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Admissions suspended at Owens Cross Roads child treatment facility over abuse allegations

Updated: Jul. 16, 2020 at 4:19 AM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - I don’t feel safe: That’s an exact quote from a child sitting in a facility in Courtland that is supposed to be a safe haven for neglected children.

A state agency representative tells us they interviewed around 100 children, many claiming...
A state agency representative tells us they interviewed around 100 children, many claiming instances of abuse.(WAFF)

But that doesn’t even scratch the surface of a scathing report against the behavioral health organization, Sequel Youth & Family Services.

Sequel runs four youth treatment facilities around Alabama. And the report is alleging the facilities are keeping children in unsafe and abusive conditions.

We've investigated Sequel before. You may remember, last year we looked into its facility in Owens Cross Roads and found teen girls ran away from that facility seven times over a span of 18 months due to lack of security.

In 2017, two teens ran away from the former Sequel-Three Springs facility in Madison and are charged with killing a man during a robbery.

Also in 2017, a counselor was accused of having sex with a resident.

The report was enough for the Department of Human Resources to suspend placing children in its Owens Cross Roads facility.

We spoke with the legal director of an advocacy group to find out how they’ve responded to these claims so far.

We want to warn you that some of the details in this story may be disturbing.

Filthy, hazardous living conditions, feces on the floor and blood stained walls.

Just some of what staff with the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program reported from inside facilities run by Sequel Youth and Family Services.

“That is our mandate from the federal government to protect these children and that’s what we’re going to do,” Rhonda Brownstein said.

Rhonda Brownstein, the legal services director for ADAP, says they interviewed nearly 100 children from the four Sequel facilities in Alabama; Courtland, Owens Cross Roads, Tuskegee and Montgomery.

“We found out some very disturbing stories about abuse, use of restraints, seclusion, emotional abuse, belittling children, lack of adequate medical care,” Brownstein said.

The report spells out an instance where a young girl at the Owens Cross Roads facility was ordered to sleep in the hallway and when she refused, was dragged and thrown against a wall. Or when girls have attempted suicide, staff told them to try it again. “

They’re very dismal places. You wouldn’t want your child to spend one night in them,” Brownstein said.

These facilities are supposed provide mental health treatment to children in DHR custody. Their findings motivated the agency to urge the Department of Human Resources to investigate.

The letter reads in part, “These facilities are violent and chaotic places where youth are physically and emotionally abused by staff and peers, subjected to wretched living conditions, provided inadequate supervision and medical care, and subjected to illegal seclusion and restraint.”

“They were abused or neglected. They’re traumatized. And now we’re putting them in situations that is re-traumatizing them. And that is wrong,” Brownstein said.

Brownstein tells us two days ago DHR sent ADAP a response.

“They are visiting all the facilities and they have suspended admissions into one of the facilities. A girls facility in Owens Cross Roads, Alabama,” Brownstein said.

ADAP sent their report to multiple state agencies requesting them to immediately end its contract with Sequel, revoke its license and pull state funding.

The Alabama Medicaid Agency is one of them, its statement reads in part: “The Alabama Medicaid Agency is working closely with appropriate state agencies to review the information provided. The health and safety of children is a critical focus for our Agency, and we are supportive of efforts to resolve any deficiencies.”

We’re waiting on a response from the Department of Human Resources. We’ll update you on their actions to protect children once we hear back.

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