Dallas Morning News, April 13, 2000

Abuse accusations at church-run home raise questions--
Bush's plan decreased state control of similar groups
, By Christopher Lee

AUSTIN - Accusations of abuse at a church-run home for troubled teenagers and young adults have spurred criticism of Gov. George W. Bush's efforts to loosen state control of faith-based social service groups.

Two people have been arrested in connection with abuse allegations at the Roloff Homes, run by People's Baptist Church in Corpus Christi.

The facility is one of six religious youth centers approved under a 1997 law backed by Mr. Bush that gave church child-care centers a separate licensing procedure from other businesses.

Mr. Bush has said such groups can be more effective than government. But critics fear that church-based service providers may face fewer inspections than their secular counterparts and could shield their records from public scrutiny.

"The problem is that there are no accountability measures," said Samantha Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the religious right. "They feel they are protected from regulator oversight."

Bush spokesman Mike Jones said the governor's critics don't understand the law.

"There's strict scrutiny and accountability. The faith-based organizations have to meet the same high standards as any other organization," Mr. Jones said.

The debate over faith-based providers was renewed last week when Roloff Homes superintendent Allen Smith, 42, was arrested on charges of unlawfully restraining and injuring two men, ages 18 and 17, last month. He is free on a $10,000 bond.

Grant Jones, Mr. Smith's attorney, said Wednesday that state law allows officials who are acting in the same capacity as parents to use force in some situations.

"He'll be exonerated when all the facts are known," Mr. Jones said. "He was exercising a supervisory role over these boys and basically was trying to keep them from running away."

Rev. Wiley Cameron Sr., pastor of People's Baptist and chief executive of the Roloff Homes, was arrested on charges of failing to provide records requested by a grand jury. His lawyers provided the records shortly afterward and Mr. Cameron was released. No charges were filed.

The Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services is investigating the facility, said Josh Allen, a spokesman for the agency, which licenses more than 600 youth care facilities in the state.

Mr. Allen said he was unsure if the agency could shut the Roloff Homes down. But officials can make recommendations for improvements, he said.

"We have investigative authority, but we don't have regulatory authority like we do in other homes," Mr. Allen said.

David Blaser, president of the Texas Association of Christian Child-Care Agencies Inc., which under the 1997 is allowed to license faith-based child care providers, said his group also was investigating. In an extreme case, the group could decide to pull the facility's accreditation, he said.

He also said that Mr. Cameron, who had been a member of the association's board of directors, resigned that post on Wednesday.

"There really was no conflict of interest," Mr. Blaser said. "He's just doing that because we're interested in being credible."

But Mr. Blaser also made clear that he thought criticism of faith-based groups was off-base.

Mr. Bush "initiated this," Mr. Blaser said. "He didn't do it for us. He did it for children. Sure, there's going to be problems. You're always going to have things that need to be taken care of. But a lot of good is being done."

The association inspects facilities it licenses twice a year he said.

The Roloff Homes' most recent inspection was in January and revealed no problems, Mr. Blaser said.

In the 1980s, the homes housed as many as 450 troubled youths. But after years of legal battles the church shut them down rather than have them licensed by the state. The facility only returned after Mr. Bush paved the way with the 1997 law.

The facility accepts incorrigible teenagers and young adults, some of whom are on court probation, and provides them with structure, discipline and bible study, Mr. Blaser said.

The home is divided into five divisions, some catering only to juveniles and others serving adults 18 and older. Only the juvenile facilities require accreditation, Mr. Blaser said.

Investigators were not sure if the 17-year-old man allegedly injured was staying in one of the adult homes on the 500-acre property, or one of the homes reserved for minors.

Nueces County Sheriff Larry Olivarez said deputies are investigating seven other allegations of abuse in the adult homes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Return to Newsroom Index or to Table of Contents