Investigation Reveals Problems in Five of Eleven Juvenile Treatment Centers

The Arizona Republic recently conducted an investigation into the State of Arizona’s regulation of level 1 juvenile residential treatment centers; facilities that provide services to children suffering from the most significant mental-health and behavioral issues. The investigation revealed that the State provides minimal oversight to these facilities. As a result, the Republic found that five of the eleven Level 1 treatment centers in Arizona had significant allegations by patients of physical and sexual abuse, violence and excessive runaways.

Over the past three years, the New Foundation, a not-for-profit Level 1 facility in Scottsdale that is home to children ages 11 to 17, has reported an average of one runaway child every three days for a total of 217 runaways. According to reports, at least fifteen of these children never returned to the facility. In response, the State recommended that the facility install higher fences to “deter clients from climbing and potentially injuring themselves,” but the facility ignored the recommendation. Although the State expressed concern about this issue, it does not required juvenile facilities to report runaway children to the department that licenses these facilities, the Arizona Department of Health Services. According to New Foundation Chief Executive Geri Leary, children runaway from the center in high numbers because it is not a lockdown facility. Ms. Leary admitted to ignoring the recommendation to build a higher fence stating, “Why would I build a fence when they can walk out the door? If we are not a locked facility, it’s not about building fences. And I won’t change it to a locked facility.” Ms. Leary said that many of the “runaways” return to the facility after a few hours. According to the Scottsdale Police, who have received approximately 400 calls about runaways over the past three years, many of the children go to a nearby Fry’s Grocery Store to steal cold medicine. According to the Foundation’s incident reports, several children from the center were hospitalized after ingesting stolen over-the-counter medication.

The Devereux Foundation in Scottsdale has reported 31 sexual cases between children living at the center. This center, according to the Republic, also had 64 allegations of sexual abuse by staff members against clients. Children at this center have also accused staff members of choking them, slamming them to the ground and punching them in the face. The center also reported the most severe injuries as a result of fighting between the children at the center. Even still, the Devereux Foundation received no sanctions from the ADHS for these incidents.

The Mingus Mountain Estate Residential Center, located outside Prescott Valley, home to 114 girls with special emotional needs, reported at least four allegations of sexual abuse by members of the staff.

Parc Place, a residential facility in Chandler, reported 100 instances of violence between peers over the last three years. Jake Nixon, a former staff member at Parc Place, referred to the center as “unsafe.” According to Mr. Nixon, “We would have 24 or 26 kids in a unit, and we were supposed to have at least five staff members, but sometimes we had just two or three . . . If I was a parent and could be a fly on the wall for two hours at that place, there is no way that I would leave my kid there.”

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