Why we raised money to get reports on Utah’s ‘troubled teen’ treatment centers

The Salt Lake Tribune is raising money to get inspection reports and sustained complaints for every youth residential treatment center in Utah. Donations are accepted at sltrib.com/ourrecords.

UPDATE: We have met our goal with the help of more than 100 supporters. Thank you all. We are in the process of requesting these records now. If you would like to continue tracking our progress, we’ll be sending regular emails. Also, any future contributions will support The Tribune’s efforts to access public records.

I’ve spent a year looking into the “troubled teen” treatment centers scattered throughout our state, and I’ve run into the same problem repeatedly — records that should be easy to get are not.

I’m talking about state reports in which investigators found abuse or neglect. I’m talking about the basic inspections.

Utah’s Department of Human Services has them and agrees they are public documents. But to get them, they are requiring that we pay redaction fees. The bill? More than $6,000.

It is easier for a person to go online and find the latest inspection for a restaurant than it is to find reports on whether a youth residential treatment center is keeping vulnerable children safe.

We want to change that. And we’d like your help.

My editors are letting me try an experiment. This is The Salt Lake Tribune’s first attempt at crowdfunding. We are trying to raise $10,000. With that money, we’ll get the records, and we’ll build a database to make them available to all for free.

Please donate, even if it is just a few dollars.

You can track our progress here.

So far, I’ve written stories about:

• Persistent claims of misconduct at Provo Canyon School that go back decades, including claims from celebrity Paris Hilton.

• A riot at Red Rock Canyon School and the increasing turmoil leading up to it, which included 10 staffers charged with child abuse for choking, pushing or punching kids in the face.

Children from every state attend Utah’s residential treatment centers, but not all of these centers offer the same level of care. Some centers report sexual crimes to the police at a rate four times higher than the average. Some have had repeated reports of child abuse and numerous times when staffers have hurt children as they improperly held them in restraints.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jessica Miller.

Over this past year, I’ve had parents reach out and ask for help finding out about a treatment center. They didn’t have much time to choose a facility, they said, and worried they might be making the wrong decision and that their loved one might be harmed.

It’s heartbreaking because these people weren’t seeking my advice or my endorsement — which, of course, is not my role as a journalist. All they wanted was information. This is information the state government has.

Let’s get it for them.

My hope is that we raise enough money to be able to provide these records to the public (with the names of patients redacted), and, if by chance we surpass that goal, we will use any extra funds to help Tribune reporters gain access to other public records.

You can make a tax deductible contribution here.

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