Two U.S. senators from the Pacific Northwest are investigating abuse at facilities that run treatment programs for children, including the center where a 9-year-old girl placed in Oregon foster care was drugged and another where a 16-year-old child was restrained for so long he suffocated to death.

U.S. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Washington, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, asked four companies operating youth residential treatment facilities for information on their policies and practices. The move comes after a litany of reports of widespread abuse and neglect stretching back years.

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FILE - Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., speaks during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Oct. 19, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

FILE - Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., speaks during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Oct. 19, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

MANDEL NGAN / AP

OPB first chronicled tales of abuse and neglect of vulnerable children placed in Oregon foster care at facilities owned by Sequel Youth and Family Services starting in 2019. Later, the company garnered national attention amid reports from across the country of children being mistreated at private facilities. That company has since closed many facilities and sold much of the company to another business, Vivant Behavioral Healthcare; however, the founder of Sequel Youth and Family Services and the CEO of Vivant Behavioral Healthcare are the same person, Jay Ripley.

Wyden and Murray have written to the CEOs of Acadia Health Services, Deveraux Advanced Behavioral Health, Universal Health Services and Vivant Behavioral Healthcare. The facilities provide care for children who have been placed in foster care and others who are struggling with emotional, behavioral or substance abuse issues.

Oregon state Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin, D-Corvallis, who led the charge to bring Oregon children placed in these facilities back home, said the news was encouraging. Gelser Blouin said she met with Wyden more than a year ago to talk about using a Senate committee to investigate private care facilities. Murray chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Wyden chairs the Senate Finance Committee.

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“It’s legitimizing. 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,” Gelser Blouin said, adding senators have done enough groundwork to know there are systemic issues.

“Hopefully this leads to federal requirements for states to have common, basic requirements for anyone who is caring for kids,” Gelser Blouin said. “Because we don’t have that yet.”

The U.S. senators have asked the companies to provide the committee policies on restraining children or placing them in seclusion. They have also asked about how employees are trained, details on contracts and what company leaders are doing to ensure children placed in their care have access to education. The lawmakers have asked for the information by Aug. 4.

“These youth and their families have put their trust in these organizations to help them get better and instead are being met with more trauma,” Wyden said in a statement. “Accountability is desperately needed, and we’re demanding answers.”

Starting in 2018, child welfare officials in Oregon 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 children, 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.

In June 2020, two Oregon teenagers were removed from a Michigan treatment facility after state officials learned another child restrained by staff for throwing a sandwich died. At that time, Oregon officials said they would stop sending kids to treatment facilities in other states.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include Sara Gelser Blouin’s full married name.

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