Serenity Dennard

Serenity Dennard: Children’s home violated protocol by waiting nearly 2 HOURS to call 911 after little girl disappears, state finds

Two state regulatory agencies have criticized a South Dakota children’s home for failing to immediately call 911 after a 9-year-old resident disappeared in February.

According to the Rapid City Journal, the reports determined that the Children’s Home Society violated established protocol by waiting an hour and 41 minutes to call police after Serenity Dennard ran away on February 3. Dennard hasn’t been located and police said that it’s unlikely she survived in the freezing temperatures for an extended period of time.

The State Department of Health produced a report on behalf of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), who provide a significant amount of the home’s funding. The state Department of Social Services (DSS), who licenses residential facilities, conducted their own investigation into Dennard’s unsolved disappearance.

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Children’s Home Society executive director Bill Colson previously told the Journal that two staff members were watching Serenity and three other children as they played in the facility’s gym when one of the children ran away. Colson said an employee pursued them, leading Serenity to take off herself.

The second employee reportedly didn’t follow the 9-year-old because they were watching the two remaining children. Instead, they are said to have dispatched additional staff to help.

However, DSS found that the facility had insufficient supervision given Dennard’s behavior, which was outlined in her treatment plan. Moreover, CMS’ report cited a February 15 interview with Colson which they said revealed that staff hadn’t been trained on elopement protocol.

Complacency amongst the staff was an issue, kids had ran in the past, staff had found them. They thought this time would have been the same,” the children’s home’s program director, Tim Fitzgerald, reportedly told CMS.

DSS’ report ordered the Children’s Home Society to provide a corrective plan for their runaway protocol in 30 days and produce a written treatment plan for each child in their care within 14 days.

On Tuesday, Colson told the news outlet that all corrective actions brought forth by CMS and DSS have been implemented.

“Obviously, we regret that Serenity got away from us, we absolutely do,” Colson commented. “But I think it’s important to keep in mind that this agency’s been around since 1893, and we’ve served thousands and thousands of kids, and we do it safely. This time, it didn’t work out the way we had hoped, but we’re working to be better.”

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[Feature image: Serenity Dennard/Pennington County Sheriff’s Office]