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A Times Editorial

Keep demanding answers to group home questions

It seems inconceivable that Florida's state government keeps sending public money to a Seffner group home for developmentally disabled men that encouraged its patients to have sex with each other as part of their rehabilitation. State Sen. Ronda Storms should continue her determined effort to hold state officials accountable for failing to respond to complaints about the facility.

Patients at the Human Development Center referred to opportune times for sexual activity as "quiet time." There are serious questions about whether some of the patients, who include men with severe behavioral problems and sex offenders, have the mental capacity to consent to sex. The St. Petersburg Times reported in December about the seven-year stay of one developmentally disabled man who had been found incompetent and unable to stand trial on charges of molesting children — and yet was encouraged at the center to have sex with other patients as part of his treatment.

The potential for sexual assaults, as well as only deepening the mental struggles of residents who might be coerced into unwanted sexual activity, seems all too obvious. Yet center officials viewed the sexual activity between men in a vulnerable state of mind as therapeutic and have defended the practice even after the state ordered the end of quiet time two years ago.

Storms, who chairs the Senate's Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, held a committee hearing on the center's issues earlier this month. She and other senators appropriately criticized the Agency for Persons with Disabilities for dragging its feet in responding to complaints. Storms was especially keen to question former state Rep. Carl Littlefield, who had been the Tampa Bay region director for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.

She never got the chance. Littlefield was promoted by Gov. Rick Scott to direct the entire agency, and he skipped the committee hearing and allowed his predecessor to duck the senators' questions instead. Dodging responsibility and making excuses about how few private group homes accept sex offenders is no solution. Taxpayers deserve answers about what happened at the Human Development Center, and the state should pursue reforms that may make it easier to place mentally disabled patients with criminal backgrounds.

Bureaucrats who expect Storms to go away quietly underestimate the tenacity of the Valrico Republican. She and her Senate committee should keep asking questions, seeking public records and demanding real reform.

Keep demanding answers to group home questions 02/20/11 [Last modified: Sunday, February 20, 2011 7:31pm]
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