- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

MANVEL, Texas (AP) - A shelter for traumatized immigrant children near Houston that has received $13 million in federal funds and been cited for overly using restraints says staff members deeply care about the well-being of residents, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The Shiloh Treatment Center in rural Manvel is among a network of shelters that Congress says needs greater oversight from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, which has been overwhelmed by a record number of children from Central America.

The shelter network overseen by the agency, known as ORR, has jumped from 50 to 125 facilities since the federal government began contracting with Shiloh in 2009, according to the Houston Chronicle (https://bit.ly/1AKNepO ).

Facilities such as Shiloh take among the most challenging immigrant cases, including children who arrive traumatized by their journeys or violence back home. State records show children at Shiloh have made allegations of physical abuses and painful restraints, and a local prosecutor wrote to federal authorities in 2011 with concerns.

Clay Dean Hill, Shiloh’s president, said 21 state citations for violating restraint guidelines represent “incidents” and not a pattern. He said all allegations are taken seriously, and the center moves quickly to suspend or remove staff while it cooperates with licensing investigators.

U.S. Rep. Pete Olson said that when he called ORR with questions about Shiloh this summer, it only sent him a letter with basic information.

“The one thing that comes out over and over is the lack of transparency,” Olson said.

Shiloh received $5.1 million in federal funding last year for 32 beds, a rate that is nearly double that of a standard shelter bed in the ORR network. Olson said he wondered why such a small facility is so expensive and whether the children there are safe.

Hill said the center’s cost is justified because it specializes in mental health services. He said he built his business on the philosophy that disabled children thrive in home-like settings.

Jeri Yenne, Brazoria County’s Republican district attorney, said she firmly believes that Shiloh’s staff is made up of well-intentioned people. But she sent a letter to federal officials after the state had documented abuse allegations at Shiloh and another treatment center founded by Hill, according to the newspaper.

Yenne said she urged officials to increase monitoring and lower the number of placements to “reduce the risks.” An agency spokesman said federal staff are assigned to monitor every facility.

“We take necessary action when warranted to make sure no child is in danger or is in any way threatened,” spokesman Kenneth Wolf said.

The newspaper reported that the agency has not responded to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Houston Chronicle in January for monitoring reports and other communication with Shiloh.

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, https://www.houstonchronicle.com

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