Oregon child welfare officials are working to remove two teenagers from a Michigan treatment facility after learning another child restrained by staff for throwing a sandwich there has died.
Oregon currently has two children placed in foster care at Lakeside Academy in Michigan. It’s a private treatment center owned by Sequel Youth and Family Services.
Related: Out Of State, Out Of Mind
Between 2016 and 2018, Oregon relied increasingly on out-of-state campuses to house foster youth. After intense media and legislative scrutiny, and a litany of disturbing reports about neglect and abuse at such centers, the state announced it would work to bring back kids sent out of state.
There are currently 14 Oregon children still placed out of state, including the two at Lakeside Academy.
Jake Sunderland, a spokesperson with Oregon’s Child Welfare Department, said state officials are working with Michigan to get more details about the incident.
“What we know is that a sandwich was thrown, and a restraint was done. Restraining is only permissible when there is an imminent safety threat to the child themselves or someone around them,” Sunderland said. “We don’t know what the restraining looked like, how it was done, whether it was inappropriate — as in not done according to the rules — or an appropriate restraint that triggered an underlying medical condition.”
The two remaining Oregon teenagers at Lakeside Academy are 13 and 16.
“Our goal is always to serve children in Oregon,” Sunderland said.
Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, a champion for bringing out-of-state foster children back to Oregon, visited Lakeside Academy in January.
“It was in a conference room at Lakeside Academy in January when I told the CEO of Sequel that I was fearful that inappropriate restraints in Sequel facilities could lead to a fatality,” Gelser said. “I am devastated that my worst fears were realized when a child died after allegedly being restrained for throwing a sandwich.”
Gelser noted that Sequel has a record of staff using dangerous restraints.
“The death of this teenager is a reminder of the vulnerabilities of youth in these systems, the dangers of having kids hidden from view,” she said.
Oregon isn't the only state that turned to Sequel to help solve a foster care crisis despite allegations of widespread use of physical restraint and violence. Across the country, state child welfare officials rely on Sequel, a private, for-profit company, to house foster youth. OPB first broke the news that Oregon was sending youth out of state in 2019, when the state had 84 foster children, some as young as 9 years old, scattered across 11 states.