Why we raised money to get reports on Utah’s ‘troubled teen’ treatment centers

This story was produced as part of a larger project by Jessica Miller, a participant in the 2019 Data Fellowship. It focuses on the troubled rehabilitation industry in Utah, where youth residential treatment centers are abundant but lack adequate oversight.

Also in this series:

Paris Hilton says she was abused while at Utah facility for ‘troubled teens’

Part 1: Inside Utah’s troubled teen industry: How it started, why kids are sent here and what happens to them

Part 2: Provo Canyon School’s history of abuse accusations spans decades, far beyond Paris Hilton

Paris Hilton creates petition to shut down Provo Canyon School

Paris Hilton leads rally against Provo Canyon School

Part 3: Utah faces criticism for its light oversight of ‘troubled teen’ treatment centers

Part 4: Former students at Utah troubled-teen centers say their reports of sex abuse were ignored

Utah ‘troubled-teen’ centers have used ‘booty juice’ to sedate kids, a practice outlawed in other states

Utah inspectors find no problems in ‘troubled-teen’ facilities 98% of the time

Increased oversight is coming to Utah’s ‘troubled-teen’ industry

Utah ranch for ‘troubled teens’ could lose its license for subjecting kids to forced labor, ‘repetitive walking’

A girl, her hands zip tied, was forced to sit in a horse trough at a Utah ‘troubled-teen’ center

Paris Hilton, Utah lawmaker celebrate restrictions on troubled-teen centers. And promise more reforms.

How we reported this story

Utah officials want your help as they draft new rules for the ‘troubled-teen’ industry

UPDATE: We have met our goal with the help of more than 100 supporters. Thank you all. We are in the process of requesting these records now. If you would like to continue tracking our progress, we’ll be sending regular emails. Also, any future contributions will support The Tribune’s efforts to access public records.

I’ve spent a year looking into the “troubled teen” treatment centers scattered throughout our state, and I’ve run into the same problem repeatedly — records that should be easy to get are not.

I’m talking about state reports in which investigators found abuse or neglect. I’m talking about the basic inspections.

Utah’s Department of Human Services has them and agrees they are public documents. But to get them, they are requiring that we pay redaction fees. The bill? More than $6,000.

It is easier for a person to go online and find the latest inspection for a restaurant than it is to find reports on whether a youth residential treatment center is keeping vulnerable children safe.
We want to change that. And we’d like your help.

My editors are letting me try an experiment. This is The Salt Lake Tribune’s first attempt at crowdfunding. We are trying to raise $10,000. With that money, we’ll get the records, and we’ll build a database to make them available to all for free.

Please donate, even if it is just a few dollars.

So far, I’ve written stories about:

• Persistent claims of misconduct at Provo Canyon School that go back decades, including claims from celebrity Paris Hilton.
• A riot at Red Rock Canyon School and the increasing turmoil leading up to it, which included 10 staffers charged with child abuse for choking, pushing or punching kids in the face.
• Children from every state attend Utah’s residential treatment centers, but not all of these centers offer the same level of care. Some centers report sexual crimes to the police at a rate four times higher than the average. Some have had repeated reports of child abuse and numerous times when staffers have hurt children as they improperly held them in restraints.
(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jessica Miller.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jessica Miller.













Over this past year, I’ve had parents reach out and ask for help finding out about a treatment center. They didn’t have much time to choose a facility, they said, and worried they might be making the wrong decision and that their loved one might be harmed.

It’s heartbreaking because these people weren’t seeking my advice or my endorsement — which, of course, is not my role as a journalist. All they wanted was information. This is information the state government has.

Let’s get it for them.

My hope is that we raise enough money to be able to provide these records to the public (with the names of patients redacted), and, if by chance we surpass that goal, we will use any extra funds to help Tribune reporters gain access to other public records.

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