Washington Foster Children Quarantined in Government Office Building; Advocates Alarmed

Washington child welfare authorities have resorted to sheltering four foster children who are thought to have COVID-19 in a government office building, after the home they lived in with several other kids closed because of the coronavirus, local sources say.

Annie Chung, a Seattle family lawyer, said Pioneer Human Services, the operator of a short-term group home that she calls “a placement of last resort” for hard-to-serve youth, decided to close the facility when at least four children were confirmed to have the coronavirus that causes the disease, or were exposed to it. She doesn’t know the whereabouts of several other youth from the home who also tested positive.

Richard Wexler, a blogger and executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, an advocacy organization, first publicized the move on Friday, stating that the four youth were moved to an alternate location. 

Chung told The Chronicle of Social Change that the youth came from the Pioneer Youth Center on Spruce Street in Seattle, and were taken to stay several miles south at the Department of  Children, Youth and Families building on Delridge Way, in the southwest quadrant of the city. 

Reached Friday, department spokeswoman Debra Johnson confirmed only that the children had been moved to prevent the spread of the disease. She said she was not prepared to discuss the specific conditions of their confinement, but stressed that the department would not send them anywhere they would not be suitably cared for.

Washington’s child welfare agency is housing some COVID-19 positive foster youth at one of its Seattle office buildings.

Chung said none of the quarantined youth were her clients, but that close associates in the child welfare field with firsthand knowledge have been discussing the temporary housing situation among themselves – with grave concerns. 

They said the youth all came from the Pioneer-operated center on Spruce Street — a home for foster children who are at least 12 years old. 

Directors at Pioneer could not be reached for comment Friday, but Kate Cole, a spokeswoman for the King County Department of Public Health, said her agency received a call from Pioneer on May 14 reporting coronavirus at the Spring Street facility. Public Health sent a strike team out to advise management and provide testing.

Chung said she and many of her associates do not believe the DCYF office is at all an appropriate setting for even a temporary emergency shelter.

“An office building is not a home,” she said via telephone, adding in an email that there is no shower in the immediate area and the youth are sleeping on cots in sleeping bags. “It has no laundry facilities, no full kitchen, no full bathrooms. The youth are supposed to do their laundry at another DCYF location.”

Chung also said it remained unclear, according to her sources, whether there are medical staff on site, adequate personal protective equipment such as masks and hand sanitizer, “or any other safety precautions.” 

“This is a really concerning turn of events,” she said.   

Chung also said she’s been told that the office building has since been “evacuated” because the children wandered into places they were not supposed to go, potentially spreading the virus. She said the department should have rented a house for the youth and staff so that their lives would be as little disrupted as possible.

In normal times, the basement of the office building is used for family visitations, and her sources said that is where the children who are there now were supposed to stay. The two upper floors hold offices. It appeared that currently no one other than the children and the social workers who look after them is allowed into the building, she said.

Chuck Carroll is a freelance journalist, writer and editor. Reach him at chuckcedits@gmail.com.

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