She said allegations of abuse and wrongdoing are taken very seriously by the department, which screens potential staff and works to prevent mistreatment. Problems do occasionally arise, but on the whole, she said, the programs have been successful at rehabilitating and supporting troubled youths.
"Ultimately our goal is to try to get these kids back into their home or back into the community and a normal life but again, always at the forefront is their safety, their accountability and the community’s safety," she said. "We have a great belief in the work that we do, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it."
Brady Peterson, a counselor at Millcreek Youth Center in Ogden, participated in behavioral treatment programs in his teenage years, which he said helped him value freedom, his family and himself.
He was placed in Division of Child and Family Services custody for a time at age 12 and rebelled during his teenage years, getting into fights and becoming mixed in with the wrong crowd.
"One thing led to another, and I ended up coming to programs just like this," he said.
He was finally able to appreciate life through the support of a youth program, which he said made him want to come back as an adult and help other children in situations like his.
"I just want to give back to them," he said. "I believe in them and I haven’t been through the same things that they have, but I’ve walked in their shoes before."
After about 100 searchers, mostly volunteers, looked for Andre this weekend, the boy was found in his tattered socks a makeshift lean-to by two search and rescue workers. Shoes were taken away from campers in the program in order to prevent them from running away. The teen was turned over to Uintah County authorities and has been placed in a juvenile justice service facility, pending investigation of the incident.
Harris said she had not yet had a chance to speak with her son. She plans to petition the court to release him back into the custody of his father.
"He was never a criminal, it was just a kid having a really, really hard time that just needed some extra help," she said.
Representatives at Journey Impact Ranch declined to comment, instead deferring to the Utah Department of Human Services.
Contributing: Carole Mikita, Mike Anderson
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: bjaminwood
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