Thursday, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (TDS) suspended the license of Chattanooga’s unaccompanied migrant minor housing facility, La Casa de Sydney. The agency running the facility was the Baptiste Group – according to the suspension order, all minors were moved from the facility on June 22. Since their suspension is not time limited, the Baptiste Group may request an informal hearing before an administrative judge by next Tuesday.
The Tennessee Star received a tip on Thursday afternoon of this information. That evening, several hours after placing inquiries with TDS, we received a formal press release and the order of suspension from TDS. The press release explained that their findings from a June 3 visit to the facility prompted the suspension.
The suspension follows a series of issues that began when the department’s Division of Licensure conducted a standard unannounced inspection of the facility on June 3, 2021. During that visit, licensure staff spoke to six youth housed in the facility, one of whom disclosed a report of alleged child abuse. Department staff initiated a referral to the child abuse hotline and an investigation into the allegation commenced. Subsequent issues include a youth who had absconded the facility on June 15 and the announcement by the Chattanooga Police Department of criminal charges against a staff member on June 30.
It is unclear where the unaccompanied migrant children have been relocated, and where any additional incoming minors will be housed.
The order of suspension specified that the Chattanooga Police Department had charged the staff member, Randi Duarte, with sexual battery by an authority figure, coercion of a witness, and tampering with evidence.
The Baptiste Group’s license wasn’t set to expire until February 2022.
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