Experiences With Residential Treatment Facilities- Delinquents, Assaults, and Lessons Learned
Two Years of Hypocrisy
I have recently resigned from my position as a Mental Health Worker in one of the most prestigious treatment facilities in the nation, and for several reasons. By doing so, I have gained valuable insight into the practices and regulations of such facilities, as well as experienced firsthand the hypocrisy that results from being employed in a field in which one no longer believes.
During my first several months of employment at this facility, I possessed such hope and courage for the works that I was about to perform. I strongly desired to help the children and adolescents that were mandated into the program, as most of the residents were court-ordered to the institution for incredible lengths of time. I quickly learned that whereas the vast majority of these individuals were young in age, they were not at all innocent in the offenses that they had committed against the community, their parents, and themselves.
It is important for such knowledge to be shared. Many Americans possess very little information about the inner-workings of residential treatment facilities simply because they have no need of such awarenesses. Fortunately for these people, the plague of crime has not touched their lives.
But it had touched mine, and I was ready and willing to start making a difference. What I did not know, however, was that such a positive intention rarely comes to fruition in such a setting, and that in actuality, those workers with the best intentions are oftentimes the first to suffer.
The majority of the clients were mandated by their respective court system due to highly aggressive physical behaviors both inside and outside of their homes. Several had beaten members of the immediate families or caregivers as well as committed some type of crime against members of their extended families. One example of this was an adolescent who assaulted her aunt- her caregiver at the time- and then set fire to her grandfather's furniture. Older residents tended to be gang members, drug dealers, prostitutes, and child molesters, resulting in the crimes that they had been charged with before being committed to the facility. Younger residents were usually victims of abuse and/or neglect and were failing in both the school and community settings due to the inability to cope with such traumas.
Keep in mind that the age group for this particular facility was eight to eighteen years of age.
A very small percentage of the clients were sent to this institution because of their parents' rights to custody being terminated. I have witnessed this occurring in situations involving drug usage, prison confinement, neglect, and abuse. This does not happen often; as I have stated before, the vast majority of these individuals were mandated to reside at a facility because of their own wrongdoings.
Despite the overall negative reputations that were maintained by the majority of my clients, there were children there that gave me hope on a regular basis. I knew that no matter the circumstances, these individuals would be able to leave the treatment facility and move on to bigger and better things. This is the reason why I continued to do that job- for the ones who still had a positive outlook on life and the future despite the horrors that they had lived through.
- A juvenile detention escape, riot exposes weakness in facility - CBS News
Although responders put down a riot at the Nashville center, it was the second trouble in a week and showed where the system could be breached.
The Physical Damage
Within the first six months of my employment, I had been severely assaulted several times. Despite my working with the second to youngest group of boys on campus, I was often required to attend assistance calls in other residences as part of my training. It was in one of these other houses that I was physically beaten by three teenaged girls while the other staff present were involved in yet another dangerous situation. Because of the physical circumstances of my attack, no other staff member was able to reach me in time and there were no additional staff on campus to aid further. I was beaten by two females from the front, and one from the back; I walked out of that house with a black eye, a badly-bruised nose, a concussion, a dislocated shoulder, and several gashes on my arms due to being scratched.
You may be asking why I allowed myself to sustain such injuries. The reason is, simply put, because I was not allowed to defend myself in a way that would pose danger to the children. This was a fact that had been passed along to me by my employer.
In the younger houses, injuries included concussions (a coworker of mine was beaten in the head with a Wii controller by a 10-year old before I could get to him), bite marks, black eyes, broken noses, and scratches. I still and always will have scars on my legs, arms and hands from the more aggressive residents; the injuries sustained from the children who assaulted staff "just for fun" have long since faded.
The residents often harmed other residents as well. Fights were extremely common. In perhaps one of the most traumatizing confrontations I witness there, a girl weighing about 100 pounds was jumped and beaten by three other girls, each of whom weighed at least 200 pounds. It was brutal, and I couldn't assist her in any way because of the size of her assailants. No matter what she had done, or stolen or said, there was no justification for that type of brutality, but it existed and was demonstrated on several occasions. The residents just did not know how to peacefully resolve their conflicts with one another, and instead almost immediately resorted to violence in order to solve their differences.
The Morale of This Short Story
The concept which I intend to delve into further through additional hubs is this: we were expected to be superheroes. And we wanted to be. But unfortunately, reality sets in for all of us and I, for one, eventually realized that it is impossible to help someone who has no interest in helping themselves.
Hopefully, I will be able to shed some new light on the current issues of residential treatment facilities, including but not limited to: high staff turnover rates due to "burnout", punitive practices and regulations, the pros and cons of a system based on consequences, lack of staff rights, and others.
Please feel free to share any common experiences as well as any insight into alternative treatments for troubled children. As a former employee, I can report that the modern-day Residential Treatment Facility is falling short of its mark across the nation.
For More Information
- Mental Health Care in Juvenile Detention Facilities: A Review
From the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.