Sunday, June 15, 2008

Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act 2008

Graph from Maia Szalavitz's article about "The Cult That Spawned the Tough-Love Teen Industry," August 20, 2007.

H.R. 5876 is the first piece of federal legislation seeking to regulate and monitor abusive treatment within teen behavior modification programs in the United States.

Alternately called residential treatment centers, wilderness camps or boot camps, these programs aspire to "reform" teenagers with discipline problems.

However, the treatment that they provide often violates the rights of young people.

Disciplinary measures can include physical or mental abuse, physical restraints and withholding food, water, clothing, shelter or medical care, as a form of punishment. As a result, some teenagers die in these camps, while others emerge with physical and emotional scars.

Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres documents the abuse that she and her adopted brother experienced in a fundamentalist Dominican Republic reform school. Other survivors have been courageous enough to share their experiences in an effort to inspire reform.

The time has come for these programs to be held accountable, and subject to regulation, oversight and standards.

This bill would:
- Prohibit programs from physically, mentally or sexually abusing youth in their care
- Prohibit the denial of essential water, food, clothing, shelter or medical care
- Require that programs physically restrain children only if it is necessary for their safety or the safety of others, and to do so in a way that is consistent with existing federal law on the use of restraints
- Hold the programs accountable by requiring unannounced site inspections at least every two years and imposing civil penalties for up to $50,000 for violations of the law
- Enable parents to file civil action suits if national standards are violated and their child is abused and harmed.

In addition:
- Programs would be required to disclose the qualifications, roles and responsibilities of all staff members
- Staff members would be trained in what constitutes child abuse and how to report it
- Emergency medical care must be made available on-site

This bill is supported by: the Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth and the National Youth Rights Association.

H.R. 5876 has passed committee and will be voted on by the full House of Representatives later this month...

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Please also be aware of the International Survivors Action Committee:

Their mission is to expose abuse, civil rights violations, and fraud perpetuated through privately-owned facilities for juveniles.

They believe that every young person has the right be treated with dignity and respect.
I just found your site and am enjoying reading your posts. I plan to check back here as often as I have time.
I've worked at both therapeutic wilderness and RTC programs - because it is true that many students do not come voluntarily and therefore do not like the disempowerment of being "sent away", many of the kids are (understandably) aggressive, manipulative or depressed.
Despite this initial tension, I have never seen anything close to abuse.
Respectable programs are not intimidated by wise regulations and oversight; please do not believe all are abusive. In fact, good programs WANT the dangerous and abusive programs out of business quickly.

That is a well-balanced comment, and I appreciate your insights.

It is very fair and accurate for you to say that not all teen behavior modification programs are abusive.

I especially liked your statement that respectable programs will not be intimidated by additional oversight - and would prefer for the bad programs to be weeded out by increased regulation.

Thanks for posting,

"Enable parents to file civil action suits if national standards are violated and their child is abused and harmed."

- How would parents who lost legal authority over their children be able to complain if their children were abused? Or am I missing something here?
Anonymous poster,

The residential treatment centers covered in this act are the boot camps, wilderness camps and behavioral programs that custodial parents deliberately send their children to...

As in, "I don't know what to do about my child's behavior. I am going to enroll him or her in a program that promises to help."

H.R. 5876 does not cover group homes for foster children.

My hope is that while this is the FIRST bill to try to regulate abusive treatment within residential facilities, it will not be the last -- and that future bills WILL cover group homes for foster children.

Also... even parents who have lost custody of their children can and do file suit if their child meets physical harm.

For example, after three-year-old Marcus Fiesel's death at the hands of his foster parents in Ohio; his mother Donna Trevino originally tried to sue for $50 million... but public outrage quelled the suit.

Hope this helps,

Residential treatment program is used when people are highly addicted. This is long term program. During the program, patients have to stay in hospital or center. The doctors or specialists provide their twenty four hour supervision.
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