The Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) recently highlighted concerns at Bledsoe Youth Academy in Gallatin, Tennessee during a visit in July 2023.
The purpose of the visit was to check on the immediate well-being of the New Hampshire kids in this out-of- state placement.
According to the report posted on August 12, 2023, several children at the academy have allegedly suffered years of trauma due to exposure to substance use, mental illness, domestic violence, and/or abuse and neglect by primary caretakers.
“My office felt the need to highlight concerns observed and voiced during a visit to an out-of-state residential facility in which New Hampshire kids are placed.” Child Advocate Cassandra Sanchez stated. “When young people are far from home, they are at their most vulnerable. It is incumbent on the system responsible for their well-being to ensure they are receiving the therapeutic care they need to return to their communities as soon as possible. If placement facilities cannot deliver the service provision our state agencies have entrusted them to provide, then our children should not remain in those settings.”
The issue briefing details firsthand observations, disclosures from the kids in placement, and recommendations to improve quality of care for all children in residential placements.
During the facility visit, advocates met with multiple kids from New Hampshire to check on how they are doing and allow them to describe their experiences in the program. During these check-ins, the Advocates learned:
• Disclosures were made that kids are offered incentives by staff to assault other “problematic” kids. For example, if a kid is giving staff a difficult time, another kid might be asked by staff to go after him physically and would be rewarded by staff with a snack or some other incentive, and the aggressor would not be written up for the behavior.
• To stay on the staff’s “good side” one kid, who worked at fast-food restaurant, brought back food for staff. He shared that only two other kids in the program were allowed to work and they work at other local fast-food restaurants. He stated that if he was unable to bring their exact “order,” they might find ways to give him a hard time such as unjustified write ups (taking points from the point system, etc.). He denied using his own means to provide these meals.
• The kids reported staff as the most difficult part of this placement. One offered that staff read their files and utilize information from them to berate and insult all kids into compliance. For example, they have heard staff say to other kids in the program “you are here because your uncle raped you” and the kids reported being told “you are here because your mamas don’t love you.” The Advocates asked, “What is that like for you?” In response, one kid became emotional, and his eyes welled with tears as he said, “It’s horrible.”
• In further discussing the clinical programming, the kids indicated that the group therapy “sucks.” They noted the sessions were poorly planned, there were not always relevant topics, and they have not learned from them. Rather than gaining skills to better manage their trauma reactive behaviors, they were sitting through the groups to ensure they got points for clinical attendance.
• The kids reported concerns for bed bugs as they had been told by other children that they had bed bug bites; this has not been substantiated by the Advocates, however the concern is valid. The kids also stated that there are mice that come and go from the laundry rooms by way of holes in the walls.
• The kids reported that at times they had to sleep on mattresses on the floor and/or in common areas.
To view the full report, visit here.
Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services stated they have opened its own investigation.