DSWD defends QC orphanage closure; facility executive denies alleged violations

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 23 2023 05:50 PM

MANILA — The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) on Tuesday said it closed a Quezon City orphanage due to supposed lapses that could have been a "recipe for disaster", which an executive of the facility denied. 

Social Welfare Secretary Rex Gatchalian said his agency issued a cease and desist order against "Gentle Hands Incorporated" after social workers who visited over the weekend found that it was housing 149 children, nearly double the maximum 80 children it was supposed to be taking care of. 

There was no social worker or houseparent inside the facility when Gatchalian and DSWD workers visited. Instead, only 5 helpers were present, which was below the required adult-to-children ratio, he said.

Gatchalian added that the fire exits were sealed, the facility was littered with trash, and the guard initially refused to let social workers inside. 

"It’s a recipe for disaster," he said. 

The DSWD will transfer the orphanage's wards to another facility due to "imminent danger" in their current accommodations, Gatchalian said. 

"We have to make sure that children are protected, hindi na kami mag-aantay na may masaktan pa bago kami gagalaw," he said. 

(We won't wait for anyone get hurt before we move.)

The agency gave Gentle Hands 20 days to explain the alleged lapses, the official said. 

Video from RTVM

In text messages to ABS-CBN News, Gentle Hands executive director Charity Heppner-Graff denied that the orphanage was operating above its capacity and said it had "the ratio that is required for caregivers to children." 

"Wow, did he (Gatchalian) count the children," she said. "There were not 149 children in the house." 

But Graff said she was still tallying the total number of children and the staff in the house because she "wants to be truthful and accurate." 

"Is overcapacity a reason to remove the kids and subject them to trauma? Is that in the best interest of the children?" Graff said. 

"If we were over capacitated, why did they refuse for us to transfer some children to our other location? And if we were over capacitated, why was it not brought to our attention despite several meetings with the department?" she added. 

Graff also alleged that Gatchalian and his social workers "threatened" the facility's new security guard. 

Based on a DSWD administrative order in 2007, facilities should have the following ratio of houseparent to children. 

  • 1:5 healthy children aged birth to 3 years old
  • 1:10 healthy children aged 4 to 6 years old
  • 1:15 healthy children aged 7 to 12 years old
  • 1:20 able-bodied individuals aged 13 to below 18 years old
  • 1:25-30 able bodied individuals aged 18 and above.
  • 1:10 bedridden or sickly older persons
  • mentally-challenged individuals: (upper trainable 1:15; lower trainable 1:10; profound cases 1:5)
  • 1:20 with hearing impaired 
  • 1:15 with physical disabilities
  • 1:15 with visual impairment
  • 1:10 to 15 cases of children in conflict with the law 

"In case of mixed age group, where younger children are housed together with older ones or adult residents, there should be a houseparent for a maximum of 30 residents," the order read. 

ABS-CBN News is still waiting for Graff's tally of the staff and children as of this story's posting. 

Fraff said children from the orphanage were boarding buses that would take them to another facility picked by the DSWD, as of writing.