DC YouthLink investigation: Full story
Mentoring has been by far the most common offering of the program. Teens also receive tutors, job training, physical activity, and more. Every enrollee should get something. But according to an internal letter obtained by ABC 7 News, almost 30 percent of youths west of the river had no services in place whatsoever last year.
Of those who did get services, many faced shortages. Confidential records show extra supervision was requested for one young man with an extensive history of gun charges. The request was denied. Another teen had his mentor hours cut, and began getting suspended from school
All in all, dozens of participants had problems with services, according to interviews with their parents, mentors, or the youths themselves. While some blame a lack of funds, others blame bureaucracy.
Since 2010, DYRS has poured more than $14 million into DC YouthLink. Yet last year, only about $4.35 out of every $10 actually went to services while the rest went to administration, according to an analysis by ABC 7 News. According to the American Institute on Philanthropy, the best programs operate almost twice as efficiently.
Of the remaining $4.35, less than $1.10 went to providers that have not been cited for failures related to documentation or quality of services. DYRS insists that it addresses problems as soon as they arise, but parents, mentors, and youths spoke repeatedly of breakdowns that were never resolved. Furthermore, most of the issues raised below were still going on about a year into the program.
With regards to documentation, Lead the Way Foundation received $541,705 in DC YouthLink expenditures last year, but was only adequately reporting 15 percent of its work for the program, according to one sample of its files. Marvin Lee, the nonprofit’s director, would not return multiple calls to his cell phone for comment.
Another group was adequately documenting just a third of its work for the program, and received $367,218 in 2011. These organizations, and others, made additional money in 2010, but DYRS officials could not produce documentation of how much.
The quality of services also left much to be desired. Children, Children, Children got more money than any other provider last year – almost a million dollars. The for-profit company received some of the most challenging and violent teens in the program, yet a sampling of its files revealed its mentors were spending valuable time playing video games with youths and taking them to Burger King.
Its tutors were not even collecting students’ report cards or other evaluation tools, so no one could tell “if actual progress was being made or if youth were simply just ‘doing stuff,’” according to one report.
When reached by ABC 7 News on his cell phone, the company’s director, Henry Culbreth Jr., said that “as a matter of protocol, I do not speak to the media.” Children, Children, Children and several other providers were also cited for randomly pairing teens with mentors and tutors, as opposed to matching them by skills.
CHOICE, Inc. was one of DC YouthLink’s top education providers last year. However, reports reveal it didn’t even have adequate instructors with traditional qualifications. When asked how the nonprofit intended to educate some of the most difficult students in the country without adequate teachers, board president Rev. Ed Cole replied, “I haven’t gotten any complaints about that, so there’s no reason for me to make a comment.”
CHOICE received $331,732 in 2011, but wasn’t adequately documenting 31 percent of its work for DC YouthLink, according to one sample of its files. The organization also fired a high level staffer this year after he allegedly had sex with a student.
About half of DC YouthLink’s 756 participants also received GPS monitoring in 2011. In June, more than one in three of them violated curfew. One participant, Amber Kelsey, did so repeatedly, her grandmother says, but city officials never did anything about it. Parents of other youths echoed her concerns.
In addition to programmatic problems, DC YouthLink suffered from operational issues as well. In some instances, documents show services were approved by caseworkers, but providers say the program later would not pay for them. It also compensated nonprofits months after they submitted invoices and gave providers incorrect phone numbers and addresses on the whereabouts of youths.
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