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Where will we house our most troubled children?

February 6, 2008
Editor’s Note: This is the third in a nine-part series of stories highlighting the issues surrounding “Children at Risk” in Clinton County. The case studies are drawn from actual case files of Clinton County Children and Youth and Juvenile Probation. The names of the children and caseworkers have been changed to protect the innocent.

LOCK HAVEN — What do we do when a home is no longer a safe place for a youngster to be?

Whether the child is a juvenile offender or is at risk from his own parents, the answers our local authorities draw upon in most of the serious cases fall into the category of “placement.”

In most cases that means foster care. But there is another type of placement, institutional in nature, that offers a more formal setting.

The main entry in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: place·ment, noun 1. An act or instance of placing: as an accurately hit ball 2. The assignment of a person to a suitable place.

Clinton County Government defines placement as an incredibly high but necessary expense — one that appears to be quickly spiraling ever higher, to the concern of local Children and Youth professionals..

Placement is what happens to young people who get into trouble with the juvenile justice system. It happens to kids when their homes and families are found to be too dangerous for youngsters to thrive or survive.

According to local officials, placement continues to be a major reason for the increased cost of dealing with Clinton County’s at-risk kids

Unlike adult offenders who can be housed at the local prison for an average cost of $38.29 per day, the expense of juvenile placement is more complex — and a lot more expensive.

This isn’t warehousing. The facilities are more than bars and cells, and they are more often staffed with trained counselors instead of corrections officers.

The local courts most frequently use centers that offer treatment and counseling rather than mere incarceration.

This type of facility costs money — a lot of it.

According to information provided by Clinton County Children and Youth Services, the cost can range from a low of $76 to a high of $449 — each and every day.

In cases where the young offender has specialized needs due to retardation, criminal behavior and compulsions like firesetting, the higher cost kicks in and even short stays can knock the annual budget out of kilter.

According to a 2006 report by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, Pennsylvania relies less on public secure facilities than most states, and more on community-based programs, services and supports.

In Clinton County, many of the facilities used by local courts and judges are within a 150-mile radius of our county. Many are owned by corporations that have facilities dotting the map throughout the commonwealth.

Experts say the proliferation of services and interventions reflect the state’s desire to keep delinquent youth as close to home as possible and in the least restrictive environment that will protect the community.

In the past decade, the commission said, those contracted services have focused on a state mandate under the catch phrase “balanced and restorative justice,” which is designed to address both delinquency-related behavior and the mental health needs of young offenders.

Some of the programs frequently used by Clinton County Children and Youth and Juvenile Probation follow.

ABRAXIS — between $151.65 and $307.73 a day

The Abraxas Youth Center (AYC) is a 72-bed, residential facility, which provides treatment and educational services to troubled youth. AYC is located in South Mountain, Pa., on the grounds of the South Mountain Restoration Center. South Mountain is about 20 minutes east of Chambersburg.

Abraxas is licensed for three separate residential programs and an alternative education program. It offers shelter for non-adjudicated males and females between the ages of 10 and 17; secure detention for youth who have been arrested and are awaiting trial, and a long term secure setting, a 36-bed, secure unit for adjudicated males with firesetting issues. Duration of stay in the last case is usually 52 weeks or more.

Alternative education is also provided for males and females from local school districts who are having behavioral problems in their high schools. These students are transported to and from their homes on a daily basis and attend a regular school day at the facility.

ASHLER MANOR — $160.68 a day

Ashler Manor is a female-only residential services, emergency shelter care, diagnostic services and supervised independent living facility situated on 33 acres in northcentral Pennsylvania, approximately 15 miles east of Williamsport.

Adolescent females, 12 to 18 are referred by Children and Youth or Juvenile Probation agencies. Residents referred for admission generally have a history of drug and alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, incorrigibility, truancy, anger management issues, depression, parent/child conflict, or lack of structure in their home environment. Ashler Manor also accepts residents where either a full or partial loss of parenting rights have been assessed by the court system.

BEACON LIGHT, BRADFORD — Between $272.27 and $280.61 a day

Beacon Light in Bradford, formerly known as the Children’s Home of Bradford, was founded in the early 1900’s to provide care to children abandoned or orphaned by the early oil and lumber industries.

It has evolved into a private, not-for-profit, social service agency providing quality, professional, education and behavioral health services to young people.

Services include emergency shelter placement, forensic mental health services, residential treatment, alternative education, community based wraparound, day treatment, and long-term residential services for individuals with mental retardation and/or developmental disability.

There is also a specialized treatment program for youth who have either been identified as juvenile sexual offenders, or who admit to offense and agree to treatment. That semi-secure facility consists of 10 beds for males.

