Heartland Alliance: internal investigation found no evidence of child abuse

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Evelyn Diaz, president of Heartland Alliance, looks on as U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin holds a news conference at GirlForward after meeting children detained in Chicago as part of the Trump administration’s decision to separate children from their immigrant parents, Friday morning, June 22, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Heartland Alliance officials on Tuesday said that the non-profit found no evidence to corroborate three claims of physical abuse against migrant children at one its nine Chicago shelters that was reported in Washington Post and the New York Times.

The 130-year-old organization has been in the hot seat in recent weeks as the public and the media spotlight shelters holding children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Heartland Alliance President Evelyn Diaz said she is confident of the internal investigation’s findings.

“We are committed to maintaining the public’s trust in us,” she said.

Heartland Alliance says it kicked off the investigation soon after reporters reached out for comment on July 13 regarding claims of physical abuse levied by three young boys who had recently been reunited with their parents after spending several weeks at Casa Guadalupe –– a shelter in Des Plaines.

The claims vary in degree of intensity: Two boys recounted seeing a staff member repeatedly inject a 5-year-old boy with a sedative during class. One of those boys also claimed he broke his arm playing soccer and that non-medical staff examined him and gave him a temporary cast for weeks. Finally, a third boy said he was “dragged” off a playground by staff members.

Heartland Alliance says it found no evidence to support any of these claims.

In a statement, the organization said its investigation “included reviewing medical records, medication logs, personnel files, policies and procedures, and the incident reports staff are required to prepare under a wide variety of circumstances.”

Heartland also says it conducted staff interviews and reviewed of hundreds of hours’ worth of video tape with the assistance of Linda Coberly, a managing partner for the Chicago office of Winston & Strawn LLP.

“We’re confident we conducted a thorough investigation. If there was something wrong, we wanted to find it,” Coberly said.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Office of Refugee Resettlement are also conducting their own investigation after Heartland Alliance self-reported the abuse claims recounted to them by reporters.

The Office of Inspector General is also investigating Heartland Alliance at the behest of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL.

Heartland Alliance has said it welcomes the investigations.

According to Diaz, Heartland Alliance received 73 children who had been separated from their parents under the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” enforcement policy.

As of Monday, 71 of these 73 children have been reunited with a parent or family member, Diaz said.

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