Press "Enter" to skip to content

‘I was very shocked.’ Idaho Legislature launches investigation into youth treatment homes

Cornerstone Cottage opened in 2016 in Post Falls, a booming bedroom community 25 miles east of Spokane. While from the outside, the building could be mistaken for a suburban home, Post Falls police received 321 calls from Cornerstone Cottage from 2017 to 2022. | Erick Doxey, InvestigateWest, with illustrative elements by Alexandre Lemoing, EastIdahoNews.com
(Investigate West) — In response to InvestigateWest reporting that uncovered allegations of child abuse and neglect at state-licensed facilities, the Idaho Legislature has commissioned a state watchdog investigation that will examine oversight of Idaho’s youth treatment homes.
Rep. Marco Erickson, R-Idaho Falls, presented the investigation request on Friday, arguing an evaluation was necessary to make sure Idaho is taking care of youth “a lot better than we’ve done,” referencing recent news stories revealing what he called “scary things” that have happened to children in residential treatment facilities licensed by the state.
“I was very shocked that this happened in Idaho,” Erickson said.

Marco Erickson
The written request for the watchdog review was submitted by Sen. Ali Rabe, D-Boise, and signed by three other lawmakers, including Erickson. The state’s Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, composed of four senators and four House representatives, approved the investigation, which will be conducted by the Office of Performance Evaluations, an independent office that audits state agencies.
In October, InvestigateWest published a report investigating the state’s response to alleged instances of girls being raped, assaulted and physically restrained against protocol by an untrained staff at Cornerstone Cottage, a facility for girls in Post Falls that primarily accepted children in foster care. A group of employees in 2021 alerted state regulators with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to the danger girls were facing in a lengthy complaint, and the state verified many of their concerns but only imposed a three-month ban on admissions.
RELATED | Idaho girl rescued from house of horrors sent to state-licensed facility and preyed on again
RELATED | Idaho investigators repeatedly found kids in danger. Youth treatment programs faced few consequences
The state has no record of suspending or revoking the license of any Idaho youth residential program, despite finding instances of serious danger to children at several facilities in the last decade. Cornerstone Cottage voluntarily shut down in January amid a new complaint investigation, but the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has declined to release the nature of the complaint.
“I would like to know why none of these facilities have ever been shut down (by the state),” Erickson said Friday.
Advocacy groups such as the Idaho Anti-Trafficking Coalition and the Idaho State Independent Living Council also supported the investigation request.
“Timely action is crucial to prevent further systemic abuse,” they wrote in support of the proposal.
The committee heard proposals for six different investigations Friday but could only choose two. When lawmakers on the committee were asked to rank each proposal by priority, the request for Idaho youth residential care programs topped the list. The second evaluation will look at K-12 education funding.
On Monday, the Legislature passed two other bills that would increase regulation and oversight of youth treatment homes.
Senate Bill 1380 would establish an ombudsman to monitor child welfare, allowing the office to respond to claims and complaints about children in residential treatment facilities. Senate Bill 1379 would establish policy regarding the placement of children in congregate care, including short-term rentals, shelters or residential facilities.
Both bills are headed to Gov. Brad Little and awaiting his signature.
This year’s legislation also comes in response to recent outcry about alleged retaliation against foster parents by the state and the use of Airbnbs to house foster children. Christine Tiddens, director of Idaho Voices for Children, said she shared the recent InvestigateWest articles about youth treatment homes with lawmakers before they crafted the bills.
The Office of Performance Evaluations recently finished a 50-state review on child protection ombuds, finding that Idaho is one of seven states that does not have such a role and one of two that has no form of heightened complaint process in child welfare cases.
“The intent behind the ombudsman is to protect the rights of children, and when the rights of children are broken, to have an independent agency to investigate what went wrong and mediate it,” Tiddens said.
The legislation and watchdog investigation together represent a notable turnaround; while a few lawmakers had called for increased oversight after InvestigateWest’s reporting, advocates expected reforms to face stiff headwinds amid Idaho’s anti-regulation brand of politics.
The state investigation authorized Friday on youth treatment homes could inspire further legislation down the road. Erickson added that he hopes the review will examine the training required of staff at these facilities, which operate privately but are overseen by the state Department of Health and Welfare.
He also hopes it can look at monitoring visits by state regulators. Other states require multiple inspections of youth residential programs each year, some of which are required to be surprise visits. But Idaho only requires one visit per year that can be announced ahead of time.
“We want to look a little deeper into the protocols and what kind of recommendations could be needed and necessary to manage these things a little better in our state right now,” Erickson said.
InvestigateWest is an independent news nonprofit dedicated to investigative journalism in the Pacific Northwest. Reach reporter Wilson Criscione at wilson@invw.org. This report was supported in part by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.
The post ‘I was very shocked.’ Idaho Legislature launches investigation into youth treatment homes appeared first on East Idaho News.
Source: eastidahonews.com

Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *