Utah ‘troubled teen’ facility sued by parents who allege poor supervision led to girl being sexually assaulted

The parents allege Havenwood Academy did not report the incident to licensers until a month later, after the California couple “demanded” the program do so.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Havenwood Academy, pictured on Feb. 10, 2022. The Utah "troubled teen" facility has been sued by two parents who say their daughter was sexually assaulted by other girls at the facility after staff failed to conduct regular bed checks.

A Utah treatment center for “troubled teens” has been sued by two parents who say their daughter was sexually assaulted by other girls at the facility after staff failed to conduct regular bed checks.

The California couple further contend in the court filing that Havenwood Academy “did not care” to report the alleged assault to proper authorities — and only ended up disclosing the incident to state licensers after the parents “demanded” they do so. The parents are seeking at least $300,000 in damages, according to the March lawsuit filed in 5th District Court.

State rules say programs are supposed to report these types of critical incidents within one business day. Although licensers found that Havenwood Academy did not report the alleged assault until a month later, public records indicate the state took no action against the program.

Records released to The Salt Lake Tribune do not indicate what efforts the Office of Licensing took to investigate the alleged assault, and the office declined to comment on that point.

The parents sent their daughter to Havenwood Academy in June 2021. The lawsuit alleges that despite Havenwood Academy’s promise to the parents that staff would provide “safety and supervision” to their daughter, workers did not do regular bed checks. They allege their daughter was sexually assaulted by other students that September, an assault “that lasted approximately one hour.”

The girl reported what happened immediately to Havenwood Academy, according to the lawsuit. But records from Utah’s Department of Health and Human Services show that Havenwood Academy did not tell state licensers about the incident until a month later. Those records show licensers described the incident as a “sexual act [that] occurred between two clients, that neither could consent to due to age.”

Mark Carlson, the parents’ attorney, declined to comment for this story. The Tribune generally does not identify alleged sexual assault victims, and are not naming the girl’s parents in an effort to protect her privacy.

Ken Huey is the CEO of the Hope Group, which operates Havenwood Academy. He said in an email that his company had not yet been served with the complaint, and that he had seen it for the first time when a Tribune reporter sent it to him this week.

He called the lawsuit “incredibly sloppy” and said it was filed by an attorney “who is seen as an ambulance chaser within our field.” Carlson declined to respond to that assertion.

Huey did not comment on the allegations in the lawsuit, but noted that “plaintiffs left their daughter in Havenwood for a significant period of time after the event alleged in their complaint — which seems inconsistent with their claims.”

“Havenwood’s mission is to provide world-class trauma treatment for children who would otherwise not receive care,” he wrote. “We work with public pay [children whose care is covered by public programs such as Medicaid], underserved populations. In pursuing that mission, Havenwood invests deeply in every young person it serves, without exception.”

Public records show that licensers found that Havenwood Academy did not disclose the September 2021 incident to one parent until six days after it occurred, and did not report it to licensers as required until a month later. They also found that the youths “appear to have not been checked on for an hour while they were in their room.”

It doesn’t appear that licensers took any action against Havenwood Academy after making these findings; the only “resolution” mentioned in public records released to The Tribune was that Havenwood Academy administrators gave written warnings to “the responsible staff.”

Miranda Fisher, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, said that, generally, the Office of Licensing interviews anyone involved with an alleged incident, including “the clients, any witnesses, facility staff, or parents of the clients” to see if any state rules were violated.

“This is done to make sure any possible rule noncompliance is properly substantiated,” she said.

She added that depending on the circumstances, other investigating agencies could be notified so they could conduct their own investigation. She said DHHS could not confirm if the child welfare division did its own investigation.

Havenwood Academy was the subject of “Sent Away,” an award-winning podcast from The Tribune, KUER and APM Reports. The podcast investigated how Utah government officials failed to keep children safe at youth residential programs, and how licensers regularly gave a Utah program called Integrity House — which later became Havenwood Academy — chance after chance, despite allegations of abuse and misconduct.

At Havenwood Academy, police were called in June 2018 after an alleged assault — and found a resident sitting in a horse trough in dirty water, her hands zip tied behind her back. The discovery led to investigations by law enforcement, child welfare workers and Utah’s Office of Licensing. They found the facility had used the horse trough as a form of “therapeutic discipline,” according to state records.

At the end of those investigations, there were no penalties for Havenwood Academy.