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LOCAL

DCYF asks for 'pause' in building of addition at St. Mary's Home for Children

Tom Mooney
Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE – After months of upheaval and uncertainty at St. Mary’s Home for Children, the state Department of Children Youth & Families says it is asking that construction of a 12-bed addition at the North Providence psychiatric center be halted for now. 

“This is a pause in construction, not a termination,” said DCYF spokeswoman Damaris Teixeira. “The reason for the pause is that DCYF is waiting for additional leadership and organizational decisions to be made by St. Mary’s” and the agency which has taken over its management, Tides Family Services. 

Frank McMahon, a spokesman for Tides, said in a statement to The Journal that Tides was completing a full assessment of St. Mary’s services and supported the halt in construction. 

He also confirmed that St. Mary's CEO Charles Montorio-Archer, hired in January to stabilize the agency, was no longer working under Tides new management plan.

Teixeira said the DCYF asked on Thursday that the state Division of Purchases direct St. Mary’s to pause construction on the addition “after careful consideration.” 

“At this point, our focus is on supporting St. Mary’s and Tides’ collaboration efforts,” Teixeira said. “We will continue to monitor the situation before we determine when construction will start.” 

In-depth: What's been happening at St. Mary's

St. Mary’s announced last month it would be removing the 10 children remaining in the treatment home, which the DCYF had contracted with since 2019 to care for some of the neediest of children in its care. 

The move came a week after Tides Family Services agreed to take over the day-to-day operations of the home, despite having no experience running a psychiatric treatment center, and five months after a scathing report by the state Child Advocate’s Office on the home’s deficiencies. 

Why it matters:

The report found disorder common in the facility, instances of drug use by children, staff assaulting children – some workers were fired and criminally charged – and a management hierarchy that admonished staff for raising concerns.   

The report also found an unsanctioned arrangement where the home welcomed a motorcycle group to stem the common problem in congregate settings of children running away and facing the threat of sex traffickers. 

The state stopped placing children in St. Mary’s last November.  

The state for years has suffered a shortage of in-state psychiatric beds for children, especially for adolescent girls – prompting DCYF to send dozens of them out of state or, as the U.S. attorney said in May, to languish in psychiatric hospitals for months at a time. 

U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha said, “Rhode Island has failed, miserably and repeatedly, to meet its legal obligations to children with mental health and developmental disabilities.” 

And Cunha threatened to seek possible legal action if the DCYF didn’t correct the situation. 

The $11 million, 12-bed addition at St. Mary’s is to help alleviate the situation.