After years of abuse allegations, Iowa youth dwelling to shut

An Iowa youth home that is being prosecuted on allegations of abuse, including rape of a teenager by an employee, is closing, company officials said Friday.

A spokesperson for Sequel Youth & Family Services, which runs nearly 40 programs for vulnerable youth – including foster children and children with disabilities – did not explain why Clarinda Academy, its flagship program, was closed and did not base the decision on that related problems were documented there.

The spokesman said in a statement only that the decision was voluntary and that the license continues to have a good reputation.

“We are now working closely with case managers, families and workers to ensure that clients from these locations are enrolled in alternative programs that meet their individual behavioral health needs,” added the Sequel spokesman.

Sequel this week announced its plans to close the academy to the Iowa Department of Human Services as fewer children are being accommodated at the facility, agency spokesman Matt Highland said.

The facility enrolled at-risk children, ages 12-18, from multiple states, charging approximately $ 275 per child per day for the provision of therapeutic and inpatient services. Sequel was scrutinized more and more closely after the death of a child in one of its facilities over the past year. Allegations of negligence and physical abuse, including the improper use of restraint systems, have also plagued the company.

Last summer, 16-year-old Cornelius Frederick, a foster child, died after being held by staff at Sequel Lakeside Academy in Michigan, a facility that has now been closed. In December, NBC News reported poor living conditions and the use of solitary confinement among children at Sequel facilities in Alabama.

Clarinda has been the subject of several investigations over the past few years.

Disability Rights Washington, a federally funded monitoring group, released a report in 2018 listing allegations of abuse and inappropriate physical restrictions. The report prompted Washington State to end the placement of youth in Clarinda.

That same year, California and Iowa state officials found that employees had forged documents and that Clarinda workers had forced children to sit and stare at a wall for hours as a punishment.

A 2019 NBC News report revealed other allegations of abuse, including the story of a young resident who had been raped by a staff member and a foster child who had been restrained so badly that he lost consciousness.

In response, Sequel announced that it would implement a program to eliminate the use of restraint systems in its facilities.

In an interview with NBC News last December, Sequel Compliance Director Marianne Birmingham said the company is committed to the safety of its students and employees.

“I understand your concern about what you saw with these allegations,” she said. “And I can assure you that we are taking all possible steps to ensure the safety of customers and the employees we support.”

However, problems persisted with Clarinda. During an investigation in July 2020, California officials checked a video showing that an employee pushed a teenager and a maintenance person and then held the same child for 21 minutes. Government inspections also documented dirty toilets with yellow and gray substances, sinks with missing handles, showers without hot water, and nails exposed from torn cushions on several couches.

The decision to shut down Clarinda came after California, a state that has sent dozens of children to sequel facilities across the country, announced it was withdrawing children from the company’s programs. Just last month, Sequel announced it would close the Normative Services Academy in Sheridan, Wyoming, and a therapeutic boarding school in North Carolina.

All three closings were voluntary, said the sequel spokesman.

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