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Local judge talks about plans for new youth treatment center

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Judge Freddie Romero of the Fifth Judicial District Court in Chaves County says a treatment center based in Albuquerque wants to work with local organizations, including the Roswell school district, to set up a day program for youth needing treatment for drug, alcohol and other serious problems. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Roswell youth leaders are investigating the feasibility of starting a day treatment program in the city for students addicted to drugs and alcohol or having other severe difficulties.

New Mexico Fifth District Judge Freddie Romero said he has talked with representatives of Desert Hills of New Mexico in Albuquerque about establishing a day program here.
Romero said that Desert Hills staff contacted local officials involved in the juvenile probation programs. Romero often refers local youth to that program, as he heads up court programs dealing with school truancy and other criminal offenses.
Desert Hills staff want to give students a way to receive treatment while also continuing their school work and having ongoing contact with family, Romero said while speaking at a Tuesday night Board of Education meeting for the Roswell Independent School District.
“We were approached because they noticed that we are referring a lot of juveniles from Chaves County to them,” Romero said.
Romero said that 972 area youth were referred to juvenile probation last year, with about 194 of those cases involving drug offenses.
“There are not sufficient resources in the county to deal with them,” he said. “We do have resources in the county, but sometimes these kids need a greater level of care.”
Now students needing intense treatment are sent to residential programs for about three to six months, typically in Albuquerque or Las Cruces, Romero said. The problem then is twofold: some parents have difficulty staying involved in the treatment process as needed when the youth are living elsewhere and students often fall behind in their academic work or have difficulty returning to school after leaving the treatment program.
A local day program is envisioned as a way to help up to 14 students in the beginning, whether referred by schools or by courts or juvenile probation. The hope is that the day program will meet needs for treatment while minimizing the disruption to other areas of their lives.
“We want all of these children to have the opportunity to continue to get all the credits they need,” Romero said. “The other important component that they are offering in this is parental engagement. They require it when the children go up to Albuquerque or other parts of the state, but it is almost impossible for parents to engage in a meaningful way and they would be able to do that here.”

He added that the program also might help prevent youth from having future criminal problems.
Romero said he already has discussed the issue with juvenile probation staff and other officials who might be able to provide facilities for the program, in addition to school district administrators.
Interim Susan Sanchez said that, when she worked at Roswell High School, she witnessed the loss of academic progress when students left for residential treatment in other cities.
“This would be able to close that gap and increase the graduation rate for those individuals that we are talking about,” she said. “It would make a significant difference at the high school. The curriculum they would be getting would be the same as what they are getting at high school.”
Roswell previously had a day treatment program for youth experiencing severe difficulties. The Adolescent Day Treatment Center, started in 1992 by a group of agencies, included local courts and the school district. The program served youth ages 13 to 17. News articles indicate that the center received some of its funding from the state legislature and operated in the area until about 1998.
Ways to improve outcomes for youth experiencing severe difficulties that could lead to criminal charges is the focus of a statewide task force, the Juvenile Justice Improvement Committee, launched in April. That effort involves legislators, judges, law enforcement and local officials who are charged with finding ways to improve juvenile programs statewide. A similar effort in 2008 resulted in a 50 percent reduction in New Mexico youth being referred to juvenile justice, according to information on the Council of State Governments website. Romero belongs to the task force.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.