Advocacy group claims kids face abuse, humiliation at Gallatin youth facility

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GALLATIN, Tenn. (WSMV) – A New Hampshire child advocacy agency is warning out-of-state children living at a Gallatin, Tennessee facility for troubled youth are facing abuse, neglect and unsanitary conditions.

The New Hampshire Office of The Child Advocate issued a warning of instances of abuse against Bledsoe Youth Academy after visiting July 11 to check on the well-being and care of New Hampshire children living there.

Children with specific behavioral, developmental, or mental health needs are sent to facilities like Bledsoe Youth Academy temporarily for therapeutic treatment when foster care isn’t the right fit, according to a report issued by New Hampshire officials. “Many children referred to residential treatment have suffered years of trauma due to exposure to substance use, mental illness, domestic violence, and/or abuse and neglect by primary caretaker,” the report said.

During the child advocacy agency’s visit to Bledsoe, officials raised several concerns, including instances of abuse and humiliation, according to the report. The following are some of the agency’s findings:

– Officials said the facility is “rigid and institutionalized,” with strict rules on keeping living areas clean. One instance of this in the report includes the facility’s director allegedly excusing herself to use the restroom and calling one of the kids to come clean the bathroom better before she was to use it. The child advocates observed the kid enter the bathroom and clean what was pointed out.

“This is further evidence of an unhealthy and demeaning culture, coming from the top administrator,” the report said.

– Advocates report a lack of ethical treatment by staff after some children said they were offered incentives to assault “problematic” kids.

“For example, if a kid is giving staff a difficult time, another kid might be asked by staff to go after him physically and would be rewarded by staff with a snack or some other incentive, and the aggressor would not be written up for the behavior,” the report said.

– Children being restrained on the floor also worried the advocates, especially due to it causing rug burns to their faces.

– A student was allegedly punished for a month for damage caused after accidentally activating a sprinkler system. The child, laying on a top bunk, accidentally kicked the sprinkler with his foot, according to the report.

– Advocates observed at least one child sitting on a sticky, dirty floor while eating his lunch separate from the rest of the kids gathered in the cafeteria. The facility smelled like mold and chemicals, according to the report.

– The kids living at the facility reported staff as the most difficult part of facility, according to the report.

“One offered that staff read their files and utilize information from them to berate and insult all kids into compliance,” the report says. “For example, they have heard staff say to other kids in the program ‘you are here because your uncle raped you’ and the kids reported being told ‘you are here because your mamas don’t love you.’ The Advocates asked, “What is that like for you?” In response, one kid became emotional, and his eyes welled with tears as he said, “It’s horrible.” The facility fails to provide the necessary therapeutic milieu and medical care.”

The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, which oversees the Gallatin facility, said they are aware of the report and have opened its own investigation.

“As the licensing authority for this facility, the Child Advocate made us aware of her findings,” said Matthew Parriott, spokesman for the department. ” Prior to that, we opened our own investigation in June and some of the allegations in the NH report overlap. Our investigation is still open and ongoing. The Department will pursue every action under statutory authority to ensure the safety, security, and rights of program participants at this facility.”

Read the full report below:

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