State child protection agencies claim that there are not enough foster homes to place children so they have to send them out of state to house them in horrific group homes that the 2018 Family First Preventative Services Act intended to stop funding because FBI records show that children “were being pimped out of group homes”. That is exactly how one children’s advocate from Washington State described it while in Washington D.C. pushing for the Family First Act to pass. It did, and churches across the country filled state capitols up to say that they could no longer afford to run their group horrifically abusive group homes.
It should be noted too that even though states claim that there are not enough foster homes to place children and that they have to warehouse many of the children in motels, juvenile detentions, psychiatric facilities and other nightmarish places that vulnerable children do not belong, that parents and extended family members such as grandmothers and aunts across the country and around the world claim that children are being taken away from their families and placed in these horrific places when they should not be. Is the church creating orphans for funding through the state? Good question.
This week a girl that was abused by the Oregon foster care system is joined by Paris Hilton in Washington D.C. in an effort to federally regulate what’s often called the troubled teen industry. Others call it the foster care to prison pipeline.
Paris Hilton says that she was abused in boarding homes so what is Uvea Spezza-Lopin’s story? It is unclear why Uvea Spezza-Lopin was removed from her family, but what happened to her afterwards hits buttons that children advocates have been pushing lawmakers all over the country to address for years.
At the age of 9-years-old Uvea Spezza-Lopin, in the custody of the Oregon foster care system, was flown outside of Oregon to a psychiatric residential treatment facility in Montana. “There, she was regularly sedated, restrained and locked in a seclusion room”, said Lauren Dake, a reporter that has been investigating the case since she learned of it.
“The 9-year-old child told her biological mother she was being given shots to calm her down, said Annette Smith, the child’s court-appointed public defender. The child has experienced trauma, Smith said, and has emotional and behavioral challenges. But she has not been diagnosed with a psychosis. Smith said she confirmed with the facility in Montana, owned by Acadia Healthcare, that they were giving the girl injections of Benadryl and other antihistamines when the girl misbehaved”, Lauren stated.
Chemical injections caused concerned and lawmakers finally got involved after the then 9-year-old child told her biological mother she was being given “shots to calm her down”, said Annette Smith, the child’s court-appointed public defender. The child has experienced trauma, Smith said, and has emotional and behavioral challenges. But she has not been diagnosed with a psychosis. Smith said she confirmed with the facility in Montana, owned by Acadia Healthcare, that “they were giving the girl injections of Benadryl and other antihistamines when the girl misbehaved”.
“She needs to learn coping skills and ways to calm her body that don’t use emergency injectables,” Smith said, adding both she and the girl’s mother became concerned for the child’s safety. Smith also contacted state Senator Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, who chairs the Senate Committee on Human Services and has been a vocal proponent of foster care changes.
At only 9-years-old Uvea Spezza-Lopin was being restrained, drugged, and held in solitary confinement. All three of those tactics are abusive and if a parent or anyone outside of the state was to treat a child in such a way it would be considered abuse. Imagine tying a child up, injecting them with drugs, and locking them in a closet. That is pretty much how Uvea was treated by state workers at the age of nine. The attorney and Gelser contacted Oregon’s Child Welfare officials, officials from Oregon’s Child Welfare asked the Montana facility to stop injecting the child, according to Smith and Gelser.
“It’s been 21 days since DHS was notified that a small child was being chemically restrained with injections, which you’re not supposed to do in Oregon facilities, and somehow she’s still there, and no one is going to check on her,” Gelser said. “We’re trusting the same facility that started abusing her in the first place. We’re trusting that they won’t do it anymore because we asked them nicely. That wouldn’t be enough for my kid.”
Gelser said she pressed Marilyn Jones, the head of Oregon Child Welfare, for information on who the state was contracting with to check on the child. First, Gelser said, Jones gave her a name for a program that didn’t exist in Montana.
After more pressing, the senator said, she was given another contact and reached someone who said they never made any face-to-face contacts with the children in facilities, despite what state officials say is supposed to happen.
“The attorney and the caseworker have both said there’s been no face-to-face visit,” Gelser said. “ … No one can tell me when someone last saw this child that wasn’t employed by the facility, and it is abundantly clear that no DHS employee has been to see her since she was left there in October.”
Of course Orgegon state officials declined to speak to this case, citing the child’s privacy. States always claim that they “are protecting the child’s privacy”, but what is happening to children in foster care is not the states protecting them. What is happening in closed secret courts across America that claim to be “protecting the child’s privacy” is not protecting the children. States are protecting themselves and at the children and their families expense. Oregon also declined to say whether a third-party contractor has visited all of the children currently placed out-of-state. Of course they had not.
“We hired a third-party contractor that are responsible for visiting them,” Department of Human Services spokesman Robert Oakes said. “It’s in their contract to visit them.” Oregon Public Broadcasting filed a public records request seeking the contract of the third-party contractors. Did they receive it?
Smith then turned her focus on to getting the girl home. Smith, the child’s attorney, said she can’t give away too many identifying details about the young girl to protect her privacy, but said “She is so fun. She is a bright-eyed, beautiful little blonde girl. She’s so creative. She’s artistic. She likes to sing and perform … She’s a special kid. She’s funny.”
“And the girl is really focused on getting back home to Eugene”. Which is what most children in foster care want, to be back home. Children are not being abused in their homes the way that states claim they are. Statically, states can not justify between 75% to as high as 98% of removals. Yet the children seldom find their way back home. Many runaway and end up being sex trafficked. Other end up being “pimped out of group homes, and about 75% of the children that survive foster care to age out end up incarcerated within two years of aging out. Thus the foster care to prison pipeline.
“She tends to perseverate on contact with her family,” Smith said. “ … It’s probably the most important thing to [her], when she gets to see her mom and her sisters.”
Having the child out of state has restricted access by people who are engaged in the child’s well-being, Smith said. The child was placed in several foster and group homes before being sent out-of-state, and the state didn’t feel they had an appropriate place for her in Oregon.
“… It’s interrupted the ability to lay eyes on her and have that close interaction with her,” the lawyer said. It also made her more susceptible to child traffickers. That is what is rarely discussed. Like most public defenders, Smith has an overwhelming number of cases. Unlike a lot of public defenders who represent children in the system, she says she’s committed to making face-to-face contact with each of her clients. She has visited the child in Montana once and tries to stay in contact with her client.
“A recent Oregonian article revealed some lawyers representing foster care children have never even talked to them”, said Lauren Dake.
“Her being home means she will be safer and have more eyes on her, but it also means she has to start over, develop a new rapport, feel safe in a new setting,” Smith said. “ … But it does make me feel better she will be in Oregon.” Senator Gelser said “We Need To Do A Better Job Taking Care Of You”.
“There is a point where you’re having conversations that are theoretical. And then there’s a point that it’s real. … There is a real child experiencing this,” Gelser said. “If I [treated my child this way] would DHS come get my child from me? We wouldn’t tolerate this. We have taken these children from their families. We have said, Your family can’t care for you and we’re putting you through the trauma of taking you into our care and … we need to do a better job taking care of you.’”
Sara Gelser Blouin documented Spezza-Lopin’s case in 2019. Her story helped create momentum for eventually bringing all of the Oregon children placed in out-of-state placements back home.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, said what it boils down to is “congregate care without oversight becomes congregate abuse. That is what we discover all too often when we look into the system,” Merkley said at the press conference, according to audio captured by KUER radio.
This week Uvea Spezza-Lopin is joined by Paris Hilton in Washington D.C. calling for more oversight into treatment facilities that house vulnerable children.