By Brianna Gleghorn
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio-The majority of missing persons and runaway reports are most issued for children from group homes and residential treatment centers in the Youngstown, Ohio area.
In Youngstown there are three centers with a high number of runaway and missing person reports: New Beginnings Residential, Safehouse Residential and Artis’ Tender Love and Care.
Lt. Brian Flynn,head of the Family Services Intervention Unit with the Youngstown Police Department, deals with the issue of runaway teenagers every day.
“If they closed these group homes, we would reduce our runaway problem by about 70 percent,” Flynn said.
Although the terms group home and residential treatment center sound similar, their definitions determine the care and protection their residents receive.
According to Ohio state law, explained within this section of the Ohio Revised Code,a “children’s residential center” is defined as having 11 or more residents, whereas“a group home for children” can have at most 10 residents.
These facilities can be operated by a private child-placement facility, private noncustodial agency or public child services agency but the facilities are ‘unlocked.’This means that residents can walk out of the center and can only be asked to not leave – they cannot be physically restrained by staff.
Both private and public facilities must obtain certification from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to be classified either a residential treatment center or a group home.
New Beginnings Residential Treatment Center is a qualified residential treatment program, or QRTP, that works with at-risk children and young adults from ages 10 through 21. The residents are from counties all over Ohio and the facility can support up to 48 residents, but average about 40 residents at a time.
New Beginnings is classified as a ‘staff secured,’ unlocked facility.
Chappie Bair, community relations coordinator for New Beginnings, has been with the facility for four years.
“We break our kids down into two areas:behavior kids, those that have behavioral conduct disorder type kids, and then the juvenile sex offenders,” Bair said.
Bair explained that New Beginnings separates their residents by gender and program. For example, the boys and girls considered ‘behavioral residents’ are on different floors and are separated by gender, and the juvenile sex offenders are placed in a different wing from the behavioral residents and are also separated by gender.
“We get a vast array of kids,” Bair said.
Part of Bair’s job is to do the marketing for New Beginnings. This entails speaking with different counties about their facility and if a county wants to use their facility, they can send their child’s information to the facility.
“Group homes [are] a step down from residential. Residentials takes more riskier kids. Usually, when a kid is leaving our place to be discharged, they try to find a group home for them so that child in the group home has already been through a year or two of therapy and counseling.”
Many of these residents have gone through abuse physically, emotionally, sexually or a mix of all three. They are one of only a few facilities that will take boys and girls.
Bair was asked to describe challenges he faces in his position with New Beginnings because of working in an ‘unlocked’ facility.
“I’d love to be locked,” Bair said. “We have what we call delayed egress. In other words, we have 15 second bars on the [doors], and if they press that an alarm goes off, to let us know that they’re trying to get out and won’t release for 15 seconds, which meets fire code.”
“But are there some kids that do need a locked facility? I believe there is,” he said.
According to Ohio state law, explained within this section of the Ohio Administrative Code, physical restraint can only be used in emergency situations when the child is going to hurt themselves, other residents or staff.
Although these children are under custody of the county, there is nothing keeping them in the facility other than a verbal warning by staff.
“It’s kids from other children services agencies, and other counties, all throughout the state that get sent here that are the biggest problem,” Flynn said.
T.J. Rodgers, second ward councilman of the Youngstown City Council, said the issue of children from different counties running from these facilities was new information to him.
“I’m not sure that there’s anything that can be done based on the laws,” Rodgers said. “I have heard people reference the fact that the kids, I wouldn’t say necessarily run away, but they leave.”
Ryan Gies, director of the Ohio Division of Youth Services, has been in his position since January 2019 but has worked for the department for 26 years.
“We know through research and practice that the best way to be successful with a youth whose gotten involved with the court is to effectively work within the community whenever possible, because 100 percent of kids in the system will be, if they’re removed from the community, returning on or before their 21st birthday,” Gies said.
