License Suspended for Baptiste Group Following Arrest and Other Incidents
CHATTANOOGA (WDEF) – From reports of a 16-year-old escaping to his home in Guatemala to the latest arrest of staff member Randi Duarte for sexual misconduct, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has suspended the license of The Baptiste Group until a series of investigations involving the District Attorney’s office is complete.
“The only way they can go back into business is to be able to show the DCS that they have qualified personnel, that none of the other staff are guilty or charged with anything that is inappropriate with the handling of children,” says Tennessee State Senator Todd Gardenhire, also a member of the Joint Study Committee on Refugee Issues.
The Baptiste Group is under contract with the federal government.
Though the children have been relocated since June 22, their status and whereabouts are unknown to local officials, a point that raises many more questions than answers for one state representative.
“With these children in federal custody, there’s no information that’s available for law enforcement. No information available to our state. And I understand the need to protect these individuals that in this case are 12 to 17 year of age but we also have a responsibility to know these children are indeed here as unaccompanied minors and under no other circumstance,” says Tennessee State Representative Robin Smith.
Senator Gardenhire says there’s roughly 450 unaccompanied migrant minors in Tennessee but the current federal administration classifies them as refugees, a seemingly small detail that greatly impacts their handling.
“When these children come across the border, and it’s illegal when they come across, they turn themselves into the federal government at the border and they say, ‘we’re here’,” says Senator Gardenhire. “And for whatever reason, the federal government has legal custody of those children.”
Officials understand the importance of protecting the details of these unaccompanied minors.
“You really don’t want these kids’ locations known if they’re in the custody of the federal government beacuse when you do that, they become a political pawn.”
According to the DCS, The Baptiste Group has requested a hearing regarding the suspension.