Unsafe Betty K. Marler Youth Services Center Shut Down

Just two weeks after writing my blog post, Sexual Abuse, Drugs, and Neglect: The Wrongs of Rite of Passage, the Betty K. Marler Youth Services Center (which was run by Rite of Passage) has been shut down. It took an alarming rooftop sexual scandal involving several girls for the state to finally come to the conclusion that the facility was unsafe and that the staff had no control.

My daughter had been at Betty Marler for a little over a year, and almost since day one I had been reporting staff negligence and misconduct as well as other safety issues to the Rite of Passage (ROP) administration at Betty Marler, to the Division of Youth Services (DYS), and to the Department of Human Services (DHS) through the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline (1-844-CO-4KIDS). The lack of action and concern for the well-being of the girls in their care was disturbing to say the least. After reporting over a dozen bruised bite marks on my daughter’s arms to multiple ROP staff members and supervisors, who responded with indifference, I reported the incident via the abuse and neglect hotline. After the DHS employee who reviewed my report decided not to investigate and would not return my calls for further explanation, I contacted Denver 7 News investigators. I thought it was time to shine a spotlight on all of ROP’s dirty little secrets, including negligent and sexually abusive staff, drug use with shared needles, and escapes.

Two weeks later, my daughter’s DYS client manager informed me that ROP would no longer be running Betty Marler, that the facility was being shut down, and that my daughter was being moved to a different location. When I spoke with my daughter that night, she was under the impression that the facility was being shut down because some of the girls had broken a sprinkler system and flooded three of the four units. It wasn’t until Denver 7 News Investigative Reporter Jace Larson showed me the state report that I learned the truth about the shutdown. In his story, Jace reveals that several girls climbed onto the roof of a building on the Betty Marler campus, took off their shirts, began making out and touching each other sexually, and then threatened to jump off the roof. He goes on to say that some of them later cut themselves with glass from a ceiling light they had broken.

Where was Betty Marler staff during all of this? Who knows? Maybe they were in a closet having sex with one of the girls in exchange for a few puffs of a vape pen, as this 9 News report details. Or maybe they just didn’t care. Well, I’m guessing they care now. Hopefully the next time a parent raises concerns about the safety of youth in a state facility, someone will listen and do something about it.

My daughter is at a new facility now which is run by the state rather than a private company like ROP. While I’m hopeful that she will be safer there, I know from experience that many of these facilities have a lot of the same problems. Unfortunately, many of the new laws which were meant to protect kids and treat them more humanely have made it more difficult for staff to discipline them when necessary and to maintain control of their facilities. Despite some of the negligent and poorly trained staff at Betty Marler, I feel the need to point out that there were a few respectable employees there who were trying to make a difference in these girls’ lives. Sadly, some of the rights given to kids as young as 15 (such as allowing them to make their own decisions about medication when they have a mental illness) create barriers to treatment.

Many of the kids in the system have serious mental health issues and are unable to advocate for themselves, or they don’t have family members who are willing to advocate for them. By the time they are committed to the Division of Youth Services, they have already been failed by the broken mental health and juvenile justice systems in Colorado. These systems shuffle them from one ineffective residential facility to another, which often get shut down due to lack of funding. Our kids need better mental health and substance abuse treatment options, and above all, they deserve to be safe. I will continue to advocate for their safety and for better services, hopefully bringing about some positive change in the process.

Sexual Abuse, Drugs, and Neglect: The Wrongs of Rite of Passage

A little over a year ago, my daughter, who has bipolar I disorder with psychotic features, was committed to the Division of Youth Corrections (now the Division of Youth Services). She was sent there after being shuffled from one residential facility after another for repeatedly running away and placing herself in dangerous situations. She was addicted to crystal meth and heroin and was living on the streets of Denver with a 40-year-old homeless man who used her in various ways to support his own drug habit. While we were relieved when Mallory was finally placed in a secure facility because she was at least off the streets, we soon found out that life at the Betty K. Marler Youth Services Center was only slightly safer than living on the streets.

The entire time Mallory has been at Betty Marler, which is run by Rite of Passage (ROP), she has had access to drugs, she has had continuous contact with her perpetrator who walks free, she has been subjected to staff members who have sexually abused other girls, she has received injuries from another girl which the staff has refused to address, and she has also been allowed to taper herself off her antipsychotic medication, which has led to a noticeable decline in her mental health. The staff likes to point out that, because of Colorado law, they can’t force her to take her medication. So, until the law changes, we have to watch our daughter’s mental health deteriorate. However, we don’t have to stand by and keep silent about ROP’s negligence.

