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Youth Addiction Treatment Pioneer
April 2006

At the turn of the last century, northern Illinois was a hotbed of juvenile justice reform and of the now famous Progressive Movement, which within the justice system sought to apply the newly emerging social and psychological sciences to bring about enlightened reform. The core principal of the northern Illinois reformers - people like Julia Lathrop, Florence Kelly and Jane Addams - was that the justice system should not just meet out punishment, but should also be an instrument of treatment and rehabilitation.

Of course, the echoes of these debates still resonate within the treatment field over a century later as the nation grapples with the fallout from the misguided War on Drugs, a largely punitive approach to the addiction problem that was launched by the Nixon administration in the 1970s. But in the late 1800s, much of the focus on treatment and rehabilitation was on juveniles, who at the time were housed in jails with adult detainees and tried under laws governing adults, conditions that today would by most people be considered wholly unacceptable.

Julia Lathrop, born about 60 miles from Chicago in Rockford, IL, was the major mover behind efforts to reform Illinois’ approach to juvenile justice. Her efforts culminated in the establishment of the nation’s first juvenile court in Cook County, where conditions in Chicago had spurred reformers. Nearby in Rockford, Dr. James Rosecrance and his wife Fannie also became swept up in the era’s tide of reform, no doubt being part of the circle of activists that included Lathrop. In 1864, Dr. Rosecrance had built a 16-room white house that is now a landmark in the city. First erected as a clinic for Civil War soldiers, towards the end of the 1800s the structure became the fulcrum of the Rosecrance’s increasing focus on helping youth and families.

Wanting to continue the mission after their deaths, Fannie and James mandated in their will the creation of an orphanage, leaving the house and monies for that purpose. As a result, the precursor to one of the nation’s leading centers for the treatment of addicted adolescents was founded in 1916 as the Rosecrance Memorial Home for Children.

“While we offer much more now than just services for youths, our roots go back a long way with helping young people,” says Phil Eaton, CEO of what is known today as Rosecrance Health Network. “We are very proud of our history, going back as it does to the earliest days of efforts to lift youth up through rehabilitation and treatment.” From its beginnings as an orphanage, Rosecrance changed with the changing times. For the first 60 years or so of its existence, Rosecrance functioned essentially as an orphanage and child welfare agency, getting its referrals from the state.

But in the 1960s and 1970s, as youth culture increasingly promoted the use of drugs and alcohol, the problem of substance abuse began to loom large at Rosecrance and other youth oriented agencies like it around the country.

“Increasingly what we found was that most of the problems that our clients were having had a strong, and often overwhelming, layer of substance abuse to them,” says Eaton, adding that in the beginning this was a phenomenon Rosecrance was often ill-equipped to handle. “As the 1970s wore on, it became apparent to us that this teenage addiction problem wasn’t going to go away, and was in fact growing fairly dramatically.”

By the early 1980s, top Rosecrance executives like Eaton and members of the Rosecrance board began to perceive that youth substance abuse was in essence the principal problem they faced on a day-to-day basis. So, in 1982 Rosecrance took a dramatic step, transforming itself from a child welfare agency into an addiction treatment center for adolescents. Thus was born the Rosecrance of today, a multifaceted treatment facility with two major campuses in Rockford, as well as several recovery homes, an on site school and relatively new businesses such as HealthNetwork EAP, a local EAP services company.

Growth at Rosecrance has been strong, with annual revenues climbing 35 percent over the last four years, to $22.6 million in 2005 from $16.7 million in 2001. And while Rosecrance opened a $5.3 million facility in 1995 to service adults - the Rosecrance Harrison adult campus in fact now accounts for the biggest share of the non-profit’s revenues - it is the adolescent program that has accounted for virtually all of the growth registered by Rosecrance over the last four years. But back in 1982, when Rosecrance opened as a treatment center, it was the only such facility for adolescents in northern Illnois. And now almost twenty five years later, Rosecrance’s youth treatment operations are housed at the brand new Griffin Williamson Campus, a collection of stateof- the-art facilities totaling 67,000 square feet which will help ensure that Rosecrance will continue to be the leading treatment center for adolescents in the region for years to come.

“In the 1990s, many treatment facilities took a look at their product lines and decided that youth treatment wasn’t as high a priority,” says Eaton, who began his career at Rosecrance as a social worker over 30 years ago. “For many treatment centers, adolescent services has always been a relatively small factor in their overall missions.” But Eaton points out this was not at all the case for Rosecrance, whose core mission going back decades had been focused on youth. “The general retrenchment from adolescent services we saw in the 1990s was very much a market opportunity for us, “ says Eaton. “The need arose and we filled it.”

Indeed. Since 1990, the number of residential beds at Rosecrance dedicated to treating addicted youths has more than doubled to almost 80 from 35. And in the last four years, with the opening of the new adolescent campus, youth services have accounted for virtually all of Rosecrance’s growth. Adolescent admissions in 2005, both outpatient and inpatient, were 1,088, almost double the level of such admissions in 2001, when a total of just 672 adolescents entered treatment at Rosecrance.

Dr Tom Wright, Rosecrance’s new adolescent services medical director, points out that treating adolescents is vastly different than treating adults, with issues of staff recruitment and retention, cost and diagnostic complexity being major factors differentiating the two. “There’s no question that it takes a unique kind of dedication to work with adolescents,” says Wright, with Phil Eaton pointing out that the cost of treating adolescents at Rosecrance, and other institutions, is considerably more than the cost of treating adults.

“The high incidence co-occurring disorders, the degree to which activities must be highly structured and the need to have more staff are all major factors in why it is so much more expensive to treat young people than adults,” says Eaton, adding that the cost of treating an adolescent at Rosecrance, at $525 a day, is almost 20 percent more than the cost of treating an adult, which is $445 a day.

Certainly, Wright’s psychiatric skills are heavily in demand with the youth that Rosecrance treats, as such skills tend to be generally among adolescents. Eaton says that about 60 percent of adolescents treated at Rosecrance are dually diagnosed, which is 50 percent higher than the rate at which SAMHSA estimates that co-occurring disorders occur in the overall population of addicted individuals.

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