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Family still seeking answers after state shutters secure youth center near Aurora

Ridge View Youth Services Center
Posted at 5:35 PM, Jul 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-16 23:03:53-04

ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. — A family is still searching for their son who ran away from a secure youth center when he found out the state was shutting it down.

It's been nearly a month since Kevin Lash last knew of his 17-year-old son's whereabouts.

"My guess is he is local, but I'm not 100% sure," he said.

Lash says his son, Joey, ran away from Ridge View Youth Services Center just east of Aurora on June 17. It's the same day he and everyone else learned the state was suddenly shutting Ridge View down over "safety concerns."

Joey feared transfer to a prison-like facility, his father said.

"This is, by far, the facility that he did the best, and it really met his needs," Lash said.

The Colorado Department of Human Services decided not to renew the contract for the facility's operator, Rite of Passage. It cited an "unsatisfactory record of performance and integrity" and "confirmed reports of institutional abuse," according to documents Denver7 obtained through open records requests.

ROP's executive director Kent Moe says they're in the process of appealing the state's decision.

"I don't think that characterizes the situation well at all. We've offered many administrative remedies to the state... to work collaboratively with us, and we're hopeful that they'll change their mind soon," Moe said.

Lash says his son was set to graduate high school this summer thanks to the work of the staff at Ridge View.

"They were doing an exceptional job. I mean, he was getting straight As," Lash said. "His behavior was perfect,"

He worries all of that hard work has been undone.

A state-funded private investigator is working to find Lash's son through what it calls "apprehension services." The services typically cost the state $100 an hour.

Meanwhile, Lash has written CDHS and several state leaders, asking that they reinstate ROP's contract. He says he hasn't received much of a response.

"What the state did, just no excuse for it. I mean, not saying they're bad people, but they sure blew it," Lash said.

A spokesperson with CDHS says it's been "more than responsive" with Lash, and there are no plans to reopen the facility at this time.