Another Way Shelter Headed for a Meltdown?
2008-07-27 at 7:14 pm · Filed under Vox Populi
Last week my column revealed the all-too-common mistreatment of children in abuse shelters around the country. The article highlighted two incidents involving a Florida shelter — a former director who was cited for contributing to the delinquency of minors, and the sexual assault of a 4-year-old girl. [www.ifeminists.net/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.360]
Following publication of that essay, several former employees of Another Way came forward to tell me there was much, much more to the story. What follows is an account of three Queen Bees, a demoralized and depleted staff, and a shelter in disarray. The sordid tale calls to mind the old saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Another Way, located in the northern Florida town of Lake City, has a gleaming facility with 35 beds and is headed by a director paid the tidy sum of $95,000. The staff consists of 30 persons and up to 20 volunteers. Over the last 2 years, the shelter has been plagued by an epidemic of staff “resignations” — 150 employees, more or less.
The former staffers shared with me eye-witness accounts of prison camp-like working conditions, misappropriated shelter assets, falsified documents, sex discrimination, illicit drug activities, horrific child abuse, illegal cover-ups, complacent oversight agencies, and more.
The shell-shocked women told me many of their former co-workers are unqualified, untrained, and even under-age. Some employees are required to work overtime without pay. Many are subjected to random tongue-lashings and at-will terminations.
A few felt set up for failure. One staffer, ordered to pull together extensive tax records on short notice, recounted her ordeal: “Toward the end of my deadline, I felt like I was going to have a mental break down…There [are] no words that can express the mental anguish that I was made to feel throughout the day.”
There were widespread reports of management using the shelter van and other resources for personal use. Staff training records were known to be falsified. When state auditors came to town, the managers would pull all-nighters to make sure the records were brought up to snuff.
The Queen Bees went out of their way to avoid helping abused men. One employee revealed, “I was personally instructed to do everything possible to discourage males to report abuse.”
Oddly, fewer than 15% of residents came to the facility with any physical injuries. Some of the residents had been charged with beating up their boyfriends and thrown in the clink. So shelter staff worked their feminine charms to procure their release and hide the law-breakers from their probation officers.
Druggies openly plied their habit. “I, on numerous occasions reported illegal drug use that I had witnessed take place on Shelter property and often my complaints were ignored,” a former employee revealed. “We always knew not to call the law unless you were prepared to be unemployed.”
One appalled woman described the shelter’s cover-up this way: “We’re here to empower women, not teach them how to lie, cheat, steal, and manipulate the system.”
Most troubling were the recurring incidents of child neglect and abuse — all swept under the rug. These are just three examples:
– Returning to the 4-year-old who was sexually assaulted by the 9-year-old girl, it turned out her perpetrator had been involved in inappropriate sex acts with another child at the shelter just two months before. That was never reported to the authorities.
– A one-month-old was left unattended in a baby swing. Despite the infant sobbing all day, a shelter manager upbraided the concerned employee with the rebuke, “We don’t tell these women how to parent their children.”
– An 8-year-old boy became angry and started to cry. Someone stuck him in a closed van in the middle of summer. Advised of this barbaric punishment, the manager ordered the boy left in the vehicle until he “decided to stop throwing a fit.”
Some incidents were reported to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. But the group never saw reason to take action. Maybe that’s because the FCADV director, Tiffany Carr, is known to be buddy-buddy with the Another Way head.
After they were expelled like a worn-out pack mule, many former workers experienced post-traumatic stress syndrome. Some required psychiatric treatment.
One ex-worker revealed to me, “They took advantage of their knowledge of my history of being an abuse victim and my desperate circumstances to intimidate me into accepting the abuse that they heaped on me.”
Comparing her employer to a perp, another woman reflected, “I later realized that like a battered woman my loyalties were still to my abuser.”
No wonder so many victims of abuse would never dream of going to an abuse shelter.