- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2001

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It looks like a small but ordinary boarding school, with playground equipment outside and a recreation room just inside the lobby. Dorm rooms are furnished with identical bunk beds and dressers. Posters, bedspreads and stuffed animals reveal the mix of personalities who occupy them.
Inside classrooms, students are being schooled in the basics — reading, math, history.
Buy other signs show that the Haslam Academy is more than just a learning institute.
All the classroom doors are open, and at least one staff member stands guard at each doorway. A room full of teen-age boys merits three of these observers, each of them a burly man.
Next door to one classroom is a rectangular alcove not much bigger than a closet. It has three battered walls and an open entryway that faces a hallway. Its linoleum floor is scuffed and scratched, lingering evidence of the struggles that go on there.
Elsewhere, the floors are largely carpeted and fastidiously vacuumed. A single paper clip behind a couch in a downstairs dorm area draws the attention of Haslam superintendent Kay McCampbell as she conducts a tour.
Quickly reaching for the paper clip, she ticks off a list of seemingly harmless items that at Haslam are viewed as potential weapons.
"Staples, paper clips, plastic cups, straws," she recited, explaining that the students at Haslam can be "most ingenious" at creating small-scale implements of destruction.
No bars restrain them, but the children are not free to leave. Each of the students has been sent here as a last alternative to confinement in either a mental hospital or a juvenile jail. Ranging in age from 5 to 18, these children are here in hopes of curbing and redirecting their often unpredictable, sometimes violent reactions to lifes stresses.
Its red brick buildings nestled in a pastoral neighborhood, Haslam is a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed children contracted by the Tennessee Department of Childrens Services. Most of the children treated at Haslam are wards of the state. Nearly half of them are teen-age boys. An estimated 10 percent are suicidal. The department advocates a plan that is designed to prevent a violent outburst before it erupts but that allows the more reactive approach known as physical restraint, in which a child is held face-down on the floor until calmness is restored. It is a dangerous practice that, in other states, has led to the deaths of more than a dozen children in recent times.
The practice, employed hundreds of times a year at Haslam — and the tales of injury that accompany it — fuel the centers reputation as one of Tennessees toughest agencies that serve children.
That battered linoleum in the alcove, known as the "time-out room," is where most children wind up restrained. Miss McCampbell said the room also can be used by children learning self-control through self-restraint. In those situations, children are allowed to go into the alcove, yell, stomp, beat the walls or simply lie on the floor, she said.
Although exact figures are not available, officials concede runaways are a constant challenge.
"There are three categories ," explained Mark Potts, coordinator of treatment programs. "We have the truly determined child thats going to go back home and fall into the entertainment category (going shopping or to a movie). Then, there are the runners for whom running is a lifestyle. Those are mostly girls… . Those are the ones I worry about most."
When children escape from Haslam, it is up to police to find them. When a runaway is found and sent back to Haslam, he or she is punished with up to six hours of isolation from other residents and bare feet.
"We take their shoes — literally," Mr. Potts said.
Children stay at Haslam on average only a few weeks or months, but some stay much longer. Roughly 80 children are housed at the center at any given time. Haslam employs about 130 people.
Haslam has success stories, Miss McCampbell insists. She is particularly proud of the facilitys K-12 school, operated entirely in-house and accredited by the state.
Mr. Potts said Haslam achieves its goals every time a child leaves the center for a more normal lifestyle — even if the child remains in the troubled foster-care system.


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