NYS lawmakers push for answers after murder of youth counselor
NY State lawmakers continue to push for answers after the recent murder of 24 year old youth counselor Renee Greco. Greco, who was working alone at Avenue House, a group home for troubled youth in Lockport, NY, was bludgeoned to death on the evening of June 8, by residents of the group home, Anthony J. Allen (18), and Robert J Thousand (17), both of Rochester.
New York State Office of Children & Family Services (NYS OCFS) has suspended the operating certificate of Avenue House. Joseph Gallagher, administrator director for New Directions Youth & Family Services does "...not believe we will ever place children in that home again,"...
Meanwhile, city and state officials are vowing to not only prevent the home from reopening, but push for a closer examination of how all state juvenile facilities are operated.
“The system seems broken in New York State, and we have a moral obligation to fix it,” said State Sen. Catharine M. Young, R-Olean.
Greco was alone with five teenage boys on the night she was killed, which did not violate state mandates, but Lockport Mayor Michael W. Tucker said staffing guidelines must be rewritten.
“I plan to reach out to the governor,” Tucker said Tuesday. “These rules and regulations need to be tightened up. This could have happened in any city, anywhere.”
Officials with the state Department of Family and Children’s Services told state legislators in Albany during a special meeting regarding group homes Monday that the Avenue House license was “suspended indefinitely” shortly after Greco was killed.
New Directions would have to go through an appeals process as part of the state investigation into the slaying before it could reopen, the lawmakers were told.
In addition, New Directions will have to undergo its accreditation review a year early, the state agency told lawmakers.
Gallagher told The News on Tuesday that New Directions will not seek to reopen Avenue House.
Before the slaying, many people in Lockport did not know that the home for troubled youths existed, even some in the neighborhood.
“The role of a group home is to succeed, not to hide the home,” Gallagher said.
“People generally know of its existence, but from our perspective, it had been doing well.”
Tucker said he plans to lead the charge to keep any home for troubled youths out of the city. Right now, he said, there is no similar home inside city limits.
“Recently, things [at Avenue House] had started to escalate,” the mayor said. “There had been more police calls, but before that, it never stood out.
“Today, we all know [what happened there], and I can assure you that the city will fight vigorously against reopening it in [the same] situation.”
Assemblywoman Jane L. Corwin, R-Clarence, said the meeting Monday with the Office of Family and Children’s Services was just the first.
Lawmakers said they plan to hold several meetings on how the state manages troubled youths, how the youths are placed, what the rules are for privately run homes, and what are acceptable staffing guidelines.
Young said there is a “real lack of accountability on the part of OCFS” and called for Senate hearings.
“We really need to roll up our sleeves on this,” Young said. “Every day, there is news of violence in a facility or a resident AWOL and out in the community.
“OCFS is the gatekeeper, and when they place juveniles inappropriately, they put everyone at risk — staff, the community and other juveniles.”
Two other New Directions Youth & Family Services facilities in Western New York, Wyndham Lawn and Randolph's Children Home in Cattaraugus County, also have had recent problems.
[Last] Friday, a 17-year-old resident of Wyndham Lawn was arrested and accused of threatening to kill a youth-care worker and kicking the front bumper of her vehicle, Niagara County sheriff’s officials reported.
And on the night of May 31, a dozen youths fled from Randolph Children’s Home in Cattaraugus County, and after being brought back there, they fought with police and staff, forcing authorities to use pepper spray to quell the melee.
The Office of Family and Children’s Services is reviewing its policies, “but there clearly is going to be a lot more on this,” said State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane.
The office had closed several secure facilities in upstate, including two in Cattaraugus County, he said, and now has fewer choices of where to put “clearly potentially violent offenders.”
A vigil for Renee is planned for 7:30 pm Monday outside the Avenue House, located at 437 East Avenue, Lockport, NY. The public is invited to attend.
Previous coverage on NowPublic by this Author:
Senator Young calls for state investigation into NYS OCFS
Greco's murder triggers tough questions for NYS OCFS
Industry professional describes Greco's murderers as "warehoused"