New facility provides safe, secure care for chronic runaway teens

September 2018 · Ministry News
An 18-bed secure care facility for juveniles judged to be chronic runaways has opened in Sedgwick County. It is licensed by the State and operated under the direction of Saint Francis.

Located within the Sedgwick County Juvenile Detention Center, the secured area has separate wings for boys and girls, each wing housing nine beds. This is only the third secure care juvenile facility in the state, bringing the total number of secure care beds to 42. The other secure care beds are located Newton and Junction City.

The 5,000-square-foot area includes a communal recreation area, dining hall and classrooms where youth, ages 12 – 18, can continue their schoolwork under the instruction of ORION Education and Training, a USD 259 subcontractor. A staff of 25 Saint Francis employees, including social workers and behavioral technicians, oversee the youth 24-7. A clinical director and registered nurse are also on staff during the day.

“Kansas has an increasing need for beds and therapeutic treatment options for children in foster care, especially those children who have chronic runaway behaviors,” said Trish Bryant, Vice President of Children and Family Services for Saint Francis. “The Sedgwick County Department of Juvenile Programs reached out to us with an offer of available space in their facility. We’re excited to take this program from concept to reality, and we appreciate the County’s tremendous support.”

Juvenile court judges across Kansas adjudicate youth to a secure care facility, often because these youth repeatedly have run away from other child welfare placements. Youth are sent to the facility for an initial 60-day stay, with two 60-day extension options available at the court’s discretion. The youth are required to stay the full length of time ordered by the court.

“The courts have been asking for more beds and more safe settings like this,” Bryant said. “Saint Francis has designed this program around a clinical model of trauma informed care and will include individual, group and family therapies. The whole idea is to give kids a safe environment where they can learn healthy living skills. They will get the behavioral therapy they need so they can recognize and control their own emotions. The goal is to prepare these kids to reintegrate into a family setting or other safe environment.”

“Many of these youth have experienced extensive trauma, and some are survivors of heinous human trafficking,” said the Very Reverend Robert N. Smith, Dean, President and CEO of Saint Francis. “That’s why we’ve structured a nurturing environment where kids don’t have to feel criminalized or further traumatized.

“Traditional youth detention facilities simply aren’t equipped or staffed to offer the kind of therapeutic services these kids need,” Smith continued. “Saint Francis’ model has the potential to vastly improve outcomes for these youth and strengthen juvenile justice programming in general. We are grateful to the Kansas Department of Children and Families and to Sedgwick County for embracing this concept and allowing us to implement it for Kansas’ kids.”