33 kids removed from Pelham foster home: Children taken after reports of bruises, neglect

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Southern Oaks foster care facility in Pelham recently had 33 children removed from its care after investigations into injuries of one teenager.

The Alabama Department of Human Resources received complaints of bruising on the face and cheek of a 13-year-old boy in October, but it wasn’t the first protest they’d received.

Andrea Mixson, a lawyer representing several of the children, complained about the first incident involving the same boy back in July.

Mixson said through speaking with her client and the administration, the boy received injuries in July that could have been part of a gang initiation. &8220;I talked to the director and the administration at Southern Oaks, and they seemed to confirm that could be what happened and said they were taking measures by preventing this from happening again.&uot; Mixson said the new measures included separating the older children from younger, since ages of clients at the center range from 11 to 21 years of age.

Months later, Mixson received another call from Southern Oaks, saying again her 13-year-old client was involved in another possible gang-related run-in.

&uot;On both occasions I had the chance to review video tape,&uot; said Mixson, adding that the tapes showed a lack of hallway monitoring and overall supervision. &uot;On the second occasion, the staff wasn’t watching what was going on or stopping anything. They weren’t watching when the kids were going in and out of the hallways.&uot;

James Tucker with the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program said, &uot;We’ve been concerned about the facility for a period of time but we’ve never had anything concrete to act upon.&uot;

Mixson made a report to DHR in early October, and a couple weeks later got a reply saying they were looking in the matter. She learned Nov. 6 that all the children were being removed.

Larry Belin, a lawyer in Birmingham, spoke with Jefferson County Family Court Judge Phillip Bahakel at an Oct. 27 hearing about the complaints again Southern Oaks.

He shared his concerns about the facility with the judge and later provided the court with an affidavit from a former Southern Oaks employee about problems at the facility.

After the hearing, DHR was ordered by Bahakel to investigate Southern Oaks before any other children could be placed at the center.

The owners of Southern Oaks were unable to be reached for comment.

Southern Oaks is licensed by DHR to provide a home for children receiving foster care for the first time. While there, the privately owned facility reviews each child’s needs. Although according to its contract with the state, Southern Oaks could house up to 66 children, ages 11 to 21, the 33 children removed were the only ones currently staying at the center.

&uot;This is the first time in many years we’ve seen DHR removed this many children from a facility. It’s a significant event for this many children to be removed,&uot; said Mixson.

John Bradford, a DHR representative, said he could not release any further details at press time, and that details relating to a specific child abuse and neglect report are confidential.