A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Welfare and a director said the state is investigating the Mel Blount Youth Home near Taylorstown after allegations of abuse were made through a hotline.
Children found to be dependent by the court are not being housed at the facility, but according to the former Steelers great, day camp programs are continuing.
Washington County Children and Youth Services had placed one child in the home, human services director Tim Kimmel told the county commissioners Wednesday morning, and he requested payment of approximately $20,000 for the child’s stay from May until the status of the home changed.
The Department of Public Welfare Office of Children, Youth and Families began an on-site investigation July 3.
No children were housed there at the time because Allegheny and Washington counties already removed a total of five children from the residential facility, said Kait Gillis, press secretary for the department.
“The real story is we were away on vacation, and we heard that we had inadequate staff,” Blount said Wednesday afternoon. “I instructed the youth home to call the counties and have them pick the kids up because we were firing staff. You’re getting it from the horse’s mouth.”
Blount said he was aware the term “investigation” would make headlines, but he said that’s part and parcel of dealing with children.
Kim Rogers, administrator of the Washington County Children and Youth agency, said, “I understand they were going to do some retraining and restructuring.”
Blount described the time frame when the children were removed from his facility as “leading into the Fourth of July weekend. Basically, at the youth home, we’re still functioning,” Blount said. “The youth home is doing what we built it to do: work with young people.”
Matt Jones, director of human services licensing for DPW in Harrisburg, confirmed, “The bottom line is our investigation there is ongoing.
“The Mel Blount Youth Home has not been shut down. There is nothing preventing them from accepting youth. They have said it’s not their intention.”
The youth home, which is licensed by the state to operate three residential cabins, each with a capacity of eight, is in the process of renovating while no children are housed there, according to DPW. All three cabins were issued certificates of compliance to provide community-based residential services for dependent and delinquent youth in April as child residential and day treatment facilities through July 1, 2015, and are subject to annual inspection.
General licensing of the facility depends on the outcome of an investigation conducted by DPW and police, Jones said.
“That investigation may take us a week or more depending on what we find and we need to look at,” Jones said. “We want to interview the alleged victims, who were removed prior to us receiving the allegations. They were not on-site. We want to minimize the trauma of repeated interviews and coordinate with other agencies.”
Blount, meanwhile, confirmed the property he purchased in 1989 is in “transition.”
“It’s their job to come out if an allegation is made by anyone and investigate it,” Blount said.
“That’s nothing new when you’re in this kind of work. Obviously, it’s confidential until they do their finding. I know the key word is ‘investigation.’ ”
When DPW Bureau of Human Services licensing inspectors visited the nonprofit Mel Blount Youth Home of Pennsylvania Inc., this year for an annual inspection of its cabins, it found no safety or staff training violations, according to information on the DPW website. One cabin housed two residents in the 6- to 13-year-old age bracket, three who were age 14-17 and one who was between 18 and 21. A second cabin housed four residents, all between 14 and 21, while a third housed no residents. All 10 children had been found “dependent” by the judicial system.
Mel Blount, a former Steelers cornerback who wore No. 47, is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for contributions to the team’s championships during its Super Bowl dominance from 1975 through 1980. Blount, a native of Vidalia, Ga., looms large both in Steelers’ history and as an imposing figure who has traded his football helmet for a silver Stetson.