Catholic Charities takes steps to correct mistakes

October 25, 2011

HOUSTON — Catholic Charities of Galveston-Houston, a social service organization that has aided thousands of unaccompanied children for 24 years, is publically taking responsibility for lapses in reporting a July 1 incident at St. Michael’s Home for Children. Catholic Charities has terminated staff and begun to take corrective internal actions to protect all children entrusted to its care.

The agency has hired Praesidium, a nationally recognized abuse risk agency, to assess its programs and make recommendations for improvements that will better safeguard children in Catholic Charities’ residential facilities.

The move to hire Praesidium came after errors were made in the handling of a July 1 incident at St. Michael’s Home for Children, a program that temporarily shelters children who have entered the United States unaccompanied by family members. 

On July 1, at least two children in the St. Michael’s Shelter Program were engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior. One of the children was sexually assaulted by at least one older child on July 1, and also reported being sexually abused or assaulted previously by a second older child. No adults were involved in the sexual activity.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services was contacted July 1 after staff learned of the incident. 

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services which sponsors the program and provides federal funding for the children, also conducted an investigation of both the incident and the response by Catholic Charities. The ORR has issued a report critical of Catholic Charities, citing mistakes made by the agency in its handling of the incident. Catholic Charities is working with ORR to resolve the issues cited by the federal agency. 

Catholic Charities has also taken a number of other corrective actions, including: providing additional training to all employees of St. Michael’s Homes; strengthening the program oversight role of the Director of Quality Assurance; restructuring the relationship between counseling services, legal services and St. Michael’s program; correcting state licensing standard violations. 

Catholic Charities has served the social and human service needs of the Greater Houston communities for more than 60 years. Leaders with the agency have expressed deep sorrow that a child was harmed and said this incident does not reflect the priorities, history or culture of Catholic Charities. 

“Catholic Charities is committed to continuing its service to immigrant children,” said Percy Creuzot, chair of the agency’s board. “Mistakes that were made by some are being addressed comprehensively so that we can assure the safety and security of those placed in our care.” †