Wayside Youth Academy not quite ‘home away from home’ for Justina Pelletier

There was a time when you had to be somebody to have your letter to the editor published in a newspaper. That once-privileged occurrence has now been replaced by online reader comments. That’s a good thing, because it opens the door to a broader range of participants, and provides a better gauge of public sentiment.

Beyond that, it isn’t just anyone who merits the honor of being a guest columnist in a newspaper. To earn that privilege, you actually have to be somebody.

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I direct your attention to an article printed in the MetroWest Daily News on Sunday, May 4, 2014.

The paper is based in Framingham, a town nestled between the I-95 and I-495 loops that serve as the inner and outer boundaries generally defining the greater Boston metropolitan area.

Framingham is home to Wayside Youth & Family Support Network – the residential facility that accepted Justina Pelletier for enrollment in its “academy.”1

The guest column was written by Eric L. Masi, owner of the Wayside Youth facility. As it happened, the article ran on the very same day that MyFOXBoston News 25 ran its televised report covering the allegations that Justina had been accosted inside of the facility.

From a public relations standpoint, this could not have come at a worse time for the facility, which was celebrating its fifth birthday on that particular date. Imagine the unanticipated angst of having to conduct damage control even as your birthday is being self-promoted in the local newspaper. I’d feel sorry for Masi, except that his sorrow pales into relative insignificance in light of the angst expressed by the Pelletier family following Justina’s latest report of maltreatment at the facility.

In any event, the relevant portion of the article says:

Today, we find ourselves immersed in a new set of struggles related to our decision to accept a young girl who had been hospitalized on a locked psychiatric unit for nearly 12 months. That decision has not been an easy one as it is a very high-profile matter with significant negative consequences to our staff’s well being, our agency’s reputation and recently, to our IT functioning as a result of cyber attacks. However, this is why we built this campus and we’re proud we are fulfilling our vision and mission.

I can’t address the IT problems, as I personally had my hands full just learning CSS to restyle my own web site. What I would like to address, however, is the concern regarding the “significant negative consequences to our staff’s well being” raised in the article.

To the best of my knowledge, neither mitochodrial disorder nor somatoform are considered to be contagious. And, by all accounts Justina was never a particulary unruly teen. More to the point, she is not in any position to pose a threat to the staff’s well being as she has so badly deteriorated while in the care of the state that she is now confined to a wheelchair.

Perhaps Masi was speaking in reference to the protests outside of his facility? As far as I am aware, the protests that have been staged have been peaceful ones. No tires have been slashed, no spraypaint has been applied to the building, and there have been no arrests for breach of the peace. I’m sure that it must be disconcerting for some employees to cross a protest line, just as it is to cross a labor union picket line, however I’d prefer to take the former option over the latter.

If ever there was an actual potential for violence, it is reasonable to suppose that that potential would have been attained last Sunday. Instead, what the public saw was a justifiably enraged family addressing a television audience – again. Having accepted the glare of spotlights that she could not have reasonably anticipated some 14-plus months ago, Jennifer Pelletier presented herself as an articulate spokesperson with the well-being of her sister being her primary consideration.

Yesterday, May 5, WCBV ran a broadcast featuring Jennifer saying in reference to the amount of time it has taken to devise the reunification plan: “I’m very disappointed and disgusted in the way my sister has been treated by the state of Massachusetts. I know, and everyone else knows, it only takes an hour to resolve this.”

That is among the more crucial points that has been lost in the “debate” over the family’s plight. It is not a question of “parental rights” versus the state, as it has been framed in some circles. Rather it is about the individual rights of each and every member of the family – child and adult alike – to share their companionship with one another as a family unit free of the unwarranted intervention of the state.

This is hardy a radical concept. In his dissenting opinion in Olmstead v. United States, Justice Louis D. Brandeis wrote:

The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings, and of his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the Government, the right to be let alone – the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.

Justice Brandeis thoughtfully added an important note of caution: “Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent.”

Related

Current article on Wayside web site.

Article on MetroWest web site.

Article on Milford Daily News

Note: This is not the first time that Masi was a guest columnist in this paper. See Eric L. Masi, “Wayside campus’ 1200th teen,” MetroWest Daily News, October 11, 2011.

1. This is the language of the child savers, wherein residential facilities are cast as “academies,” prisons are cast as “youth ranches,” psychiatric facilities provide an “island of excellence,” and companies that manage group homes are “institutes.” See e.g. testimony of Kenneth Wooden, Foster Care: Problems and Issues, Subcommittee on Select Education of the Committee on Education and Labor, U.S. House of Representatives, September 8, 1976 (“they are called ‘youth homes’ or ‘ranches’ with fancy names like Cinderella Hall or Pleasant Valley or Happy Days”). See also generally Lifting the Veil, The Group Homes (citing John Hubner and Jill Wolfson: “After a few coats of paint and some wallboard were slapped up, the houses were given bucolic- or inspirational-sounding names like ‘Green Pastures’ or ‘Excell Center’ and found new life as group homes”).