Shortly after David Hess died in a struggle with staffers at Wordsworth last fall, the state shuttered the West Philadelphia facility, decrying it as “an immediate and serious danger” to the children who lived there.
The death of Hess, 17 – ruled a homicide – was yet another violent chapter in a hidden history of abuse at the city’s only residential treatment center for troubled young people. In the last decade, at least 49 sex crimes have been reported at Wordsworth, including 12 rapes and 23 accounts of sexual abuse, an Inquirer and Daily News investigation has found.
Interviews, court records, state inspection reports, and police records reveal a trail of injuries to children, from broken bones to assaults to the suffocation death of Hess. Along the way, lawyers, licensing inspectors, and others found conditions there appalling and sounded the alarm with little success.
In 2015, three girls at the center were sexually assaulted by a counselor who lured them with promises of money and gifts, they would later tell police. While rumors of the incidents swirled, Wordsworth officials were slow to investigate, and the girls say the assaults continued for weeks.
“I couldn’t believe that. It’s pretty outrageous,” said Frank Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates, which represents victims of child abuse and neglect.
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