ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. — Staff and parents say they were surprised Thursday when the Colorado Department of Human Services announced it was shutting down a secure youth center east of Aurora.
"Due to concerns related to youth safety, the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) initiated revocation of the Residential Child Care Facility license of Rite of Passage (ROP) and will not renew the existing contract that is set to expire on June 30."
The announcement came especially as a shock to some of the center's teen residents, including a few who ran away.
"Maybe he'll come home. Maybe he won’t. I don't know," parent Kevin Lash said.
He's still looking for his 17-year-old son, Joey, who ran away from the facility after learning the state was closing its doors.
Until recently, Joey was at least one of 43 youth who temporarily called the center home.
"He likes it here. We like it here. I trust the staff here, and they’re, you know, just solid people," Lash said. "There's some kind of allegations. But those are all … I don't think they're accurate at all."
Denver7 has previously reported, as recently as 2018, on allegations made against Ridge View. Some were violent in nature, including reports of a staff member punching a kid in the face or another kid who had to spend a month in a wheelchair after being badly hurt by responding staff while trying to escape.
And according to records recently obtained by The Colorado Sun, state regulators found nearly 100 potential licensing violations in 2019. The complaints included drugs smuggled into the facility, runaways, fights among the youth and inappropriate use of restraints.
But Lash believes there is no abuse or wrongdoing at Ridge View. He says the facility and staff have done wonders for his son.
"He is a good kid. He's a gifted kid. He's getting straight A's right now and this is where we're left," he said.
Now, he's worried about Joey's whereabouts and future.
"He was supposed to get out in 30 days and placed back home, which is what we really want," Lash said.
Kent Moe, the executive director of Ridge View Youth Services Center, sent Denver7 the following statement:
“We are shocked, disappointed and frankly blindsided by the State’s decision and actions. We question the State’s lack of transparency, due process, and community involvement. Our license is in good standing, and we have received accolades from multiple state and county officials. While our work can be both rewarding and challenging, we always put the health and safety of our kids first.
In over a year, we have not received a single substantiated claim of abuse. The previous claims from years past which have been cited by the Department have been thoroughly addressed and corrected to the state’s satisfaction. We have always operated with transparency and accountability and have worked hand in hand with the Department for many years to address any and all issues.
When the State asked us to accommodate additional youth during the pandemic, we were more than happy to provide a safe home for these students. In fact, they continued to place youth in our care as recently as this week. As a long-term partner with the State, we have worked above and beyond to accommodate the needs of kids who have struggled in other facilities.
Ridge View Youth Services Center is a nationally acclaimed model program, which has improved the lives of more than 8,000 Colorado youth over its 20 years of operations. This long-standing program remains one of the safest and most successful in the country. We are appealing to keep this innovative treatment program open as an ongoing resource for Colorado youth.”
According to a representative of the school, CDHS had intended to renew Rite of Passage's contract as recently as March 2021 for another five-year term. The group plans to appeal the decision.
In the meantime, CDHS says it's moving the remaining teens to other alternative centers.
Denver7 reached out to CDHS to get a better understanding of the "concerns related to youth safety" that caused the agency to shut the facility down but was told to submit a Colorado Open Records Act request, which wasn't immediately fulfilled.