CLEVELAND - The great aunt of a 13-year-old who drowned while in the care of a Cleveland group home believes Quality Care Residential Homes needs to be shut down.
"Shaud's death opened a door of dysfunction that had been going on and the kids knew about it," said Renise Burtz. Her nephew Shaud Howell drowned July 6 after investigators say a group home worker dropped Howell and two other teens off at Edgewater Beach after lifeguards had gone home for the day. Just-released state findings claim that worker left the park for at least two hours after she dropped the teens off. By the time she returned, records show the search for Howell was already underway.
"Two to 2.5 hours, what was she doing?" asked Burtz after reading the state's findings. "I would love for her to sit in my face and tell me what was so important that you left all of them down there unattended."
Investigators say workers knew Howell couldn't swim.
Days after the teen's body was pulled from Lake Erie, the group home's administrator, Desmond Johnson, said that the trip to the beach was unauthorized and that he never would have approved it had she asked. Johnson said the woman was fired.
But state investigators found that trip wasn't the first of its kind. According to the Summary of Findings of Noncompliance, interviews with group home residents and staff revealed workers took residents to Edgewater Beach to swim on numerous occasions without permission and that, "children have been taken to Edgewater Beach to swim on other occasions and staff did not monitor and supervise throughout the activity."
Burtz, who cared for Howell up until he was placed in the group home eight days before he died, said she was "enraged" by the findings, believing the system failed her nephew.
"It's gotta stop," said Burtz. "I don't want anybody's auntie, uncle, nobody's grandmother or grandfather to suffer what we're going through."
Howell was placed in Quality Care Residential Homes by Cuyahoga County's Division of Children and Family Services as part of a $550,646 yearly contract between the county and group home. Friday, a county spokesperson said they had not yet received a copy of the state's findings.
The county still has six children placed in the group home. A decision on what to do with them will be made once those findings are reviewed.
Quality Care Residential Homes has until late September to submit plans to correct the violations. Administrators have not responded to repeated requests for comment on the findings.
A spokesperson for Cleveland Metroparks says its criminal investigation into the drowning is on-going.