Considered: For-Profit Child Care

Last week, Oregon Public Broadcasting published a disturbing story documenting how the state treats some of the most vulnerable Oregonians, foster children, who in many cases have already suffered traumas. Due to lack of facilities, some of our foster children are being sent out-of-state to for-profit institutions, largely in Iowa and Utah, and one of these institutions has come under fire for grievous mistreatment of the young people in their care.

This issue first garnered the attention of our neighbors to the north. The organization Disability Rights Washington published a report in October detailing the treatment of children sent to the Clarinda Academy, a for-profit youth psychiatric treatment center in northwest Iowa owned by an Alabama-based corporation called Sequel Youth and Family Services. According to the report, these children had been subjected to verbal abuse as well as inappropriate and excessive use of restraints by staff. In November, the Des Moines Register reported that the facility had hired a convicted felon who then raped a teenage girl under their care.

Once the Washington state government learned of the horrors that plagued these children at the Clarinda Academy, they stopped sending them there. However, according to OPB, Oregon still houses foster children at Clarinda, and 50 of the 74 children that have been sent ‘out of state’ reside at centers managed by Sequel Youth and Family Services. The Weekly Churn on page four has further details. 

In just three months at the end of 2018, Oregon paid approximately $2.5 million sending these children out of state, over $800,000 per month. This expenditure has been noticed by our own State Senator Sara Gelser, who has expressed exacerbation atboth the abuse of these children, and the amount of tax dollars paid to Sequel Youth to terrorize them. Whether or not the Oregonstate government plans to follow Washington’s lead and discontinue sending children to Clarinda remains to be seen. We are curious as to how long Senator Gelser has known about this issue and what she plans to do about it, but she has not responded to our requests for comment. 

Here’s my question, you probably have it too: why are we relying on an out-of-state, for-profit company to care for our most vulnerable children? A person’s life, much less a child’s, should not be dependent on the bottom line of some company out of Alabama. ESPECIALLY not Alabama. Given a choice between providing quality care or quarterly profit, I’ll just go out on a limb and say that the latter is likely.

Tossing human lives to the whims of the free market is not a new concept for this country. In fact, it’s the status quo. Due to for-profit healthcare, the less fortunate among us are falling ill and dying. Thanks to the private prison industry, we are becoming enslaved rather than rehabilitated. The private foster care industry, at least in the case of the Clarinda Academy, seems to be some kind of unholy marriage between the two. These children are in desperate need of mental health care, and are instead forced into prison-like conditions (the facility is actually located on the same grounds as a state prison), further debilitating their already fragile mental states, and priming them to enter the adult prison population in the future. Good news for private foster care shareholders today is great news for private prison shareholders tomorrow.

Many of these kids, before entering foster care, have endured traumatic events that most of us couldn’t even imagine. They’ve been verbally, physically, and sexually abused and abandoned, and by sending them away to shady for-profit institutions, cast out by us. If we can’t address the desperate needs of our most vulnerable children, who even are we? If we address the needs of this vulnerable population by lining the pockets of the wealthy, I’ll tell you just what we are: disgusting.

Commentary by Jay Sharpe

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