County wants group home license revoked

COVINGTON - The Newton County Board of Commissioners is asking the Georgia Department of Human Resources to revoke the license of a group home for juveniles on Fieldstone Court.

Oasis Care Center Inc., located at 2858 Fieldstone Court, near the Rockdale County border, is in violation of numerous DHR regulations and "constitutes a nuisance and threat to public safety and health because the children are undersupervised, disorderly and menacing to the neighbors," according to a letter sent to the DHR by the Newton County Attorney's Office.

Citing records from the Newton County Sheriff's Office, reports from neighbors and the DHR's own inspection and investigation records, the letter lists 27 violations by staff and youth in the homes.

Neighbors have reported that youths stalk and threaten physical harm to elderly residents, vandalize vehicles in the neighborhood and "show hostile and aggressive demeanor, obstruct traffic and try to intimidate residents."

In one of the more serious incidents, Laurah Hensley, whose elderly parents live next door to the group home, said three of the residents harassed her children during a visit to their grandparents in August.

One of the residents exposed himself to her 6-year-old son, she said.

Hensley's husband David reported that one of the youths threatened him saying "he would get his friends, Smith & Wesson, to pay me a visit."

In November, Hensley's parents' home was burglarized, vandalized and partially burned, and their pickup truck was stolen. Damages were estimated in excess of $80,000.

Three days later, the pickup was found abandoned in Douglas County at the home of one of the three youths who had allegedly harassed the Hensleys' grandkids. All three were missing from the group home at the time of the crime and have been charged with multiple felonies, according to the county's letter to DHR.

The county alleges that staff members are incapable of keeping track of their charges and have reported numerous missing residents.

DHR's own investigations found that staff failed to report numerous incidents, including physical abuse, the termination of an employee for pushing a resident after a resident struck an employee and the arrest of a resident who ran away and violated his probation.

DHR also found that staff failed to notify the prescribing physician of dosage errors, drug reactions, missed doses and ineffective psychotropic medications.

Also, DHR investigations revealed that staff failed to document complete work histories, educational qualifications and references for some employees, and failed keep a policy manual at the facility.

"We bring these facts to your attention because you are the licensing agency for the State of Georgia and have the power to close this group home ... The Newton County Board of Commissioners asks DHR to close this group home and remove its residents to another place," the county's letter states. "We believe there is ample evidence that 2858 Fieldstone Court is a public nuisance. We hope that DHR revokes the license of this group home and thereby spares the taxpayers of Newton County the expense of taking legal action against Oasis Care Center Inc."

DHR Spokeswoman Edna Jackson said the letter has not been received, but that DHR issued a notice of nonrenewal of the facility's temporary license Monday based on prior investigations of the home.

The nonrenewal will go into effect within 30 days, she said.

The home's operator may file a written appeal within 10 days, Jackson said. The appeal would be heard before an administrative law judge.

Representatives from Oasis Care Center could not be reached for comment.

Local law enforcement officers, school and other county officials have been grappling with the problem of group homes for some time.

The Citizen reported in June that county officials are becoming increasingly aggravated that the residents of these homes are using county resources, but the county has limited regulatory powers over these homes, the majority of which are located in residential areas.

"It's a county problem," said District 3 Commissioner Ester Fleming, who represents the residents in Fieldstone Court. "But it's a DHR problem because they license these homes."

Children are sent to these homes primarily through two agencies: the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).

DFCS placements are typically children who are in emergency situations, a DHR spokeswoman told the Citizen in June. In some cases, there are no foster homes available in which to place the child. Other times, there may be sibling groups who want to stay together and have no other place to go. The homes may serve as a temporary residence until a family member can take care of the child, she said.

DJJ placements have been assigned through the court system. Some are on probation with Juvenile Court, others are status offenders, a department spokesman said. Youths may not be able to return home or may need clinical treatment and family counseling.

But Hensley, the daughter of the couple whose home was vandalized, said these homes should be treated as businesses.

"I don't think they belong in residential areas," she said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.