Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Alarming Conditions Cause 24 Girls To Be Moved Out of Youth Rehabilitation Facility in Nebraska

After discovering that 24 adolescent girls were being confined to buildings with fire risks, holes in the walls, mold and water damage, Nebraska authorities have moved them to another facility. The girls were living in the Geneva Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center, a rural central Nebraska state-run facility for female juvenile offenders. The inhabitants, ranging from ages 14-18, were sent to the facility as a last resort by the court. Many of them have significant behavioral and mental health problems.

Four state legislators visited the campus unannounced and outlined decrepit circumstances in several of the four campus houses. “It was far worse than I could have imagined,” said Omaha’s Sen. Sara Howard, chair of the Legislature Health and Human Services Committee. Alarming conditions were discovered at the facility, like something from a horror story. When lawmakers toured the campus they discovered girls confined to empty rooms with nothing to occupy them, rooms without working lights, doors without handles, and one girl was even sleeping on a bed frame without a mattress. At least one girl has found sharp metal inside the holes in the wall and cut herself. Some of the girls even claimed to have been locked in their rooms for up to five days at a time. Several of the rooms had water damage, causing mold and mildew, which can cause serious health risks.

In one building, the mechanism that opens doors when a fire occurs was damaged, meaning if a fire were to happen, the girls would be trapped in their rooms and the doors would have to be individually opened by staff members. Howard said that some of the teenagers used a broom and an electrical cord as weapons and proceeded to barricade themselves into a room with a phone. They called the child abuse hotline, local law enforcement, and their parents before staff were able to defuse the situation. “This is an awful scenario for a place, that five or six years agowas running like a top,” Sen. Howard said. “It’s like we just decided to stop making an investment in these kids.”

There were many shortages of staff in the facility, leaving employees to work very long hours. With such a lack of staff availability, there were very limited programming options and activities for the girls in the facility. In a facility meant to be focused on rehabilitation, programming is a necessity, as is a comfortable and safe environment. “I was frankly dumbfounded by the conditions,” said the inspector general of child welfare, Julie Rogers. “It is one thing to hear allegations of a deteriorated facility. But it’s another thing to see those conditions.”

Danette Smith, the CEO of DHHS, promises that they, in combination with the Administrative Services Department, are committed to restoring the facility and creating rehabilitation programming that works and is reliable. “Our goal is a smooth transition to help the girls acclimate to their routine, which includes school, mental health support, structured activities and recreation. We hope to enhance programming and treatment, and provide an environment that is safe, supportive, and gives youth the opportunity to thrive as they transition from the YRTCs into a successful adulthood.”

The girls have been moved into the YRTC facility for boys in Kearny, and will be secluded from them and will have separate programming times so that they do not interact with the young men.

This relocation ensures that the girls will receive the rehabilitation, care, and programming that they require, while in a safe and positive environment. The relocation will enable the Department of Administrative Services to evaluate the necessary repairs and upgrades to the buildings in the facility and refurbish them. Smith stressed that her biggest concern is ensuring that the facility will be a clean, healthy and safe environment for the girls.