In November 1977, Jim Holley, Mental Health Specialist from District V, called the state Florida Department of Mental Health and indicated there were reports from various people within the St. Petersburg community that there were problems with Project Straight, Inc., a private non-profit organization licensed as a day care program with foster homes. He indicated that the district staff were forming a task force to investigate the allegations.
The investigators would interview current clients, staff members, foster home families, and Board members as well as former client-graduates, former staff members, ‘Straight parents,’ former Board members, and clients who had left the program before completing it.
In previous blog posts we have covered the responses from some of the original board members who resigned, a few of the former program parents, current and former staff members as well as graduates of the program. In this post we will report the responses from current Board Members, current foster home families and current clients in the program.
Current Board Members and Foster Home Families
There is a list of 11 items of information given by the current members of the Board of Directors. This is exactly how it was listed in the document.
- There seemed to be an awareness of the state licensing regulations, however, Board members did not appear to be familiar with these regulations.
- All were familiar with the Straight rules and regulations.
- While it was reported that the Board met frequently, there was no set date or time for such meetings.
- Most of the Board members reported attending Board meetings regularly.
- There appeared to be functioning committees of the Board.
- Several Board members had a family member or close friend in the program.
- It was reported that the Board establishes or approves all program policies.
- All Board members were deeply involved in the program.
- The program does have an advisory board.
- It was reported that there was no written formal procedure for the Board to handle grievances and/or complaints related to the program. Certain Board members have been involved in handling such grievances and/or complaints.
- Only one Board member reported knowledge of any violations of program rules or regulations. This Board member felt that such incidents were primarily errors in judgement by Junior Staff.
This is, in verbatim, the paragraph in the report that summarized the interviews of the five foster home families.
Five foster home families were interviewed. All were extremely supportive of the program and praised the program for saving the lives of their children and, in some cases, credited the program with saving their marriages.
Current Clients (those children currently enrolled in Straight, Inc. At the Time of the Investigation)
This section is also verbatim from the investigative report:
Forty-eight (48) current clients were interviewed, twenty-four (24) selected at random by the Straight Staff, and twenty-four (24) selected at random by the task force team. There was very little variance between the responses of the two groups. All interviewed were polite, outgoing, and cooperative. The following information was obtained:
- Responses to the questions on previous drug use ranged from one drug to as many as ten different drugs.
- Thirteen (13) clients professed to have entered the program of their own free will. The remainders were put into the program either by their parents or by the court.
- One client reported that she did want help, but that she would leave if she could. The remainder reported that they now consent to getting help from Straight.
- Ten (10) clients felt that they were then, or had been, held in the program against their will.
- Twenty-one (21) felt that they could leave the program if they so chose. The majority of the remainder felt that either the court or parents would see to it that they continue in the program.
- All felt that they knew the program rules and that most remembered signing an agreement to this effect.
- All Phase I and II clients receive organized periods of singing and exercise; however, there was no period of completely free time, other than when asleep.
- Phase I and II clients do not attend academic classes during the day. Phase III and IV clients attend school, if appropriate.
- One client stated that he had been slapped once, all others stated that they had not been physically abused.
- Five (5) clients felt that they had been verbally abused, the remainders did not so feel.
- No one reported a meal being withheld for failure to conform to program rules.
- One client reported that he had been put in isolation for program violations. He was placed in the intake room for one full day and was checked on every five or ten minutes. All others reported no isolation.
- All but one client reported that staff was fair, consistent, concerned, and knowledgeable.
- All but one client felt that the staff was available for discussing their problems.
- When asked if they received a copy of the foster home standards, twenty-five answered, “no,” twenty (20) answered, “yes,” and three (3) answered, “don’t know.”
Numerous clients expressed unhappiness over the recent publicity. Several clients expressed praise for the program and none expressed dissatisfaction with the program.
Author’s note: I think it is important to add that even though this task force report states that of the forty-eight (48) clients that were interviewed, twenty-four (24) selected at random by the task force team, that they probably selected these random clients from the large group session. There is a good chance that they did not go searching in the bathrooms or the clinic or the intake rooms to find the clients who were actively being ‘broken’ or ‘abused’ during the time the investigators were visiting the program. In fact, one of the former clients who left the program before graduating stated “that the day the Health and Rehabilitative Services people and reporters were in the program to interview people, that she was kept away from them and watched carefully by Staff members so she could not talk to any of them.”