Now a $50,000 county-funded study has finally confirmed that such a facility is both needed and possibly feasible, prompting Mayor Bernard Carvalho to boldly bite the bullet and announce he'll pick a site by the end of this year.
While it's great to see even this smidgen of progress, the study doesn't sit well. For starters, it totally skirts the use of meth/ice addiction, which I think we all recognize is ravaging our community. Why? I asked Theresa Koki, coordinator of the county's Life’s Choices Kauai, who gave me this response:
The current data gathered from adolescents usually ask about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. The prevalent use of alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs was higher than methamphetamine use. Keeping in mind that youth who are meth dependent, normally do not attend school where these surveys are taken. The consultants focused on the more prevalent drugs for adolescents.
So since the ice-using kids missed the school survey, their needs aren't even considered? Aren't they the ones a rehab center is supposed to help? Or are we thinking that the island's rampant ice addiction only kicks in after age 18?
Oddly, the only place meth is even mentioned in the study is a paragraph on how teen-aged inmates at KCCC reported using alcohol, marijuana, and methamphetamine, prescribed drugs like oxycontin and vicodin, and cocaine.
Two, the report blows off girls, determining it's not economically feasible to maintain a residential program for them on Kauai. It's not that girls aren't using the stuff. The report actually shows girls have higher rates of alcohol and prescription drug use than boys, and quotes a study that found, “For treatment needs by gender, a slightly higher percentage of female adolescents (8.3%) met the criteria for abuse or dependence for any substance use.”
But Kauai girls wont get rehab. Instead, they'll be offered Multisystemic Therapy, which “works with the youth and parents on specific goals that will enable the youth to continue living at home, going to school or to work and avoiding arrest or re-arrest.”
Unfortunately, home is often where the problem lies, especially for girls who are being sexually abused, which is frequently at the root of substance abuse.
Three, it's proposing to accommodate just six-to-eight youth for a prolonged period:
Research indicates that most addicted individuals need at least a year in treatment to significantly reduce or stop their substance abuse and that the best outcomes occur with longer durations of treatment.
However, in another section, the report states:
Research indicates that most addicted individuals need at least 3 months in treatment to significantly reduce or stop their substance abuse .
Either way, very few Kauai kids will actually get into rehab. The study reports that seven Kauai adolescents were placed in the Bobby Benson Center on Oahu between July 2012 and January 2013, a figure that no doubt would have been higher for an on-island center. Indeed, “about 592 Kauai adolescents were estimated to require treatment for substance abuse,” the report notes.
So a facility housing six-to-eight kids is a mere drop in the bucket, serving about 1 percent of the youth who need treatment. Of course, not all of those kids require intensive residential treatment. But they're not all getting outpatient treatment, either. As the report demurs:
There has been an historical gap between the need for services and access to services.
We're falling down in the area of prevention, too. Funding for prevention programs was cut 57 percent this year, and the report notes that:
“Kauai services do not appear to be integrated in screening and services of adolescents. The agencies appear to provide their services in silos, with little attempts to integrate their services through either regular meetings, consolidated screening tools, and transitional services to higher level services.”
Most of the public attention has focused on the location of such a facility, with a proposed site in the Isenberg tract getting the typical NIMBY opposition from people who don't realize these kids already are in their backyards.
It's clear Kauai kids need residential rehab on-island. But while the study shows some models for making that happen, it doesn't answer the question that must always be asked on this island: can the County of Kauai actually do it?
I mean, just look at the history of this facility to date, based on information that Koki provided.
In 2003, Bryan Baptiste said let's do it at the old Hanapepe dog pound. In 2004, he and the Council asked the state for $1.6 million to build it. The state kicked down $560,000, private donations of $50,000 were given to the County and a scholarship program for those unable to pay for the treatment was started with a pledge of $100,000 per year.
The county spent $56,743 on preliminary design and some construction at Hanapepe before the project was scuttled due to concerns about runoff onto the historic salt ponds. The county had to return the rest of the money to the State.
The scholarship program was never established. It was a pledge only, and since the center wasn’t built, the donor did not follow through.
And the private donations totaling $50,000? Who manages those funds?
“We still have that donation, and I manage that account.” Koki said. “I recently got in touch with the donor and his wife while they were on vacation here, and gave them an update.”
In other words, it started off gangbusters, went through a few expensive missteps, languished for nearly a decade and has now been resurrected after a $50,000 study. And though none of the original problems concerning location, funding and operation have been resolved, it's all systems go.
Meanwhile, Gov. Neil Abercrombie just announced a new working group devoted to analyzing the state’s juvenile justice system, in large part because the state is balking at the $190,000 per year cost of incarcerating a kid. As the press release notes:
A significant number are in custody due to the lack of accessible treatment services and programs, especially on the neighbor islands.
Clearly, Kauai needs to get with it and help our kids. But is a county facility that will cost over $1 million per year to operate, and serve just six to eight boys, the best we can do? It seems an awful lot of kids will be left out in the cold.