National Center for Youth Law

Press Releases

Lawsuit Charges Group Home Operator with Harming Young Women

For Immediate Release
February 23, 2016

Lewis Cohen, 510-835-8098 x3045
Rebecca Gudeman, 510-835-8098 x3037

Fresno, CA – Promesa Behavioral Health (Promesa) is harming foster youth placed in its care according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of current and former residents of Promesa group homes. The foster youth, as well as a former employee, allege that young women are being denied access to necessary reproductive and sexual health care.  The foster youth further charge that they have been subjected to retaliation for trying to get the health care they need.

Foster youth are especially at risk of having unwanted pregnancies and being coerced into having sex, and Fresno has some of the highest incidence of sexually transmitted diseases in the state. Nonetheless, 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, and required youth to sign an agreement that they would not engage in sexual activity.

The California Constitutional right to privacy 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. Rebecca Gudeman, a Senior Attorney at the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) says: “Promesa’s actions denying these young women access to reproductive and sexual health care are contrary to good public health policy, could threaten public health in Fresno, and are against the law.”

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,” says NCYL Senior Attorney Leecia Welch. “The treatment of our clients falls far short of that obligation. Promesa has violated the constitutional and statutory rights of youth placed in its group homes, and exposed them to grave health risks.”

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.”

California Planned Parenthood Education Fund (CPPEF), which is also plaintiff in the lawsuit, provides health education and health care to youth in Fresno County including residents of Promesa’s group homes. According to CPPEF, Promesa’s actions have undermined the effectiveness of its programs.