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Scandal Could Imperil Southwest Washington Youth Treatment Center

Southwest Washington’s only mental health and addiction services facility for youth is at risk of being shut down.

Daybreak Youth Services in Clark County is the subject of multiple state investigations after alleged sexual contact between clients, between clients and staffers as well as a failure to report serious incidents.

Founded in Spokane in 1978, Daybreak Youth Services operates resident and outpatient treatment centers for youth with mental health and substance abuse issues. In May 2017, Daybreak expanded its Clark County location from a 16-bed facility to state-of-the-art 30,000 square-foot building in Brush Prairie. The new location has room for more than 60 additional young people, including women for the first time. It also includes a first for the state of Washington: detox rooms and evaluation treatment beds in one place. 

Last week, the Washington Department of Health announced it had notified Daybreak of its intent to revoke the facility’s licenses. The notification states, “Daybreak’s staff and patients were potentially unsafe because of numerous youth resident elopements, physical altercations and sexual assaults.”

The health department went on to note that Daybreak allegedly “didn’t comply with a staff-to-patient requirement, didn’t comply with a personnel training policy, didn’t have current legal citations in its policies and procedures, and didn’t report or follow up on incidents that took place at the facility.”

A spokesman with the state Department of Health said the agency has completed six individual investigations on the Brush Prairie facility. Those are undergoing legal review.

Daybreak's problems came after the Clark County Sheriff’s Office began an investigation in early June. In September, sheriff's deputies served Daybreak with six warrants and seized electronic records from facility computers.

They found a number of things, including one incident where a 15-year-old patient was sexually assaulted by one of his roommates at Daybreak. The victim reported the incident to his counselor, but Daybreak never alerted the victim’s family. According to affidavits filed by the sheriff’s office, Daybreak also failed to notify law enforcement or report the alleged sexual assault to Child Protective Services, which is required by law.  

Former employees interviewed by the Sheriff’s Office describe the facility as “pure chaos.” Interview transcripts obtained by OPB reveal a culture where employees were discouraged from calling 911 or reporting incidents to authorities unless it was a life or death situation. Employees were also told they needed a supervisor’s approval prior to calling 911, but supervisors were often not at work at the time of the incidents or were difficult to reach.

Clark County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Brent Waddell said the investigation is ongoing and no arrests have been made.

The Brush Prairie treatment center is appealing the state’s decision and recently sent out a statement, calling the basis of the state’s claims “inaccurate and unsubstantiated.”

“The state is basing its decision on inaccurate and incomplete information and misleading evidence that is the result of unlawful investigatory practices by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office,” said David H. Smith, an attorney for Daybreak Youth Services. 

Meanwhile, the Brush Prairie facility remains open, but Daybreak did not disclose the current number of patients. Since June when the investigations began, Clark County’s Juvenile Court has pulled all court-mandated youth from the Brush Prairie location and has prohibited its staff from placing youth there out of safety concerns.

“At this point, until the investigations by law enforcement or the Department of Health are complete, we don’t feel we can lift the restrictions,” said Christine Simonsmeier, Juvenile Court administrator for Clark County. “We want Daybreak to be successful, but at the end of the day, these are some of our most vulnerable youth and they must be provided a safe environment to receive services."

Simonsmeier added that youth services remain scarce in Washington, with the closest in-state detox option hours away in Spokane. [Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting]

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