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Alameda County responds to lawsuit alleging systemic abuse in foster system

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    ALAMEDA, California (KPIX) — After the City of Hayward filed a lawsuit against Alameda County for alleged “criminal activity” within a foster youth facility, the Alameda County Social Services Agency issued a statement Friday seeking collaboration instead of litigation.

The lawsuit, filed on June 22, 2023, concerns the Alameda County Assessment Center, or AC, which is intended to provide a temporary living space for displaced or runaway foster youth who are awaiting placement elsewhere.

At the center, foster children “frequently go missing and are knowingly exposed to and/ or coerced into drug use, assaults and other forms of violence, sex trafficking and prostitution,” alleged a city press release on June 22.

The county said that they “do not agree with the City’s characterization of recent isolated incidents with certain high needs foster youth,” in reference to the lawsuit and a letter issued at the end of May from Hayward Mayor Mark Salinas to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and County Sheriff Yesenia Sanchez.

The letter, which outlined concerns that had been brought to the attention of the Hayward Police Department, said that criminal activity, including the grooming and trafficking of 10- to 13-year-old girls by older juveniles, is “not new and has allegedly been happening at the AC for years.”

The lawsuit states that the Hayward Police Department has conducted investigations on human trafficking at the AC this year and have issued an arrest warrant for two children at the center that recruited a 12-year-old girl into to prostitution and assaulted her after she refused to participate.

The city brought forward additional concerns about AC’s security in the lawsuit. According to the complaint, AC upholds a “hands-off” policy, meaning that they do not prevent children over the age of 10 from walking out without permission and going “AWOL.”

In mid-February, according to the complaint, the Alameda County Sherriff’s Office withdrew deputies from staffing AC, whereas before they had provided 24/7 on-site security services there. Emergency response and security was thus left to the Hayward Police Department and a private security firm that was hired.

Since the elimination of the deputies, the Hayward Police reported that they responded to one to three calls daily from the center, according to the lawsuit. Between February 15, 2023 and June 7, 2023 the HPD has received 321 calls for service to the AC, approximately 250 of which were related to AWOL children.

The County of Alameda, property owner Wolf Investment Company, LLC and the consulting group managing the facility, WestCoast Children’s Clinic, are named as defendants in the lawsuit. The city is requesting that the Alameda County Superior Court cease all operations at the AC until the center changes its policies – including the elimination of the “hands-off” rule and the reinstatement of the Alameda County Sherriff’s Office deputies.

The county said they do not comment on ongoing litigation or on the specific allegations made in the lawsuit. They urged for a halt in litigation, pointing to discussions that the county initiated with the city following the mayor’s letter.

“In locations across the County, resources belonging to cities, the County, and local non-profits support at-risk foster youth. Hayward is no exception,” the Alameda County Social Services Agency said in the announcement. “It takes all of us working together to meet the needs of the foster youth, providing them with emotional support and a place to stabilize and start to heal, like the Assessment Center.”

They further advocate to resolve the issue without litigation so that “limited public resources can be spent on serving the youth of our county rather than on attorneys and court proceedings,” their announcement reads.

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