One year after the first regulatory reform in 15 years, one lawmaker says the state’s tools are still not strong enough. “There are certain violations that absolutely merit a facility being shut down.”
A lawmaker cites the state’s “clean look, clean feel” and strong family values. But the answer is a complex combination of history, culture and weak rules and regulations. Regulators haven’t closed a facility in the last five years.
Six years ago, a cruel disciplinary act against a young girl was kept secret — she had been forced to sit in a horse trough filled with cold water for 30 minutes. The incident only became public after the Sent Away team released a database of records that included every violation report documented at youth treatment facilities statewide. Today the state is planning to release violation and disciplinary information online.
Inappropriate contact between children and staff members has happened with some frequency in Utah’s teen treatment programs. Between November 2018 and July 2021, state regulators investigated at least 20 reports of staff pushing the boundaries with children, sometimes amounting to sexual abuse. State records show that 13 people resigned or were fired from youth treatment facilities after allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior during that time, according to a data analysis from Sent Away journalists.
“Secure transport services,” a shadowy corner of the teen-treatment industry, are almost entirely unregulated. Parent-hired transporters can pull kids from their beds, handcuff them, hold them down or blindfold them. In Utah, a legislator who recently sponsored a bill that brought regulatory reform to the state’s booming teen-treatment industry said he wants to take a closer look at how kids from all over the country are getting to the state for treatment.
The once-ascendant youth treatment company has agreed to shutter its 14th center in the past three years following a state report that found abuse of kids with autism, including one resident who was allegedly whipped with a tree branch.
Up until 2019, the agency regulating Utah’s massive youth treatment industry rarely cited facilities for violating rules — even after cases of abuse. After a 2016 incident left a teenager with a concussion, state regulators listened to his mom’s complaint — and then did nothing about it.
The families of 17 kids settled their lawsuit against the owner of Mesabi Academy for $1.495 million, even as more treatment centers closed, forcing youth with mental health needs to wait months for care.
Utah has become a national center for youth treatment, and it goes easy on the industry. At one facility, teen girls were forced to sit in a horse trough as punishment, and state regulators chose not to punish the people who did it.
A yearlong investigation led by APM Reports finds the company took in some of the most difficult-to-treat children while keeping costs low in pursuit of profit and expansion. The result was dozens of cases of physical violence, sexual assault and improper restraints. Despite repeated scandals, many states and counties continue to send kids to Sequel for one central reason: They have little choice.
• Legal settlement nears • Some former residents are in jail or charged with crimes • Whistleblower has no regrets • The state changes how it regulates juvenile facilities • Buhl can't find a buyer for the building KidsPeace left behind
Findings released after investigation into charges of maltreatment, safety violations, poor supervision and training. Governor wants oversight system changed. The center closed June 30 after an investigation by APM Reports.
Families and counties are scrambling to place children after Mesabi Academy said it would close its doors June 30. Hennepin and Ramsey counties have sent more complaints about the correctional facility.
A flawed, confused system prevents judges, social services officials and guardians from discovering critical information about the condition of the residential treatment facilities regulated by the Department of Corrections. Mesabi Academy, scheduled to close next month, is a case study. Since opening in 1998, the juvenile correctional facility had been seen as a reliable jobs provider, receiving subsidies from government and tens of millions of dollars in loans from its parent. But attempts to sustain the business may have compromised resident and worker safety.
Minnesota's Department of Corrections tracks reports about the 60-plus juvenile residential treatment centers it licenses. But it does little to disseminate that information. APM Reports obtained the data about what the department calls incidents and complaints for 2009 to March 2016 and sorted it in this searchable table.