Monday, August 21, 2023

Attn: New Hampshire “Child Advocate” – there are horrendous institutions in your state, too

You shouldn’t be getting “a good night’s sleep” while kids are institutionalized anywhere.  

If your state didn’t tear apart families at a rate nearly double the national average, you wouldn't be institutionalizing children at triple the national average.  In fact, none would “need” to be institutionalized. 

The Bledsoe Youth Academy in Tennessee sure sounds like a hellhole.  That’s what New Hampshire’s “Child Advocate,” Cassandra Sanchez, found when she toured the place. 

As the news site In-Depth New Hampshire reports: 

Sanchez and Assistant Child Advocate Jennifer Jones toured Bledsoe, finding it was run by staff through fear and humiliation … 

At Bledsoe, kids are offered incentives by staff to assault other “problematic” kids, the report said. 

“…if a kid is giving staff a difficult time, another kid might be asked by staff to go after him physically and would be rewarded by staff with a snack or some other incentive, and the aggressor would not be written up for the behavior. …” 

So Sanchez was understandably proud of herself for getting two New Hampshire foster youth out of the place.  But Sanchez takes that way too far when, as the story puts it, 

Finally, she and her staffers can breathe and get a good night’s sleep knowing they are no longer at Bledsoe, she said. 

The management of WMUR-TV apparently feels similarly reassured

But no one should be getting a good night’s sleep as long as foster children are institutionalized – in Tennessee, New Hampshire, or anywhere else.  In fact, that goes triple for New Hampshire, where, as of 2021, 27% of foster children were institutionalized - a rate triple the national average.

And Sanchez, of all people, should know it. Because just last year her predecessor issued a report exposing widespread abuse at a home-grown institution. In fact, the Child Advocate’s office received a “cascade of complaints” about the place.  And yet, for some reason, that institution got kid glove treatment, not only from the state but in the remarkably tepid recommendations from the Child Advocate’s office itself.  You can read all about that institution, and the state’s lousy response here.

As we pointed out in that post, institutionalization is inherently so traumatic as to be an act of abuse in itself.  It is also unnecessary.  The evidence is overwhelming that there is nothing an institution can do that can’t be done better, and at far less cost, with Wraparound programs.  Watch Wraparound pioneer Karl Dennis explain how it’s done.


And that makes Sanchez’s own response even more disheartening.  Again, from the story: 

Two Executive Councilors and a handful of lawmakers have reached out to Sanchez’ office since the report became public to see what can be done to avoid a similar situation in the future. … 

One idea Sanchez mentioned was to form a commission to study the residential treatment placement of children in and out of state and find out what’s working well. 

Just a commission?  You sure you don’t want a blue-ribbon commission?  Or maybe a “task force”? 

That’s what they’ve got in Colorado, a state that also institutionalizes children at a rate above the national average, but actually looks good compared to New Hampshire – and they’ve stacked it with people who run residential treatment centers.  You can guess how that’s going to go. 

So let me make New Hampshire the same offer I made Colorado: I can save the state a little money and a whole lot of time. 

Here’s a list of everything that’s “working well” in residential treatment: 


When it comes to institutionalizing children the only thing that works well is not institutionalizing children. It appears the new director of New Hampshire's family police agency knows this.  He says a top priority will be reducing institutionalization.

And yes, New Hampshire could do that.  The so-called “shortage” of foster homes in New Hampshire is artificial.  It comes from the fact that New Hampshire tears children from their families at the ninth highest rate in America – a rate nearly double the national average – even when child poverty is factored in. 

Get the children who don’t need to be in foster homes back into their own homes and there will be plenty of room in foster homes for the relatively few children who need to be taken away. 

But Sanchez undermines any effort to even consider that option when she refers to having concerns that institutionalization is “further traumatizing the kids.”  That reinforces the false impression that every child removed from her or his home had been traumatized there.  In fact, many children are not traumatized until they are taken away.

Sanchez’s false framing makes it that much less likely that the one option that “works well” will be considered by lawmakers. 

All of this means that, at best, those New Hampshire children rescued from the hellhole in Tennessee are out of the fire and into the frying pan. 

That should be keeping Sanchez and her staff awake at night.