Counselor faces charges after disappearing for hours with child who has autism

Problem Solvers

AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) – A counselor who works with children who have developmental disabilities is facing misdemeanor child abuse and neglect charges after disappearing for several hours with a child who was in her care this summer.

Robyn Rodi had been working for only a few weeks at an agency that helps people with developmental disabilities when she failed to drop off a 5-year-old boy at a scheduled event, hours after she picked him up from his home in her car.

The child, Ryland Stevenson, has autism.

“I didn’t really realize it was this big of an incident because I felt like I didn’t do anything wrong, so I apologize for that,” Rodi told a police detective, according to an Aurora Police Department report obtained by the Problem Solvers.

Rodi faces a charge of misdemeanor child abuse (negligence no injury) and a misdemeanor charge of neglect of an at-risk person. According to a state court public information officer, she has not yet entered a plea in the case.

Rodi’s attorney declined on her behalf to speak to the Problem Solvers about the incident.

‘Slurred her words and did not sound coherent’

Rodi worked as a seasonal program counselor for GoldStar Learning Options, one of more than 600 Program Approved Service Agencies that provides support services for people who have developmental disabilities in Colorado. It is inspected and surveyed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and currently has no deficiencies, according to the health department’s website.

According to the police report, Rodi told authorities the boy became “very shy and did not want to exit the vehicle” when they arrived at the scheduled event at a Lakewood park. “She attempted to calm him by going for a car ride to no specific location,” the report said.

But camp managers told authorities, according to the police report, that they had trouble determining where the counselor was located via phone, and she was not where she said she was when they tried to track her down in person using GPS.

According to the Aurora Police investigation, a manager at GoldStar Learning Options, Monica Hoffman, told police that Rodi, “slurred her words and did not sound coherent” when the two finally spoke.

However, Rodi later told police “she had not been drinking alcohol or doing drugs.”

According to the police report, “she did admit that she was taking her prescribed mediation (sic) but did not advise what the medication was or what time she took it.”

An investigator said Rodi acknowledged that she was with the little boy for an extended period of time but “did not feel that it was relevant because she was (his) therapist.”

Unauthorized driver transported the child

“She should never be able to work with kids ever again or be anywhere near children,” said Chantelle Stevenson, Ryland’s mother, who first learned of the situation when she saw a text from the managers at GoldStar Learning Options while she was at work.

“I probably shed about 30 years off my life just getting that text of them saying, ‘We don’t know where he is,’” she told the Problem Solvers. “Of course, I immediately started calling her. She didn’t answer. I called her 9 or 10 times. And then, probably the 11th or 12th time, Ryland answered, which was really weird. He said that he was scared.”

When the boy finally returned home, uninjured, one of Rodi’s male neighbors — a federal police officer who works for a Colorado VA medical center — was driving the vehicle.

The driver, who was not authorized to transport a child for Goldstar Learning Options, told an investigator that he had met up with Rodi to deliver an iPad she needed. He offered to drive the car when he observed that the child’s behavior was “escalating.”

According to the police report, the man, who is not facing charges, told a detective, “’I was like, would you like some help I will drive; you sit in the back with him and that’s what we did.’”

Stevenson told the Problem Solvers and the police that she “observed numerous alcohol cans and bottles inside of the vehicle and she smelled the odor of alcoholic beverages emitting from the vehicle,” but the driver denied that anyone in the car had been consuming alcohol.

Ryland “stopped going to the camp that day. There’s no going back there,” said Stevenson. “I would never take him back there.”

Stevenson said she would like to see the provider held accountable for hiring the counselor.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know all the answers to the questions that we have at this point,” said Ross Ziev, an attorney representing the family. “It’s important to make sure that these camps are well-vetted and that their staff are well trained.”

Company: ‘Zero-tolerance policy when it comes to safety’

“This is the first time that anything like this has ever happened for us,” said William Porter, a spokesperson for GoldStar Learning Options. “We’ve been around for 10 years, and we are a leader in our space.”

Porter said the provider’s vetting process for direct care providers is more rigorous than what is required by the government.

According to Colorado’s Department of Healthcare Policy and Financing, state-approved Program Approved Service Providers, like Goldstar Learning Options, must follow government guidelines when they hire direct care staff — like for the job held by Rodi.

Those guidelines require that staff be at least 18 years of age, “have the ability to communicate effectively, complete required forms and reports, and follow verbal and written instructions,” Marc Williams, a spokesperson for the department, said in an email.

The person must also “have the ability to provide services in accordance with a Service Plan. Have completed minimum training based on State training guidelines. Have necessary ability to perform the required job tasks and have the interpersonal skills needed to effectively interact with persons with developmental disabilities,” he said.

“We don’t believe the state’s requirements are enough,” said Porter, who said their employees must pass additional background checks and meet other extensive requirements to be hired.

“My own sibling and child utilize GoldStar Learning Options’ services. I do not hire someone I would not trust with my own sibling or child,” Katie Svihlik-Burpo, the CEO of GoldStar Learning Options, said in an email.

“I am very proud our team did not deviate from protocol and also adhered to all reporting requirements to protecting agencies for the population we serve. We have an obligation and an ethical responsibility to report any incident to do our part without exception,” she said.

Porter, the GoldStar Learning Options spokesperson, said Rodi’s qualifications exceeded the requirements for the job, but when she didn’t meet expectations, they terminated her and contacted Child Protective Services.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day, we have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to safety,” he said.

No Colorado license required for some behavioral employees

“It makes my heart hurt because this population is vulnerable,” said Alison Betz, the president of the Colorado Association of Behavior Analysis, a group that unsuccessfully fought for the state to regulate and license Applied Behavior Analysts — trained individuals who often work closely with people who are developmentally disabled.

While those individuals can seek out certifications and oversight from private organizations like the Behavior Analysis Certification Board, there is no state licensing requirement for those types of employees in Colorado.

“The state is not overseeing it whatsoever,” Betz said. “So the requirements and qualifications of those working with that population really falls in the hands of the organization and the payors, the insurance companies, which can vary from payor to payor.

“If you are not certified, there is no regulation or oversight,” Betz said.

She encouraged parents to ask questions of the service providers, to fully understand the staff’s qualifications.

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