ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Sequoyah Adolescent Treatment Center in Albuquerque cares for violent boys with mental health issues. It’s been under the microscope by parents and lawmakers.
The in-patient, 36-bed facility is run by the Department of Health. The building, located just north of the Big-I is not surrounded by razor-wire or bars. The heavy metal doors and the mechanical restraints have been removed from the isolation rooms. You’ll find rocking chairs and bright paint inside the facility. But the cinder-block walls, small bedrooms the size of jail cells and the plastic chairs remind you that it’s a place kids don’t necessarily want to be.
Carmela Sandoval, Sequoyah’s Administrator said they’re taking a different approach to treating kids at Sequoyah.
“We’re trying to take a soft slow approach and I will offer change is not always comfortable for some,” said Carmela Sandoval, Sequoyah’s Administrator.
But two Albuquerque mothers who didn’t want to identify themselves because of safety concerns for their family said they’ve seen the level of care diminish over the years. They’ve both had boys housed at Sequoyah.
“I don’t think we have really good resources right now for treating trauma,” said one of the mothers whose adoptive son was 14 when he was treated at Sequoyah for five months.
Her son was born a drug addicted baby. The child ingested cocaine when he was two years old before he was taken into state custody.
“He was in treatment foster care so I knew he was going to have a lot of problems,” she said. “I knew it would be hard with him. I didn’t realize the people out there who were supposed to help us were going to be so hard to work with.”
That boy, now 15, has been diagnosed with multiple disorders. He’s also been violent. So has another 15-year-old who lived at Sequoyah for seven months last year.
“He’s had a number of diagnoses over the years, he’s been on God knows how many different medications over the years and at points in time he’s been unsafe in community,” said the boy’s grandmother.
Both parents said Sequoyah’s programs are not effective, there’s no level of care when the kids are discharged, there’s not enough staff and the staff is not trained properly.
“The direct care staff are the least trained and the lowest paid but they’re shouldering most of the burden of the daily interaction of kids,” the grandmother said.
And they said the lack of trained staff is a problem from the top down.
“The director of Sequoia is not a therapist, not a doctor. She’s a criminal justice major,” the mother of the adopted boy said.
KRQE News 13 asked Sandoval if Sequoyah’s psychiatrist is board certified. ”
Not currently, no,” she said. “I believe he’s seeking board certification. But that’s not a requirement.”
Lawmakers like Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino are asking questions about Sequoyah. Two years ago Ortiz y Pino wondered why agencies, like the courts were referring kids to out-of-state treatment centers. That cost the state an extra $800 per kid, per day.
At one point the 36-bed facility housed only nine boys and was losing out on a lot of money. They currently received about $400 for each kid, per day.
Senator Ortiz y Pino wanted to get to the bottom of the reason for the referrals.
“They said no they’re too violent, too disturbed for us to handle. And I’m saying well wait a second, if we’re sending these kids out of state because we have no in state facilities for them — this is the facility we created to do this job,” Ortiz y Pino said.
The Senator drew up legislation to form a task force to look at Sequoyah’s staffing levels, their qualifications and the services.
“What I continue to be worried about is that they’re not treating the most difficult of the difficult kids,” Ortiz y Pino said.
Sequoyah’s Administrator said she’s already implemented some of the task force’s recommendations. Carmela Sandoval said agencies are again referring kids to Sequoyah. The facility treats boys ages 13 to 17 who stay an average of six months.
“We always want them to be at a lower level of care so they can be out in the community,” said Sandoval.
But the mothers with kids who were housed at the treatment center are skeptical about the changes. Both of their kids are now in other treatment centers, one is out of state. They say there is little follow-up once the kids are discharged.
“The longer these kids aren’t served, the more likely they are to become our next criminals,” the grandmother said.