Five juvenile correctional facilities have closed in Ohio since 2009. This leaves only three juvenile correctional facilities in the whole state; Highland Hills, Circleville and Massillon.
“They’re closing all the DYS [Division of Youth Services facilities] in Ohio,” Bair said. “They’ve closed all the kid’s prisons, except one or two that are still left. There’s a big push not to lock kids up. Well, that’s fine and dandy, but where are all those kids going? They’re now going to places like ours.”
Counties all over Ohio are sending their children to these facilities in Youngstown for the care that is provided but do not understand the problems included in doing so. The children are being sent counties away from their friends and family and to an area with which they are unfamiliar.
“The most successful way- the best way for someone to be successful long term is to not remove them from the community but provide accountability and treatment in or near the communities there,” Gies said.
Gies said the closure of these correctional facilities was based on lower populations within these facilities and because overall, fewer juvenile offenders are committing felonies.
“We dropped from around 2,000 [juveniles], down to about 530 [juveniles] today that are in our state custody,” Gies said. “We’re not just pushing kids out of facilities and pushing them into communities.The number of [juveniles who commit felonies] in Ohio has dropped from over 13,000 in 1998, to under 4,200 last year.”
Artis’ Tender Love and Care is a private group home for girls ages 10-18, mainly from Mahoning and Cuyahoga county.
The group home is owned by former first ward Youngstown City Council members Artis and Annie Gillam. Artis Gillam served as councilman from 2000 to 2007 and Annie Gillam served from 2008 to 2015.
Felicia Williams, an administrative assistant at Artis’ Tender Love and Care, said counseling is not provided at the group home but residents are taken to outside counseling.
An administrator from Artis’ Tender Love and Care was not available to comment.
Safehouse Residential Services Division is a residential treatment facility that also has a group home program. The residential program is for ages 12 to 17 but licensed for ages 11 to 21. The group home program is for ages 16 to 18 but licensed to 21.
Bair, from New Beginnings, was the former administrator of Safehouse and describes the two facilities as very similar.
Administration from Safehouse Residential were unavailable to comment.
Judge Theresa Dellick from Mahoning County Juvenile Court explained that data and research show that placing juvenile offenders in correctional facilities and “locking them up” for minor offenses will in time hurt the juvenile offender.
“We used to have 100 students here in this facility,” Dellick said. “Now we have nine. They were getting locked up for minor offenses and then placed with higher [risk] offenders. Placing a high-risk offender with a medium or low-risk offender can raise [the low-risk offender] to a medium or high-risk offender.”
The high amount of runaway and missing person reports for youth in the Youngstown area comes from three facilities. These reports show the effect this system for children and teenagers has and why it needs improvements.
Cynthia Carter, former social worker for the Family Services Intervention Unit with the Youngstown Police Department, has 14 years of experience in helping children in the Youngstown area.
Carter explained an experience she had with a group home involving a 11-year-old autistic child with severe cognitive impairments. The group home allegedly had no accommodations to deal with the child’s condition and left him in a noisy environment surrounded by other children.
“The only thing that was between him and 17 and 18-year-old sex offenders was one monitor. I asked an individual ‘how are you guys dealing with his autism’ and then she asked me what was autism. I’m like are you really serious? And she said, ‘oh you mean his behavior’ and I’m like no not his behavior, it’s his sickness,” Carter said.
Carter claimed the home had no experience or training to help this child.
“He has autism and they don’t even know what it is. He’s constantly running away cause they’re driving him crazy,” Carter claimed.
She also claims that facilities who house sex offenders are not trained to deal with them and create issues when they are housed on the same floor together.
“You have places where there are physical attacks, sexual attacks just because you have a child who’s in the system, because as a young child they’ve been sexually assaulted and now they become offenders themselves. Then you put them in a facility that is filled with sexual offenders and you don’t know how to deal with them because the staff you have around is not trained to deal with this,” Carter said.