● The questions arise through the story of a 15-year-old boy who walked more than 100 miles in the middle of a Pacific Northwest winter to escape “residential treatment” – and return to his mother - where he is doing well.
county court commissioner put it best: "Until you can show me that those sorts
of institutions work, why would we build another one?"
It's a long way from Spokane, Washington to Libby, Montana.
But one 15-year-old boy walked most of the way - in the middle of winter -
in order to escape "residential treatment" and return to his mother.
For some kids at Excelsior, their behavior only gets worse, and officials take the extreme step of shipping them out of state.
The story of Tim Moore
At the institution, everything gets worse
he showed up on the doorstep of his mother's trailer at 3 am, in the rain, with holes in his shoes, blisters on his feet and tears running down his face.
Tim, now 16, lives about as normal a life as he could ask for with his mom in Montana. She bakes cookies when he gets home from school as his little brother plays with Play-Doh. In school, Haines says he's getting A's and B's, and he even corrected his math teacher in front of the class. He has sleepovers with friends, plays sports, and draws pictures that are hung on the fridge. When his mom hears him curse, she warns him about his language. He rolls his eyes and obeys.
One last attempt at state-sanctioned sabotage
[Juvenile Court Commissioner] Rachelle Anderson, presiding over the case, had to choose. Either Tim would be placed in Iowa, as the state recommended, or he'd be allowed to stay with his mom, where he was already doing well in school, did everything his mother asked, and had counseling appointments scheduled.
The failure of residential treatment
Turning victims into criminals
Michelle Ressa, a Spokane County court commissioner, suggests that group homes are more likely to call police for something that in a family setting would result in, for instance, a child being grounded.
"I have seen examples of kids throwing food, and police being called," Ressa says. "I don't think that would happen with Mom and Dad. … "I haven't seen that what's happening at Excelsior is working for the majority of kids," Ressa says.
Local public defenders who represent these kids say they consistently notice their client's criminal history starting or getting worse once placed in a group home. Mike Elston, a Spokane County public defender, says he has four clients who are group home residents, and together, 90 percent of their pending charges come from incidents against the group home or its employees. For those clients, about half of their criminal history prior to those charges came from group homes.
Brooke Foley, a Spokane County public defender representing juveniles, says the problem is that kids are put in these group homes, especially Excelsior, in the first place.
"I think it's borderline negligence for the state to put them there, when they know this is happening," Foley says.
Whether or not it happens when they lived with you, or they lived with me, doesn't make you or me the reason they're making negative behavior choices Their choices are a result, again, from their disabilities. Their choices, again, are from their abuse and neglect histories. Their choices, again, are from the learned environment, which was not what we would call orthodox.
Until you can show me that those sorts of institutions work, why would we build another one?