SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon teenager who was sent to a now-closed Utah facility while he was in the custody of Oregon’s child welfare system told state lawmakers that he saw staff physically restrain children for minor infractions and was housed with juvenile offenders.
Caleb La Chance testified before members of the Oregon Human Services Committee on Wednesday to provide insight into a child welfare system that sent a growing number of foster children to out-of-state facilities, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.
The number of children shipped out-of-state spiked by 168% between 2016 and 2018.
Oregon is now working to bring those children home after reports of neglect and abuse at some facilities.
Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, is sponsoring a bill that would increase supervision of out-of-state facilities if Oregon continues to use them. It would require such facilities under contract with Oregon to report any founded reports of abuse or neglect.
The bill passed out of committee Wednesday.
La Chance was sent to Red Rock Canyon School in St. George, Utah and told lawmakers he had a harrowing experience.
“My anxiety is through the roof right now,” he told lawmakers, adding that he felt compelled to testify to help future foster children.
“Other people might not do it. So, I’ll do it. No one did it for me and so I have to.”
La Chance was assaulted by two different staff members and was restrained many times, he said. He was also at the facility when a riot erupted, prompting the local SWAT team to arrive.
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.
Police officers were called to Red Rock 200 times between 2014 and August 2019, when Red Rock closed, Cornett said.
“During the last three years, multiple sites formerly holding Oregon foster children have closed in the wake of serious criticism or scandal,” Cornett wrote.
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.