The Pennsylvania State Police at Bethlehem say they have been particularly busy in North Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, of late, with many calls for assistance originating from a well-known facility that houses teens with behavioral and mental health issues.
In the latest incident to occur on KidsPeace‘s 262 acre Orchard Hills campus near Orefield, police said officers responded early Wednesday morning to a report of 13 runaways, although it was later determined that eight juveniles had actually run away.
The minors were located and detained in an open field into which they’d fled, police said.
“This is the third time in four days state police were called to handle incidents involving staff members letting juveniles walk out without stopping them,” police said in a news release about the runaways, in which they asserted that KidsPeace staff told officers they had “called for additional resources, but were denied by supervisors.”
In a statement to the press Wednesday, KidsPeace Director of Communications Robert Martin disputed that, saying “we are not aware of any instance when a supervisor advised staff to ignore our security protocols on requesting additional resources from within KidsPeace or from the authorities.”
“State regulations prevent us from physically restraining children from leaving the facility without permission unless they have a specific safety plan in place that indicates they are in danger of hurting themselves or others if in the community–and in those cases only as a measure of last resort,” he explained.
“We train all our direct care staff in the proper methods of handling situations where youth leave the facility without permission, and in following our security protocols in those instances,” Martin added. “As these situations often result from the youth experiencing a crisis while in our care, our training also emphasizes de-escalation and protection strategies that guide them away from the decision to attempt to leave without permission. In instances where a youth does leave the facility, our staff work with the Pennsylvania State Police and other authorities to locate them and encourage them to make positive choices and return to our care.”
Martin said that due to privacy concerns, KidsPeace–a private charity–cannot comment on matters relating to specific clients or their activities, but that they work with state licensing authorities and referral sources to ensure that the level of care they provide is appropriate.
“We also continuously review our protocols and procedures to make sure we are responding to incidents appropriately to protect the youth in our care,” he said.
State police however issued a warning to anyone who may be driving in the area of the residential facility at 5300 KidsPeace Drive, which offers treatment and other programs to young people from throughout the region and beyond.
“PSP Bethlehem advises all travelers in and around North Whitehall Township to be on high alert for potential missing juveniles crossing roadways,” their news release said.
Police added that the “juveniles are known to be combative and climb rooftops,” which they said happened Wednesday when three of the eight residents who initially ran away absconded again just a couple of hours later.
“Troopers located the three juveniles on the roof of the Pioneer Center attempting to wake female residents,” the news release said. “The juveniles were quickly detained and transported back to their housing assignments.”