Dad calls for law change around youth treatment center policy for safety of ‘sick kids who need to get well’

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State officials toured Granite Pathways Youth Treatment Center during an Oct. 2018 ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH — Last month, when three teenage girls walked away from the Granite Pathways Youth Treatment Center on River Road, only to allegedly be sexually assaulted by two men, it was not the first time teens had taken off from the facility.

George*, who asked his name not be disclosed to protect his 17-year-old son, said his teenager and a couple of other boys had also walked away from the facility prior to the teenage girls leaving.  The boys returned unharmed, he said. 

“He walked out probably four times before they did,” George said of his son.  “A couple of weeks before he left with a group of boys but they went back.”

Staff told him that, under law, they cannot restrict the teens to the campus.  He believes the law needs to be changed to protect the children. 

“Much like a hospital emergency room, or a school setting, a resident can leave if they are intent on doing so,” said Patricia Reed, State Director of Granite Pathways.  “We continually use engagement and motivational strategies to assist each young person to stay in the program and complete treatment. If despite best efforts, a resident leaves the property, we have an established protocol for immediately informing the family and seeking assistance from appropriate authorities.”

Two men, Matthew Hugle, 25, of 56 Ledgewood Drive and Chadrick Heredia, 24, are charged with assaulting the teenage girls.  Hugle faces three counts of felonious sexual assault, one count of aggravated felonious sexual assault and three counts of being an accomplice to delinquency.

Heredia is charged with one count of aggravated felonious sexual assault during which the girl was physically helpless; felonious sexual assault of a girl between the ages of 13 and 15, and three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. 

The teenage girls, ages 15 and 16,  left the center on July 23 and walked to the 7-Eleven on Hanover Street where they asked people to buy them alcohol.  Hugle arrived at the store, the girls got into his car and then they met up with Heredia and they engaged in sex which, the prosecutor said, the men videotaped on their cell phones.

When two of the girls returned to the center, one was naked, the other partially dressed, both covered in vomit, highly intoxicated and distraught after being sexually assaulted by two men, according to a prosecutor.

Teen treatment centers face challenges

There are individual “pods” with a bed and desk for each teen residing at Granite Pathways. Photo/Carol Robidoux

George, whose son is no longer receiving treatment at the center, said while the staff is great, there is not enough of them and there are not enough activities to keep the teens occupied.

Even though his son would walk out of the facility, he said Granite Pathways always took him back.

He said his son has struggled with substance abuse for three years.  At one point, doctors thought he was bi-polar and he was treated for severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.  He’s always had ADHD, George said.

“He’s been treated with serious mood medication and somehow that led to drug dependency,” George said.

He thinks the state has not provided proper funding to treat teens with complicated diagnoses and substance abuse issues.

He said teens needing treatment oftentimes end up detoxing in emergency rooms because there are few programs available for them.

Before Granite Pathways, he said the state contracted with Valley Vista in Bradford, Vt., to treat teens.  His son was in that program which had various activities for kids to do, like hikes on the weekend.

His son tried to walk away from that program as well but it was in a remote location and there was nowhere for him to go, George said.

Valley Vista shut down its 90-day program for teens, he said, which is where Granite Pathways came in.  He says the people running the program are fantastic and caring.

A common area with couches inside the Granite Pathways Youth Treatment Center. Photo/Carol Robidoux

But, he said, there is not enough programs or activities for the kids.

“I think kids get bored and frustrated,” he said

It is difficult enough even finding a treatment program for a teen, he said.

Kids end up in emergency rooms where they are not getting treatment for substance abuse although mental health issues may be addressed.

“If the kid acts up in the ER, then he’s put in a room with no windows and restrained,” he said.  “It’s traumatic for the kid.”

 In New Hampshire, he said, you have to meet with a crisis team which is located in the mental health part of the hospital. 

 “But parents are told, we won’t be able to get him placed if you say it’s a substance abuse issue.  You have to say it’s a mental health issue.  They are just ignoring substance abuse and it being an epidemic,” he said.

His son is now home on probation because, when he was picked up, he had drugs on him.

The father said when his son relapses, he is usually gone for 24 hours to two days.  “We’re knocking on doors trying to find him and we end up getting the police involved by invoking CHINS (Children in Need of Services),” he said.

“You are desperate when your kid’s addiction is driving the bus,” he said. “You’ll do anything to try and get them help, to get them a bed in any mental health facility or in detox.   There’s just not a lot of programs for them.”

Cornhole is set up near the sleeping pods during the Oct. 2018 ribbon-cutting tour of Granite Pathways Youth Treatment Center.  Photo/Carol Robidoux

Bad kids vs. sick kids wanting to get well

The stigma about teens with substance abuse issues, he said, is “they are looked at as bad kids instead of sick kids wanting to get well.  That’s the stigma.”

His son is turning 18 soon and, he said, more programs will be available to him because he will be an adult.

Attempts by the InkLink to obtain answers from Granite Pathways regarding client-employee ratio or the number of beds in use currently at the 36-bed facility currently in use were unsuccessful. At the time of the interview, George said there were 10 young people there while his sone was a resident.

Granite Pathways State Director Patricia Reed issued the following statement concerning the center:

“Granite Pathways Youth Treatment Center is staffed with skilled medical, nursing and licensed counseling staff.  We employ a complement of strong-experienced direct care recovery support staff who work directly with you throughout the day implementing evidence-based care.  Our program offers individual, group and family counseling in addition to skill-building and recreation activities.

“Community-based SUD (Substance Use Disorder) treatment — even for youth — relies on voluntary participation. Consequently, the first stage of our work is effective engagement. People of any age must be motivated to change, we must help each individual build motivation to change, to commit to recovery and to build skills to sustain that recovery.   Our experienced staff work continuously to engage youth in meaningful ways to achieve these simple yet incredibly challenging goals.

“Addiction is a devastating disease and most of us have been touched by the profound impact of this disease on the lives of those who suffer and their loved ones.

“Here in NH, we are facing a critical public health crisis.  Even for adults who experience devastating personal, professional and social losses, they will continue to seek drugs.  Life-altering loss, including the well-known potential for death, may not be enough to propel them to seek help.

“Complicate this reality with the significant developmental challenges that all teens face, and we begin to understand what youth in treatment face and the staggering reality of what they must overcome and achieve.

“And yet, despite all of this, most youth we’ve served so far are committed to what will likely be a lifelong challenge, if they do get discouraged and want to give up, staff are most often able to work with them to recommit.  Most complete the program successfully and with each one who does we are reminded, even in the face of adversity, that this work is essential and life-saving.”

The entrance to the new Youth Substance Use Disorder Treatment Center. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Editor’s Note: *Not the interview subject’s actual name


Pat Grossmith can be reached at pgrossmith@gmail.com