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Running out of Options: Facilities for children carry burden of broken mental health system

9Wants to Know and the Colorado Sun investigated runaways at Colorado's youth treatment facilities.

DENVER — The Running out of Options investigation exposes a systemic problem of troubled children running away from state-licensed facilities that are supposed to protect them. 

Rules prevent facility staff from stopping children from leaving, leading to overwhelmed police. 

In some cases, children have been killed. 

>> Read the full collaborative investigation with the Colorado Sun and watch five chapters of these stories below. 

Chapter 1: Timmy stopped running

A 12-year-old boy who had a history of running away was killed after running away from the Tennyson Center in Denver. 

The year Timmy died, the Tennyson center called Denver Police 129 times for runaways. 

RELATED: 2 children have died after running away from residential treatment centers in Colorado

Chapter 2: Andrew is never coming back

A teen living with a traumatic brain injury who had a history of wandering away from school and facilities was killed by a drunk driver after leaving the Cleo Wallace facility in Westminster. The facility is the largest source of 911 calls in the city. 

Chapter 3: An officer loses his temper

A Denver police sergeant, so frustrated with the number of runaway calls, berates facility staff and children during a runaway call to Mount Saint Vincent Home. The incident, captured on audio, is an example of how tensions have boiled over between facility staff and police. 

RELATED: Audio captures Denver sergeant losing temper over frequent runaway calls at home for vulnerable children

Chapter 4: The burned-out caretakers of children

Former staff members from facilities come forward to share traumatizing stories of being attacked by children. They speak out about a lack of staff and low pay. 

RELATED: With bites, bruises and low pay, caretakers for Colorado’s troubled youth say there’s not enough staff to keep kids — and each other — safe

Chapter 5: What's the fix? 

A young woman who lived in several facilities shares why she constantly ran away. The state agency tasked with overseeing the facilities answers questions about what it is doing to improve the system. 

RELATED: Families kept in the dark about children’s safety in Colorado’s child welfare system

Web extra: A conversation about the investigation 

9Wants to Know and the Colorado Sun discussed this investigation, and what changes could be coming to the system. 

Tips or comments? Contact Jeremy Jojola (jeremy@9news.com) or Jennifer Brown (jennifer@coloradosun.com)

FULL PLAYLIST: Running out of Options


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