DPHHS Director Defends Agency’s Handling of Abuse Case

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – The head of the state Department of Public Health and Human Services on Monday defended her agency’s handling of abuse allegations at a private residential treatment center for juveniles.

Department director Joan Miles acknowledged the agency failed to meet a deadline that led to the dismissal of an administrative appeal involving officials at the now closed Swan Valley Youth Academy, north of Condon. She said such a hearing would have accomplished little since the facility had already voluntarily closed following two department investigations.

The Swan Valley Youth Academy was back in the news this month after former director Chris Perkins was promoted to head of Maryland’s juvenile detention facilities. Meanwhile, the Montana Advocacy Program had obtained the release of one of the investigative reports, which had not previously been made public.

Media attention surrounding the report prompted Perkins to resign last week.

The report provided some new details on the investigation and raised questions about why the department missed a 2006 deadline during the administrative appeal. The Montana Advocacy Program has been critical of authorities for failing to seek criminal prosecution in the case.

On Monday, Miles said her agency left criminal charges up to the Lake County Attorney’s office. The prosecutor’s office has not returned multiple calls seeking comment on the case.

Miles said Perkins, who was director before the facility closed in early 2006, could have been placed on a departmental list if found guilty during the administrative hearing process. Regardless, his involvement in the case should turn up in background checks, she said.

According to the newly released report, investigators documented abuse involving 14 juveniles and found humiliation and cursing were part of life at the Swan Valley facility. The report says an anonymous staff member later identified as Perkins was aware of the abuse and failed to stop it, and also participated in some instances.

Perkins has denied the allegations.

Last summer, the Division of Criminal Investigation at the Montana Department of Justice prepared an investigation and gave it to the Lake County attorney. The document is considered confidential since it involves a criminal investigation.