leads the county’s Foster and Adoptive Parent Resource Center, said she’s unsurprised by news of RAIC’s proposed shutdown. The facility is ill-equipped to deal with the influx of severely disabled children coming through its doors, she says. And its policy to mix kids from different age groups has long been a point of contention.
“The children that are coming in now have tremendous needs, and I just don’t think that the RAIC is capable of dealing with them,” Marchu said. “I think this really needs to be addressed, and hope that they don’t just put a Band-Aid on it.”
The RAIC was never designed as a shelter, Cortese explained, and isn’t licensed to house kids for any longer than a day. About a decade ago, the county’s Department of Family and Children’s Services began shifting from a group home and shelter-based approach to family-based placements. The RAIC was established in 2012 to process kids, keep them for no more than 24 hours and immediately find them a safe place to stay.
“I was here when the children’s shelter still existed and I was here when it closed,” Cortese said. “And there’s a distinction we became familiar with back then. That is, a RAIC is not a shelter and a shelter is not a RAIC. It’s supposed to be an intake center. But the breakdown is that they can’t just default to using it as a shelter because they don’t feel like they have immediate placement options. It’s not OK.”
Now, the county’s dealing with the same problems that prompted it to close its shelter all those years ago, he added. “A child’s there to be protected from abuse in the first place,” Cortese said. “So when they’re being abused at the RAIC, that’s not good.”
When Chavez approached him earlier this week about how to respond to the reported abuses at the RAIC, Cortese said he advised a “sharp, sudden move.”
“I said let’s just ask the board to declare a moratorium,” he recounted. “Of course we don’t want kids to be unserved, and we’ll see how staff responds. If the moratorium works, I hope it forces the issue and we end up seeing a diversion of those kids into proper placement—even if it’s out of the county.”
Cortese said the ongoing push by him and Chavez for the county to enact certain reforms at RAIC has been “almost like watching a feet-dragging exercise.”
“We’ve been asking for the appropriate facilities for years,” he said. “It makes us feel like, at some point, you need to make a wholesale move as an elected official.”
The situation at the RAIC is both heartbreaking for the kids and a liability issue for the county, Cortese continued. “It’s predictable that if you don’t segregate children properly and don’t house them in healthy circumstances, that you’re going to have unhealthy contacts,” he said. “It’s predictable, but it’s not acceptable.”
The Board of Supervisors will discuss the RAIC moratorium when it meets at 9:30am Tuesday at the County Government Center, 70 W Hedding St., in San Jose.