#AdvocacyMatters: Magnifying the Moment

April 30, 2021 / #AdvocacyMatters

On May 1st of last year, 16-year-old Cornelius Frederick passed away just days after being restrained for throwing a sandwich at Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo, MI. Coming at the hands of the system and facility entrusted by so many families and communities, Cornelius’ death wasn’t just a one-off tragedy: It was the latest in a series of issues with Sequel Youth and Family Services, the for-profit operator of 29 such facilities at the time. Just a few weeks after the incident that took Cornelius’ young life, Disability Rights Ohio released the results of our own 9-month investigation into similarly troubling allegations at Columbus’ Sequel Pomegranate facility. Our findings included the systemic inability to protect the rights and safety of children, inappropriate staff behavior and inadequate staff intervention, a poorly supervised and unstructured environment, and unapproved and painful restraint techniques and physical abuse including chokeholds and punches.

“All children deserve to receive treatment in a violence-free, nurturing environment,” DRO Executive Director Kerstin Sjoberg remarked at the time, calling on oversight and referral agencies to “ensure all available steps are implemented to prevent future risk and harm to children receiving services at Sequel Pomegranate.”

Now, nearing the 1-year anniversary of Cornelius Frederick’s death, our work was compiled with investigations from several other states by the National Juvenile Justice Network in a report entitled Justice for Cornelius: Shut Sequel Down.

“NJJN has spent the last year focused on closing facilities run by Sequel Youth and Family Services like the one where Cornelius was killed,” the report explains. “While some progress has been made, we are still far from justice. A year after the tragic loss of life, we call on states to fully ban the use of restraints on youth, stop warehousing youth in for-profit facilities, bring children home to their communities, and invest in necessary services for supports.”

By partnering with allies and like-minded organizations across the country, our work can grow and our impact can be amplified. By pushing together to dismantle these systems of oppression and bringing abuses out of the shadows and into daylight, we hope that more children gain access to the care and meaningful services they deserve. Because when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable among us, #AdvocacyMatters.

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