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Chain of Foster Homes Deny Care,|Watch Ob-Gyn Exams, Women Say

FRESNO, Calif. (CN) - A chain of government-funded foster care group homes in California's Central Valley confiscates contraceptives from young women in its care, punishes them if they receive reproductive health services, and watches their gynecological exams, Planned Parenthood claims in court.

California Planned Parenthood Education Fund and three 18-year-old women sued Promesa Behavioral Health in Superior Court, claiming the nonprofit organization violates "the constitutional privacy interests of young women in foster care who have been placed in Promesa's group homes."

The women say Promesa even insists that its staff members be allowed into their gynecological exams.

Promesa runs seven group homes in Fresno County, licensed as residential care facilities to provide shelter, supervision and counseling to dependents of the court. Each home is licensed to provide foster care for six or more children.

Promesa receives $8,935 per month per child from more than 30 California counties for room, board and services, and in 2014 received a total of $4.7 million in government funding, according to the complaint.

Planned Parenthood says Promesa has "regularly searched the belongings of foster youth for contraceptives, such as condoms, and confiscated any contraceptives found."

It claims Promesa forces foster youths to sign agreements that they will not engage in sexual activity and forces them to allow group home staff into their ob-gyn exam rooms.

Planned Parenthood also accuses the organization of punishing young women who violate the "no contraceptives" and abstinence policies by taking away privileges, such as visits with their parents or children.

Planned Parenthood says that in November 2015 it "placed Promesa on notice that its policies and practices, including confiscating condoms from foster youth and forcing foster youth to allow group home staff into their ob-gyn examination rooms, violate California law."

It "demanded that Promesa cease these unlawful practices and revise their policies," but Promesa "categorically denied any wrongdoing and has failed to take steps to resolve plaintiffs' concerns. Promesa maintained that it could not be held accountable to the very foster youth it receives millions of dollars in foster care payments to serve."

Plaintiff L.B. says: "When (she) went to gynecological appointments, Promesa group home staff insisted on staying in the exam room with her, and listening to her entire conversation with the medical provider."

She says she was punished with restrictions for what she told the medical provider, and that Promesa staff confiscated condoms from her three times while searching her room and told her "she would get in trouble if she had them or had any reason to use them."

Plaintiff A.Z. says a Promesa staff member insisted on accompanying her into her ob-gyn exam last year, and when A.Z. requested a Depo-Provera contraceptive shot, "the group home staff member told her that she was not allowed to have the shot."

The complaint continues: "The staff member explained that she did not need the shot because she was not allowed to have sexual contact while living at the group home. The staff member told her that if she did have the shot, she would be punished and get an 'R.' A.Z. decided to get the Depo-Provera shot that day anyway. When she told Promesa staff, the response was, 'Just know you are getting an R.'

"Getting an 'R' means that a Promesa resident loses important 'privileges' at the group home, including leaving the house, watching television, or listening to music. Sometimes it results in an early bedtime or loss of visitation, including visits with family members.

"On a number of occasions, Promesa staff also tried to force AZ. to let her ob-gyn share confidential medical information with the group home staff. When A.Z. directed her doctor not to fill out forms disclosing to Promesa what happened during her ob-gyn appointment, Promesa staff threatened her with an R if she did not permit her doctor to complete the forms."

Planned Parenthood adds: "Promesa's actions are all the more harmful because youth in foster care have a particularly compelling need for access to contraception and regular reproductive health care. Young women in California's foster care system experience higher rates of unwanted teen pregnancy and childbirth than their counterparts who are not in care, higher rates of forced sexual activity, and higher rates of sexually transmitted infections."

A study of California foster youth found that more than one-third of the young women who are in the state's foster care system at age 17 will give birth at least once by the time they turn 21.

Because modern contraceptives are effective at preventing pregnancy and reducing sexually transmitted diseases, Promesa's policies are all the more troubling, Planned Parenthood says.

Plaintiff S.H., who has been placed in three Promesa group homes since she was 14, says in the complaint that staff told her and the others that they would be punished if they were caught with condoms.

When it was discovered that S.H. was pregnant for the second time at 17, Promesa punished her by denying her visits with her mother and child, the complaint states.

"Promesa staff pressured her to get an abortion and later punished her by denying her visits with her child when she decided not to terminate the pregnancy," according to the complaint.

Only after S.H. miscarried did Promesa allow her to receive contraception, but staff members still refused to let her get health services from Planned Parenthood, the complaint states.

Promesa's actions "have jeopardized the health and safety of countless foster youth," according to the complaint.

Planned Parenthood seeks an injunction prohibiting Promesa from confiscating contraceptives, refusing to allow young women access to Planned Parenthood's services, and from punishing foster youth who violate the no-contraceptives and abstinence policies.

The women also seek statutory and compensatory damages for violations of the California Constitution's rights to privacy, the Bane Act, and the Foster Youth Bill of Rights.

They are represented by Leecia Welch with the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment after late Monday.

A late call to Promesa on Monday was not immediately returned.

Promesa says on its website that it provides "licensed therapeutic foster care, adoption, chemical dependency counseling, psycho-education and tele-psychiatric services, level 12 residential treatment for females, males, juvenile sex offenders, and pregnant and parenting teens and their infants."

It says that Promesa is often "the last hope for young people who have come to see failure and discouragement as a way of life," and offers "each client a simple but profound promise: 'You will be supported every step of the way no matter what challenges you face.'"

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