The Boys Next Door

In the rush to ban sex offenders, cities and counties may inadvertently be creating more of them down the line.

His own family is splintered. His older brother, the one Adam says assaulted him, ran away years ago. He sees his father about once a month.

Now seventeen, Adam has a part-time job and another year of high school to go. He still sees a therapist, and he'll be a ward of the state until he's 21.

Other than the Division of Youth Corrections (the equivalent of teen prison), Adam has been through the treatment continuum for juvenile sex offenders offered in Colorado -- child placement (foster care, group homes), a residential treatment center and outpatient therapy.

Juliana Ibarra, foster mother and martyr for the cause of juvenile sex offenders.
Juliana Ibarra, foster mother and martyr for the cause of juvenile sex offenders.
Juliana Ibarra, foster mother and martyr for the cause of juvenile sex offenders.
John Johnston
Juliana Ibarra, foster mother and martyr for the cause of juvenile sex offenders.
They're Not Columbine Knolls
Jefferson County struggles to find a place for its sex offenders.

Checking It Twice
The sex-offender registry brands kids well into adulthood.

Of these, residential treatment centers are the most intensive, structured and restrictive. The residents are supervised 24 hours a day, and clinicians provide them with specialized treatment. Adam lived at Lost and Found's facility in Morrison, a small center that also includes an on-site school. The average stay there is six months.

Group homes, such as Shiloh House in unincorporated Littleton, are more open environments. Up to a dozen youth might live in one home. Offenders attend therapy and are closely supervised, but these are not "lockdown" facilities with guards and bars.

Foster homes are the least restrictive of all placements for sex offenders who have been removed from their own homes. Those offenders who are sent to foster homes are often young, their offenses have been minor and they're at low risk of reoffending, or they are "in transition," preparing to move back in with their biological families.

The Ibarra home is considered a "therapeutic foster home." Thus far, Juliana has received almost 100 hours of special training.

She keeps close tabs on her boys. They are required to check in with her every two hours whenever they're out of the house, whether it be for work or for school. They have curfews. They are never left alone in the Ibarra home. An alarm chimes whenever someone opens a door.

It's a home, but a highly structured one.

Group and foster homes allow children to maintain ties with their biological families; they also teach them how to behave in family settings. The homes are placed in residential areas where schools, recreational facilities and employment are readily available. According to the Child Welfare League of America, placing those homes in commercial or industrial areas (which is what is being recommended in Jefferson County) "would further stigmatize and isolate [the offenders] when they have already experienced the pain of abuse and separation from their family."

Federal law mandates the least restrictive, most appropriate placement that will meet a youth's needs while assuring community safety. In all cases, the goal is to reunite the offender with his family if that's at all possible.

After a youth is arrested (or, as in Adam's case, taken in by Social Services), he is evaluated numerous times to determine the best place for him. Social workers or probation officers obtain information from the offender, his family, schools, therapists and prosecutors. The offender is given psychological and sex-behavior tests, which might include polygraphs and plethysmographs (the latter measures levels of arousal by sensing changes in penis circumference). Evaluators take into account safety concerns, the parents' ability to supervise, the juvenile's acceptance of responsibility, and his sexual history and willingness to participate in therapy.

"We try to identify factors that led to the offending behavior, identify what interventions need to be put in place to really address the issues and protect the community," says Leah Wicks, the recently retired supervisor of Jeffco's juvenile probation unit.

"The ones who are going to continue to be high risk are not the ones referred to group homes," Ryan says. High-risk offenders, those who engage in predatory behavior such as stalking or "grooming" their victims, are most likely to be sent to the Division of Youth Corrections.

"I think that there are some more serious offenders, and we are able to know who they are, and we know that we will probably have to watch these kids the rest of their lives," says Wicks. "They're usually the ones who go on to Youth Corrections and become adult offenders."

That doesn't mean dangerous kids don't slip through the net. Recent Denver Post reports on the state's foster-care system included stories about a twelve-year-old sex offender placed in a foster home with an eight-year-old boy, whom he subsequently molested, and a fifteen-year-old foster boy accused of raping a nine-year-old bunkmate.

And as yet, there have been no studies proving that group homes are more successful than residential treatment centers in turning offenders around. That makes people who live near group homes very nervous. And it provides them with a wedge when they try to zone group homes out of their neighborhoods.

But Ryan says that the vast majority of sex abuse by juveniles occurs in the offender's home. More than 40 percent of the victims are younger siblings. Fewer than 5 percent of the cases involve assaults on strangers.

In the fifteen years Shiloh has been in Columbine Knolls, for example, not one of the agency's charges has been arrested for committing a new crime in the neighborhood. Northglenn police likewise report no problems with Juliana Ibarra's boys in the three years she has been caring for sex offenders.

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My Voice Nation Help

I won't  use a blanket statement like "everyone deserves a second chance", but I do believe that these folks do. Its kind of sad how society can be with labels sometimes. Tearing people down, not giving them a chance when more than one professional has said they can do better, its not fair. People like Harl and his <a href="">child placement agency</a> shouldn't have to have these concerns.