March, 17 2018
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Mother seeks answers to son's death from wilderness youth camp
Three Utah teens in the same Colorado wilderness program where a Salt Lake City boy died have been returned home, juvenile justice officials said.
Caleb Jensen, 15, died May 2, while in a program run by Alternative Youth Adventures in Montrose, Colo.
Colorado authorities say Jensen died from a staphylococcus infection. Personnel at the camp, observed signs of the infection but neglected to properly care for it. The company's license has been suspended.
Staff from Utah's Juvenile Justices Services agency, which had custody of all four boys, drove to Colorado Thursday to bring the surviving teenagers home, director Dan Maldanado said. Two of the boys had completed a 60-day at-risk youth program. A third teen will be relocated to a different program.
Utah first contracted with Alternative Youth Adventures when the company was located near Loa in Wayne County, said Carol Sisco, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Human Services.
"We've had a very good track record with them," she said.
Jensen's mother, Dawn Boyd, says her son was not an innocent teenager, but said the adolescent treatment program was supposed to improve her son's behavior. She said Utah bears some responsibility for her son's death and is looking for answers.
Boyd said her son was susceptible to infections, particularly on his face, and that Utah officials had a copy of his medical history.
Utah has placed 20 youths in the program for troubled teens since July 2006, Maldanado said. It is the only wilderness therapy program Utah uses. A three-year contract is set to expire June 31.
Juvenile services typically has court-ordered custody of about 1,300 youths under the age of 21. Program placement is based on the individual needs of a child.
"We have a wide array of programs, and most of them are much longer custody programs," Maldonado said. "Something like a wilderness program is indicated for someone whose offense profile suggests that we might be able to have a shorter-term custody arrangement."
In this case, staff advised Jensen be placed in wilderness therapy. A judge approved the recommendation.
Boyd declined to provide details of her son's trouble with the law, beyond saying he was sent to camp after failing to comply with an original sentence.
Jensen arrived at the camp on March 28 and wrote weekly to his mother and sisters.
"He just mainly spoke of how they hiked up big mountains, and how tired he was from hiking everyday," Boyd said.
Boyd said she knows little about the details of her son's death, but said she was told Jensen had been on a "down day" from hiking to attend counseling and lecture when he apparently collapsed.
"I'd like to know what my son's last words were," she said.
Death is always a sad event, yet a death that may have been preventable is tragic. Licensed treatment programs should be following the strictest guidelines when dealing with kids that have illnesses, escpecially in light of deaths that have occurred within the last few years.
That being said, the programs have the difficult task of distinguishing between a real illness and a kid that is simply trying to get attention, or get out of participating in his her own treatment.
Many hearts and prayers go out to these families.
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