Foster Care Fallout: Agency accused of violating kids' rights

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A taxpayer-funded, multi-million dollar agency with a checkered past is now accused of violating basic rights of foster kids.

"I got pregnant because Promesa didn't give me what I wanted," said a teen we're identifying only as S.H. A new lawsuit claims Promesa denied reproductive health care to the teens in its group homes.

Three young women and Planned Parenthood are suing Promesa and accusing the agency of breaking laws that have been on the books for decades. The result, they say, is more trouble for kids who've already suffered a lot.

Sexual activity started in elementary school for one of the young women, and not by choice. "I was raped and molested by my step-dad when I was 8 to 12," said S.H.

We're identifying her only by her initials because of the sensitivity of her issues, but she bounced around foster care a lot after age 12. She landed at a Promesa group home at 16, already a mother.She says staff members punished her for trying to get birth control. And when a new pregnancy test came back positive, a Promesa staff member was right there, looking over her shoulder at the doctor's office. "The prescription was handed to the staff member and she was like, 'Plan B pill, what do you need this for?' and I was like 'oh ****, I'm screwed.'"

The punishment for her second pregnancy was harsher. She says they took away all visits with her family, including her infant daughter. "It was heartbreaking," she said. "I was just really depressed."

Promesa was formerly known as Genesis, but after its leaders got in trouble for embezzlement, it changed names, and leadership. The agency takes in about $9,000 a month in taxpayer money for each foster kid at its seven group homes in Fresno County

A lawsuit filed against Promesa says it forces those kids to sign away their medical privacy. They also enforce a strict "no sexual contact" policy, in part by throwing away any contraceptives the kids may have.

Attorneys for the teens say foster kids are especially vulnerable to unwanted pregnancy and sexual transmitted infections, so reproductive health care is important for them. The law -state and federal -- also allows girls as young as 12 to control their own reproductive health care -- without parental consent.

S.H. is one of three teens who decided Promesa shouldn't be able to take away their rights. "The three young ladies who are our plaintiffs in this case really want to make sure what happened to them doesn't happen to other people who are at Promesa now or in the future," said Rebecca Gudeman, an attorney at the National Center for Youth Law, which represents the women.

Promesa sent Action News a statement saying they operate in strict compliance with all regulations and the allegations are without merit. The entire statement is included below.

"Promesa Behavioral Health has been responsive and very transparent regarding any inquiries by California Planned Parenthood Education Fund and the National Center for Youth Law. Our group homes operate in strict compliance with all statutes and regulations and any contracts for care- including those issues regarding the reproductive rights of the youth we serve. We find the allegations to be without merit and anticipate continuing our daily mission of serving the youth entrusted to our care without further distraction.
Promesa upholds and will protect the privacy rights of each client, current and former. Therefore, we will not discuss any details pertaining to the case currently in litigation."
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