Though these girls are doing time for various crimes they have committed, a lot of them have been victimized by older men who have introduced them to drugs and have trafficked them or coerced them into committing other crimes for them. One parent, whose frustration I know all too well, says of the Betty K, Marler Youth Services Center in a Google review, “Daughter’s locked up ex and petifile [sic] are free to walk the streets!” Four times, Mallory’s 40-year-old “boyfriend” was with her when she was located by the police. Every time, he was free to go, and now she is incarcerated, supposedly to keep her safe from him and from her drug-addicted lifestyle.

Well, she still has access to both her boyfriend and drugs at Betty Marler. Staff members continue to allow her to call this man despite a no-contact order and my multiple attempts to put a stop to this. Drugs are plentiful in the facility. At one point, there was a needle being passed around and, in the middle of a typing class, one girl even showed another girl how to shoot up, and no one noticed. It took staff weeks to find the needle when it was brought to their attention.

They refuse to bring in drug dogs to locate drugs and paraphernalia because they don’t want the girls to feel like criminals. Despite the girls smuggling drugs back into the facility via their body cavities after returning from a pass (girls who are getting ready to transition to home or a step-down facility are able to go on day passes prior to their release), ROP does not conduct cavity searches. Drugs also come in through the mail which is not checked thoroughly. Drugs and other contraband could easily walk right through the front door with visitors also. The only security measure they have is a metal detector at the front gate which they share with the Mount View Youth Services Center. I set this detector off more often than not, and no one bothers to pat me down. On visitation days, Betty Marler staff sometimes wands visitors during check-in, but sometimes they apparently just carry the wand for show. It wouldn’t be very difficult to bring a weapon into the facility, and it would be quite easy to bring in drugs. The girls are supposed to be strip searched after visits, but this is done sporadically and not very thoroughly.

The staff is under-trained and inconsistent when it comes to following rules and procedures, and some staff members have even taken advantage of their positions, abusing the girls in their care. Recently, a male staff member was fired and charged for having sex with one of the girls. He was only fired because he was caught on camera with the girl, going into a restricted area, like a bathroom or a closet. A few months prior to that, two girls reported that they had witnessed a female staff member engaging in an inappropriate physical relationship with one of the other girls. After an investigation, the staff member was only moved to a new unit because there was no video evidence to support the claims. The staff member resigned shortly thereafter. If every act of sexual abuse had to be proven by video evidence, very few people would ever be charged.

Staff at Betty Marler also turns a blind eye to physical injuries girls receive from other girls. Mallory currently has 13 bite marks from another girl which I have reported to four different staff members who refuse to even examine her. My daughter insists that it’s not a big deal because she received the bites during horseplay. When I asked the clinical director why no one has bothered to look at my daughter’s arms or tried to find out who bit her, she responded that Mallory “doesn’t feel abused.” My daughter also didn’t feel abused when her 40-year-old boyfriend traded her for meth. She’s not able to advocate for herself, especially given her current mental state. Betty Marler is a licensed child care facility, not unlike other day care centers which would be held responsible if they allowed someone’s child to be bitten 13 times.

I have addressed all of these issues on more than one occasion with various administrators at ROP, and the only response they ever seem to have is “Colorado law says…” or “Our policy states…” In the year that our daughter has been there, the facility has had two different program directors, two different clinical directors, two of the five therapeutic managers have resigned, and multiple unit staff members have quit or been fired, some of them as a result of the sexual abuse charges and allegations. The facility currently has a temporary program director because the most recent program director was allegedly fired when it was discovered that she had a child neglect charge that somehow was missed in a background check.

I think the public would also be shocked to know that some of these girls, who are in a secure facility because they are supposedly the most serious female juvenile offenders in the state, frequently go on off-site outings into the community. They go on weekly hikes at various parks in Jefferson County which is often followed by lunch at a restaurant. They have been to the Boondocks amusement park in Northglenn. Some of them even get to attend a prom at the Elks Lodge in Idaho Springs with boys from other detention facilities. While they have two or three staff members with them, depending on how many girls are on an outing, they are not in sight of a staff member the whole time. Just over a week ago, two girls from Betty Marler were able to escape while on a hike at South Valley Park in Jefferson County.

Why was this not in the news? Why was there nothing in the news about the male staff member who was recently fired and charged for having sex with one of the girls? Because ROP doesn’t want anyone to know about it. Well, I want people to know about it. I’m speaking up because my daughter has another nine months left at Betty Marler, and I fear for her safety and her well-being.