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Michigan officials are taking action to protect youth detained in certain juvenile facilities. Authorities plan to ban restraints in youth facilities in response to the death of 16-year-old Cornelius Frederick.

Several adult staff members of the Lakeside Academy restrained Cornelius after he threw a sandwich at another child. According to an NBC report, the teen never recovered after seven grown men applied pressure to his body for over 10 minutes.

Cornelius’s death also prompted a deeper look at the Alabama-based Sequel Youth and Family Services. According to NBC News, sequel operates facilities in 19 states, with many allegations of neglect and abuse.

Michigan, along with California and Washington, ended business dealings with Sequel last year. Sequel dismissed the concerns because of political pressure and activists, but the staff’s handling of Cornelius and his subsequent death point to a broader issue.

Sequel claimed the restraint used on Cornelius violated its policy. But Meghan Folkerson, a caseworker at the now-closed facility, told NBC News that staff had similarly restrained Cornelius 10 times in the prior six months. Folkerson called Cornelius’s death preventable.

This story highlights the gap in mental health treatment and support for children across the country. States outsource care to private companies, some with minor oversight or accountability. A recent national survey found racial disparities worsened for juveniles in detention during the pandemic. 

On Thursday, Michigan announced a Qualified Residential Treatment model for youth in residential care. This is the first step in adopting federal standards.  Passed in 2018, the Family First Act includes historic reforms. It allocates federal funds to support children in foster care and investment in prevention for children at risk for foster care placement. 

In February, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services established a task force to address systemic racism in the child welfare system. Black children are 16% of the children in Michigan, but almost 30% of those lingering in the system.

Black and other children of color are also more likely to be sent to an institution than placed in a home. On average, they also remain in the system longer than their white counterparts.

“We recognize that deep systemic racial biases exist in this country and that the child welfare and juvenile justice systems have an important role in dismantling underlying injustices and setting a path for a future where racial and ethnic equity and justice is assured,” said the task force co-chair David Sanders, Ph.D., executive vice president of systems improvement at Casey Family Programs. 

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