Hanna Boys Center to continue operating

State officials have suspended license revocation proceedings against Hanna Boys Center. The Catholic residential treatment center in the Sonoma Valley was put on three years of probation, with a host of conditions.|

State licensing officials have granted a reprieve to Hanna Boys Center and will allow the 73-year-old Sonoma Valley treatment facility to continue operating during a three-year probationary agreement negotiated over the past three months and finalized earlier this week.

Wednesday’s announcement marks the suspension of license revocation proceedings begun last December, when the California Department of Social Services’ Community Care Licensing Division made public its intention to yank the institution’s license over sex abuse scandals that came to light earlier last year.

The new agreement lists dozens of facility improvements, increased oversight and training requirements to enhance personal safety and security for the 100 or so at-risk boys enrolled at the residential center.

Revocation of its license has been stayed, and it will have the right to apply for full restoration of its license, absent unanticipated problems during the coming three-year probationary period.

“We’re pleased to reach an agreement with Licensing over this issue,” Hanna CEO Brian Farragher said in a news release Wednesday. “I know both organizations share an appreciation of the vital role Hanna has played and continues to play in the lives of the boys and families we serve.”

The Catholic boys center, in operation since 1945, has educated and helped thousands of boys overcome childhood adversity since its inception, including seven alleged to have been the victims of sexual abuse, according to the California Department of Social Services.

The suspected molester, 14-year employee and one-time clinical director Kevin Scott Thorpe, 40, was arrested last June and is in jail awaiting prosecution on 36 criminal counts involving four center clients allegedly abused over a 10-year period.

Three additional victims referenced in state licensing papers have not been included in the criminal case.

Thorpe, who is accused of regularly molesting boys on campus and during solo outings, has pleaded not guilty. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in Sonoma County Superior Court beginning May 3 to determine if there is sufficient evidence to try him in the case.

But under the agreement with the state, his former employer has admitted the allegations against Thorpe are sufficient to justify a disciplinary case against the facility, though the admissions specifically don’t extend to criminal court.

Two of the four who say they were abused have filed civil lawsuits against Thorpe and Hanna. None have been identified publicly because of the nature of the crimes.

In a separate case, regulators allege the center did not take steps to prevent an inappropriate sexual relationship between a 22-year-old female staffer, Angelica Malinski, and a 17-year-old boy on campus.

Chief Development Officer Chris Jones said the nonprofit agency began analyzing protocols improving supervision and taking corrective measures since last spring in an effort to ensure its clients were safe from potential predatory behavior, beginning well before legal action put its license at risk.

“We’re minimizing the opportunity for any kind of safety breach to occur - for them to be in any kind of compromising situation, whether it’s with staff or if it’s with anyone else,” Jones said.

Changes include adding a third staff member to residential cottages of 12 boys, in the event one is out sick or otherwise distracted; putting GPS trackers on all facility cars to ensure there are no deviations from pre-approved plans; interviewing boys after any trip off campus to ensure the outing was uneventful; enhanced training for staffers and for boys at the center so they recognize signs and symptoms of molestation or victim grooming.

Windows and mirrors were also added to ensure full sightlines in all classrooms and clinical offices, “so there’s no place to really hide or be alone with boys.”

“The incidents that have come to light over the past year have shocked and saddened everyone,” Farragher said. “Yet we have learned so much from them, and are confident that our ongoing partnership with Licensing will help us continue to strengthen our operations, reduce the possibility of future incidents and better ensure the safety of the young people entrusted to our care.”

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