A 9-year-old foster child from Oregon was drugged, warehoused and forgotten at a huge private treatment facility in another state. A 16-year-old boy was held down until he suffocated – in a manner disturbingly similar to the murder of George Floyd – for throwing bits of bread across the lunchroom at a fellow resident of “the bad place.” Two Democratic Senators from the Pacific Northwest, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Patty Murray of Washington, are investigating reports of systemic abuse and neglect at private facilities that ran treatment programs for children throughout the U.S. – including foster children from Oregon and Washington.
A woman thought her nine-year-old daughter was in a foster home somewhere in Oregon, and that a caseworker was checking on her regularly. Eventually, she learned that her daughter hadn’t been checked on since being left at a 105-bed facility in Montana, where she was given injections of Benadryl when she lost her temper – considered an emergency measure by most professionals, not a routine response to a child acting out.
“We’re trusting the same facility that started abusing her in the first place. We’re trusting that they won’t do it anymore because we asked them nicely. That wouldn’t be enough for my kid,” Oregon Senator Sara Gelser Blouin of Corvallis told Oregonlive in 2019 when the child’s situation first came to light.
The Montana facility is owned by Acadia Health Services, which is under investigation for violations at multiple facilities across the U.S. and in other countries as well. The facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan where Cornelius Fredrick was suffocated in May of 2020 – the now closed and demolished Lakeside Academy – was also owned by a nationwide chain of for-profit juvenile detention facilities founded by the creator of the Jiffy-Lube chain. Now, some are asking whether “Juvie-Lube” is a good model for rehabilitating youth, or just a way of generating profits for entrepreneurs.
In fact, the way these children have suffered raises not only the question of whether state foster-care and juvenile justice are being adequately monitored, but the broader question of whether it’s ideal for every aspect of human life to be handled by for-profit businesses.
The month after Fredrick’s death, two Oregon teenagers were removed from that same facility after the news had reached Oregon officials; at that time, they claimed they would stop sending children to out-of-state treatment facilities. According to OPB, both Wyden and Murray have written to the CEOs of Acadia Health Services, Vivant Behavioral Healthcare, Universal Health Services, and Deveraux Advanced Behavioral Health.
“It’s legitimizing,” said Gelser Blouin, who had met with Wyden over a year ago to discuss using a Senate Committee to investigate these facilities. “And I think for the survivors it makes them feel seen because for the Senate Committee to take this step, they have done the background work.”
By John M. Burt