FOX40 Investigates: Inside the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento

SACRAMENTO -- Life hasn’t always been easy for 17-year-old Gabriel Dominguez. Five years ago, he says, instability at home reached a breaking point.

“A lot of times the cops are called, CPS,” he said. “Sometimes the apartment people call.”

Gabriel says Child Protective Services believed he wasn’t safe in his mother’s home. He was sent to live with his father, but it didn’t last.

“When I did go live with my dad, he got caught up with drugs and went back to jail,” he said.

Separated from his family, Gabriel went to a place where many kids in Sacramento wind up, when they have nowhere else to go -- the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento.

One of Sacramento’s largest, and oldest, foster care facilities, the Children’s Receiving Home can care for nearly 100 children. It’s a group home that currently serves as an emergency shelter, taking in kids like Gabriel who can’t go anywhere else.

CEO David Ballard says many of the kids at the Home have experienced trauma, and may have behavioral problems.

“They’re the greatest kids in the world. They didn’t do anything to anybody, but they’ve come from a world of pain,” said Ballard. “They’ve learned some bad behaviors, and our job is to help them, even when other people may have given up on them.”

In September, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors approved $700,000 in extra funding for the Children’s Receiving Home. CPS tells FOX40 that money will “enable CRH to provide care, supervision, and appropriate services for all children or youth in need of shelter placement.”

Ballard says he’s confident the funding will go a long way to helping kids at the Home.

“Deeper staffing, more one-on-one staffing, take more kids in, and be more responsive to the kids in the foster care system,” said Ballard.

But records show the Children’s Receiving Home has a history marked with violations. According to reports from the California Department of Social Services, the facility has been cited more than 120 times in the last five years. That’s more than any other individual foster care facility in Sacramento County. Reports also show in 2014, the Home was placed on a 12-month plan of correction, for “failing to report multiple allegations of sexual and other inappropriate conduct by staff toward clients,” and “failing to call 911 when a child nearly drowned in the facility’s pool.”

Ballard says they’ve worked on making changes.

“In the mandated plan of correction, we were given a certain number of items we need to address,” said Ballard. “One could say, hoops one needed to jump through. We jumped through them all, we raised the bar here. It was a pull—but quite honestly, it was a needed pull and it was a helpful pull.”

But complaints have continued.

A report from August 2 shows a staff member was fired for having an “inappropriate relationship” with a client staying at the home, and for smoking pot with clients who walked off campus.

On September 8, a state inspector wrote in a report that one of the dorms smelled so strongly of urine, she “was unable to stay in the room.”

Just this year alone, there have been five violations of children not being given their medication, or not being given proper medical care. Ballard didn’t comment on specific staffing allegations, but he says they investigate every complaint immediately.

“I’ll be honest with you- when I think we are dead to rights, I will admit we are dead to rights,” said Ballard. “Sometimes we do miss medications, it’s an issue.”

The California Department of Social Services wouldn’t comment on the number of violations at the Receiving Home, but told FOX40 “The Department continues to work very closely with the Children’s Receiving Home and Sacramento County, providing technical assistance and recommending best practices regarding the use of shelter care for children and youth in foster care.” The facility remains licensed, and a report from September 29 shows they have been given approval to expand.

For Ballard, despite the complaints, he says the Home must stay open. He says the expansion will allow them to offer better care, including retaining staff and hiring more employees with better training.

“This is really an organization to be supported, and assisted in getting done what is done,” said Ballard. “There needs to be an understanding how intense and often difficult this work is.”

As for Gabriel, he’s now back home with his mom, and everything is better. The change has been good for him. It’s the same change he wants for the Children’s Receiving Home.

“Step up. Build it up,” said Gabriel. “Make it a better place. Make it structured for these kids so they’re not living this life- living this sad life.”

Child Protective Services tells FOX40, they are working hard to provide a safe place for every child to go. But the County is facing a shortage of resource families (also known as foster families), to take children in. If you’re interested in learning more about qualifications for foster parents, or how to apply, click here.