A report from Oregon Child Welfare officials paints a rather rosy picture of a facility in Utah where most of Oregon's out-of-state foster youth are housed.
Young people can practice yoga and meditate and have plenty of opportunities to express themselves, the report states.
The facility, a former hotel, has clean bedrooms, and there is room by the beds where residents can personalize their space.
Oregon Child Welfare officials wrote the youth “highlighted their positive experiences in school and how well they are progressing academically.”
That impression of Red Rock Canyon School in St. George, Utah, stands in stark contrast to a much more damning picture revealed in an account from Utah's Department of Human Services. The two reports were issued within one day of each other, on May 9 and 10 of this year.
The state of Utah’s findings cite a list of violations at the facility, including staff humiliating and degrading residents and a youth being put into a chokehold and then rendered unconscious after he was involved in a physical altercation with a staff member. The state of Utah placed the Red Rock facility’s license on “conditional status” this week and threatened to revoke it unless certain criteria are met.
The number of foster care children being sent out-of-state from Oregon has spiked recently. Reports of abuse at the facilities surfaced. Since then, Oregon Child Welfare officials said they would start to visit the facilities where the children were being sent.
The children in these facilities are part of the foster care system. They’ve been taken from their homes, but many have special needs that state officials say necessitated sending them out of state.
There is ongoing uncertainty about how they are faring.
A team of people from Oregon's Department of Human Services said they visited the Red Rock facility three times, on April 30, May 1 and May 3. Their visit was part of the promise to visit every facility. By sheer coincidence, Oregon officials arrived shortly after a brawl erupted on the campus where a SWAT team responded and reportedly aimed guns at the foster youth.
Oregon’s Child Welfare system has come under increased scrutiny over its practice of sending children to other states and how those children are monitored. State officials now have to give lawmakers a weekly update on their efforts to bring the children back to Oregon.
On Tuesday afternoon, Oregon Child Welfare officials released their written report about the facility in Utah, which detailed their visit and overall assured lawmakers and the public the facility was adequate the children were doing well.
On Tuesday evening, Oregon officials were given the report from Utah’s licensing department.
“The report raised new issues as well as our concern to the extent that we are drafting a letter to Sequel leadership to formally express our concerns,” a spokeswoman for Oregon Child Welfare wrote in an email.
"We continue to monitor the facility through weekly updates from Oregon licensing as well as weekly, on-site visits by Oregon Child Welfare caseworkers to check that the needs of Oregon youth in the facility are being met."
Here's a sample of the violations Utah's Department of Human Services highlighted in their report of the Red Rock Canyon School in Utah.
- Understaffing is severe and has led to violence, sexual misconduct and both staff and residents feeling unsafe. Some staff reported working 16 hours a day, seven days a week. There is documentation showing that at least two staff worked with youth after their background screenings had expired
- The facility in Utah failed to report a brawl to the state for several days.
- A foster youth was restrained by another child during the April riot; the foster youth lost consciousness and interviews revealed resident-on-resident restraints are common.
- The state of Utah officials reviewed incident reports, video footage and interviewed residents and found "numerous accounts of mistreatment, abuse, acts of violence and overall disrespect toward residents"
- Utah officials found the grounds to be dirty, with garbage strewn about and cigarette butts on the ground; they also observed numerous items that could be weaponized
There are currently 23 foster youth in the facility in Utah. It is owned by a company known as Sequel Youth and Family Services. Oregon has foster children scattered across the country in several facilities owned by the same company, including 16 kids in a Sequel facility in Idaho and nine others in a facility in Iowa.