Vt. lawmakers want to know more about plan to close Woodside

Published: Dec. 10, 2019 at 6:20 PM EST
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The Scott administration is moving forward with plans to close the state's only juvenile detention center. But their plan still faces concerns from some lawmakers about how to treat the most vulnerable without Woodside.

The Department for Children and Families wants to close Woodside by next summer. The department says there's been a shift in how best to treat kids with mental and behavioral issues, so there isn't as much of a need. But some are still concerned about where and how to treat Vermont's most at-risk kids.

DCF is closing in on a plan to shut down the state's only juvenile detention facility. Though Woodside has been under the microscope amid lawsuits over the years, state leaders say there isn't as much of a need for it because kids are now treated in the least restrictive environment possible.

"We have been successful in addressing the needs of youth in family-like environments. That's consistent with the national research, that's the approach we've been taking and that's the approach we continue to take because that's in the interest of youth," Vt. DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz said.

Right now, there are 146 Vermont kids in residential treatment programs for behavioral issues. Of those, 80 are placed in-state. The other 66 are placed out of state: 11 in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida; 55 in New York, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. However, DCF says it's unclear how many of the 146 kids are delinquent.

Some have raised concerns that closing Woodside could be problematic like when the state closed the Vermont State Hospital. But staffers from the defender general's office says community-based providers have already stepped in and started dealing with high-needs children.

"I don't think they're actually that comparable. I think they are very different. And this is looking at the problem in the way that it's supposed to go. You start by building up the resources and then making the structural change, not the other way around," said Marshall Pahl of the Vermont defender general's office.

Some lawmakers are still concerned about the plan to close Woodside, saying the state needs a facility for the most violent kids in its custody.

Rep. Alice Emmons questions whether a community-based setting will be secure enough and provide the right care for the most violent youth offenders.

"Where does that youth go? Where does that youth go that it's secure, they can become stabilized and it's a safe environment for everyone? And safe for them, so that they get better," said Emmons, D-Springfield.

"We understand that for a small number of youth there is the potential need going forward to have substantial need for supervision. We are mindful of that and recognize that we need to meet that need," Schatz said.

As the state moves forward with plans to close Woodside, they're also looking for a third party to expand residential programs in the state for most at-risk kids.