Press-Republican

January 23, 2014

Youth Advocate employee suspended

By SUZANNE MOORE and FELICIA KRIEG
Press-Republican

---- — MALONE — Michelle A. Miller still has a job with the Franklin County Youth Advocate Program but isn’t actively working there.

“We have not made any personnel decisions,” said Martin J. D’Urso, inside counsel and chief operating officer of the Youth Advocate Program Inc. “But as a precaution, we have removed her from service.”

Miller, 26, is charged with two counts of third-degree rape and two counts of third-degree criminal sexual act, both felonies, in connection with two underage clients served by the agency.

Police said Tuesday that Miller had “engaged in sexual conduct” with two males younger than 17.

“I can tell you that we’re cooperating fully with the investigation,” said Candy Gadway, director of Youth Advocates’ Franklin County program, located at 246 West Main Street in Malone.

“We obviously can’t talk about the ongoing investigation,” D’Urso said.

TRAINED MENTOR

Youth Advocate, according to its website, is a nationally recognized, nonprofit that provides “community-based alternatives to out-of-home care through direct service, advocacy and policy change.”

Founded in 1975, it serves young people in 17 states, including services in Malone through the Franklin County office.

“And by and large, our programs are effective and without incident,” the CEO said from Harrison, Pa. “On rare occasions, issues arise that require investigation.”

Miller, he said, was hired in spring 2013; her title was advocate.

“Advocates are trained mentors who work with families, with kids in their communities, and they work on a variety of issues,” the CEO said.

“Typically, our clients are young people who have had some difficulties at school or home or in the community. Advocates try to bring order to what very often are chaotic lives.

“We try to train our folks to be both a positive role model and to provide some order and structure” for the clients.

BACKGROUND CHECKS

The Youth Advocate Program follows a rigid and extensive protocol when bringing anyone aboard, D’Urso said.

“We do the same background check for all new interns, volunteers and employees,” he said. 

That includes not only a criminal check but a look at the person’s motor-vehicle record, he said, as that information may reveal a red flag that wouldn’t turn up through the former search.

“We also do whatever local or state law requires” beyond agency policy, he continued.

“We have a careful interview process,” D’Urso said.

And direct supervision on the job is supplemented by a third-party monitoring system.

The monitors, he said, “work entirely independently of the local program.

“They call the families to make sure everybody is given an opportunity to say whether things are going well or not so well.”

And there’s a toll-free hotline, again operated by a concern unrelated to Youth Advocate, available to employees, clients, families and anyone else associated with the program, D’Urso said, that allows them to express concerns, anonymously if they wish to do so.

ONE-ON-ONE WORK

Advocates often do work one on one with clients, the CEO said; many contracts with clients require that.

“There are benefits to be obtained from group time and benefits from one-on-one time,” D’Urso said.

Most young people served by the agency face possible institutionalization for various reasons, he said, whether due to emotional instability or behavioral issues at home, school or in the community.

The nonprofit helps them meet their responsibilities, among them attending school, perhaps getting to court hearings, following the dictates of probation.

The organization works in a community rather than clinical setting, D’Urso said, “so that people can discover their own strengths ... then inevitably, you have circumstances that require close supervision, and we do our best to provide it.”

RELEASED

Miller was released into the supervision of the Franklin County Probation Department following her arraignment at Bangor Town Court last Friday.

State Police Troop B Public Information Officer Trooper Jennifer Fleishman said no further information regarding the case was available Wednesday.

Press-Republican attempts to contact Miller for comment were unsuccessful. And Bangor Town Court could not be reached for the date of her next appearance.

“Like everyone involved — the police, the referring authority, the families,” D’Urso said, “we want to find out what happened, and if need be, take remedial action.”

Email Suzanne Moore:smoore@pressrepublican.com