Photo: Unaccompanied Migrant Children Shelter at 1914 Vance Avenue, Chattanooga
Published July 6, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has closed down a Chattanooga shelter for illegal immigrant children that was authorized by Bill Lee in 2019 against the protests of conservatives.
On Thursday, the state suspended the license that was given last year to the Baptiste Group, a Georgia-based operation owned by Gretchen and Kevin Baptiste, and allowed them to open and run a facility to house migrant youth. The move came after the Chattanooga Police Department announced on Wednesday that charges of sexual battery by an authority figure, coercion of a witness, and tampering with a witness were filed against a 35-year-old woman who had been an employee of the shelter.
Additionally, Chattanooga police also confirmed that a 16-year-old boy who had been reported as a runaway on June 14 had been located in Guatemala with his family, prompting many Tennesseans to wonder if the youth was brought into the U.S. against his will.
While the illegal immigration center was vigorously opposed by Conservative GOP voters, Senator Todd Gardenhire (R) who represents the district where the facility was located sung the praises of the center and the work of the Baptiste group leading up to the recent reports of neglect and abuse.
DCS Commissioner Jennifer Nichols released a statement explaining the reasoning for the suspension of the center’s license.
“The facility has proven an inability to hire individuals who are suitable and capable of caring for children within the facility’s care resulting in significant criminal charges against at least one staff member and potential for youth to be subject to further abuse or lack of adequate supervision,” the statement read.
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On Friday, the Baptiste Group requested an informal appeal hearing regarding the issue. No date or time has been scheduled for that hearing at this time. DCS cannot say whether the shelter will eventually reopen or not.
The charges stem from a report made by a teen boy during a surprise visit by DCS workers on June 3. At that time, the boy told an inspector that he had seen a facility employee kissing a child at the shelter. The DCS inspector contacted the child abuse hotline with the information, and the report was also given to local and federal authorities.
The employee was fired after the incident was reported.
The shelter has been housing unaccompanied migrant children since fall 2020. The Baptiste Group contracts with the federal government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement.
While the state department does not participate in the placement of migrant youth, they do license the shelter as a residential facility for youth.
Nichols’ statement also said that DCS learned on June 22 that all children had been moved out of the Chattanooga shelter.
Chattanooga police also confirmed that a 16-year-old boy who had been reported as a runaway on June 14 had been located in Guatemala with his family.
The speakers of both the House and the Senate convened a Republican-only committee with the purpose of gathering additional information on migrant youth being moved into Tennessee.
After Thursday’s charges were announced, U.S. Senator Bill Hagerty issued a statement asking for “an immediate, broader investigation” because those charges were filed against an employee at a shelter contracted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
About the Author:
Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative
Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen and the Crossville Chronicle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com