#AdvocacyMatters: Calls for Help, Unanswered

May 31, 2024 / #AdvocacyMatters

In case of emergency, break glass. Think of those red alarm boxes you see in nearly every public place. You’ve probably never had to pull one, and many people can go their whole lives without hearing one go off outside of simulated fire drills. Their importance isn’t impacted by the fact that they aren’t needed the vast majority of the time. When they’re needed, they’re there. Now, imagine you’re in a crowded room and those fire alarms go off in a real emergency. Sirens blaring, lights flashing… and nobody moves. What would you do?

Earlier this week we launched our latest investigative report, Dangerous Inaction: A Culture of Chaos at Youngstown’s Youth Intensive Services. Informed by our 16-month investigation into the facility and based off of interviews with children and staff, researching police reports and other records, and reviewing hundreds of hours of video footage, the findings were shocking. The investigation found four problematic patterns at the facility:

  • Children regularly going AWOL from the care of YIS, often being exposed to unsafe and dangerous conditions while off-grounds, including sustained injuries and reported sexual assault.
  • Physically abusive behaviors by staff, including video that shows staff slapping, shoving, and placing children into chokeholds.
  • The use of inappropriate, unapproved, and painful restraint techniques and physical abuse at the hands of staff members that often result in injuries.
  • Failure of leadership to provide a safe, trauma-free culture for childhood survivors of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

Throughout the investigation our team communicated these ongoing issues to both facility management and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS). We fiercely advocated for both entities to do more to improve the care and safety provided to children at YIS. Unfortunately, our calls are not being acted upon.

“We were truly appalled by the issues exposed through our inquiry and we consistently reported our findings to OhioMHAS and YIS,” recalled Kerstin Sjoberg, DRO President and CEO. “We asked both entities to do more to improve the care and safety provided for children at YIS, but neither has adequately addressed the issues we raised or took steps to remedy the situations we cited.”

Our team saw the emergency, broke the glass, and sounded the alarm.

“We have asked OhioMHAS to suspend YIS’s licenses until it demonstrates that it meets minimum standards in accordance with OhioMHAS’ stated values and initiatives,” noted Sjoberg. “The public should be able to trust OhioMHAS to verify that the appropriate services are provided, and safe conditions are met. However, based on DRO’s investigation at YIS, the public cannot, at this time, rely on OhioMHAS for those assurances.”


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