When Uvea was 9-years-old the state of Oregon sent her to a facility in Montana where she was drugged and largely abandoned by child welfare officials.
The girl’s story became public in April of 2019 and played a pivotal role in eventually ending the state’s practice of sending youth placed in foster care to out-of-state facilities. Not long after the girl was brought home, the facility where she was sent in Montana shut down amid troubling allegations.
This week, Uvea revealed her identity to a panel of lawmakers for the first time. She is now 11 years old.
“I want my story to be put out there and let people know my name and who I am and what happened to me. And let people know it’s not OK and it shouldn’t happen to any person,” Uvea told lawmakers.
She spoke in favor of a bill, Senate Bill 707, sponsored by Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, that would allow all Oregon youth sent across state lines between 2016 and 2019 to access all their relevant records documenting their time in a facility or facilities. It would require the state’s Department of Human Services to contact the facility where it sent the child and request any relevant records including their chart notes, written records of restraints and videos of their restraints or altercations.
The measure would also mandate the Department of Human Services to inform all the youth sent across state lines how to contact an attorney if they were harmed while they were out of state.
“All of the things that would be important to one of these youth now or later in life, whether they want to pursue a tort claim or they want to work through with their therapist and try to reconcile what happened,” Gelser said.
One of the stories Uvea shared about her experience in Montana was about how a staff member held her hands behind her back in an effort to restrain her.
“Can I say the two words she called me?” Uvea asked Gelser. “They made me feel very uncomfortable.”
“She called me a pervert and a prostitute,” the girl, who was about 9 years old at the time, said.
John Devlin, a Portland-based attorney, spoke in favor of the bill, saying “every child who was sent to an out-of-state facility needs an independent person acting solely on their behalf and in their best interest to review what happened to that child and bring civil claims if the child was harmed.”
Another adult woman, Elizabeth Anderman, spoke to the lifelong trauma caused by these types of facilities. When she was 13 years old in the 1990s, she was sent to Mount Bachelor Academy, outside of Prineville. In some ways, her experience mirrored Uvea’s.
“‘Worthless whore’ became their go-to name for me,” she said.
Gelser has also introduced a bill geared toward severely restricting the use of widespread restraints commonly used in facilities that house youth. A child restrained by staff for throwing a sandwich died at a facility where Oregon kids had been placed at the time. The state lawmaker is also taking aim at companies that parents often rely on to transport youth to certain facilities. The transport companies often arrive in the middle of the night to collect the child before carting them to an unknown location.
“In any other context, we call this kidnapping.”
Paris Hilton, the heiress and entrepreneur, testified in front of Gelser’s committee this week. When Hilton was 16 years old she was taken by a secure transport company to several facilities, including Provo Canyon School in Utah. More recently, Oregon brought back a foster youth from Provo Canyon School in 2019 after the girl who also suffered mistreatment there.
Hilton described the nightmares she still has from the overall experience. It started with the transport company waking her up in the middle of the night and asking if she wanted to come “the easy way or the hard way.” The hard way apparently involved zip ties and force.
Like others taken against their will, Hilton wasn’t told where she was going until the next morning and had no idea what was happening.
“In any other context, we call this kidnapping,” Hilton said, asking lawmakers to consider whether the process was necessary or therapeutic.
When @ParisHilton was 16 two men woke her up in the middle of the night with handcuffs.— Lauren Dake (@LaurenDake) March 12, 2021
They asked, "You want to go the easy way or the hard way?"
She was taken to Provo Canyon School, the same place where an OR teenager was injected 17 times and restrained about 30. #orleg pic.twitter.com/O8KPLs8wCz
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 were sent thousands of miles away.
As more details were uncovered, a litany of disturbing stories and reports of widespread abuse and the use of restraints at such centers surfaced.
Gelser quickly turned into a catalyst for bringing the Oregon youth placed in the out-of-state facilities back home.
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 Sequel Youth and Family Services, a company Oregon previously sent dozens of foster youth to for treatment.
The letter cites reporting done by American Public Media, in collaboration with Oregon Public Broadcasting, showing children placed at facilities operated by Sequel, which at the time operated in 15 states, were abused, neglected, sexually assaulted and physically mistreated.
Uvea, the girl who was sent to Montana, is now in a foster care home in Junction City, Ore.
“And let me just say this is the best foster home and it’s better than all the foster homes and facilities I’ve ever been in,” Uvea told lawmakers. “I feel like this place can really help me when I need it.”
“She needs to learn coping skills and ways to calm her body that don’t use emergency injectables.”
Oregon officials rationalized at the time that they needed to rely on out-of-state facilities because of a shortage of available foster homes within the state.
Gelser asked Uvea what she liked about the foster home. Uvea said the family was teaching her to cope when she became stressed out.
That was a big concern in Montana where she was often injected with a sedative, which the kids called ‘booty juice,’ to calm her down if she was struggling.
At the time, when her lawyer learned the facility was teaching her to rely on sedatives rather than giving her tools to cope, she voiced a concern.
“She needs to learn coping skills and ways to calm her body that don’t use emergency injectables,” Annette Smith, her longtime lawyer, said at the time.
Someday, Uvea told lawmakers she wants to run a facility in Oregon. There would be animals and horses to help the kids recover.
“And I will only accept kids from Oregon so they don’t have to go out of state,” she said.