An Oregon teenager who was assaulted while living in an out-of-state institution spoke to lawmakers on Wednesday about his experience.
At times, it was hard for the young man to get his words out. He needed water. He felt like he was going to cough. He was nervous.
“My anxiety is through the roof right now,” he told members of the Oregon Human Services Committee.
But he felt compelled to be there and share some of what he went through.
“Other people might not do it. So, I’ll do it. No one did it for me and so I have to,” Caleb La Chance told the panel of lawmakers.
La Chance was part of a growing number of foster children Oregon sent to residential treatment facilities out-of-state. The number spiked between 2016 and 2018 by 168%.
The majority of the youth, including La Chance, were sent to Red Rock Canyon School in St. George, Utah. While in the facility, La Chance was assaulted by two different staff members. He was also at the facility when a riot erupted, prompting the local SWAT team to arrive.
La Chance was there to offer his insight as lawmakers discussed a measure to ensure any out-of-state facility where children are sent meet the same requirements as those in the state.
La Chance spoke of the multiple restraints he experienced while living at the facility in Utah.
He told lawmakers he was placed in the facility with more violent children. Red Rock housed both foster youth and juvenile offenders in the same facility. He told them in his first five minutes there he saw a kid being violently restrained and that youth were physically restrained frequently for a myriad of reasons — including making eye contact with a member of the opposite sex.
After multiple reports of abuse of youth surfaced in the out-of-state facilities, Oregon started trying to bring the foster youth back home.
“Oregon … failed to monitor the conditions at Red Rock during the time Oregon youth lived there,” Jake Cornett, the executive director of Disability Rights Oregon wrote in testimony to the panel. “Public records show that police officers were called to Red Rock 200 times since 2014, prior to its closure in August 2019.”
In January 2019, Cornett continued, two staff allegedly dragged a girl by her hair into a bathroom and beat her, after she allegedly stole a snack.
“During the last three years, multiple sites formerly holding Oregon foster children have closed in the wake of serious criticism or scandal,” Cornett wrote.
Senate Bill 1566, sponsored by Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, would increase supervision of the out-of-state facilities if the state continues to use them.
The bill would require an out-of-state facility Oregon contracts with to report founded charges of abuse and neglect. The measure moved out of committee on Wednesday.
“There is a little person out there that will never know his or her experience is going to be better because you were willing to use your voice,” Gelser told La Chance.
After news broke in February 2019 that Oregon was sending children in foster care across state lines, Gelser started holding legislative hearings to find out more. Over time it became evident that Oregon was sending foster youth to other states where they could offer little oversight or guarantee of safety.
All told, through January 2020, the state has sent 162 children in foster care across state lines.