Vt. lawmakers presented with Woodside replacement options

Published: Oct. 30, 2020 at 6:52 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Vermont Department for Children and Families is releasing new details on its replacement for Woodside.

The state’s longtime secure residential treatment facility for juveniles in Colchester has closed after facing years of criticism and a loss of federal money for feeling too much like a jail.

DCF officials on Thursday detailed plans to lawmakers for what the new secure facility would look like. It would be run by Becket Family of Services at their existing building in Wells River, which used to house the Vermont Assessment Center at Newbury. That program closed back in September. The proposal is a partnership with DCF. The state would renovate and lease the building from Becket and Becket would run the program. It would be a six-bed facility for children in DCF/DOC custody under the age of 18 who are charged or convicted of a crime and need secure placement.

Vt. AHS Secretary Mike Smith says there will be a chance for the community to weigh in. “There has to be a plan, and my understanding is there has been preliminary engagement with the community, but we will -- I’ll make the commitment here -- I’ll make sure DCF does engage with local leaders as we place this facility,” he said.

DCF makes the case that Becket has the experience to run this kind of facility, citing its existing work at the Vermont School for Girls, as well as its other treatment sites in New Hampshire and Maine.

In a presentation to the Legislature, DCF says the Becket program focuses on trauma-informed treatment. The plan is to keep youth at the Wells River site for ideally four months or less until they’re stabilized and able to move to a less-restrictive setting.

DCF also says it compared the cost of building a new location versus Becket’s plan and found that Becket’s was cheaper -- costing $1,700 per bed/per day -- and it could be up and running in a year. They determined a new facility would end up with costs of $2,500 per bed/per day and would take four and a half years to complete.

It’s now up to lawmakers to decide which option they want.

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