Cumberland Times-News

June 24, 2013

Youth center staffing not a concern, say state officials

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — State juvenile services officials have responded to anonymous accusations that staffing levels at the Savage Mountain Youth Center are inadequate. Officials did say that there were some vacancies at the facility and that they have moved staff from other areas to fill the holes.

The youth center in Lonaconing is a six- to nine-month treatment center for male youth, ages 14-18, “ordered by a court to receive treatment services,” according to the DJS website.

The discussion began when Delegate Kevin Kelly on May 16 asked Maryland Department of Juvenile Services officials to look into accusations contained in a letter he had received. Kelly is a member of the Youth Center Advisory Board.

“Although I do not customarily act on anonymous correspondence, this letter, with its specificity of detail, warrants investigation,” Kelly wrote to Gov. Martin O’Malley and the secretary of the DJS, Sam Abed. Kelly forwarded a copy of the anonymous letter to O’Malley and Abed.

Kelly’s anonymous correspondent said that if he identified himself “it could be disadvantageous to present and past employees.” The anonymous writer was primarily concerned about staffing levels at the Savage Mountain Youth center.

The letter writer said his concern was heightened after an assault at the Backbone Mountain Youth Center on April 30. On that date, police said a Maryland State Police trooper was assaulted by a resident of the Backbone Mountain Youth Center when several police agencies responded to a complaint of a large fight in progress, according to reports in the Times-News.

The trooper did not require medical treatment, but one of the youths at the center was charged.

The anonymous letter writer claimed there were 36 youths at the center and only 10 staff members, with 25 positions open. Employees were required to work overtime and were exhausted, the letter writer said.

The anonymous writer was concerned about both safety and whether efforts were being made to fill the open positions.

Abed responded to Kelly’s letter on June 11, indicating that he was responding to the “concerns and misinformation” in the anonymous letter.

The Savage Mountain center, Abed said, did have 36 residents and a budget for 24 staff members.

Abed said there were only five vacancies at the center and that three of the positions had been offered to applicants pending completion of hiring requirements.

Four staff members were brought in from other facilities to help keep staffing levels up during the interim, Abed said.

“Recruitment in the western region has been challenging. However, during the past four months the department has enhanced efforts by utilizing job fairs, local and surrounding area newspapers and radio ads, all of which have ... increased our applicant pool,” Abed said.

Abed also said several new positions had been allocated to the Savage Mountain center for fiscal year 2014 and applicants for those positions were being recruited, as well.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.