SHERIDAN — Wyoming Department of Family Services Director Korin Schmidt responded promptly to a letter of concern sent by Sheridan County commissioners to the government agency about accumulating incidents deriving from Normative Services, Inc.

DFS licensing authority has been recently working with NSI in addressing similar concerns as commissioners and the Sheridan community. 

DFS administers the license for NSI as an approved court-ordered youth treatment facility in the state. NSI is a private business under its parent company, Sequel Youth and Family Services, and does not receive government funding outside of funds associated with students placed in NSI’s programming who are under the guardianship of DFS. DFS still controls licensing for NSI and other agencies like it.

Other agencies in the state listed under the same category — residential treatment centers — on DFS’ website include the Cathedral Home in Laramie, Central Wyoming Counseling Center in Casper, Cornerstone in Cheyenne, Red Top Meadows in Wilson, Trinity Teen Solutions in Powell and the YES House in Gillette.

DFS Support Services Senior Administrator Roxanne O’Connor and Licensing Program Manager Nicky Anderson said the chief focus in the licensing process for facilities like NSI is for child safety. During the licensing process, licensors ensure agencies are maintaining compliance with policies and trainings set forth by the Wyoming Legislature.

Wyoming Statute states certification must be established by a certification board. An applicant must be of good moral character, as should his employees and any other person having direct contact with a child under the care, custody or control of the applicant, according to Statute 14-4-104 establishing standards of certification. The statute goes on to list that applicants must have practical experience, education and training; uncrowded, safe, sanitary and well-repaired facilities; and wholesome food prepared in a clean and healthy environment.

O’Connor and Anderson said at any facility like NSI, each employee completes a background check and state fire and health and sanitation departments must approve the facility for compliance before the facility is relicensed.

DFS is required to complete to onsite evaluations of each facility before relicensing can be administered. One is scheduled between the facility and DFS and the other is at DFS’ discretion. In administering a license, after its first year of demonstrating compliance, licensing lasts two years. Anderson said DFS licensors still complete the required two compliance checks annually, but most facilities receive more than the required number of checks.

“Every program will get its two visits, and that’s very consistent,” Anderson said. “But because of the nature of what they do and there’s only two of them and they travel the state, it’s very likely and probable that programs are going to get more than the two visits.

“If I have a licensor going down to Casper to do an unannounced visit at a program because its one of their two for the year, they may just drop by the other programs because they’re in that community for the day and they’re just going to stop in and check in on them.”

In the letter to Sheridan’s commissioners, Schmidt wrote that DFS licensing authority made multiple visits to NSI within the past eight months to investigate allegations of rule violations, ensure rule compliance and continue to provide technical assistance.

“Some of these visits involved discussion regarding the runaway situation you referenced in your letter,” Schmidt wrote.

Runaways do not constitute rule violations but DFS staff reviewed those circumstances to see if rule violations were associated with the incidents. The technical assistance included a recommendation to limit the census at NSI to a manageable number, with which Schmidt said the program was complying.

DFS licensors had a second conversation in June 2019 to ensure continued attention to the number and types of incidents occurring on campus.

“During the meeting, DFS made a request to the former NSI director to be added to the agenda for the annual NSI board meeting to ensure that the concerns expressed and recommended provided by DFS were escalated to a level where action could be taken,” Schmidt wrote.

The board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 19 at 8:30 a.m. and DFS will be at the table for the conversation. Schmidt told commissioners in the letter she would follow up with commissioners for any further action plans after that meeting.

A DFS licensor and Sheridan County DFS District Manager Jeff Bell attended the town hall meeting organized by community members at the Sheridan County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall Friday, along with NSI and Sequel representation.

“DFS has been very involved and active in the concerns that were brought forward in the incidents that have been occurring at NSI,” O’Connor said. “We have a really great working relationship with NSI and we hope to see that continue. We are looking forward and have been collaborating with NSI. We look forward to collaborating with the county commissioners, with the sheriff’s office to be a partner in helping to come up with a solution on some of these concerns and some of these incidents.”