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Migrant kids removed from Phoenix-area shelter after abuse claims

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, file)

PHOENIX — Migrant children who were once housed at a Southwest Key shelter in the Phoenix area have been relocated to other facilities after allegations of physical abuse surfaced involving staff members and at least three kids.

A spokesperson with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement to KTAR News 92.3 FM that the Office of Refugee Resettlement stopped housing children at the Hacienda del Sol facility in Youngtown, Arizona, on Sept. 18.

“This action came as a result of physical abuse allegations involving staff members from this facility and three (children),” the spokesperson said.

The abuse allegedly occurred in mid-September and was reported to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Arizona Department of Child Safety and Arizona Department of Health Services.

Nicole Capone with the Arizona Department of Health Services said in an email that the department received a report from Hacienda del Sol in mid-September that launched an investigation and on-site inspection, but did not elaborate. The facility also has a valid state license, she added.

The workers who were accused of the abuse were fired by Southwest Key. They were not immediately identified.

The children who were housed at the facility, which is located near 113th and Alabama avenues, were relocated to other facilities by Sept. 28.

In a statement, Southwest Key spokesman Jeff Eller said the company is “working to thoroughly retrain our staff” and is reviewing its “processes, procedures, hiring and training in our Arizona shelters.”

The alleged abuse happened around the same time that the Arizona Department of Health Services issued notices of intent to revoke the licenses of all Southwest Key shelters in the state. That came after 13 shelters missed a Sept. 14 deadline to go through the clearance of more than 2,000 employees.

Workers at at least two Southwest Key facilities have been accused of sexually abusing minors in their care. Fernando Magaz Negrete, 32, was arrested in August for kissing and inappropriately touching a 14-year-old girl at a Phoenix facility. Levian D. Pacheco, 25, was found guilty in September of abusing seven teenage boys between August 2016 and July 2017 at a Mesa facility.

Antar Davidson, a former youth worker at a Tucson facility, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce St. James & Pamela Hughes in June that he quit the job after a few months because he was being put “in situations where I would have to work against my morals.”

Officials with Arizona Department of Health Services said in September that it addressed how shelters for immigrant children dealt with allegations of sexual abuse.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Ali Vetnar contributed to this report. 

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