Rep. Schiff Reintroduces Legislation to Reform Residential Treatment Programs Nationwide

SCARPTA Includes Strong Anti-Discrimination Protections For LBGT Youth And Youth With Mental Illness

Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) reintroduced the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act (SCARPTA), a bill to hold residential treatment programs accountable to a set of minimum health and safety standards, including strong anti-discrimination protections for LBGT youth and youth with mental illness. The bill will also crack down on offenders who attempt to move abusive facilities across state lines by requiring all states to improve their licensing and oversight processes, and help families weed out bad programs by requiring they publicly disclose their licensing status and any history of violations.

“There are hundreds of good residential treatment programs that provide services which can truly help youth recover and transition from serious behavioral problems or traumatic experiences,” Rep. Schiff said. “But without stronger federal regulation and oversight, programs that engage in abusive practices will continue to slip through the cracks, leaving behind traumatized and abused children and families.”

Residential treatment programs have existed for several decades as a last resort treatment option for children with serious mental health issues. Families opt for these programs when in need of more assistance than traditional inpatient mental health services or intermediate therapy programs can provide. Many residential treatment programs have successfully helped children and adolescents with severe behavioral problems, drug and alcohol addiction, and rehabilitation from a traumatic experience. 

But in 2008, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) documented over 1,300 reports of maltreatment by staff at programs spanning across 34 states, including substantiated accounts of starvation, excessive use of physical restraints and isolation, severe verbal abuse and intimidation, and neglectful medical practices. The GAO made clear that the lack of federal oversight and patchwork of state regulations has failed to properly license and monitor residential facilities which put an already vulnerable population of children at higher risk for abuse, and even death.

“Abusive facilities that operate under the guise of providing real therapy have no place in our society and families who turn to residential programs for help, often as a last resort, deserve to know that their children are safe and in the care of professionals,” Rep. Schiff said.


SCARPTA is based on a bill championed by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) before his retirement. Miller’s bill passed the House twice but was not signed into law. Schiff’s legislation would:


  • Prohibit all programs from withholding food, water or shelter from a child, putting a child in seclusion, and all other forms of physical and mental abuse
  • Require licensed medical staff on hand at all times in case of an emergency and require all staff members to be properly trained in recognizing and responding to signs of child abuse and neglect, and mental health crises
  • Allow youth to stay in contact with their parents so that they know their children are safe, and provide uninhibited access to a child abuse reporting hotline
  • Publicly disclose any past record of child abuse and their state licensing status so families can make informed decisions about where to send their children
  • Prohibit programs from using anything other than safe and evidence-based treatment -- meaning that any form of junk science such as conversion therapy or electric shock would be banned in these programs


SCARPTA is backed by a large coalition of child-serving, mental health and disability rights, and LGBT-rights organizations.


"It is long past time for the federal government to follow California's lead and finally regulate the for-profit, ‘Troubled Teen’ industry,” said Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. “Many of these facilities and camps commit horrible physical, mental and sexual abuses under the guise of disproven and harmful conversion therapy for LGBT youth. Sometimes these ‘therapies’ even result in death.  No purported religious affiliation -- often claimed by these camps -- excuses such atrocities.  We commend Representative Schiff for his continued efforts to protect all young people including some of the most marginalized youth in our country.”