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A New Name for Glen Mills Isn’t Enough

By Christina Wilson Remlin

Photo by Jessica Griffin, Philadelphia Inquirer

Earlier this month the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that The Glen Mills Schools —shut down in 2019 after a child-abuse and cover-up scandal — is seeking to reopen under a new name. This is a school Children’s Rights knows all too well.

Several years ago, prompted by ongoing reports of abuse, we conducted our own investigation into the harms done to children living in residential facilities in Pennsylvania. We looked at hundreds of facilities and sadly found many instances and patterns of maltreatment – but Glen Mills stood out for its entrenched culture of secret violence and abuse.

By the time Children’s Rights and our partners at the Education Law Center published Unsafe and Uneducated, in 2018, just months before it was shut down, we had dire concerns about Glen Mills. At the time, Glen Mills housed youth who had been dually adjudicated in the dependency and delinquency systems. The school not only has a large number of incidents of staff physical maltreatment but — as a Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (PA-DHS) violation report noted several years later, were “belligerent” and “aggressive” with PA-DHS staff and state police who were investigating 13 allegations of child abuse.

The reviewers for our report documented 16 incidents of staff physical maltreatment at Glen Mills from March 2014 to January 2017, which equates to one incident of child maltreatment by staff every other month. The litany of horrors children were subjected to at Glen Mills are difficult to hear: staff members striking a child in the face, slapping them for being disrespectful, slamming a child’s head against a countertop, punching a child in the ribs, hitting a child’s head against a fire extinguisher.    

Despite the numerous violations related to physical maltreatment, PA-DHS did not revoke a single certificate of compliance for a Glen Mills School facility or replace any facility’s certificate of compliance with a provisional certificate.

In light of these dangers and the failure of staff to deescalate these situations, Unsafe and Uneducated recommended that PA-DHS ensure that staff at residential facilities provide the necessary oversight and supervision of the children and be trained in, at a minimum, trauma-informed care, behavior management, and crisis intervention.

Our report at the time recognized that the ultimate responsibility lies with PA-DHS, which has the sole authority to award contracts and to ensure that staff at the facilities be trained to appropriately interact with the children in their care. Our report also recommended that PA-DHS avoid the unnecessary institutionalization of children whose needs could be met in the community by engaging with families, increasing the numbers of children placed in communities, and precisely defining the circumstances in which congregate care would be used. Those recommendations remain vital today. Our new report, Families over Facilities, which Children’s Rights issued earlier this year, lays out a roadmap for ending the institutionalization of children once and for all, and reinvesting our tax dollars in community-based services and supports that can keep children safe at home and families together.

The people rebranding Glen Mills with the hope of getting back into business in Pennsylvania must understand that a new name is not enough. They must pay close attention to their dangerous past life, honor the children who were hurt by learning from it, and set up structures to make sure history does not repeat itself.

Christina Wilson Remlin is Lead Counsel at Children’s Rights.

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