Late at night September 20, when Davie police officers arrived at the Apollo House, a residential group home for troubled kids, they found staff rushing around a fallen teen. The bleeding wouldn’t stop. A knife had poked through the boy’s side and punctured his lung. EMS rushed him to Memorial Regional Hospital, where he was hurried into surgery.
Police didn’t have to look far for the assailant. The boy had been stabbed by one of his fellow residents.
This violent incident is just another atop a growing stack of troubling reports flowing out of group homes. As New Times revealed in a recent investigation, private companies and nonprofits hired by the state to house troubled and abused kids often stick these children in environments with little support and less supervision, creating a free-for-all atmosphere rife with misbehavior, from brawls to sex trafficking.
In Broward, the nonprofit ChildNet contracts with the state Florida Department of Children and Families to handle all child welfare in the county. In turn, ChildNet subcontracts with smaller entities — for example Chrysalis Health, the for-profit company running Apollo House — to provide housing and care for kids cycling through the court system. The layers of bureaucracy make it difficult to find blame or root out problems.
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New Times found because of lax supervision at the homes, the kids were missing school, going to nightclubs, and engaging in prostitution and drugs. Managers of the homes were defensive, however, saying that because the children are not being held criminally, they are free to do largely as they please; the homes have little legal authority to control them.
The knife fight seems to expose
The bickering blew up into a struggle. The two boys were separated by staff members. One boy left the house. He later returned, going into a bedroom where his foe was then waiting. A staff member heard “a commotion.” When the door flew open, the two boys were struggling over a knife, one bleeding from his side. The teen with the knife fled the scene. Davie Police picked him up a few blocks away.
“ChildNet, Chrysalis, the Department of Children and Families, and local authorities are all working together and reviewing the incident,” says Emilio Benitez, CEO of ChildNet. “Until we have time to conduct a thorough review of the incident and the parties involved, we will not be able to comment further.”