OUR RESPONSE TO PRESS

We have had two incidents that created negative press coverage that we would like to tell you about. You can find that below.

Before that, we'd like to explain the environment of care in which we operate: We take care of teenage girls who have significant early childhood trauma. Some examples–

  • They have frequently come out of the foster care system.
  • They have had family trauma in their early life.
  • Many of them are adopted.
  • They have often been physically or sexually or emotionally abused.
  • They might have family dysfunction with law enforcement involvement.
  • There could be mental illness in their early caregivers.

Quite simply, our girls have had a rough start. With the level of difficulty and trauma they have experienced, they wind up having a hard time managing in society when they hit their teenage years. They begin to act out. They might bomb out of school. They might run away. They might be involved in dangerous activities.

 

These are the children we work with. They are representative of a large mental health crisis in the United States. We are in the middle of a mental health epidemic. Rates of depression are skyrocketing in adolescence. Serious mental illness has increased. There is more suicidal ideation. Social media has a huge negative influence, as noted by the CDC. Our children are in trouble.

 

Frequently, mental health issues are able to be managed in local communities in an outpatient setting. However, some cases are extremely acute and the adolescents and the guardians need a break; they need a reset to try and bring their child back to functionality. They need something that will heal their child and allow her to safely reside in a home environment.

 

That is where Havenwood Academy comes in. We bring these young ladies into our care and work with them from a relational setting to try to heal their distrust of adults. We try to teach them how to be appropriately relational. We try to teach them how to be close without being hurt.

 

As you might expect, our teens do not show up feeling a lot of trust. From a place of mistrust they act out quite frequently. They might attack other students. They might attack staff. They sometimes try to run away. They are disrespectful. They are struggling to move forward in the beginning stages of therapy. In this dynamic environment, we work to keep our students safe and our staff safe. It is difficult and messy at times.

 

Especially in the early stages of treatment, we have to physically stop dangerous behavior with some of our students/clients. As they acclimate to treatment and begin to get healthy, this gets better and they begin to heal. It is beautiful to watch this transformation. It is difficult to watch the early stages. If you have never worked in such an environment, it would be difficult to make sense of what we call the “trauma discharge” of these girls. And those that prematurely discharge having never made it to healthy relationships and behavior; those students are frequently still angry and hurting.

 

On the whole, we are widely regarded as taking the very most difficult cases and producing miracles with some frequency. We are not perfect but we are very, very good at what we do. We succeed in our efforts to be a trusting and safe place. We are nurturing and provide an extremely high level of therapeutic sophistication almost all of the time. When we make mistakes, we own that immediately and explicitly.

 

Given that introduction, please read on for a response to some attacks against us and for an explanation of two incidents that created a need for self-reporting and correction.

ATTACKS ON HAVENWOOD

The following represents some claims that have been made against Havenwood:

 

THEY say:

These programs are bad actors – the state is always catching them breaking the rules or mistreating students. They require constant surveillance from regulators just to track and root out misconduct and the state is obviously negligent in its efforts.

Our response:

The state does not “catch” Havenwood in any violation or mishap. Every incident, every infraction of the rules, every treatment mistake is SELF-REPORTED. Havenwood is not under “surveillance” by regulators. We alert state authorities in detail any time a mistake is made and then improve our processes and program.

THEY say:

Havenwood, like other high-end programs, has a large number of “critical incident” reports with the state, meaning that Havenwood is abusive and/or negligent and regulators aren’t doing their job.

Our response:

Havenwood accepts some of the most difficult cases. Again, most of these young people come to us with severe, chronic challenges. We do the hard work of helping young people who might not otherwise get the help they need. Because of the population we serve and the challenges they bring, there will always be reportable incidents.

Additionally, as incidents occur we report to our state regulators immediately and completely. Critical incidents are indeed reported, by us. That is how reporters and others find out about incidents, we tell them.

THEY say:

Havenwood lobbied the legislature to make painful restraints legal, arguing that they are an appropriate discipline tool.

Our response:

Havenwood does not use painful restraints, which would never be appropriate for discipline or punishment. A safe physical restraint is only appropriate when a young person is a danger to self or others.

