Discreet discipline: Why Utah will soon make it easier to search a teen treatment program’s violation history

State regulators recently confirmed that they are planning to release violation and disciplinary information online, accessible through search on the Utah Office of Licensing’s website.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Havenwood Ranch, Cedar City, Feb. 10, 2022. Utah's Office of Licensing recently confirmed that it is planning to release violation and disciplinary information for all Utah teen treatment facilities online, accessible through a search on its website.

Editor’s Note: This story was produced as part of “Sent Away,” an investigative podcast from The Salt Lake Tribune, KUER and APM Reports that examines Utah’s teen treatment industry. You can listen to Episode 5 here.

Kelby Raynor had been sitting in the classroom at Havenwood Academy for hours, her clothes still wet and her body beginning to itch.

She remembers casting her eyes downward, staring at the sweatpants she was wearing. They were supposed to be a light gray, but the dirty water had seeped through the fabric and the pants looked almost black.

Two hours earlier, she had been forced to sit in a horse trough as a disciplinary measure during an equine therapy session. She said two girls had gotten in trouble for doing something — six years later, she can’t remember what exactly — and they had blamed her.

“I was standing there screaming for about 10 minutes,” she remembered. “I was like, ‘I’m not getting in that trough!’ and they’re like, ‘Well then, you’re not leaving [the corral.]’”

So Raynor climbed into the big plastic tub and sat down, the cold water reaching the middle of her stomach.

“It was gross,” she said. “It was mushy. Oh my god, it was disgusting.”

Raynor said she sat in the dirty water for at least a half-hour before the equine director, LoraLynn Jones, let her climb out. Then she went to class.

Raynor’s parents had sent her away to Havenwood Academy in Cedar City a month earlier, in July 2016, because she had been drinking alcohol and was suicidal. She was 13 years old.

She said in a recent interview that Jones told the girls on their first day of equine therapy that if they broke rules, they’d be forced to get into a horse trough. It scared her.

This hadn’t happened to just Raynor. Administrators at the teen treatment facility would later tell state regulators that directing girls to sit in horse troughs was a form of “therapeutic discipline.” Havenwood’s equine director had been using the trough for at least three years, they told regulators.

The practice stopped in 2018, two years after Raynor had been in the trough. The police were called that year responding to an assault report. Deputies found a girl in the horse trough, with her hands zip-tied together. The discovery led to investigations from law enforcement, child welfare workers and Utah’s Office of Licensing — the regulatory body that oversees youth treatment centers.

At the end of those investigations, Havenwood Academy was issued no penalties. Their license remains in good standing and no staff members faced criminal charges. Jones, the equine director who pioneered the use of horse troughs in Havenwood’s program, stayed on for two more years.

The whole affair was handled discreetly, and only last year became public after the “Sent Away” team released a database of records that included every violation report documented at youth treatment centers in Utah.

Information has been tricky to access

Recently obtained internal communications show Jones stepped down from her position at the program in March 2021 after Havenwood administrators learned the incident involving the girl being zip-tied and put into the horse trough would soon be public. Administrators sent an email to parents a month earlier telling them about that incident and saying they knew it would likely end up in the newspaper.

“We are proud of our staff,” director Ken Huey wrote. “We all learned from this incident. We remain committed to doing great work moving forward.”

The email didn’t mention that Havenwood had used a horse trough as a disciplinary measure for years or that the state required them to stop using it.

But it was a new level of transparency. Previously in Utah, records like the ones describing Havenwood’s use of horse troughs were not easy to get. The information wasn’t available online, like it is in some other states.

If a parent wanted to know more about a facility before sending their kid there, they had to file a formal records request. And public records show that regulators have mostly received records requests from journalists, not parents.

The public database that the “Sent Away” team created last year was made possible after The Salt Lake Tribune paid for the release of thousands of pages of redacted records. The news organization was able to pay the bill after receiving more than $10,000 in donations from over 100 people in a crowdfunding campaign.

It was the first time many of these records were easily accessible by the public — but that will change soon.

The Office of Licensing recently confirmed that it is planning to release violation and disciplinary information online, accessible through a search for a facility’s license on its website.

“With the increase in records requests, we are looking at easier, lower cost ways to provide information,” said Mike McDonald, the director for the Office of Licensing.

‘We should be doing that’

It’s one of several changes that have come in response to increased scrutiny of the teen treatment industry in Utah.

Utah state Sen. Mike McKell, a Spanish Fork Republican, sponsored legislation last year that marked the first reform to oversight of Utah’s troubled-teen industry in 15 years.

The new law placed limits on use of restraints, drugs and isolation rooms in youth treatment programs. It required facilities to document any instance in which staff use physical restraints and seclusion, and it mandated that they submit reports to state licensors. It also upped the required number of inspections that state regulators must conduct.

McKell said last year that he wanted the government to more regularly release the type of records that the “Sent Away” team published in its database.

“I think putting that database together has been extremely powerful,” McKell said last April. “The fact that The Tribune has to do that instead of the Legislature, that’s problematic. We should be doing that.”

But the change in the Office of Licensing didn’t come from legislative action. McDonald said a merger of two government entities gave them access to new database options with public features, which will now allow them to provide more information to the public.

McKell applauded the effort, saying he’s received several emails in the last year from parents who were asking him for help in determining whether a treatment facility would be safe for their child. He’s glad those parents will now be able to get more information from the agency tasked with regulating these facilities.

“That’s been something I struggle with,” he said, “I continue to receive emails from folks expressing concern about facilities. And certainly, it shouldn’t be the state senator who ran the reform bill providing the violation history.”