© 2024 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
Listen | Discover | Engage a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Utah Facility Housing Oregon Foster Youth To Close After Reports Of Abuse

An out-of-state treatment facility that houses Oregon foster children is shutting down as it faces numerous reports of serious safety concerns.

Red Rock Canyon School, in St. George, Utah, was the site of an intense brawl and faces accusations of staff assaults of students. The school, owned by Sequel Youth and Family Services, will close at the end of summer.

In May, 23 foster youth from Oregon were enrolled there, at a cost to the state of about $330 per day per child.

After intense media and legislative scrutiny, Oregon officials announced they are trying to bring youth who are out of state back. As of this week, 11 students from Oregon remain at Red Rock Canyon.

“Our goal is to transition the youth as quickly and safely as possible,” Jake Sunderland, a spokesman with Oregon Child Welfare, a division of the state Department of Human Services, wrote in an email.

“We have been regularly visiting Red Rock Canyon and will continue our onsite monitoring until all Oregon children have been moved," he said.

Oregon currently has 60 foster care children placed in out-of-state facilities, and at least 43 of them are placed in other facilities owned by Sequel Youth and Family Services.

Sunderland said officials from Sequel called Oregon Child Welfare earlier this week to announce they were voluntarily closing Red Rock Canyon.

“We have recognized that we have not consistently delivered on our mission,” Sequel wrote in a statement. “As a result, we’re taking this action proactively to do what’s in the best interest of our students and staff, while we address the identified deficiencies and make the program consistent with our standards for the future."

Other placements for the children have yet to be identified, Sunderland said, but some youth will likely be transferred to other out-of-state schools, including to some owned by Sequel.

In May, Oregon Child Welfare officials visited Red Rock Canyon, which is in a former hotel, and issued a positive report. They noted that yoga and meditation were available to young people.

As soon as the Oregon assessment was issued, a much more damning report came to light. It highlighted severe understaffing at Red Rock Canyon, which it said led to violence, sexual misconduct and both staff and residents feeling unsafe.

There are currently about 50 students in the school.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that, since 2017, the police have been called to the school 72 times, and 24 staffers were investigated for child abuse.

In a two and a half years, 10 employees were charged with child abuse, and there are ongoing investigations into sexual abuse of  youth in the facility. Investigators are looking into whether a worker at the school fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl.

“You’re looking at potentially three different girls who have allegedly been sexually assaulted by theoretically three different staff members,” said Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, who has been leading an effort to bring the Oregon kids in these facilities back to the state. “Any place can have bad luck and, despite best efforts, [an incident like this happens]. But having two girls having the babies allegedly of two different staff members is crazy.”

Gelser has been examining these facilities for several months and has pushed back on Child Welfare's assertion that these facilities are offering highly specialized treatment.

This is the second location housing Oregon foster care children to close. A psychiatric treatment center in Montana closed after reports that it used chemical restraints to control a 9-year-old Oregon foster care child.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Lauren Dake is a JPR content partner from Oregon Public Broadcasting. Before OPB, Lauren spent nearly a decade working as a print reporter. She’s covered politics and rural issues in Oregon and Washington.