Schiff to Introduce Bill to Reform ‘Troubled Teen’ Programs
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) will introduce legislation next month to reform residential treatment programs nationwide, his office announced Friday. Last March, Schiff joined out State Sen. Ricardo Lara, the LA LGBT Center and Survivors of Institutional Abuse in a national campaign to reform the billion-dollar “troubled teen” industry, as the residential treatment programs are known among survivors. “We cannot ignore reports that far too many young people have died and suffered abuse at the hands of those who run and work at residential treatment programs under the guise of providing critical therapy and rehabilitation services,” Schiff said March 27.
Schiff promised to introduce legislation to hold all residential treatment programs accountable for instances of child abuse and increase transparency so parents know if the treatment programs are safe. The residential programs are often the “last resort” for parents seeking to help their children with severe behavioral problems or rehabilitation from trauma or alcohol and drug addiction. However, as Survivors of Institutional Abuse notes, the programs are also used to try to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of youth.
The introduction of Schiff’s bill is timely with the announcement by President Obama that he supports ending programs known as “reparative” therapy. Additionally, Schiff’s California colleague, Rep. Ted Lieu, announced Thursday that he will introduce a bill “soon” to cut federal funding to healthcare professionals that practice what is commonly now considered “junk science.”
Schiff notes his legislation, to be introduced in May, is patterned on legislation introduced in 2007 by former Rep. George Miller (D-CA)—the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act—which passed in the House twice but then hit a dead end. However, a 2008 GAO report Miller ordered while holding Congressional hearings into the “troubled teen” industry documented widespread reports of use of physical restraints, severe methods of intimidation, starvation, neglectful medical practices, physical abuse, and death, with LGBT youth at particular risk of abuse. The GAO found that 34 states had over 1,500 staff members involved in incidents of child abuse in 2005. But, Schiff’s press release noted, “these programs continue to operate with little or no accountability because of a loose patchwork of state licensing and monitoring requirements and little federal oversight, despite the fact that some programs receive federal funding. State regulations that do exist have not done enough to prevent abusive ‘boot camps’ from shutting down in one state and re-opening in another under a different name.”
“We cannot ignore reports that young people have died and suffered abuse at the hands of those who run and work at residential treatment programs under the guise of providing critical therapy and rehabilitation services,” Schiff said. “This is why I am working with my colleagues to introduce legislation that will hold all residential treatment programs accountable for instances of child abuse. The measure will also increase the transparency of these programs so that parents can make informed and safer choices for their children. Families that turn to these treatment programs for help, often as a last resort, must know that their children are safe and in the care of professionals. “
Schiff’s legislation would:
Hold all youth residential treatment programs accountable to a set of minimum federal standards including prohibiting all residential treatment programs that purport to provide youth with mental health and behavioral treatment from any form of child abuse and depriving children of water, food, or medical care; requiring that all children have reasonable access to their families and a hotline to report instances of abuse; and requiring all staff members to be properly trained to identify instances of child abuse.
Establish civil penalties for any violation of these standards and ensures private right of action so that victims and their families can seek civil damages as well.
Increase transparency of the “troubled teen” industry by establishing a publicly-available database of residential treatment programs and their records of criminal activity, and licensing status.
Require states to work with Health and Human Services (HHS) to report and investigate instances of child abuse at residential treatment programs, and further requires them to establish standards that are at least as strict as federal standards. Also requires states to develop policies that ensure every program in their state is properly licensed and in compliance with license requirements.
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