Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Copper Hills Youth Center

Last Sunday, I spent the day at Copper Hills Youth Center, a local treatment center for youth ages 12-17. My assignment was to be the instructor of an interfaith Sunday School Class. I last visited this center back on Easter Sunday of 2005. We had a good turn-out back then, probably due to the holiday. I used some photos of desert wildflowers, that I found on Flickr, to draw the comparison of the newness of life found in the wildflowers and the newness of life offered by Jesus. I had some interesting correspondence with the photographer afterwords, which you can read about here if you wish.

I have learned some more about the youth center, since my last visit. It is privately owned, by Horizon Health Corporation. Youth are placed in the center by their parents, or they can be placed into the facility by the Juvenile Court System. Treatment options include: substance abuse rehabilitation, behavioral modification programs, and treatment for many forms of mental illness and learning disabilities. I learned that the average stay is something between 4 and 6 months. They also provide education as well, and are a fully accredited private high school, recognized by the State. Like most treatment centers, the success rate is unfortunately rather low. Only about 30% of the residents will be able to avoid getting into trouble again.

This is a "secure, residential" facility. That translates to: they live at the center, and are locked in. Typically youth enrolled at the center have tried other treatment programs, (such as outpatient programs) and have failed. They generally have become disruptive to the point that they can no longer function in the home environment. (That is if they have a home environment at all!) Here are some examples of the kinds of behaviors that are treated at Copper Hills Youth Center:
  • Lying, covert behavior, stealing
  • Extreme oppositional or defiant responses to peers and/or parents
  • Explosiveness or uncontrolled rages of anger
  • Evidence of substance abuse or dependency
  • Inability to control aggressiveness, cruelty, and physical acting out
  • Impulsive behavior resulting in self harm
  • Runaway behavior which gives evidence of self-destructive behaviors
  • Destruction of property
  • Evidence of ritualistic behaviors
Here are some of the treatment programs offered :
Our Stake has been assigned by the Church to provide a Branch Presidency at the Copper Hills Youth Center. The main contact the Branch Presidency has with the youth is during the Sunday Services. A patient (resident) may request to see a member of the Branch Presidency (a clergy visit, if you will) if they desire, outside of the Sunday Meetings, but that rarely happens. The center will only allow a non-denominational service. If they allowed the LDS church to have a regular branch there, then they would have to allow other church groups the same access. Having too many church groups would be disruptive to the very regimented programs at the youth center. I am told that those residents who participate in the Sunday services tend to have a much higher rate of success than average. That is encouraging to the Branch Presidency, and those of us who have the opportunity to assist them in their work. It's nice to know that the youth are being helped by bolstering their spiritual lives.

I recently spoke at the Utah Boys Ranch, where they have a fully functioning LDS branch. They have regular sacrament and priesthood meetings. The branch presidency can interview the boys and have week-night activities with them (even off-campus activities). They have full-time church service missionaries who spend all day at the boys ranch. At the Boys Ranch, the boys can still work on their scouting and Aaronic Priesthood goals as well. Of course, the whole environment is different at the Boys Ranch. Religious training and instruction is not just a Sunday offering, but is an integral part of the program.

As I see it, the Copper Hills Youth Center treats those who have previously failed other treatment programs. Those who fail at Copper Hills may find themselves going back to another lock-down treatment facility, or even to the Juvenile Corrections System (Youth Jail) if the situation is serious enough. For some at Copper Hills, their only alternatives were Copper Hills Youth Center -- or Jail.

For the Sunday services, it is necessary to teach the same lesson, 4 times. There are two reasons for this. Space is a problem. They only have a conference room in which to meet. It can comfortably hold about 20 people. The other reason for needing to teach 4 different sessions, is that the various groups are not allowed to inter-mix. Attendance at Sunday Services is completely voluntary. Since it is an inter-faith Christian Service, we only use scriptures from the Bible. However, it is OK to teach LDS interpretation of the Bible. I would say that about ½ of the attendees at the Sunday services were LDS. Many brought their own various versions of the Bible with them. I created a handout with the scriptures that we would use in the lesson pre-printed, and numbered. That way anyone could help with reading scriptures, whether the had a Bible or not.

It was interesting to see the various groups come through. Each group was a little different from the others. My lesson plan was flexible enough that we could fit the lesson to the needs of each group. We probably had a total of 30-40 residents in attendance on Sunday.

