HPD report indicates two year gap in reporting sex allegations at Headstart

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A Hattiesburg Police department incident report states that PACE Headstart Director, Peggy Ainsworth, told police about a 2012 child sex abuse allegation in May of 2014.

In the HPD report, Ainsworth advised that in February 2012 a child reported to a teacher, irritation to the genital area. Ainsworth stated that the child's teacher was contacted and told of the allegations, but he denied those allegations. The incident report does not indicate exactly when the teacher was confronted.

Ainsworth indicated to police that they conducted and investigation and turned the information over to the Mississippi Department of Human Services, but the incident report is unclear as to when that investigation took place.

Ainsworth has not been available for comment.

An interim agency has taken over operations of the Forrest County PACE Head Start Program due to the failure of properly reporting these sexual abuse allegations.

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) suspended the program Thursday because the program did not have an effective system in place to ensure the safety of the children enrolled in the program.

According to a report issued by ACF, on February 17, 2012, PACE received an allegation that a staff member had allegedly sexually abused a three-year-old child at the Hattiesburg High School Head Start Center. According to the report, the allegation was made known to the accused teacher as well as one other staffer.

However, the ACF report indicates that the incident was not made known to the Executive Director of the program until June 28, 2013.

In fact, the alleged abuser was last seen interacting with children two weeks ago during a summer bridge program.

ACF reported that there was no proof of an investigation, and it was even documented in a letter dated May 14, 2014 by PACE Head Start that the alleged incident still had not been investigated.

ACF confirmed that there was an attempt to report the alleged incident in June of 2013; however, a coordinator was confused as to what agency was responsible for investigating the abuse.

The Executive Director did not inform the police of the allegation until 28 months after the allegation was made.

Once the Executive Director did reach out to the Department of Human Resources, they were  advised to contact the police. The letter confirmed that even after the advice, the Executive Director waited an additional 21 days after being advised to file a report with the Hattiesburg Police Department.

According to the letter from the regional program director, HPD is now investigating the sexual allegations.

The ACF report stated PACE Head Start is prohibited from making any new expenditures or incurring any new obligations from Head Start funds for 30 days. The interim grantee will operate the program until the suspension has been corrected.

To view the ACF report, click here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/bei0efzpws9uqsl/PACE.pdf