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Politics & Government

US Lawmakers Seek Probe Of Youth Congregate Care Facilities, Including One Oregon Relied On

The U.S. Capitol is seen on April 13.
The U.S. Capitol is seen on April 13.

Several members of Congress are requesting the Office of Inspector General investigate youth congregate care and residential facilities, including those operated by a company Oregon previously sent dozens of foster youth to for treatment.

Several members of Congress are requesting the Office of Inspector General in the U.S Department of Health and Human Services investigate youth congregate care and residential facilities, including those operated by a company Oregon previously sent dozens of foster youth to for treatment.

“Recent reports indicate that some companies contracting with federal and state governments administering federally-funded benefits to care for at-risk children have potentially violated the health and safety requirements required by law,” the letter, signed by eight members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, a Democrat from Oregon, reads.

The letter cites reporting done by American Public Media, in collaboration with Oregon Public Broadcasting, showing children placed at facilities operated by Sequel Youth and Family Services, which at the time operated in 15 states, were abused, neglected, sexually assaulted and physically mistreated.

“The report details a history of the use of excessive force and improper restraints on children, an unfortunate practice tragically illustrated by the homicide of 16-year-old Cornelius Fredrick at a Sequel facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan in April 2020, as determined by the Office of the Medical Examiner,” the letter continues. “Cornelius died after staff restrained him for 12 minutes as punishment for throwing a sandwich at another child in a cafeteria. Cornelius’s death was preventable.”

Oregon started to rely on Sequel Youth and Family Services to house foster youth, particularly between 2016 and 2018. After intense media and legislative scrutiny, and a litany of disturbing reports about neglect and abuse at such centers, the state announced it would bring back all the kids it sent out of state.

The letter also mentions a behavioral health treatment center in Pennsylvania, known as Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, where members of Congress allege there is significant evidence showing dozens of children, some as young as 12-years-old, have been raped or sexually assaulted by staff.

“These news reports underscore the need for a comprehensive review of congregate care and residential facilities and agencies across multiple federal programs that fund the care and treatment of children,” the letter reads. “Failure to address these issues in a comprehensive approach leaves children at serious risk of harm, exacerbating systemic challenges associated with group care.”

Since 2019, amid ongoing controversies and scrutiny, Sequel Youth & Family Services, has shuttered 12 of its facilities. More recently, it announced plans to close its flagship facility, Clarinda Academy in Iowa, along with Normative Services Academy in Sheridan, Wyoming and Auldern Academy in Siler City, North Carolina. The company cited decreasing enrollment as one of the reasons for closing.

But one of Sequel’s more problematic facilities, Northern Illinois Academy, in suburban Chicago remains open. The facility accepts children as young as six. It’s one Sequel’s more expensive facilities, and it’s geared toward kids with more severe behavioral health challenges.

Minnesota, Oregon and Maryland cut ties with Sequel Youth & Family Services after Fredrick’s death. More recently, California and Washington also severed ties with the company.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting