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How we reported this story

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How we reported this story

Picture of Jessica Miller
(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune)
(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune)
The Salt Lake Tribune
Thursday, April 15, 2021

For this story on the youth residential treatment industry in Utah, Salt Lake Tribune reporter Jessica Miller submitted more than 150 public records requests, scoured lawsuits and financial records and spoke with nearly a dozen young people who were sent to a Utah facility for treatment. 

Miller sent records requests to all 50 states asking for data about the amount of state funding used to send children to Utah. The following states responded with data: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. These 17 states reported that they did not spend money sending children to Utah: Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vermont. The remaining 19 states did not respond.

To calculate rates of reported violent crime and sexual abuse, Miller sent 97 records requests to police departments seeking a log that showed when officers were called to a youth residential treatment center and for what alleged crime. She received responses for 64 facilities. The incidents were then sorted into categories, including offenses considered to be violent or sexual offenses. The Tribune calculated a per-bed, per-day rate of violent crimes and sexual offenses because these centers vary in size.

This project was conducted as part of a data fellowship with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. As part of that fellowship, Associated Press Data Editor Meghan Hoyer provided guidance.

Read the violation reports and inspections for Utah’s ‘troubled-teen’ treatment centers

Thousands of children are sent away to Utah for treatment at “troubled-teen” centers and wilderness programs. But it has been hard to identify what places have a good track record and which ones don’t.

Utah’s Office of Licensing inspects and regulates each facility, and sometimes finds neglect, child abuse or sexual misconduct. That information should be easy to get. But it hasn’t been.

Until now.

The Salt Lake Tribune is making public thousands of inspections and critical incidents reports in this free, searchable database. This is possible because of the donations from more than 100 people. This money paid for the state to fulfill records requests. Other states have made similar databases public, but Utah requires people who want to see these records to pay for the cost of redacting private information, such as the names of children receiving treatment.

We are continuing to ask for your help. Let us know if you find something noteworthy in these documents. Email us at teentreatment@sltrib.com. We’ll continue to report on this industry, including our own findings from this trove of records. And we’ll be adding more records to this database in the days to come.

To access the database, click here.

 

How to read these reports

There are two types of reports included in this database: Inspections and critical incident reports.

Inspections

This is a checklist that a worker with the Office of Licensing takes with them when they walk through a youth residential treatment center or wilderness program. On the left, you’ll see an outline of the “core rules.” An inspector’s job is to check whether the facility is in compliance. At this time, all violations are weighed equally, so a ripped van seat counts the same as kids complaining they aren’t given enough to eat. Here are some definitions that might help as you read the records:

  • Staff-to-client ratios: Utah rules say there must be one staff member for every four students. Facilities can apply for an exception.

  • National Interstate Compact Laws (ICPC): This refers to laws adopted by each state that require case workers or parents to have certain documents filled out when a child is going from one state to another for treatment or adoption services. The facilities must keep these records on file.

Critical incidents

These reports are based on a complaint or an incident occurring at the facility. Reports can come from parents, former staff members and also directly from facilities, which are required to report any time a student is injured or seriously ill. The Office of Licensing then determines whether a “critical incident” occurred, and plans next steps to investigate. If a report is found to have merit, state licensing officials further determine if the facility violated a rule.

This database includes only critical incidents where the facility is found to have violated a rule.

It includes a summary of the incident that was reported, and what actions a facility has taken and plans to take in response. The document includes a log of how the Office of Licensing investigated and its conclusions. When a violation is found, the state can take the following actions:

  • Written notification: The office can give written notice that a violation took place with no formal follow-up. This is the most common response.

  • Corrective Action Plan (CAP): This requires facility administrators to submit a plan to correct the violations, and the Office of Licensing monitors. It is not considered a penalty.

  • Notice of Agency Action (NAA): The Office of Licensing issues a notice that outlines violations, and requires them to be fixed within a certain time frame or the facility would lose its license. These notices are published on the state’s website, and facilities are required to inform their clients of the action and post it on their own website. The state already makes these notices public, and they can be found here.

A note about our funding

When The Tribune initially asked for these records, the Office of Licensing estimated it would cost more than $6,250. The Tribune created a crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $11,000 from 136 donors.

In response to an appeal, the Office of Licensing lowered its estimate to $4,582. When it released the records, the office said it took less than half of the hours estimated to fulfill the request, and refunded more than $2,600.

This means, in total, the cost of receiving these records was just under $2,000. With the money from the crowdfunding campaign, we were able to expand the database to include youth wilderness therapy programs. The remaining funds will be used to assist The Tribune in future public records disputes.

Our partners

A team of journalists at The Salt Lake Tribune, KUER and APM Reports worked to bring you this database. Support also came from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This team is continuing to collaborate on a reporting project on youth residential treatment centers.

[This article was originally published by The Salt Lake Tribune.]