Hurricane Youth Center founder talks recent runaways and conditional licensing – St George News

HURRICANE – In recent weeks, Three Points Center, a youth treatment center in Hurricane, has made headlines implicating runaway teenagers in two separate incidents.

Founder and Owner of Three Points Center, Dr. Norm Thibault, Hurricane, Utah, Date not specified | Photo courtesy of Three Points Center, St. George News

“It’s a tough group to work with, but definitely worth it,” Norm Thibault said of the young people who are treated at the center.

Thibault is the founder and owner of Three Points Center. He holds a doctorate. and has approximately 30 years of experience as a licensed marriage and family therapist, with multiple certifications in psychology, family and marriage therapy.

The treatment center sits on approximately 200 acres of land approximately 6 miles above Hurricane Southeast of State Highway 59. The facility is surrounded by undeveloped desert, including cliffs of sagebrush, fine sand and black rock lava, with some of the cliffs featuring drops of around 100 feet.

The center has two ponds, stables, pastures, horse training paddocks and an athletic-type open field with several large buildings, which include administrative offices, residential facilities and classrooms . The property is well maintained, with abundant animal life including birds, ducks and horses.

Three Points Center has an equine therapy program in which young people work with mustangs, Hurricane, Utah, September 1, 2022 | Photo by Nick Yamashita, St. George News

There is no chain-link fence designed to keep people in or out around the facility, only a three-rail fence made of logs.

Leak incidents

In the first incident, which occurred on the weekend of August 19, a group of students ran away from Three Points Center, but authorities found most throughout the weekend. However, two of them, a 14-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy, were still missing and reported to law enforcement on August 22.

The teens were found safe and returned to the treatment center days later, shortly after media reports of the runaways emerged.

The second incident occurred when two teenage girls were reported missing from Three Points Center after running away on August 23. They were found unharmed in Mesquite, Nevada, on August 25 around 7:30 p.m. by local authorities and returned to the center.

“Basically, we had these kids who made it a game who were discharged unharmed. We found them all, but it created real stress for our people,” Thibault told the St. George News. “We have wonderful dedicated people on this campus for these children.”

Special considerations for adopted children

“All of our students are adopted,” said Thibault, explaining that Three Points is the first treatment center of its kind to work exclusively with adopted children.

Adopted children, especially those from the foster system, present with complex diagnoses related to developmental trauma, Thibault said.

Three Points Center has two ponds where young people can enjoy a number of recreational activities, including rowing, meditation, and even fishing, among other activities, Hurricane, Utah, September 1, 2022 | Photo by Nick Yamashita, St. George News

“Their brain circuits have been altered due to prenatal trauma and postnatal trauma. They are very quick to respond and very quick to act,” Thibault said. “Their limbic system is really running 100 miles at time to keep them safe, because they weren’t safe in people’s trust before.”

Thibault said there are many societal misconceptions about marginalized children like those they treat.

“There are no bad kids. … There are kids who hurt emotionally and sometimes wonder why they act the way they act,” he said.

When determining the appropriate way to handle runaways, Thibault said interpreting a new state law has created challenges for staff at the facility.

“One of the challenges we have encountered is the ambiguity of certain laws,” he said.

Senate Bill 127 was signed into law by Governor Spencer Cox on March 22, 2021 and took effect on April 6, 2021. The bill was championed by celebrity Paris Hilton, who said she suffered abuse at the Provo Canyon School in the age of 17. The law placed new restrictions and imposed new policies regarding youth treatment centers, wilderness therapy programs, boarding schools, and other similar programs.

The law made changes to social service programs, particularly regarding licensing and methods of discipline, including when and when not to use physical restraint. One of the main areas of interest is the tactics used on residents and patients in youth treatment programs. Allegations of physical, mental and sexual abuse have been made about these programs.

The law requires the Licensing Office of the Department of Health and Human Services to do the following, among other stipulations:

  • describe when a group care program may use restraint or seclusion;
  • requiring a group care program to maintain suicide prevention policies;
  • prohibit a social service program from engaging in discrimination based on sex and gender.

Due to the campus environment, prior to SB 127, staff would walk with youths attempting to flee to the edge of campus, while attempting to verbally defuse the situation. Once at the edge of the property, staff would warn them that for their safety, if they left campus, they should be restrained.

When SB 127 went into effect, the licensing office came to the center and said staff could no longer use restraints. If students choose to flee campus, unless they know they are in imminent risk or danger, staff cannot stop them.

According to Thibault’s observation, this created a problem.

“Nobody wanted to define ‘imminent’,” Thibault said. “For me, because I have 100ft cliffs behind the roosts, they run at night…it’s imminent. We have a wild desert there.

The desert is also home to wildlife, including rattlesnakes, coyotes, cougars, bobcats, and scorpions, not to mention the often extreme heat during the day and the sudden drop in temperature at night. It is also almost dark at night.

One of the Three Points Center ponds is near black rock cliffs which could be considered an imminent risk for youngsters. Hurricane, Utah, September 1, 2022 | Photo by Nick Yamashita, St. George News

“So we were told, ‘You can’t stop them,’ and they told the kids, ‘Unless you’re in imminent danger, they can’t arrest you or lay hands on you to stop you’ “, said Thibault. “So for our kids it became a game. They started to see who could get the farthest away and be gone the longest.

He said a Trending TikTok encourages young people to disappear for 48 hours. The trend is known as the “fugue challenge” or “48 hours missing challenge,” among other names. The trend started in California in early 2019. Since then, the trending time has become longer or varies depending on the TikTok user who is starting the challenge.

“Long story short, kids, we couldn’t stop them,” Thibault said.

Three Points Center now under conditional license

The center was granted a conditional license under Utah State regulations by the Department of Health and Social Services on July 27 for several violations, including violations of customer rights.

Fourteen violations are listed in the official conditional license document. Each violation cites the part of the Utah regulations and law in which the violation occurred.

All violations were confirmed to have been self-reported by the Three Points Center. The majority of violations involved preventing students from leaving the property.

“We dispute some of them,” Thibault said. “It was because we were preventing the kids… from leaving their dorms at night, and so we got a violation for that. They go out through the windows and through the doors. We cannot predict what they will do. Our goal is to protect them. »

Incidents that resulted in violations were handled by investigation, with disciplinary action taken by the administration of the treatment center.

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