Wyndham Lawn Residential Services is a home for children between the ages of eight and 18, though the median age is approximately 16 years old. While most of the children are reunited with their biological families, some do end up in juvenile detention centers. The remaining go to other residential programs – a setting like a group home – or are placed for adoption in foster homes.
According to data from the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, there were 54 runaways between November 2020 and April 2021, many of which were from Wyndham home. To get an idea of a typical year before the COVID-19 pandemic, between April 2019 and November 2019, 53 runaways were reported in Niagara County.
“It’s a continual situation. We go there often to take missing person reports and some of it is cyclical depending on the weather. The warmer months come and the numbers increase, then when it’s cold out the numbers decrease, but it’s a common occurrence at Wyndham Lawn,” Sheriff Mike Filicetti said. “It’s an insecure facility and that’s how it was designed.
“We go there often and it does take some of our time. Between us and the state police, we’re there a lot of the time. We typically locate them in short order. It varies on the individual. It can be right away or it can be a day or two days. They’re all over the charts, but we have a good success rate of locating them.”
Wyndham Lawn provides co-ed residential treatment for 30 children and services include counseling, clinical case management, therapeutic recreation, life skills and medical and psychiatric services. It is overseen by New Directions Youth & Family Services, a 501(c)(3), which is funded by service contracts with different counties that wish to place a child, and licensed with New York State Office of Child and Family Services which reimburses the county a percentage of what it takes to place that child.
Joe Gallagher is the vice-president of operations for New View Alliance – the parent company of New Directions Youth & Family Services – and he shared some of what makes Wyndham Lawn what it is, insecure and all.
“The vast amount of AWOLs are done by a small number of children,” Gallagher said. “You’ll find some children just have a propensity in doing that. They’re just in that stage of crisis where they really aren’t prepared to deal with things and the quickest way not have to deal with things is to leave.”
Gallagher said at the moment many of the runaways from the facility are repeat cases and would usually be transferred to another program.
“Typically, we’d find another resource for them,” he said. “We try to get them into a place where they’re either more comfortable or is more equipped to deal with whatever the issue is. With Covid though, the transfer of children between facilities has almost come to a standstill.”
Despite this, the policy of Wyndham Lawn is still the same.
“If they’re not presenting imminent danger to themselves or others we should not restrain them,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher said that the average runaway will simply leave, without an altercation, in a way that avoids detection. Even if a staff member were to see one leave, they’re not in the position to run, tackle and bring back the child. Also, Gallagher noted that many of the children who leave, come back on their own.
“That is the pattern,” he said. “They get angry, they get upset. They leave. They calm down, and they come back.”