Youth center sparks worry for residents

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 10, 2000

A new children’s treatment center at Kitts Hill has caused concern among residents living near the facility.

Friday, March 10, 2000

A new children’s treatment center at Kitts Hill has caused concern among residents living near the facility.

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The Children’s Center of Ohio recently turned an old farmhouse on County Road 53 into a 12-bed residential treatment facility that will house 13- to 17-year-old boys, co-director Michael Burke said.

Burke and co-director Robert Boggs are former employees of the Ramey-Estep home in Boyd County, Ky. Their center is not related to that facility.

"We started trying to open up about 14 months ago," Burke said. "We try to work with children and families so we can try to get them back into the home."

But the types of children accepted for treatment at the center, which include defiant and delinquent children, still have neighbors worried.

"I don’t see how they can keep 12 to 14 kids and somebody to watch them all the time," nearby resident Carl Carpenter said.

The neighborhood did not know about the center until recently, and residents are concerned that juvenile delinquents might escape, which is a safety issue, Carpenter said.

Burke said the center accepts problem children and delinquents, but not youthful offenders like murderers or rapists.

"That’s not safe in a residential setting," he said. "I can understand everyone’s concern. There have been other facilities here that obviously have not worked out, but we are not those facilities."

The Lawrence County Commission also brought safety concerns to the table at its Thursday meeting.

"Paul (Herrell) and I met last week with them about what they were going to do out there," commissioner George Patterson said.

The directors made assurance that no youth would cause problems, but a listing of juveniles accepted at the facility brought more concerns, Patterson said.

In a memo from Burke, types of placements at the center included truant children, those who have difficulties at school, failed foster home placements, those suffering from drug or alcohol abuse, children defiant to authority, children who have attempted suicide or made terroristic threats or who are beyond parental control.

Reading from the fax, commission president Bruce Trent said the center does not accept youthful offenders, but that there’s a very serious list of problems treated at the center, which is a concern.

"It’s a situation where I can understand the concern because of the past, but we’re not any other facility," Burke said. "It doesn’t work that way here. We’re about helping children."

Burke said he could not guarantee children under treatment will not escape. But, if they do, they will be caught quickly, he said.

"It’s staffed 24 hours a day with two staff persons for every 10 children," Burke said. "If a child runs, he will be in plain view of the staff and he’s not going to get far."

That escape issue is still a big concern for residents, who oppose the center’s proximity to them, Carpenter said.

"You would think the public would have had some kind of input into it, especially with the type of people staying there," he said.

Burke said the center received its treatment license two weeks ago from the Ohio Department of Human Services.

The programs are highly structured and use positive peer groups, behavior modifications like incentives for doing well, and reality therapy in treatment, he said. reality therapy is like an encounter group where the facts of a child’s situation is presented to them so they can see the problem up close, he added.