State Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, was in a conference room in January visiting a facility in Michigan where Oregon had sent some foster children. Gelser told the CEO of the company she was worried that a child might die because of inappropriate use of restraints.
In April, the worst happened.
Cornelius Fredericks, a black teenager, threw food. Two staff members grabbed him and held him down, as The New York Times recounted. They put their weight on his chest. "I can't breathe," he said, according to a lawsuit.
After four minutes, Cornelius stopped moving. Staff continued to hold him down for about five more minutes.
Cornelius had gone into cardiac arrest. He died two days later in the hospital. The office of the medical examiner in Kalamazoo, Michigan said the death was a homicide resulting from "restraint asphyxia."
The two staff members who held him down have been charged in direct connection with the death. A third staff member, a nurse, was also charged for not seeking or following through with medical care.
The death of Cornelius Fredericks was not the only impetus for Oregon to make a change. But now Oregon has removed all of its foster youth from for-profit facilities in other states, as OPB reported. At one point in July 2019, Oregon had 60 foster care children placed in out-of-state facilities.
Oregon's child welfare department increasingly started sending some foster children to out-of- state facilities in 2018. The state was facing a crisis with a lack of options for foster care. It turned -- as other states did -- to facilities operated by Sequel Youth and Family Services. Sequel provided management and staff for the Lakeside Academy where Cornelius was held down.
There's nothing inherently wrong with a foster care facility being located out of state. But it makes state oversight more difficult. State child welfare officials argued the facilities were filling a gap and providing needed specialized care. Gelser didn't just take their word. She investigated and found trouble. Police reports. Hospitalizations. Complaints. Oregon eventually officials announced they were pulling all of Oregon's children back.
Sen. Gelser deserves the thanks of Oregonians for her fight for these children. She got her colleagues to support a change in state law. If Oregon does send children back to out-of-state facilities, the facilities will have to meet the same requirements as facilities in Oregon. OPB also deserves recognition for persistently breaking new information about foster care in Oregon. Most of this editorial is based on OPB's reporting.
You can help, too. State legislative candidates are on the ballot this November across the state. Ask them what they are going to do to ensure some of the state's most vulnerable children get proper care. You can also call Gov. Kate Brown's citizens' representative office at (503) 378-4582.