Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Idyllic Setting Masks Child Abuse, Neglect as Troubles Come to Light, Home Surrenders License

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Idyllic Setting Masks Child Abuse, Neglect as Troubles Come to Light, Home Surrenders License

Article excerpt

On paper, the JDM Residential Treatment Center seemed like a wonderful place to send abused children from troubled homes.

It offered 120 secluded acres in St. Charles County on which they could fish, hike and learn about nature. Two doctors were among its founders, and a professional counselor was to be in charge. The treatment program called for extensive use of pet therapy, group counseling and structured recreational activities. A church operated the center.

Always in need of places to send the growing number of abused children in its custody, the Missouri Division of Family Services began placing children at JDM in January, at a cost to taxpayers of $1,420 a month per child.

Over the last few months, though, state investigators have learned that the reality at JDM was much different from the promises in its paperwork.

Since February, state child-abuse investigators have substantiated three incidents of child abuse at the home, two of them serious. A new investigation got under way Thursday.

The home has had six executive directors this year, and was without one for five weeks this summer.

The home flunked 175 out of 234 checkpoints in an inspection in August.

The home's pantry was sometimes bare, and children were forced to fend for themselves. Last winter, the thermostat was kept at 55 degrees.

On Aug. 9, the Division of Family Services stopped placing children at the home after a special investigator found "substantial problems" in an unannounced visit. But the agency left two children there, one of them diabetic, until Friday. Shortly after the boys were removed, the home surrendered its license.

How did a children's home with such a blemished record continue to operate - at state expense - for so long?

"The basic reason is fairness," said Carmen Schulze, director of the Division of Family Services. "We wanted to give them a chance to do remediation, to bring their program up to snuff and move forward." A Former Nursing Home

The JDM Residential Treatment Center occupies an old farmhouse on Schnarre Road, near Foristell, which is about 60 miles west of St. Louis. The center's owner is Cedar Valley Church, a church incorporated Oct. 14, 1992, the day after the treatment center was incorporated.

Dr. Kelly Mills of Wentzville was the founding board president of the church; his sister, Dr. Brenda Mills Kluttz, also of Wentzville, was the founding board president of the home. The two practice medicine at a clinic in Dellwood.

According to St. Charles County records, Mills bought the farm in 1983. In 1985, he transferred ownership to Cedar Valley Farm #2, a nonprofit corporation he had set up to operate an 11-bed nursing home, called the Stress Farm. Mills, an internist, was the nursing home's director.

The nursing home stopped operating in 1990 after a history of state rules violations, including numerous sanitation problems, the housing of patients in a windowless basement and haphazard serving of meals.

On a visit in January 1989, state inspectors found no staff on the premises, a patient in charge and patients dispensing medicine to one other. Patients and family members told inspectors that no staff person had been on duty for more than a week. $72,000 A Year In Rent

In August 1992, Mills and Kluttz told the Division of Family Services that they wanted to start up a home for abused children on the same site. It was to be named JDM after their mother: Jessie D. Mills.

Last December, Kelly Mills transferred the farmhouse and one acre of the 120-acre property to the church. The garage on the property was converted into a chapel. And on Dec. 31, the Division of Family Services issued a license to Cedar Valley Church to operate a 14-bed residential treatment center for some of the state's most troubled youths - children removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect. …

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