Part 5: The city responds

Four different bodies provide oversight of DC YouthLink: the Children’s Youth Investment Trust, DYRS, PLC, and ERCPCP.

The Trust is now known for allowing a former councilmember to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from youth programs.

DYRS recently hired a former nonprofit director, Louis Henderson, to help monitor DC YouthLink. Henderson was recently under investigation for allegedly misusing funds from an almost $300,000 city contract. He denied the charges, but due to “resource constraints,” the city auditor’s office never finished its investigation, according to a department spokesperson. A phone call to Henderson’s office was not returned.

PLC and ERCPCP also monitor and run the program, controlling where the youths and the dollars go. Rev. Donald Isaac, a well-connected former Chief Financial Officer of the D.C. Council, directs ERCPCP. Frederick Phillips founded PLC decades ago, and oversees its DC YouthLink portfolio. The Trust, PLC, and ERCPCP referred us to DYRS.

Over a series of weeks, we reached out repeatedly to the agency for an interview. DYRS would only agree to an off-the-record briefing, and would not allow our cameras inside. When asked why, spokeswoman LaShon Beamon would say no more than, “because we’re not doing it.” DYRS Director Neil Stanley agreed to attend the briefing, but then backed out at the last minute without explanation.

Claims of improvement

In previous conversations, Beamon insisted that the agency has drastically improved DC YouthLink since last year. As evidence, she claimed that so far in 2012, no youths have been killed or charged with a homicide. DYRS also says 83 percent of its enrollees were not re-convicted between April and December of last year. Additionally, they say DC YouthLink has significantly increased the quantity of services each enrollee receives.

The quality of those services, however, is another question. Moreover, re-arrests of enrollees remain about as common as ever. Compare the program’s first and latest performance reports for reference.

And of the more than 750 youths served by the program, only 12 went on to higher education. Just 42 have held on to unsubsidized employment.

DYRS Chief of Staff Chris Shorter also claimed that while DC YouthLink has grown, it always has held service providers accountable. He says no money has been paid out without proper documentation. This appears to be false. Despite the very limited access that the agency afforded us, ABC 7 News found evidence of tens of thousands of dollars paid without adequate documentation.

Confidential letters clearly indicate an attempt to recoup some of that money.

Ultimately, sources close to DC YouthLink gave mixed reviews as to how it has progressed. Some said it had made significant strides, others did not. Regardless, even those who noted change said that by far the biggest actions came after ABC 7 News started posing questions eight months ago.

According to its website, DC YouthLink is currently in the process of assembling an entirely new pool of service providers. For the first time, a panel of private citizens and government officials will select the groups based on their proposals (though ERCPCP and PLC will continue to administer the program). The process should wrap up by the end of this month.

In January, DYRS hired an additional staff member for oversight of DC YouthLink. This summer, the agency launched an Office of Parent and Family affairs, complete with a liaison to field complaints. However, according to one government source, those who work there feel marginalized with little influence.

The changes were due in part to the pressing of D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham, who has worked with ABC 7 News throughout our investigation. He has held oversight hearings and taken serious questions to the agency’s leadership.

“We heard [DC YouthLink] described as an ATM machine for service providers,” he wrote in an email. “There was very little rehabilitation happening, and a lot of money being spent.”

DYRS statement

Throughout our investigation, DYRS has operated with limited transparency. An attorney for ABC 7 News had to file a threatening legal letter to get the agency to release public records. To date, it has not provided us with documents from our request. PLC and ERCPCP have also refused to release any of their reports. DYRS did, however, provide ABC 7 News with a statement:

We are very proud of the great progress being made by community, nonprofit and government partners that assist in providing services to youth through the DC YouthLink initiative. No other similar jurisdiction has achieved so much in so little time.

We acknowledge that none of the agency’s programs and services is a finished product and that there is always room for improvement. However, we have established and will continue to build strong reporting systems and tools to increase our level of accountability, transparency and effectiveness.

Ideally no youth in the District would come into contact with the delinquency system, but if a youth does need services through a juvenile justice system partner, we believe the portfolio of services being offered to court-involved youth in the District of Columbia has vastly improved over the past several years. We are providing youth with opportunities and experiences that they would not otherwise have and we believe the District of Columbia’s system is quickly becoming one of the best systems to support positive life outcomes for court-involved youth in the country.

DYRS’ growth and continued reform is evidenced by the positive outcomes of the youth and families we serve. They are earning trade certificates, finishing high school, entering college and getting jobs. They are also positively engaged with other caring adults in their communities.
Our most recent publications speak to these and other strides.

This calendar year, we have not lost a DYRS youth to a homicide and have not had a DYRS youth charged with homicide, however dozens have gone on to college, earn GEDs, high school diplomas and vocational certifications. These benchmarks are not the only way in which we gauge our progress but they absolutely speak to the positive work being done by community organizations and other DC YouthLink partners.

Part 1: A city program's deadly failures
Part 2: Exciting beginnings, bungled implementation Part 3: A lack of services and accountability Part 4: Charges of cronyism Part 5: The city responds - "We are very proud"
Part 6: A call for action