Niagara Gazette — A change in policy with the Niagara County Sheriff's Office is bringing more attention to a residential home for children in Lockport.
Five teenage girls were reported as running away from Wyndham Lawn Home for Children in a span of a little over two weeks, between Aug. 27 and Sept. 13.
That number is unusual but not unprecedented, said Joseph Gallagher, a spokesperson for New Directions Youth & Family Services, the nonprofit agency that oversees Wyndham Lawn.
“When youth do leave, they often leave together and some will leave several times in succession before resolving their issues,” he said. “Both of which will cause a temporary spike in these reports.”
Located on Old Niagara Road near the town and city line, Wyndham Lawn takes children who are placed by the county Family Court. The home is not a part of the juvenile corrections system, Gallagher said, so by design Wyndham Lawn does not have fences or locked residential buildings.
What complicates the issue is that Wyndham Lawn cannot stop kids from leaving. Regulations from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services do not allow New Directions to physically restrain children who chose to leave the campus. Nor can the agency force them to return if their location becomes known.
Gallagher said Wyndham Lawn strives to “provide a residential environment where daily living activities are designed to provide guidance, promote positive choices and motivate personal growth.” The home provides residential treatment with a staff that aims to build strong relationships with youth and families.
“The safety and security of our residents is our highest priority,” Gallagher said.
So Wyndham Lawn works in cooperation with the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, who has the legal authority to locate and return these youth to the campus, Gallagher said.
“Accordingly, the sheriff’s office is contacted every time a youth leaves the campus, even though in many cases the kids return on their own within a relatively short time,” he said.