A brawl last month at Red Rock Canyon School in St. George, Utah, which housed 24 Oregon foster care children, started with two young people in the courtyard and broke out across campus, Child Welfare officials told Oregon lawmakers at a hearing Tuesday.
A SWAT team arrived at the facility guns drawn.
“My understanding is some of our kids have reported having SWAT teams pointed firearms at them?” Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, asked, pointing out that these are some of the state’s more vulnerable children.
Related: Oregon Sent Foster Children With Disabilities Out Of State, Hearing Reveals
Sara Fox, who oversees the program sending kids to other states, confirmed the account. The police were under the impression there was an active shooter on the campus, she said. That turned out not to be the case.
In what is now a weekly occurrence at the state Capitol, Gelser held a hearing to ensure her committee was up-to-date on the well-being of the nearly 80 Oregon foster care kids who are in facilities scattered across the nation.
There have been stories about abuse happening in the facilities, concerns that children weren't being visited by Child Welfare workers and a story about one 9-year-old who was abandoned and repeatedly drugged with antihistamines to calm her down.
The state responded to the outcry by promising to work to bring all the children home. They are also now visiting each of the facilities in person and assessing all of the children's needs.
But they are also still sending children out of state.
There is no place for them in Oregon, Fox said. And it’s going to be a while before all the children are returned home, she said.
Related: Advocacy Group Alleges Oregon's Foster Care System 'Revictimizes Children'
Gelser said she was surprised Child Welfare was still sending foster care children to facilities out-of-state, given that children were being sent to places with reported abuse and where full assessments had yet to be done on the facilities.
“It’s like going the wrong way up the escalator,” Gelser said.
While visits to other facilities are proving to be positive, Child Welfare officials said, they will have a more detailed response about what happened at Red Rock Canyon School in writing soon.
One Oregon child was reported to have sustained a shoulder injury due to police response after the brawl.
In a separate event at the same school, another Oregon youth was inappropriately restrained at the facility on two different occasions.
Both staff members who were engaged in restraining the youth were fired.