NH child advocate lobbies for lawmakers to rethink abuse, neglect placements

By Eileen Weber
January 2nd, 2024
Cassandra Sanchez, MA, is the child advocate for the state who spearheaded the report from the State of New Hampshire Office of the Child Advocate.
Cassandra Sanchez, MA, is the child advocate for the state who spearheaded the report from the State of New Hampshire Office of the Child Advocate.

Out- of-state residences would be last resort

Children in abuse and neglect cases are typically placed in outside facilities when there is no family or foster situation available. Often, those facilities are far from home. Included in the recent report from the State of New Hampshire Office of the Child Advocate, was reason to be alarmed about the kind of care received by children placed in a Tennessee facility.

According to Cassandra Sanchez, MA, the child advocate for the state who spearheaded the report, two children were removed from Bledsoe Youth Academy in Gallatin, a 30-bed facility for adolescent boys, and returned to New Hampshire following concerns of physical and emotional mistreatment.

In what was deemed as a “culture of shame, humiliation, and inhumane punishment,” there were also threats of retaliation if these children spoke with New Hampshire authorities.

Sanchez spoke about the humiliation and fear expressed by staff. These children were removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect and subsequently sent to a residential facility in which they were “living in survival mode and further being traumatized,” she said.

“The main issue initially is to make sure that any facility where a New Hampshire child is placed, whether that is in-state or out-of-state, is a good one and that it has been evaluated on site and that we’ve investigated it.” -- Rep. Mark Pearson, (R-Rockingham-District 34), chairman, House Children and Family Law Committee

When Sanchez and her colleagues spoke with Bledsoe about the problems, Sanchez stated there was no accountability and total denial that anything was wrong.

While these two children were removed as of mid-August, there are as many as 90 children in different facilities out of state either within New England or in Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, Missouri, Pennsylvania, as well as Tennessee, according to Health and Human Services.

Sanchez said a critical step was missed by the state when NH officials had a virtual rather than in-person visit at Bledsoe.

“When considering a facility, you need to look at the space, determine the staff/child interaction, what are the facility’s rules and regulations, how is their program implemented, is there family work being done, and can that child have regular contact with the family, talk to the director and other leadership to determine their mission or vision,” she said. “We need to be asking a lot of questions about what it is like for a kid to be in this facility.”

Much of what led to the children’s return to New Hampshire came from former employees of Bledsoe Academy who reported the abuse. In Sanchez’s document to the state, she noted one employee, a therapist, resigned because of behavior toward the children that was called, “out of the realm of any professionalism.”

The employee stated that the staff would often brag about “coming from the prison environment.”

These same staff members reportedly would berate children, were verbally and physically aggressive, and repeatedly leveled harsh punishments for even minor mishaps. The employee was quoted in the report as saying, “The staff have the mentality that ‘you are all here for help and no one will believe you over us.’”

This employee’s account was further supported by “a multitude of reviews” from former employees of both Bledsoe and other facilities run by Youth Opportunity Investments, Bledsoe’s parent company.

Joshua Oshea Nun Armsted, a therapist who worked at Bledsoe for several weeks before resigning, said it became apparent even in his first week that something was wrong.

He started taking notes to document the incidents he felt were disturbing and noticed there was “something egregious” every day, a litany of verbal and physical abuse.

He saw a supervisor physically push one of his clients without any provocation. Sitting in the therapist office, a nurse came in mocking another one of his clients who wanted to talk to his parents. He said, in that case, the client was a “cutter” and had suicidal ideation and this nurse was “bashing him to the staff in the office.”

“All of those things made me think this is not the place for me,” he said of his six-week employment at Bledsoe. “I can’t condone how they were being treated. I don’t even know if I can continue to support residential services. That’s how hard it hit me.”

Armsted did not believe it would have made a difference if New Hampshire sent someone for an in-person visit, as everyone was on their best behavior in these cases.

He thinks mistreatment was so commonplace there, the perpetrators did not think they were doing anything wrong.

“That’s when you’re jaded and you need to get out of the field,” he said.

Sanchez said this incident made it clear that the protocol needs to change and legislation is needed.

She commented on Congressional lawmakers working on legislation to reduce the number of kids placed out of state.

Rep. Mark Pearson, (R-Rockingham-District 34), chairman of the House Children and Family Law Committee, told the New Hampshire Bulletin in September that legislation was currently being developed.

“The main issue initially is to make sure that any facility where a New Hampshire child is placed, whether that is in-state or out-of-state, is a good one and that it has been evaluated on site and that we’ve investigated it,” he said. 

Sanchez said the key is to ensure kids are getting the appropriate treatment—whether in or out of state. But she said there will be a push to first exhaust family and foster situations, then in-state measures followed by facilities closer to home in the greater New England region.

Out-of-state residences would be the last resort.

“Unless there are boots on the ground, a facility should not be certified. We need more thorough visits as well as unannounced visits,” said Sanchez. “You can’t meet with kids as frequently when they are out of state and that is part of the problem. When we’re on site, we can catch these problems much faster.”

When contacted by New England Psychologist, Gary D. Sallee, chief legal officer for parent company Youth Opportunity Investments, declined to comment on the New Hampshire report.

He said Youth Opportunity Investments has a policy to not provide comments on articles in order to “maintain focus on our primary mission and ensure that any information shared publicly is accurate and aligns with our organizational goals.”

One Response to NH child advocate lobbies for lawmakers to rethink abuse, neglect placements

  • February 8th, 2024 at 2:22 pm Amy R Houston posted:

    I hope more people will become aware of what is happening in the Troubled Teen Industry that brings in billions and quite a big from tax payer dollars. Take a look at who is doing something about this http://www.BreakingCodeSilence.org and Unsilenced.org.

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