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Parents, employees upset about abrupt closure of youth program in Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY -- It's a nonprofit program focused on helping teens, but now it's closing down abruptly and parents say it's leaving their children with nowhere to go and without the help they desperately need.

“My son is in this program, or was,” Teresa Sturdy said.

Thursday was the last time Teresa Sturdy will pick up her son from Valley Behavioral Health in Salt Lake City. She says it's not because he's done with the program, but because the facility is abruptly shutting it down.

“To learn they're going to release my son because, apparently he's doing good, I'm like, that just seems an injustice to all the kids involved, to be fair,” Sturdy said.

Other parents share Teresa's concern.

“I've had phone calls and phone calls and phone calls of, 'I have nowhere to put my kid, what am I going to do with my child?'” said Cara Stewart, a former unit supervisor at the center.

She said they bond with the children they work with.

“We build really strong relationships with the kids, they're here for 4 to 6 months" Stewart said. "We become their stability in their lives, the only stability they've had almost their entire life."

She knew the program was shutting down but says she was promised the kids currently in the program would be able to finish, no matter how long it took. But on Thursday she learned the kids had to be out by the end of the week.

“They have completely gone back on every promise they've made to every client,” said Taylor Berhow, a former counselor.

And employees like Cara and Taylor say they were fired without warning.

“At first I was shocked, and then it was sadness, and now it's inconceivable to me that something like this would happen,” Taylor said.

Susan Pizitz, Director of Children's Services for Valley Behavioral Health, responded to those concerns.

“Valley Behavioral Health is completely dedicated to the wellness of our clients and supporting the clients and supporting the family,” she said.

Valley Behavioral Health says they're shutting down because studies show there are better ways to help the children.

“Really shifting resources to provide services and better outcomes by providing community-based levels of services,” Pizitz said.

But parents say it could have and should have been handled better.

“It just seems like a big injustice to me, and who are the ones that lose out in the end? You know, the kids,” Sturdy said.

Directors say they have reached out to some clients to put them in different programs.