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Politics & Government

Oregon Brings Back All Foster Children Placed Out Of State

The Oregon Department of Human Services building is pictured in Salem, Ore., on Sept. 26, 2019. Beleaguered and increasingly desperate child welfare workers trusted the private, for-profit Sequel Youth and Family Services with the state's most vulnerable children, despite allegations of abuse.
The Oregon Department of Human Services building is pictured in Salem, Ore., on Sept. 26, 2019. Beleaguered and increasingly desperate child welfare workers trusted the private, for-profit Sequel Youth and Family Services with the state's most vulnerable children, despite allegations of abuse.

Oregon has now removed all of the foster youth it sent to for-profit facilities in other states.

Starting in 2018, the state’s Child Welfare Department increasingly relied on out-of-state facilities to house youth placed in foster care.

Initially, child welfare officials kept their decision to send more children to other states largely under wraps. They didn’t alert lawmakers to the arrangement, and when OPB broke the news in February 2019, state administrators declined to disclose where they were sending the children or what kind of oversight was offered once the boys and girls, some as young as 9, were sent thousands of miles away.

As more details were uncovered, a litany of disturbing stories and reports of widespread abuse and use of restraints at such centers surfaced.

Most recently, two Oregon teenagers were removed from a Michigan treatment facility after learning another child restrained by staff for throwing a sandwich died.

Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, became a catalyst for bringing the Oregon youth placed in the out-of-state facilities back home.

“We have to listen to kids when they tell us what’s happening to them,” Gelser said.

Gelser pointed out that there were plenty of “red flags” along the way. First, there were the stories from the children, but there was also plenty to corroborate their accounts —  from police reports to criminal lawsuits to hospitalizations.

Most of the children Oregon placed out-of-state were put in facilities owned or operated by one private company, known as Sequel Youth and Family Services.

Oregon isn’t the only state that turned to Sequel to help solve a foster care crisis despite allegations of widespread use of physical restraint and violence. Across the country, state child welfare officials rely on Sequel, a private, for-profit company, to house foster youth.

At one point, the company was in talks with Oregon officials about opening up a facility in the state. Oregon, however, will no longer have any youth placed in Sequel’s care.

“Despite Oregon’s efforts, it has become abundantly clear that Sequel is unable to meet our high licensing and safety standards. This is of course even more concerning after the tragic and unnecessary death of Cornelius Fredrick, a 16-year-old boy from Michigan, after a restraint by staff at the Lakeside Academy in Michigan,” Jake Sunderland, a spokesman for Child Welfare, wrote in an email Tuesday.

“It is for these reasons, that Child Welfare is terminating its contract with Sequel administered treatment programs as quickly as possible. Due to this contract termination, there are currently no approved residential treatment placement options outside Oregon."

Gelser, the state lawmaker, recently convinced her colleagues to pass legislation that ensured if Oregon does ever send another child to another out-of-state facility, it must meet the same requirements as required by those in Oregon.

Gelser visited Lakeside Academy, the Michigan facility where the boy died, in January.

“It was in a conference room at Lakeside Academy in January when I told the CEO of Sequel that I was fearful that inappropriate restraints in Sequel facilities could lead to a fatality,” Gelser said earlier. “I am devastated that my worst fears were realized when a child died after allegedly being restrained for throwing a sandwich.”

Gelser noted it took a lot of work to point out the discrepancies of the organization. And Sequel, the lawmaker said, still has more than 2,000 kids in their care. Other states, she said, have to look “beyond the brochures and see who they really are.”

The facilities, Gelser said, are “black holes of regulations.”

“No one is sure who is in charge. There has to be more oversight when kids are far from home and the states have to work to make that happen,” Gelser said, noting that Sequel has been known to shut down, reorganize and rebrand itself before reopening.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting