August, 18 2017

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Missing Teens Prompt Trinitas Hospital Security Review

Elizabeth's Trinitas Hospital is reviewing security procedures at its residential treatment center for mentally ill and emotionally disturbed teens after two young girls walked out of the facility last Saturday and went missing.

The younger of the two, a 12-year-old Elizabeth girl, was found last Sunday night by her mother when she called home from a pay phone in the city's Elizabethport section. That night, the girl's mother filed a police report alleging that her daughter had been sexually assaulted by three men after she left the hospital.

The second girl, a 15-year-old, was not found until Thursday night -- five full days after she got on an elevator and walked out the treatment center's front door. She is back at the facility pending transfer to a more secure setting, a hospital spokesman said.

The Problem With the Current System


The walkouts highlight a lax security system at the New Point Residential Treatment Center for Youth on East Jersey Street. Opened 10 months ago in partnership with the state Department of Children and Families, the center is designed to provide round-the-clock treatment and care for teens ages 12-18 with mental illness, as well as emotional and behavioral problems. It can house children for up to six months and currently has space for 15 boys and girls.

But while it promises parents a "supervised, licensed, 24-hour-care setting," Trinitas officials say New Point cannot legally lock its doors, nor can its employees physically restrain patients intent on leaving. And while hospital officials insist such "elopements" are rare, they admit that children do occasionally walk away.

"The staff is very good about working with the children and keeping them there for their treatment and making them want to stay, but if somebody is determined to leave, we cannot restrain them from doing so," said Trinitas spokesman Doug Harris.

Voluntary Treatment


Harris said New Point's "voluntary" policy is explained to parents before their children are admitted, but Betty Silva says she would never have agreed to admit her 12-year-old daughter if she had known that children had run away in the past.

Silva said she has struggled with her daughter's oppositional defiance disorder for years and says her daughter has physically assaulted her in public, threatened suicide and run away from home. Silva said she admitted her to New Point in June hoping she would get the intensive, full-time help she needed, and still be close enough for her parents to visit regularly.

"They assured me of her safety ... By putting her in this facility, I thought I was giving her what she needed," Silva said.

But last Saturday, around 8 p.m., Silva's daughter and another girl boarded the facility's elevator and walked out into the Elizabeth night, wandering the streets before meeting a group of men in a city park, the police report states.

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