IES closes Valley centers

The deadline to remove the last of the minor undocumented children in shelters and foster care from International Educational Services passed Saturday in the Rio Grande Valley.

The deadline to remove the last of the minor undocumented children in shelters and foster care from International Educational Services passed Saturday in the Rio Grande Valley.

IES has yet to publicly acknowledge why it is closing its operations, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement — which decided not to renew the nonprofit’s grant funding — won’t provide any reasoning behind that decision.

The only statement offered, after repeated requests for comment last week, said that IES has operated short-term emergency shelter care, residential care and foster care programs since 1988, and has successfully served thousands of children in its shelter and foster care programs, describing itself as a model program for other agencies providing similar services.

“After 30 years of successful service, IES programs will close on March 31, 2018,” IES said in the statement. “IES extends a sincere thank you to the hundreds of dedicated staff, foster parents and the community for their commitment and support of IES’ Mission throughout the years.”

Cary Zayas, a spokeswoman with the agency who did not respond to multiple calls and emails last week, emphasized in an interview given to the Los Fresnos News that no embezzlement or criminal charges have occurred or taken place at IES.

Another IES spokesperson, Robin Diane, on Friday did not provide answers to multiple emailed questions about why IES is closing, saying only “I don’t have that info today.”

Victoria A. Palmer, a spokeswoman with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Administration for Children and Families, also would not answer questions about the reason behind the non-renewal of grant funding.

“ORR has no additional comment on the closing of IES,” Palmer said twice via email when directly asked about ORR’s decision not to renew the grant funding.

 

PUBLIC RECORDS

 

Texas Department of Health and Human Services records indicate that IES has a total of nine facilities, four shelters and five child placement agencies in Cameron, Hidalgo and Nueces counties.

The majority of the facilities are in Brownsville, Los Fresnos and Harlingen, but IES also has a presence in San Benito, Weslaco and Driscoll.

Those records indicate that all four shelters have a capacity to house 809 children.

However, those records also show that during the past two years, the Texas Department of Health and Human Services has inspected the facilities 349 times and discovered a total of 116 deficiencies that include inappropriate sexual behavior, lapses in foster care home oversight, problems with administering medical care and the improper punishment of children.

The majority of the sexual misconduct complaints occurred at the Los Fresnos shelter, though inspectors found instances at the San Benito location as well.

In one instance, the inspector wrote that “staff failed to use self control, prudent judgment and competency by making inappropriate sexual remarks to clients in care regarding her personal life.”

In another, a staff member gave personal information to a resident, questioned a resident about her gender and made an inappropriate comment about the incident, records show.

In that same facility, inspectors noted that sexual activity was occurring when staff was not present, including an incident where a youth was “One to One” and staff did not witness that youth displaying inappropriate sexual behavior, records show.

In another case, the inspector noted that a child’s rights were violated when a staff member had inappropriate contact with a child in care, citing a section of Texas law that deals with child abuse and neglect, including sexual abuse.

“A child’s rights were violated when a staff member had inappropriate contact with a child in care,” the inspector wrote.

At the San Benito shelter, staff was aware of inappropriate sexual behavior and simply ignored it, according to an inspection report.

“There was a lack of supervision as a resident in care was acting out sexually with other residents,” according to the inspection report. “After residents reported it, staff did not address the situation and the behavior continued.”

The inspection reports also included an instance in which staff ignored the fact that a teen mom hit a toddler and an instance of finding an unsecured weapon in a foster home.

In two instances, the inspectors noted that staff was improperly punishing children by making them sit quietly for up to four hours.

 

ECONOMIC IMPACT

 

While IES is being tight-lipped about its closure, one immediate impact is that hundreds of people lost jobs, and Los Fresnos is bracing for an economic impact from those lost jobs.

Los Fresnos City Manager Mark Milum said the city doesn’t have a firm count on how many former IES employees lived in Los Fresnos or commuted to the city.

“It’s hard to quantify except that naturally when you have that many employees that are not going to be in a community on a daily basis, that definitely has an effect,” Milum said, describing the layoffs as having a huge impact on the city.

The result of those employees not being in Los Fresnos on a daily basis will be a loss in sales tax revenue.

There’s also a building-use angle.

“There are five different properties here in the city. That will impact us,” Milum said. “But we have people looking every day for offices and different needs, and hopefully we can get them used.”

As for those who lost their jobs, Sally Perez, lead monitor with WorkforceSolutionsCameronCounty, said the Texas Workforce Commission has been here to offer preliminary training on how to use the TWC’s online system for job searches.

While Perez said she can’t say how many people IES laid off or what facilities at which those folks worked, she does know how many notices WorkforceSolutionsCameronCounty has sent out to former IES employees.

“What I can tell you is we reached out to 265 individuals for the first layoff and we’re going to be reaching out to another 285,” Perez said, explaining that the first round of notices included the Weslaco facility.

Perez said when it receives notification that individuals are going to be laid off, Workforce Solutions contacts them about an orientation.

On April 5, one orientation is scheduled to be at the BrownsvilleEventsCenter.

She said Workforce Solutions offers an array of services, including vocational and educational opportunities, resource rooms and help with TWC’s job-matching system.

WorkforceSolutionsCameronCounty has two locations in Brownsville and one in Harlingen.

“We are here to assist,” Perez said.

To reach the Brownsville locations, call (956) 546-3141, and call (956) 423-9266 for the Harlingen office.

 mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com