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.

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