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Sent Away looks into Utah’s troubled teen industry

The new podcast is a partnership between KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.

For decades, parents, probation officers, schools and social workers from around the country have turned to Utah for help with their troubled teenagers. The state’s wilderness therapy programs, boarding schools and group homes have made it the epicenter of the teen treatment industry in the U.S. Every single state has sent kids to Utah. Just since 2015, more than 20,000 young people have been sent here; no other place even comes close. Some of these kids have violent outbursts, problems with drugs and defiant behavior. Some cut themselves or have attempted suicide. Their parents, their states or agencies send them to Utah in hopes that they can be helped.

Utah is home to more than 100 such programs, and collectively they bring hundreds of millions of dollars into the state economy every year. The programs promise counseling, education and putting miles of deserts and mountains between the kids and their bad influences back home. But too often, instead of being helped, teens were harmed. In 2021, however, an unprecedented reform movement forced a reckoning at the Utah State Capitol, and elected officials said, on the record, that the state government charged with keeping those kids safe had failed.

For over a year, a team of reporters from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports have been investigating how Utah, a state that prides itself on clean living and family values, allowed that to happen—and whether its leaders will be able to fix the problem now. This seven-part podcast digs into the state’s approach to regulating the teen treatment industry through the story of one treatment program and the voices of the people affected. It did not matter what happened, state regulators kept giving it another chance.

You can find the first two episodes of Sent Away wherever you get your podcasts.