As Utah SB127 was considered in the legislature, we appropriately weighed in with our own representative about our concerns for the safety of our students and staff. We told him that without access to non-injurious physical restraints there would be young people who would be rejected for treatment, remaining stranded in the Juvenile Justice system without help. This has proved to be true.

THEY say:

Havenwood is merely a re-branding of a closed program named Integrity House.

Our response:

Havenwood and the closed Integrity House have no business or other relationship. Havenwood purchased its assets more than eight years ago and there is no overlap between the two in terms of personnel, finances, ownership, management, staff, operations, philosophy or methodology. No one involved in Integrity House prior to the sale is or has been involved in Havenwood. There was a lawsuit filed between the old owners of Integrity House and Havenwood and its ownership that has been settled and has no relevance to the care being provided by Havenwood.

THEY say:

The condemnation of professional critics like Breaking Code Silence and bad reviews from some individuals who have enrolled at Havenwood is adequate proof that Havenwood is neither legitimate nor effective.

Our response:

Professional critics lie and defame. They do not speak the truth about the Havenwood team. We don’t know how else to respond to this.

As to “bad” reviews, we are disappointed when we get them, but know that there will occasionally be a client who did not respond to her treatment. We are willing to endure the criticism if it means we can help the vast majority of those who receive our care.

CLEANING UP THE INDUSTRY

We understand that there are problems in our industry, some of which have been accurately identified by the press. We actively work with our national associations, legislators, regulators and peers to weed out bad actors and improve the treatment process for all involved. We would never condone or tolerate intentional abuse or neglect by any employee or any peer organization and we support state lawmakers and regulators in their efforts to protect young people under care.

If you are seeking help for a struggling teen, you will have to come to your own conclusions as to our credibility versus the credibility of today’s media.

TWO INCIDENTS

Criticism is inevitable, as is human fallibility. Havenwood has made mistakes and received legitimate criticism. We accept that. When something goes wrong, we own it, then we turn our energy to making the changes that will help make sure it doesn’t happen again.

There are reports of two incidents to which we would like to respond.

 

STAFF VIOLATION:

Early in 2022, Havenwood staff detected that a fellow employee might be behaving inappropriately with one of our teens. Using security video, administrators were quickly able to confirm staff members’ suspicions–the staff member had allowed our teen to use his vape pen. Every staff member has to pass a criminal background check and go through our interview processes and training. We are able to reject almost all bad actors, but every so often we find out after hire that someone is not fit for our employment. This was one of those.

At the point we confirmed the misbehavior, we immediately terminated the employee, summoned law enforcement and reported the incident to our regulators. We cooperated with the authorities and strongly requested that this individual be charged criminally, which he was. We knew that requesting criminal penalties would likely result in negative press. We did it anyway so that he could never pass another background check and find his way into another program where he could put a youth at risk. Again, we reported this ourselves, knowing it would result in negative press.

 

THE HORSE TROUGH/ZIP TIE INCIDENT
In the summer of 2018, a former contractor–an equine specialist–acted outside of Havenwood’s policies and procedures. On the day in question, during an equine session, one of the girls became dysregulated and struck and injured a staff member. She was physically restrained, but in addition, her hands were zip-tied and she was placed in a trough of water. Our internal investigation uncovered that this contractor had had girls sit in the trough on four other occasions. This was the first time that zip ties were added. Zip ties and a horse trough as some sort of misguided intervention have no place at Havenwood. This was not authorized by Havenwood and was in violation of Havenwood’s policies.

Press accounts highlight the arrival of local police in response and leave out an important detail - Havenwood administration made the call to police and to state regulators. Again, we self-reported, knowing full well that it would land in the press. We don’t hide from correction if we make a mistake. The contractor and other employees involved were immediately suspended and disciplined and we participated in a thorough investigation by law enforcement and state regulators. Law enforcement determined that no criminal charges were warranted.

No one at Havenwood has ever once defended this lapse in judgment. We were embarrassed at our contractor’s actions. We have used this incident to grow and improve. We worked with regulators on a corrective action plan and implemented proper safeguards. There has been no recurrence of such behavior.