Report: Florida youth facilities report staff sexual misconduct

Nearly five percent of youth in Florida juvenile facilities reported sexual victimization by staff in 2012, according to estimates the U.S. Department of Justice released last month.

The highest rate of misconduct was reported at Palm Beach Juvenile Correction Facility in West Palm Beach, where an estimated 16 percent of youth reported sexual activity with workers. Youth Services International Inc. operates the facility and eight other programs in the state.

More than 10 percent of youth at Bristol Youth Academy, operated by Universal Health Services Inc., reported staff misconduct.

These figures were released weeks before the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice began investigating allegations that two female workers at a Fort Lauderdale facility had sexual relationships with teenaged men in the program.

AMIkids Greater Fort Lauderdale fired a female staffer Monday for having an inappropriate relationship with a young man formerly in the program, when he was an adult and no longer at the facility, according to AMIkids spokesperson Sherri Ulleg. DJJ is investigating allegations that the staffer, whom the agency identified as Nicole Persaud, had a child with a program youth and is currently involved with another young man. AMIkids has also suspended an intern, identified in DJJ records as Desiree Hall, while the agency reviews allegations that she sent explicit texts and photos to a teen in the program.

Justice department estimates were based on 573 youth surveyed in 36 Florida facilities between February and September of last year. The study did not include AMIkids’ Fort Lauderdale facility, and youth surveyed at three of the group’s other Florida locations did not cite any sexual misconduct.

At AMIkids Beaufort in South Carolina, 20 percent of youth reported sexual activity with staff, more than double the national estimate of 7.7 percent. Fifteen youth at the site responded to the survey.

Neither AMIkids nor the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice received allegations of abuse at the facility during the time period the survey covered, Ulleg said. In Florida, the Department of Juvenile Justice reviews AMIkids programs annually, and staff immediately report suspected abuse, she said.

“Going forward, following the DOJ study and these circumstances, we’re looking at ways to strengthen our efforts further,” Ulleg said.

Nationally, 1,390 youth reported sexual victimization by facility staff. More than 92 percent of these victims said a female worker was responsible, and more than 85 percent said misconduct happened more than once.

The survey defined all sexual activity between youth and staff as victimization, including being shown explicit material. Figures were based on responses from 8,707 youth randomly sampled from 326 facilities across the country, including both state-run sites and those operated by private contractors.