BEACON LIGHT, TOWANDA — $269.67 a day

The residential treatment facility (RTF) in Towanda is a 16-bed facility for males. The facility offers young people with behavioral health problems a structured environment within a campus-style setting. The site consists of two separate units. One unit is used for eight of the youngest clients and the other unit houses the older population.

This site also provides 24-hour awake supervision, on-site nursing staff and a privately licensed alternative education program.

BRADLEY CENTER — $316.73 a day

Bradley was founded by The United Methodist Women in 1905 as the Elizabeth A. Bradley Home for Children and operated as an orphanage for many years. In 1972, it was incorporated as The Bradley Center and served primarily abused, neglected and dependent children.

In 1991, Bradley was reorganized by a new non-denominational, community-based board of trustees and executive management.

The Bradley Center has since evolved into an accredited, multi-campus, regional organization serving the needs of mentally-disabled and developmentally-delayed children and their families.

The facility characterizes itself as a “last chance for children with severe problems.” The average stay is eight to 10 months.

CLEAR VISION — $181.91 a day

Clear vision offers services via mental health and mental retardation and pregnancy issues, but information was not immediately available from the organization.


Located near Grove City and housed in a 10,000 square foot, state-of the art facility, this program helps to foster both personal and group challenges. The youth exercise problem solving and trust building skills, engage in individual risk taking and goal achievement, and cope with fear and pressure, so they may begin to take healthy risks.

When a child is encouraged to climb higher with the support of his peers, he is really being asked to take a risk and trust that he can overcome obstacles in life.

The youth at George Junior Republic are held accountable for their actions by actively repairing the harm to individual victims and communities through monetary payment, performing community service and attending victim awareness classes.

While participating in restitution and/or community service projects, youth are carefully monitored by a coordinator to ensure that the safety and protection of the community are met. By equally addressing each of the three principals, the youth at George Junior can begin to restore the victim to the state of well-being that existed prior to the offense.

NORTHWESTERN ACADEMY — Between $147 and $235 a day

Northwestern Human Services, in Coal Township, operates a residential juvenile justice facility, Northwestern Academy, located within the boundaries of Shamokin Area School District.,

NHS also operates a school on the grounds of Northwestern Academy known as Northwestern Academy School. Northwestern Academy School is a private school licensed by the Department of Education.

The 240-bed residential facility for adjudicated youthful male offenders consists of an intensive secure treatment unit, an intermediate secure treatment unit, a boot camp and the Northwestern Academy School. In 2004, there were 230 students placed at Northwestern Academy School.

NHS characterizes itself as a “provider of community based behavioral health, mental retardation, juvenile justice and other human services.”

PYRAMID — $169 a day

Pyramid is a group home, operated by Pyramid Healthcare, founded in July of 1999 and based in Altoona.

The program offers behavioral healthcare services for men and women including a full continuum of adult and adolescent drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, methadone maintenance programs, therapeutic group homes and alternative schools.

“The treatment will provide a caring, structured, therapeutic program of individual and group therapy,” according to the website.


Susquehanna House Inc. of Linden officially opened in October of 2000 and received its first student in January of 2001.

The major goal is to create an environment that is physically, mentally, and emotionally safe for all of its members in order to provide the students with the best opportunity to meet their academic, athletic, and vocational potential. Many behavior management models focus only on the student who is acting out at the moment but Susquehanna House believes the entire group has a responsibility to contribute to the safety and security of the group at all times.

The Susquehanna House receives referrals from County Probation and Children & Youth offices. The House works very closely with the referring agency and those they contract with.

The Department of Public Welfare provides oversight. The House is a private nonprofit organization and it does not have any direct support or connection with the government. As a private provider, they enter into contracts with individual counties. The House contracts with Bradford, Lycoming, Clinton, Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, Union, and Monroe counties.

As of December 2003 accounts receivable from grants and contracts for Clinton amounted to $35,590.

The contracts are generally for one year and are based by the day for each student. Specialized foster care amounts to $75 per day

NEW CASTLE — $449 a day

The New Castle Youth Development Center (NCYDC) provides secure programming for adjudicated delinquent males and is located in Lawrence County, approximately 50 miles north of Pittsburgh.

The average length of stay is 27 months and the minimum age is 14. The total client capacity is 202, all male.

The mission of the center is to create a safe, secure, specialized treatment environment for serious violent offenders.

The Adolescent Sexual Offenders Program provides secure programming for adjudicated delinquent youth who have caused sexual harm. The Chemical Abuse Program focuses on the destructive impact of substance abuse on the lives of youth.


There are several organizations that provide specialized foster care for children with special needs:

— Laurel Youth Services, Williamsport, $113.40 a day

— Hope for Kids, $76 per day

— Concern, $88.75 a day

— Susquehanna House, Jersey Shore, $77 a day

— Susquehanna House for females, Linden, $97 a day.


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