Friday, May 04, 2007

Texas Youth Commission Scandal: A Crisis of Leadership


An investigation into sexual abuse and mismanagement at the Texas Youth Commission has led to the dismissal of 66 employees with records of felony charges or arrests, including one convicted of homicide and another who had pleaded guilty to attempted murder, the state official leading the inquiry reported Wednesday.

The employees included guards, case workers and maintenance staff members, most of them in regular contact with hundreds of troubled youths. Officials said they had no information on whether any of the 66 were accused of harming youths in their custody.

"The smoke signals were clearly visible; the dots should have been connected," said Mr. Kimbrough, faulting a variety of watchdogs, from the youth commission headquarters itself to a West Texas prosecutor, the governor’s staff and legislative officials.

The scandal broke in mid-February with news accounts of a shelved 2005 Texas Rangers report confirming sexual contacts between confined youths and a school principal and assistant superintendent at the West Texas State School in Pyote. Both resigned without charges but were recently indicted. Accusations of abuse at other youth centers came later.

Mr. Kimbrough, a former deputy state attorney general and director of homeland security, was named by Gov. Rick Perry in March as conservator of the youth commission.

This disturbing information, reported on the New York Times website, brings to light a serious concern about those safeguarding American youth — hiring procedures, background checks, inter- and intra-agency collaboration and ongoing performance management.

At minimum, background checks should include fingerprinting checks on both a state and federal level, employment verification checks, integrity and social aptitude testing, drug testing, resume and application verification including educational and military service. These background checks must be documented in personnel files and numerous disciplines within an agency should be involved, including human resources, security and appropriate levels of management based on the position.

As a leadership and security educator who has personally conducted, managed and recommended background checks for security personnel and educators, I find this scandal appalling. Background checks should be considered the most fundamental element of a hiring practice. Comprehensive background checks of individuals who will be in contact with youth in any capacity are absolutely critical. It is beyond comprehension how a state agency could have allowed such negligence.

All Americans must remain vigilant, demanding that those entrusted with positions of authority act with honesty and integrity. We must always remember the question asked by Juvenal in 2nd Century Rome:

"Who will watch the watchers?"
New York Times Article Click here to visit site

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