National Center for Youth Law

Press Releases

SACRAMENTO AND CHILDREN’S RECEIVING HOME SUED FOR WRONGFUL DEATH OF FOSTER CHILD

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 2, 2021
Contact: Patty Guinto, pguinto@youthlaw.org

Today, Michele Bryant is seeking justice for the tragic death of her twelve-year-old daughter, Kendra Czekaj, while she was in the care of Sacramento’s foster care system.  Ms. Bryant has joined with the National Center for Youth Law, Kershaw, Cook & Talley, PC, and Flesher, Schaff & Schroeder to file suit against the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento and Sacramento County for the negligent and unlawful actions that resulted in Kendra’s death.

On January 15, 2020, while in the care of Sacramento County and the Children’s Receiving Home, Kendra was struck by a car and killed.  After leaving the Children’s Receiving Home for the fifteenth time in just eleven days, Kendra ran into the highway that is steps away from the facility to help another child in distress who had run into the street ahead of her.  She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Michele Bryant said, “Kendra was a kind-hearted child who loved art and dancing, and always wanted to help others.  The foster care system that was supposed to keep her safe utterly failed her and instead put her in harm’s way.”

Her tragic death is part of a decades-long pattern of negligence by the Children’s Receiving Home, of which Sacramento County has been fully aware.  A 2018 Grand Jury report warned the County that the location of the Home placed children in “undue danger,” noting: “The location is in close proximity to motels, bars and adult shops, increasing the potential for children to be exposed to sex trafficking by predators in the area.”  The Children’s Receiving Home submitted 16,363 missing persons reports to the Sacramento Police Department from January 15, 2015, through January 27, 2020.  Despite these horrifying statistics and Kendra’s death, Sacramento County has continued to place vulnerable children at the Children’s Receiving home year after year.

Leecia Welch, Senior Director of Legal Advocacy at the National Center for Youth Law, said: ”Kendra’s death poignantly exemplifies why traumatized children should be supported in their own families, not placed in dangerous shelters that fail to meet their most basic needs.”

Sacramento County originally removed Kendra from her father’s and stepmother’s custody on March 4, 2019, after she bravely revealed her father had repeatedly raped her.  For years, to hide his guilt and groom his victim, Kendra’s father made every attempt to keep Kendra from her mother, Michele.  However, after learning that Kendra had been subjected to ongoing sexual abuse, Michele took action with the County to obtain full custody of her children.

After confirming that Michele could provide a safe home for Kendra, the County placed Kendra in Michele’s custody.  Sadly, due to the repeated trauma, Kendra had to be hospitalized to treat her severe depression and PTSD.  This triggered a cycle of hospitalization and placements by the County that failed to provide the stability, intensive mental health services, and family therapy Kendra desperately needed – and left Michele jumping through hoops to get her daughter back home.

After an overnight visit with Michele in early January 2020, the County placed Kendra in the Children’s Receiving Home, where she spent the next eleven days in a downward spiral.  Due to persistent and well-documented problems with inadequately and poorly trained staff, a lack of educational and psychological services, and poor oversight and care, the Children’s Receiving Home allowed Kendra to come and go from its dangerous facility at all hours of the day and night. On Kendra’s last night alive, neither the Children’s Receiving Home nor Sacramento County ever bothered to tell Michele that Kendra had gone missing or that she had been struck by a car.  Instead, Michele learned that Kendra died from a Post-it note left on her door by the Sacramento County Coroner’s office.  To this day, no one at the Children’s Receiving Home has called Michele to tell her what happened to Kendra, explain why she had been left free to roam the surrounding area, or offer any condolences whatsoever.

Michele Bryant said: “Nothing can bring back my precious daughter, but I hope by taking a stand we can save other children and parents from living out a nightmare like the one my family has experienced.”

Read the Complaint.