Sacramento County Faces Lawsuit for Housing Foster Youth in a Former Jail Facility

Warren E. Thorton Youth Center Photo Source: Warren E. Thorton Youth Center (KCLA)

The president of Sacramento’s NAACP, Betty Williams, has filed a lawsuit against Sacramento County’s Department of Child, Family, and Adult Services after a close relative of hers was allegedly taken into the state’s child protective services at age 14 and then placed into the Sacramento County foster system where she was exposed to unimaginable traumas. According to the lawsuit, the girl went on to lead a life riddled with drug use, alcohol use, and eventually sex trafficking.

Williams explains, "To go from straight As, cheerleading, to what I believe, since being in the CPS system, to be trafficked, I am devastated. I'm devastated and I don't want anyone to go through what I'm going through right now."

The lawsuit accuses the county Department of Child, Family, and Adult Services of failing the girl after she endured sexual abuse, trafficking, and exploitation while under their custody.

Williams explains that instead of being taken into the care of an appropriately selected foster home or group home, the child was placed in a “centralized placement support unit” or a CPSU.

Housing foster children has been a growing concern throughout Sacramento County, with growing scrutiny over how the county has worked to help these vulnerable children.

The issues first surfaced in 2017 when the county shut down the facilities it leased for the CPSU. After closing its intake unit, the county did not have a viable plan in place for what to do with students who needed to live in the CPSU amid a shortage of foster parents.

In August 2022, the Department of Social Services launched an investigation into the CPSU and found it to be an ill-equipped facility as it was formerly an office space. The Department of Social Services explained that the building "posed an immediate health and safety risk to children in care."

As a result, the county relocated the children to another facility owned by the county, the Warren E. Thornton Juvenile Detention Center, commonly referred to as the WET Center.

Williams' attorney, Bobby Thompson, explained that moving the children from an office building to the county’s former juvenile detention center was inappropriate as it gave the children the false impression that they had done something wrong. "They've been ripped from their homes, scared to death, unfamiliar people all around. And they're sleeping on the floor, on couches and in office buildings." Thompson explained.

The lawsuit accuses the former juvenile detention center and the CPSU of being "famously unsafe,” explaining that the foster children were able to go in and out of the facility as they wanted and that anyone in the community, including ill-intentioned individuals, had unfettered access to the facility and children inside it.

"If you're over 12, you can come and go as you please. And unfortunately for my client, she was procured by a pimp or pimps at both the CPSU facility and the WET Center," explains Thompson.

The lawsuit also takes issue with the county's decision to house the foster children in a facility that was neither licensed nor designed to be a facility to house foster youth. The lawsuit further accuses the former jail of violating the state's health and safety codes.

Sacramento County spokesperson Samantha Mott has pushed back against the claims in an email written to local outlet The Sacramento Bee. The lawsuit explains that the location is where foster children are taken “when there are no immediate placements available,” and defends that children are not locked in rooms nor do they have the ability to lock themselves or others in.

The county has since applied for a state license that would allow the children to remain at the WET Center while they wait for a foster home or other permanent placement.

Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti is a postgraduate at James Madison University where she studied English and Education. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and two little girls. Although she considers herself a workaholic, when she’s not juggling work, you can be sure to find her traveling the world with her little family.
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