Sequel Youth and Family Services is one of many companies that operate facilities where parents and state officials across the country send at-risk youth for psychological treatment and educational services. These facilities are operated by for-profit companies and get paid to house and supposedly rehabilitate these children. Therapeutic residential treatment programs for teens have become a billion-dollar industry. This business model is often referred to as the “Troubled Teen Industry.”
Included in the Troubled Teen Industry are psychiatric residential treatment facilities, therapeutic boarding schools, religious academies, wilderness programs, boot camps, drug rehabilitation centers and other similar treatment facilities. All share in one goal – to make money. Instead of receiving appropriate treatment, children at these facilities are often horrendously abused and neglected. This includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, neglect, illegal restraints, seclusion, forced medication, psychological harm and negligence that has resulted in death. The children at these facilities often do not receive the intense psychiatric treatment and educational services they are promised.
Tommy James Law has handled numerous cases against these types of facilities because it is irresponsible and negligent for such facilities to place profits over the safety of our children. One of our current cases involves a child who experienced horrific abuse at a Sequel facility. The company is currently under fire as a result of many high-profile incidents of abuse across the country. Now activists are demanding that states take action. One such case is Cornelius Frederick, who died at a Sequel facility after several staff members improperly restrained him (AL.com).
What Is Sequel Youth and Family Services?
In 1999, Jay Ripley and Adam Shapiro started a company to run an Iowa youth facility called Clarinda Academy. The company then purchased other facilities. Eventually, the company was managing facilities across 20 states, four of which are located in Alabama in Tuskegee, Courtland, Owens Cross Roads and Montgomery. Sequel has now become one of the largest behavioral health youth facility operators in the country. Its national corporate headquarters are located in Huntsville, Alabama.
NBC News recently published an expose extremely critical of the ongoing problems at Sequel facilities across the country (NBC). Our client, Patricia C., speaks of the abuse of her son Hunter in this story. Sequel is heavily invested in by private equity firms and investors that make substantial profits by providing care for troubled youth. According to NBC, “Nearly all of Sequel’s programs run on government funding: States pay Sequel $275 to more than $800 a day per child to provide residential and therapeutic services. For children who qualify, Medicaid reimburses Sequel for medical and mental health treatment.” As a result, the company brings in hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue. However, the residential and therapeutic services this company and others like it provide are often hurting children instead of helping them.
The Case of Hunter C.
In 2018, the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) placed our client, a 14-year-old boy, in a Sequel youth facility in Courtland, Alabama. Over the course of 10 months, he was physically, verbally and emotionally abused. He was punched, slapped, slammed into concrete walls and tackled to the ground by employees and other residents. As a result, he received multiple head traumas causing concussions, lacerations that required stitches, hematomas and other injuries. During one 10-day stretch, facility staff assaulted the boy four times. Afterward, the boy retreated to the bathroom with a long-sleeved shirt and attempted to hang himself by tying the shirt to a showerhead.
“My client lived a house of horrors,” Attorney Tommy James told reporters about his client’s harrowing experience (WAFF48).
Why Has Alabama Failed to Shut Sequel Down?
There have been numerous reports of abuse, neglect, and worse happening at Sequel facilities across the country, yet Alabama officials have done little to stop the company. Several other states have recently revoked contracts with Sequel and no longer place children in their facilities due to abuse. As a result, several Sequel facilities have closed.
The Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP) investigated the Sequel Courtland facility and issued a scathing 69-page report outlining the failures of the facility. The report states “Staff violence against youth has resulted in serious injuries, including head trauma, lacerations, hematomas, and loss of consciousness, not to mention trauma to their mental well-being,” but DHR has yet to suspend the placement of children in Sequel facilities.
Reports of troubling conditions in the Sequel facilities have been made to DHR and other state agencies for years, including mandatory child abuse and injury reports and whistleblower accounts by former Sequel employees. Despite that, the facilities passed regular inspections and public dollars continued to flow. After the damning ADAP report on Sequel facilities, a spokesperson for DHR claimed, “Most if not all deficiencies had been addressed and/or corrected,” when the agency’s inspectors arrived. How can this be trusted after these same DHR inspectors had previously failed to address any of the deficiencies at the facility?
What Can Be Done?
The troubled teen industry continues to be a problem in Alabama and across the country. However, the victims of child abuse at these facilities do have legal options. They may file lawsuits in civil court against their abusers and the companies that enabled them. These suits will not only help them pursue justice, but they also help bring awareness to this issue and hold the wrongdoers accountable.
Paris Hilton and the #BreakingCodeSilence Movement
#BreakingCodeSilence is a movement organized by survivors of institutional child abuse and activists to raise awareness of the problems in the Troubled Teen Industry, and the need for reform. Its goal is to create change and protect vulnerable youth from abuse. Paris Hilton recently revealed in her new documentary that she resided in one of these facilities where she was verbally, emotionally, and physically abused and left with insomnia, anxiety, and trust issues. As a survivor, Hilton uses her platform to advocate for real change in the troubled teen industry. She has testified before state legislatures to bring more government oversight of these facilities. State Senator Sara Gelser of Oregon is also a champion for survivors of the Troubled Teen Industry. She successfully stopped Oregon children from being sent to Sequel facilities and also got legislation passed to bring much-needed change and oversight to the Troubled Teen Industry.
Tommy James Law is a strong supporter of #BreakingCodeSilence. The firm is handling and investigating cases in these facilities across the country where residents have been sexually abused, injured or killed as the result of abuse, neglect, and other wrongdoing.