State shuts down Philly program after teen's death in fight with staff

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The Wordsworth Academy's residential treatment program for troubled youths in West Philadelphia is ordered to be closed.

Pennsylvania officials on Monday ordered the closure of Wordsworth Academy's residential treatment program for troubled youths in West Philadelphia, less than two weeks after a teenager died in a fight with staff.

Kait Gillis, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, said the agency "issued an order for revocation of [Wordsworth's] license and emergency closure." She said department officials would be on site every day until all 83 residents are relocated.

Debbie Albert, Wordsworth spokeswoman, said the process could take weeks. Launched in 2006, Wordsworth's residential program - just one aspect of the company's services - treats young people ages 10 to 21 who have emotional, behavioral, or academic difficulties, Albert said.

In the Oct. 13 incident, a 17-year-old boy died after staff members tried to restrain him, according to police.

The teen had barricaded himself inside a room, and had broken furniture and fixtures, police said. When staff members entered, the teen began "yelling and striking" them, police said. Staff members - whom police did not identify - tried to "gain control" of the boy but he lost consciousness, police said.

Medics pronounced the boy dead at 9:36 p.m. Police have not identified him or said where he was from.

No charges have been filed in the incident, and the Medical Examiner's Office said Monday afternoon that the cause of the teen's death had not been determined.

The Philadelphia Defenders Association had been planning to ask a Family Court judge during special hearings this week to move or transfer all of its juvenile clients from the program.

Keir Bradford-Grey, the association's chief defender, said her office was concerned about the safety of the approximately 30 young people it represents at the facility, each of whom was sent there by a judge for treatment after an arrest or due to family issues such as neglect or abuse.

"One kid dying in a placement [facility] with staff not being trained well enough to handle issues involving youth is enough for us," Bradford-Grey said Monday. "To me, that place is not equipped to handle youth that need redirection in their life."

Martin O'Rourke, spokesman for the First Judicial District, said those hearings would continue and would help determine where the affected youths would be sent. The courts had called for the hearings prior to the state's action, to determine whether children should remain at Wordsworth, O'Rourke said.

Lisa Campbell, assistant chief of the defender association's juvenile unit, said the association had made similar requests for mass transfers in the past. In 2007, for example, it requested that youths be removed from the Chad Youth Enhancement Center near Nashville after a Philadelphia youth, Omega Leach, was strangled there by a staff member.

Albert, the Wordsworth spokeswoman, said the rest of Wordsworth's services - which include special education schools, individual and family therapy, and foster care - would continue to operate.

The residential treatment facility is at 3905 Ford Rd. in the River Park section. It is one of three Wordsworth campuses in the region, according to the school's website.

cpalmer@phillynews.com 215-854-2817 @cs_palmer

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