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California's Santa Clara County running illegal network of group homes for highly troubled children

Scooty Nickerson and Julia Prodis Sulek, Bay Area News Group on

Published in News & Features

SAN JOSE — The boy was no more than 10 and wrapped in a blanket when he knocked on Sunny Lo’s door after dark.

“I’m trying to see if you can take me somewhere,” the boy said. “I’ve been kidnapped.”

Lo’s Ring camera picked up the fear on his face.

“Who kidnapped you?” Lo asked from the doorway of his home in the east San Jose foothills.

The boy turned and pointed to a single-story ranch home across the street — a house that was not a kidnapper’s lair, but an illegal county-run group home for highly troubled children.

One of a string of 10 group homes called “scattered sites” that have operated over the past four years, the house had no state licenses or official oversight from the California Department of Social Services, and was being run by Santa Clara County in open defiance of warnings by state officials that such sites were “unlawful and must cease.”


Since 2020, five homes investigated by the Bay Area News Group have been the scenes of 632 reports of missing children, 20 psychological breakdowns that resulted in 72-hour mental holds, 13 assault and battery incidents, one alleged rape and one fentanyl overdose.

Santa Clara County’s unsanctioned solution to a crisis in caring for its most troubled children is failing to create a safe, stable environment, state Sen. Dave Cortese, a former county supervisor, told the Bay Area News Group.

“There’s no excuse for a county with a multibillion-dollar budget to be putting kids in harm’s way,” Cortese said. “It should be keeping people up at night.”

Who is responsible?


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