When you find yourself face-to-face with these young people, you have to suspend all your judgments of them. They all have serious problems in their lives. Some have committed some serious offenses (sex offenders), and have damaged the lives of others. Some I'm sure, have been victims of abuse themselves. However, I found that you have to take a non-judgmental approach when teaching them. I am not their Judge, the Savior is. How would He have me approach them -- with love and compassion, not condemnation. My job is to help them have a desire to come unto the Savior, that they can be strengthened, and find forgiveness. That they may gain a measure of peace, solace, and spiritual strength in their troubled lives. When you go in there, and think about having to give the same 30-minute lesson four times, it may seem like a daunting task. However, each session went by quickly. The time was up before I knew it. I felt like we did some good, and were able to offer some spiritual nurturance to these young people.

This assignment usually only comes up once a year for me, so I probably won't visit there again until at least a year from now. I consider it an endeavor well worth-while.


s'mee said...

It's a good thing you are doing. Let's hope the Spirit teaches and touches the hearts deep enough to change some young lives.

SalGal said...

An old friend of mine works with the Boys Ranch. It has a different name now, doesn't it?

David B. said...

The Boys Ranch has just recently added new facilities for girls. For that reason, they had to change the name. It is now called West Ridge Academy.

SalGal said...

Yep, she works there then.

Anonymous said...

I am an employee at Copper Hills Youth Center, and I think it is great that there are those willing to come in a teach on Sunday's. I have only attended the services with the youth a few times, but I was impressed with the spirit that was felt, even though it was a nondenominational service. I also have noticed that those that attend the services for the purpose of religion, are calmer and more open to their treatment. I agree that some go on occasion simply to get off the unit, but in my experience, that is a rare occasion, and very little devious planning happens due to the staff being present. I would like to thank those that come in and I hope that it continues!!

Anonymous said...

My child comes from a good, loving family. And yet, she's at CHYC. As a parent far away from her little girl, it's so nice to know that there are those in your community that reach out to these kids. You never know who's actions will influence them to change their lives around. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.

Anonymous said...

I was once a resident within Copper Hills. I was there for about 7 months, and I made no progress whatsoever, struggling with a huge addiction of pornography. Eventually I was placed into 4 more programs after that and ended up in the Youth Corrections System and being locked up for about 7 years, since the age of 13. Let me tell you, religion made a HUGE impact on my life. Later on, once I got further within the justice system, there were times that I had so much free time it was disgusting because we were locked in our rooms for 16 hours of the day. During that time, I learned about studying the scriptures and enjoying the lessons and guidance I received from the stories. There were times that it seemed that no matter what problem I was dealing with, the scriptures were something that gave me solace.

Not only that, but later as I moved to other programs, they had LDS specific services. Now, I was born LDS and appreciated the opportunity very much. I was later assigned to lead the music for the opening hymns and similar tasks like that, and now after being out, my current calling is the choir conductor for sacrament in my singles ward.

I have been out of the system for two years now and there are days that still seem like a dream and unreal, and there are times that I wonder if I can make it, But I know that there is the Savior in my life, and with his help, I can do anything.

Thank you for everything you do, and thank those you interact with. Keep up the good work, because in places like that, one of the best things is looking forward to seeing a friend visit you. Thanks for being our friend.

Anonymous said...

I was a resident at Copper Hills Youth Center when i was 15. It scarred me straight! Being locked up for 5 months in that type of environment made me see where i was heading to. It was an unforgettable experience. At the same time was the best thing that has ever happened to me. Even though i stayed in the system until 18 it helped me become the person i am today. Im 20 now and am going to school to become a CPS worker. I feel kids who are placed in the system need more support from people who have experienced what they are going through. I think its great that people take their time and effort to help others in need.

Anonymous said...

another thing copper hills youth center is owned by PSI (psychiatric solutions incorporated) which is runned my a bunch of arabs. i mean wouldn't it be nice to know your child is going to a treatment runned by americans. i mean PSI owns over half the treatment centers in america. so i must admit i have nothing good to say about COPPER HILLS YOUTH CENTER or PSI!!

Kara said...

I am a former resident of copper hills youth center & i am proud to have been there the staff & almost weekly church services provided me a way to connect with people that worship God.. It helped me through my issues a lot.. way to go to those who came to make sure we had a healthy church service.

Anonymous said...

Iam a former resident of copper hills. What they forget to put on the page its a locked down facility and they kept me there for a year and it didn't not help me if anything made matters worse

Anonymous said...

Another problem with Copper Hills Youth Center is a lot of the kids will go to church so they can get away from the section of the building they are normally locked in. I can understand the feeling of leaving there "worse" the management is all about money. They don't spend any time getting to know the kids that live there or the staff that takes care of them. I would go to church just to get away from everyone for an hour.