Williams: Treatment center failed the Foster family
VideosState clears Leake and Watts School of wrongdoing in Foster death Corey Foster's parents demand answers in teen's death Autopsy results pending in Leake and Watts death
It's probably not easy to decide to send your son or daughter to a residential treatment center. Committing the daily raising of your own child to someone else -- even if it is to get professional help for learning challenges, substance abuse, mental illness or other behavioral problems -- is not likely most parents' first choice.
So before the decision is made, parents probably want to know as much as they can about the program: Who leads it? Who works there? What's the living environment? And most pressing: Will they know how to handle my child better than I do? It's that last question that makes or breaks a parent's decision to enroll a child in a 24-hour live-in center. If the center can't achieve more success than you can, you'll look elsewhere.
Those kinds of questions were considered by Sheila and Andre Foster of Queens before they decided to enroll their son, Corey, at the Leake & Watts residential treatment center in Yonkers. They wanted Corey to be with professionals whom, they believed, were trained to handle his learning disability better than they could.
Instead, they buried their 16-year-old son after he died while in the physical grip of school staff members on April 18.
After an autopsy, the Westchester County medical examiner's office determined that Corey's death was accidental and caused by "cardiac arrest during an excited state while being subdued."
His death came during an altercation on the basketball court at the center. The public has had to depend on eyewitness accounts by others on the scene, since officials at the treatment center have revealed little. Those accounts show that Foster died after several staff members subdued him during an argument.
Excuse me here for simply speaking like the parent I am, but isn't proper handling in such situations one reason why the Fosters sent their son to Leake & Watts in the first place? So that such outbursts might be handled by professionals? They could have kept their son at home in Jamaica, Queens, and to let him settle his beefs any way he saw fit. But they didn't. They sought professional help. And that help mightily failed them. Declaring the death an "accident" isn't quite the balm that this family needs now.
And at Leake & Watts, it's back to business as usual, it seems. This week, four staff members who restrained Foster returned to work after being on unpaid administrative leave since April. Their return came after the New York State Office of Children and Family Services determined that the employees didn't violate state care standards, according to a Leake & Watts spokeswoman. The Westchester County district attorney's office is still investigating the case.
Meanwhile, Sheila and Andre Foster say they have been failed by the treatment center and the legal system. And they have been. The Fosters chose to send their son to Leake & Watts for help, temporarily relinquishing their roles as everyday caregivers. Surely, they did not imagine that doing so would mean giving up Corey forever.
Gayle T. Williams, a journalist for nearly 30 years, lives in Greenburgh. She's an editor at Consumer Reports. The opinions expressed here are her own.