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York YMCA president responds to lawsuit allegations

Liz Evans Scolforo

The president of the YMCA of York released a statement Tuesday responding to allegations that his staff members failed to protect a 5-year-old boy from being sexually assaulted by an older boy with a history of abusing children.

YMCA of York (Amanda J. Cain photo)

President/CEO Larry Richardson wrote:

"As has been reported in the local media, there has been an incident reported involving two children enrolled in our summer day camp program on July 3, 2015. It has been alleged that a male camper inappropriately touched another male camper while visiting a local park. The YMCA immediately reported the situation to ChildLine and has and will continue to cooperate with the authorities."

He ends with, "I am sure you will join us in offering prayers for the families involved as well."

Richardson declined additional comment Wednesday and declined to answer whether an alleged 2014 incident involving the same older boy at the same camp was properly reported to the state's ChildLine child abuse reporting hotline, as mandated by state law.

The background: The mother of the 5-year-old boy, who is now 6, filed suit against the YMCA of York. Her son suffers from nightmares, anxiety, depression and social withdrawal as a result of the assault, according to the lawsuit, filed by attorney Ben Andreozzi.

The suit also claims the YMCA didn't properly screen or train employees, that it failed to notify police about the alleged sexual abuse and that it failed to investigate despite knowing the 13-year-old boy had allegedly abused another child in 2014.

The assault allegedly happened last summer while the boys were attending Camp Spirit, a YMCA day camp for children ages 5 to 15 that was advertised as a safe place for children to build "self-esteem, develop communications skills and create lasting friendships," the lawsuit states. Camp Spirit is located on 14 wooded acres outside Mount Wolf, its website states.

Northeastern Regional Police Chief Bryan Rizzo confirmed his department is investigating the allegations and said no charges have so far been filed.

The lawsuit, filed in Philadelphia County Court, also names the YMCA of the USA as a defendant and alleges negligence and gross negligence on the part of the YMCA and its staff.

The allegations: According to the lawsuit, the YMCA of York was made aware that a 13-year-old boy, identified in the suit by his initials, "had a troubled past, including being involved in sexual misconduct" before he began attending Camp Spirit. The York Dispatch is identifying him by his first initial only, B.

"Additionally, at the 2014 Camp Spirit, B. was discovered by a camp counselor sexually abusing a special needs male camper in the woods during a camp outing," the lawsuit alleges, adding it's believed the counselor notified Camp Spirit's director, who in turn apparently notified Richardson of the abuse.

"It is believed that neither Richardson nor (the director) reported B.'s conduct to the authorities, in violation of Pennsylvania's law regarding the mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse," the suit states.

"At no point did the York YMCA inform other campers, their parents, or anyone outside the York YMCA that B. posed a severe risk of harm to other children," according to the lawsuit. "Despite all that the York YMCA knew about B., no one at the organization implemented any precautions during his time at Camp Spirit in 2014 or 2015."

Mom called police: Camp Spirit's directors and counselors informed the 5-year-old's mother about the alleged sexual abuse, and she then notified police "despite Camp Spirit's director's objections," the lawsuit alleges.

It was only after the mother alerted police that YMCA staff told police about B. allegedly sexually abusing a special-needs camper in 2014, according to the suit.

In the fall of 2013, the state Department of Human Services, formerly the welfare department, revoked the York YMCA's license to run a day-care center at its Newberry Street location.

DHS has said the revocation resulted from a string of complaints to the state that began in April 2013. The day-care center was allowed to remain open while the YMCA appealed, Richardson has said.

In compliance: A settlement agreement was reached in January 2015 that "articulated numerous steps to increase supervision and return to full compliance with child care health and safety requirements," according to Kait Gillis, DHS press secretary. For the next six months, the day-care center operated with a provisional license, she said.

The day-care center remains in compliance and is fully certified, according to Gillis.

"Since last January, we've been on site there four times to ensure they are remaining in compliance," she said.

But DHS has no authority to regulate certain summer camps, including Camp Spirit, because of how state law is written, Gillis confirmed.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com.