Since 1894, Kurn Hattin Homes for Children has provided a safe and supportive haven for children whose families are going through a tough time. We serve children ages 5 to 15 from throughout the Northeast, giving them a safe, caring, and fun environment where, perhaps for the first time in their lives, they can excel academically, grow as individuals, and experience the joy of childhood. Since 2015, I have served as Kurn Hattin’s executive director. In that time, I have seen our staff teach and care for our children as if they were their own. We take our roles in their lives very seriously, and that is why the recent allegations by alumni of historical abuse have been so devastating to us. Our hearts are breaking at the thought that any child who sought refuge at Kurn Hattin ended up a victim.
Many of the allegations concern conduct that took place many decades ago. Some claims from the late 1980s were known to us as the perpetrator of the abuse was reported to the State by KHH administrators, was convicted, and was sent to prison. With respect to older claims, these allegations were first legitimately raised this summer. No matter how long ago, survivors of abuse deserve our support and to be heard. We are listening, and we are responding. While I have said this several times in the past few months, it bears repeating: We take these allegations extremely seriously. If any child suffered at the hands of someone at Kurn Hattin Homes, regardless of how long ago, I am profoundly sorry, and all of us here will do all we can to ensure it never happens again.
Unfortunately, following these alumni’s courageous efforts to come forward, Kurn Hattin has become the target of attacks from self-interested parties based on falsehoods and misinformation, unverified and unsupported allegations and innuendo, and confidential documents that were selectively leaked to create a misleading picture. It is time we set the record straight publicly so that everyone can work together constructively to ensure a safe environment and preserve the critical support that Kurn Hattin provides to children and families in need.
So here are the facts:
- We have consistently reported incidents to Vermont’s Department for Children and Families (DCF). Most of them involved allegations of child-on-child incidents. In the most serious accounts recently reported in the media, DCF had reported back to us that their investigations did not support the allegations, and they had dismissed them for any further action. The media, however, continue erroneously to report those allegations as facts.
- We have repeatedly attempted to work with the claimants’ lawyers. We have commissioned an independent investigation to investigate fully all of the allegations that have been made, and we are committed to uncovering the truth.
- DCF has often not been a constructive partner. They have not acknowledged many of the key changes we have made to improve our programs, nor have they acknowledged that many of their responses and requests to us came months and sometimes more than a year late, making immediate action impossible. They have not acknowledged that whenever they had questions or concerns, we responded, took corrective action, and reported those steps back to them. In addition to reports from DCF that came months late, it also delivered contradictory findings within days of each other and faulted us for alleged incidents after DCF had already determined through its own investigations that those allegations were not supported by facts and had been dismissed. All of our actions and communications with DCF are well documented.
- Over the past five years, we have made significant improvements to our processes and procedures to meet the needs of children more fully, provide improved supervision and care, and ensure quality staffing. Some of the changes were to correct inadequacies identified by DCF. They included: implementing a new training curricula for staff regarding abuse, trauma, sexual reactivity, and self-harm; changing counselor and nursing schedules from daytime to afternoon/evening shifts to provide more coverage and care for children during times of their greatest need; and providing increased training for all staff in trauma-informed care and restorative practices. We are constantly trying to improve, and we will continue to do so.
- In some instances, the media has flat out misled the public. Numerous news stories have reported that our Residential Treatment Program (RTP) license from DCF was taken away, when in fact we, on our own initiative, elected to close our license because we are not a residential treatment program. We provide housing and education, not treatment. DCF had supported that transition, and there is ample documentation in the public record to prove it. We had begun the process of winding down our license nearly two years ago, and we acknowledged in July 2020 that it had ended. It was our announcement to DCF in September 2019 of our intent to end the RTP license that prompted DCF to conduct its final licensing review, not the other way around. After sending us their final report seven months late and after we had notified them of the end of our license, DCF finally acknowledged the end of our RTP license last month. Kurn Hattin Homes is still functioning as an approved residential independent school in Vermont.In addition, it appears DCF has violated Vermont law by publicly releasing to the media documents that contain identifying information of children. These are required to be kept entirely confidential. We informed DCF of its error, yet it has not acknowledged the error or taken any remedial action. We have never tried to cover up any allegations brought to our attention, and we have no desire to do so. Still, when we report allegations to the State, we do not expect our children and their stories to be handed over to the press. If DCF, in apparent violation of the law, refuses to keep confidential the names of children or their families, it undermines a system designed to protect children and mandatory reporters in the prevention of abuse.
Child abuse is inexcusable. All of us who devote ourselves to the children at Kurn Hattin want to acknowledge and commend the courage of our alumni who have come forward. We stand with them and are listening. We want to know what happened, when it happened, how it happened, and why it happened. Facts matter. Those in government and the media should show the same commitment to facts and to the children whose interests they are bound to protect.
We continue to seek the facts and share them so we can always serve children who need us, as we have served the tens of thousands of students who came to us over the past 126 years to learn, grow, and become the best versions of themselves while in our care. We are committed to making sure that what happened to those alumni never happens again.
Stephen Harrison, M.Div. Executive Director
Kurn Hattin Homes for Children