Sacramento County Hit with State Fines for Housing Foster Kids in Dilapidated Former Juvenile Jail

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By The Vanguard Staff

SACRAMENTO, CA – Sacramento County is being fined by the California Department of Social Services after the county placed foster children in a dilapidated former juvenile justice facility—even though the state told the county not to do so, according to reporting Friday in the Sacramento Bee.

The Bee added the “county has been housing about 12 to 16 children, mostly teens, at the facility since August, despite several letters from state officials advising against it. State officials have been sending the county letters about the facility since as early as September, when DSS Foster Care ombudsperson Larry Fluharty wrote that the environment could ‘retraumatize’ youth and make them feel ‘physically and psychologically unsafe.’” 

As of Thursday there were still, writes The Bee, “eight children living in the WET [Warren E. Thornton] Center, all of which were being moved to the houses the county is leasing for about $20,000 a month. The county is facing two lawsuits related to the facility.”

“The cells are rooms that are about 16 feet by 8 feet, which is too small, state regulators wrote in a May 16 letter,” adding the “mattresses do not have springs and are ‘very thin,”’ and there are no drawers or closets in violation of state law. The metal toilets in the cells have been covered with wood and shelves while bedroom windows hinder privacy in rooms,” according to The Bee.

The Bee also reported that the facility entrance’s metal detector “violates the right to be free from unreasonable searches of personal belongings and the right to be treated with respect,” according to the letter, adding, “Prior to the WET Center, the county housed the children in an office building nearby, which the state also deemed unsuitable.

“This action is in direct violation of the May 16, 2023, Notice of Application Denial which prohibited youth from being admitted to the (Warren E. Thornton Youth) Center after May 16,” the DSS letter wrote the county’s Department of Child Protective Services, noting a civil penalty of $200 a day was being assessed for youth admitted to the facility starting May 30. The county owed $3,600 so far.

The county—which placed two teens, ages 14 and 16, on May 30—announced Thursday that it would remove all foster children from the building Friday, and shut it down, said The Bee, and move them to three single-family houses.

Samantha Mott, a county spokeswoman, said to the Bee, “CPS was able to place the vast majority of children brought to the WETYC by law enforcement or CPS within 8-10 hours, but often times teens and siblings sets take longer to place. Youth who return to WETYC on their own after leaving a placement sometimes remained for extended periods. The county continues to work collaboratively with various teams at CDSS and contracted technical assistance teams to discuss child specific scenarios that can help us secure appropriate placements.” 

“The county has faced backlash for housing foster children in the WET Center, including from state lawmakers, since The Bee was the first to report in April that the county was housing kids at the Branch Center Road facility without a state license,” The Bee story said.

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