The National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) filed a lawsuit in late February charging that Promesa Behavioral Health is harming foster youth placed in its care. The suit was filed on behalf of current and former residents of Promesa group homes claiming that Promesa has violated their constitutional right to privacy.
California Planned Parenthood Education Fund, Inc., is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
The foster youth, as well as a former employee, allege that Promesa is denying young women access to necessary reproductive and sexual health care. The foster youth also charge that they have been subjected to retaliation for trying to get the health care they need.
According to the lawsuit, Promesa has:
- regularly confiscated foster youths’ contraceptives, such as condoms
- arbitrarily prohibited foster youth from receiving reproductive health care
- forced youth to allow group home staff into the exam rooms at their ob-gyn appointments
- required youth to sign an agreement that they would not engage in sexual activity
Sadly, foster youth are especially at risk of having unintended pregnancies and being coerced into sexual activity. One California study found that over a third of women in California’s foster care system will give birth at least once by the time they turn 21. Another found that 49% of women aged 20 to 24 who were in foster care during their youth experienced forced sex. Fresno, where the lawsuit was filed, has some of the highest incidence rates of sexually transmitted diseases in California. In fact, young women aged 15 to 24 experience the highest rates of chlamydia infection in Fresno County.
The California Constitution protects the fundamental right of California adolescents to retain personal control over the integrity of their bodies and to decide whether and when to parent. California’s medical confidentiality statutes additionally provide adolescents the right to control and limit the release of information regarding the reproductive and sexual health services they receive.
“Promesa’s actions denying these young women access to reproductive and sexual health care are contrary to good public health policy and are against the law,” said Rebecca Gudeman, a Senior Attorney at NCYL.
Promesa receives nearly five million dollars per year to operate eight group homes for foster youth in the Fresno area and ensure the needs of foster youth placed in its care are being met. As a state licensed facility, Promesa is responsible not only for the health and safety of these foster youth, but also to carry out this responsibility in compliance with California law.
The plaintiffs also assert that residents have been subjected to various punishments, including expulsion from the group homes, for asserting their rights to privacy and to access reproductive and sexual health care.
“Promesa treated these young women like criminals rather than victims of abuse and neglect,” according to Erica Amundsen, who worked at a Promesa group home for two years. She says Promesa staff “regularly searched the belongings of foster youth for contraceptives, such as condoms, and confiscated any contraceptives found.”
Read the suit here.