“Nothing could be worse than a return to normality,” writes political activist and award-winning author Arundhati Roy in her latest essay, ‘The Pandemic Is a Portal.’ “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew.” As we continue grappling with the effects of COVID-19 and examining the systems embedded in racism and harmful treatment amongst our most vulnerable people, there is hope. The tides are beginning to change.
Following the tragic death of 16-year old Cornelius Frederick, the National Juvenile Justice Network called for the closure of Lakeside Academy, a for-profit behavioral health center in Michigan managed by the national for-profit company Sequel Youth and Family Services. The investigation into Frederick’s death ultimately led to three employees being charged in connection with his death, and the removal of Lakeside Academy’s license.
Tragically, the abuse of children is not isolated to one location in one state, but is part of a much larger systemic problem in the child welfare system, particularly among group facilities. In the case of Sequel, which provides services for 10,000 children, youth, and adults across 21 states, there is mounting evidence that children are not safe in their care. In addition to Michigan, officials in Utah, Ohio and Oregon have taken steps to remove children from Sequel facilities following reports of mistreatment.
Just last week, Children’s Rights, the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP) and the Southern Poverty Law Center sent a letter demanding that Alabama officials take immediate action to protect children living in the state’s four Sequel facilities. We included a chilling 50-page report that describes the dangers youth face, and call for them to be shut down.
Children placed by the state in Alabama’s Sequel facilities live in chaotic and violent conditions, are subjected to physical and verbal abuse, filthy facilities, inadequate medical care, and illegal seclusions and restraints. One child reported that staff threw a boy down on the floor and pulled his arms around his neck, cutting off his ability to breathe, while another girl reported she was lying by herself on her bed when a male staff member yanked her up off the bed, threw her onto the ground and laid on top of her back. Children placed in seclusion for hours and even days, in violation of the law, are not allowed to leave the seclusion room to go to the restroom — youth reported staff told them to just “piss in the corner” and “mop it up later.”
Yet, Alabama officials continue to place children in these facilities without proper oversight. The state cannot wait for another child to be abused or mistreated, let alone to die. Alabama must take immediate action to close Sequel facilities and fulfill its obligation to protect children.
Every day, children are harmed by America’s broken child welfare system. States must turn their attention to the atrocities happening to children in their care and put an end to the abuse. We can and must do better. Children deserve a world that gives them a fair chance to grow and thrive. The time for change is now. Shut Sequel down.