Washington state’s child welfare agency, troubled by its investigators’ reports of problems at out-of-state facilities run by Sequel Youth and Family Services, is planning not to place any more children in the care of the for-profit residential treatment provider.
The Washington Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) announced its plans on Dec. 3, the day after the publication Investigate West ran a story about the agency’s failure to meet its own deadline for bringing all foster youth back to Washington from out-of-state placements.
The week before, on Nov. 30, the agency issued a recommendation that no new referrals be made to Sequel after a lengthy review of its contracts, which, two days after a damning investigative report about Sequel by American Public Media, found many cases of children being abused.
Sequel runs 29 residential facilities in 15 states for kids with behavioral problems, according to the story, which reported that more than 40 states have sent their most vulnerable kids to Sequel facilities since its founding in 1999. Over the years, Sequel has closed multiple residential facilities, in some cases in the face of regulatory scrutiny.
The most damning scrutiny came earlier this year, following the death of 16-year-old Cornelius Fredericks, who died after being suffocated by staff members at a Sequel facility in Michigan.
Cornelius had tossed a sandwich in the cafeteria, in a scene caught on video tape, when seven staff members pounced on him and restricted his breathing as he cried out for air.
Washington, which has contracted with Sequel since 2013 and has been looking into the company’s record for some time, did not find any severe problems in terms of how residents of the state and of tribes were treated at Sequel.
Nevertheless, the state’s child welfare agency decided not to contract with Sequel anymore and to bring home all of its youth now living out of state, as soon as it can fund the effort and identify an in-state provider to care for the youth. It has also informed the tribe with children at Sequel of its plans to sever ties with the company.
In August of 2018, DCYF had 84 youth living in out-of-state facility placements. As of Dec. 3, 2020, the number was 13, all youth for whom the state could not find “appropriate placement within Washington … either because the current Behavior Rehabilitation Services (BRS) providers could not serve the youth safely or because the treatment that is required is not currently available.”
In the Dec. 3 statement, the agency said it is currently working to secure a contract in state for 20 beds to serve youth with “severe mental health needs.”
Although the state review didn’t find evidence of major problems involving Sequel’s treatment of Washington kids living in its facilities, the department expressed concern that the company has not cooperated with the state’s attempts to obtain video of an incident involving one youth, and said it intends to keep pressing the issue, including legal action if necessary.
In the meantime, the department plans to complete weekly in-person visits with Washington youth at Sequel’s Mountain Home Academy in Idaho as COVID restrictions allow, and to continue frequent video conferencing with youth until all the kids can be moved.
In the future, the state also plans to visit any out-of-state facilities where it is considering placing children in advance, and to require facilities in their contracts to provide video of any incidents involving Washington foster youth.