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After years of abuse allegations, Iowa youth home to close

Clarinda Academy was the subject of multiple investigations in recent years.

An Iowa youth home dogged by abuse allegations, including a rape of a teen by a staff member, is closing down, company officials announced 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 it was closing Clarinda Academy, its flagship program, and did not attribute the decision to the problems that have been documented there.

The spokesperson said in a statement only that the decision was voluntary and that its license remained in good standing.

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

Sequel told the Iowa Department of Human Services this week of its plans to close the academy due to fewer children being placed at the facility, agency spokesman Matt Highland said.

The facility enrolled at-risk children ages 12 to 18 from multiple states, charging around $275 a day, per child, to provide therapeutic and residential services. Sequel has come under increasing scrutiny in the wake of a child’s death at one of its facilities last year. Allegations of negligence and physical abuse, including the improper use of restraints, have also plagued the company.

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

Clarinda was the subject of multiple investigations in recent years.

Disability Rights Washington, a federally-funded watchdog group, issued a report in 2018 detailing allegations of abuse and inappropriate physical restraints. The report prompted Washington state to stop placing youth at Clarinda.

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

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

In response, Sequel announced it would implement a program aimed at eliminating the use of restraints at its facilities.

In an interview with NBC News last December, Marianne Birmingham, Sequel's compliance director, said the company was committed to the safety of its students and staff.

“I understand your concern with what you've seen with these allegations,” she said. “And I can assure that we take every step we can to ensure the safety of the clients and the staff in our care.”

However, problems persisted at Clarinda. During a July 2020 investigation, California officials reviewed a video showing that a staff member pushed a youth and a maintenance person then restrained that same child for 21 minutes. Government inspections also documented dirty toilets with yellow and gray substances on them, sinks missing handles, showers that didn’t have hot water and nails exposed from ripped upholstery on several couches.

The decision to close Clarinda comes after California, a state that has sent dozens of children to Sequel facilities across the country, announced it would be pulling children out of the company’s programs. Just last month, Sequel announced it would also be closing Normative Services Academy in Sheridan, Wyoming, as well as a therapeutic boarding school in North Carolina.

All three closures were voluntary, the Sequel spokesperson said.