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Slayings Raise Concerns For 'Transition Age Youth'

This article is more than 11 years old.

Several Massachusetts social service agencies are taking a hard look at last month’s triple murder in Weymouth. They’re reviewing the foster care and mental health records of Donald Rudolph, 18, who is accused of killing his mother, his sister and his mother’s boyfriend.

Donald Rudolph, 18, right, stands with his attorney, John Darrell, during his arraignment in Quincy District Court on three counts of murder on Nov. 14. (AP)
Donald Rudolph, 18, right, stands with his attorney, John Darrell, during his arraignment in Quincy District Court on three counts of murder on Nov. 14. (AP)

Rudolph and his family were involved with many state agencies for at least the past five years, but once he turned 18, Rudolph left the system. This is the second such tragedy in Massachusetts this year involving a young man who “aged out” of the child welfare system.

The first tragedy was in January when a worker at a Lowell homeless shelter was stabbed to death at his job. Police say Jose Roldan was killed by 19-year-old shelter resident Pericles Clergeau. Clergeau had been in state care since he was 12 and has a long history of mental health issues.

Roldan was a former shelter resident. In fact that's where he met his girlfriend, Mary Anne Buhlmann. She says Roldan and other shelter residents told her that Clergeau was deeply troubled.

"Pericles would have his phone out, saying, 'I"m gonna kill somebody. I am,' " Buhlmann said. “In fact, they told me that when Jose was laying on the floor bleeding to death, Pericles took the knife out and went in a circle and said, 'Don't anybody come near us' and 'It's all your fault. You made me do this. You made me kill him.' "

Clergeau's first psychiatric hospitalization reportedly came when he was in elementary school after he beat a boy with a chair. He was in and out of foster care placements and treatment programs, almost every one marked by violence. Once Clergeau turned 17 — the age at which young people can be charged as adults in Massachusetts — he racked up criminal charges. So Clergeau was involved in the child welfare, mental health, juvenile justice and adult criminal justice systems. Nevertheless, once he turned 18, he wound up at the Lowell homeless shelter — with nowhere else to go and with his background unknown to those around him.

Mary Ann Davis is a national researcher of so-called "transition age youth" at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. She says compared with other states, Massachusetts provides a safety net for this age group, but it doesn't catch everybody.

"Even though Massachusetts has worked very hard to improve their services, there are many, many, many problems with this age group being able to access the mental health treatment that they need."

Mary Ann Davis, UMass Medical School researcher

"I would say one of the frontiers in adult mental health in particular is the improvement in young adult services,” Davis said. “Even though Massachusetts has worked very hard to improve their services, there are many, many, many problems with this age group being able to access the mental health treatment that they need. And it's not just mental health, but the service they need to stay out of trouble."

Davis says one major problem is that once children turn 16, they can decline some services. Once they're 18, they don't have to participate at all and their records are confidential, even from their parents or caregivers. So young people can end up with no services and no one overseeing his or her care. Some call it falling through the cracks, but others say there is not even a strong enough system to fall through.

"I think the system is designed to have cracks and it’s frustrating,” said John Darrell, Rudolph's defense attorney. The Weymouth teen was in state foster care for a time and was working with the Department of Children and Families until he turned 18 last year. The department says Rudolph voluntarily asked to continue receiving state services, but those ended in May because Rudolph was no longer cooperating.

"The system has cracks in it and some people are unable to navigate around those cracks,” Darrell said. “Donald could not navigate it. As a result his issues were not completely addressed. His issues were greater than the system."

Darrell says at the time of the murders, Rudolph was essentially living on the streets, sometimes with his father in Quincy or his mother in Weymouth. Since May, when his state services ended, Rudolph was charged in two criminal cases and was on probation. Darrell describes Rudolph as psychotic — a sick boy from a loving family. And he says not much has changed since he first described his client at his arraignment last month. This is what Darrell told the court:

When I went to see him he didn't know why he was at the house of correction. I then had to tell the young man what he was charged with and he was shocked. I've been a lawyer for 30 years and I realize there are some issues here: multiple hospitalizations, multiple diagnoses, schizoaffective, manic depressive — on and on and on. We have a tragedy for the families, of course, and we have a tragedy also in this young man.

Rudolph is still undergoing a psychiatric evaluation at Bridgewater State Hospital that should be completed by the end of the month.

Mary Lou Sudders, with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, is calling for another evaluation — of the state agencies that had at times served both of these teens who are now charged with murder.

"What's troubling about them is they were both young men who had had a fair amount of contact with the public service and terrible tragedies arose,” Sudders said. “For the public to have trust and for all of us who care about kids in the system, we need to understand what happened and what lessons are to be learned for the future."

Several state agencies are looking at what lessons might be learned from these cases. Department of Children and Families Commissioner Angelo McClain says his department is reviewing its involvement with Rudolph and his family. McClain says overall the Massachusetts system for transition age youth is strong and has been able to maintain services despite deep budget cuts.

"Our agency has had over $100 million cut from our budget over the last few years. We've not cut funding for transition age youth, we've preserved that funding,” McClain said. “Over the last five years we've doubled the number of kids — I should call them transition age youth — that remain with the department after their 18th birthday."

McClain says the state knows how to meet the needs of these young people, but it is trying to improve so another young adult doesn't become another tragedy.

This program aired on December 6, 2011.

Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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