Reps. Schiff and Ros-Lehtinen Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Reform Residential Treatment and Youth Boot Camp Programs

Legislation Supported by Large Network of Outside Groups and Survivors of Abuse

Washington, DC – Today, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced bipartisan legislation to reform residential treatment and youth “boot camp” programs nationwide. Residential treatment programs have existed for several decades as a last resort treatment option for children with mental health issues. Families turn to these programs when in need of more assistance than traditional inpatient mental health services or intermediate therapy programs are able to offer. In fact, many residential treatment programs have successfully helped kids with severe behavioral problems by helping to rehabilitate them from a traumatic experience or a drug and alcohol addiction. Other programs, however, advertise that they can help “troubled teens,” but in fact use the most atrocious methods, which can include physical and emotional abuse and “behavior modification” of LGBT youth – or gay conversion therapy – a widely discredited method.

2008 GAO report documented widespread reports of abuse and death in a variety of such programs which included the excessive use of physical restraints, severe methods of intimidation, starvation, neglectful medical practices, physical abuse, and much more. LGBT youth are particularly at risk for abusive residential treatment programs which may advertise their services to parents as “curing” them of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The same report documented that 34 states had reported over 1,500 staff members involved in incidents of child abuse in 2005. And in 2006, 28 states reported at least one fatality in a youth residential treatment program. Yet 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. Federal legislation is needed because states alone cannot prevent these abusive “boot camps” from shutting down in one state and re-opening in another under a different name, as is common practice for some of these camps.

"We cannot ignore reports that young people have died and thousands have 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,” said Rep. Adam Schiff. “That’s why we are introducing legislation to hold all residential treatment programs accountable. 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 kids are safe and in the care of professionals.”


"While many residential treatment and youth 'boot' camp programs help young people who are at risk, I am increasingly concerned about reports of malfeasance in some camps,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. “Some practices, such as starvation, excessive physical restraints, and neglectful medical treatment, are intolerable in any setting. Additionally, although sexual orientation and gender identity are immutable characteristics, other programs seek to behaviorally modify LGBT youth. No one should undergo this physical or emotional abuse and Adam and I are proud to help take the first step in solving this important problem."


“Entrusting the safety and well-being of your child to someone else is one of the toughest decisions a parent can make. So I can only imagine the horrible grief of the thousands of parents whose misplaced trust in programs for ‘troubled’ teens has resulted in the abuse and even death of their kids,” said actress Sally Field, Honorary Campaign Chair of the Protect Our Youth from Abuse Campaign. “Residential camps, schools and wilderness programs should not be allowed to masquerade as legitimate treatment programs while they have unlicensed staff administering barbaric treatments—like food deprivation, beatings, and electric shock—to children. That’s why we must pass common sense, bi-partisan legislation to regulate this multi-million dollar industry and protect all kids.”


The legislation that Schiff and Ros-Lehtinen are introducing is based on a bill championed by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) in Congress before his retirement – the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act, which passed in the House twice but was not signed into law.  Their bipartisan legislation updated and improved upon Miller’s legislation, and 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 requiring all residential treatment programs to publicly disclose any past record of child abuse and state licensing status.


  • Prohibits all residential treatment facilities from discriminating against youth with disabilities and LGBT youth, and requires all programs to employ safe and evidence-based treatment that protects children against harmful or fraudulent practices.


  • 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.


During the press conference, several survivors of treatment abuse programs spoke in support of the legislation, as did several outside groups.


"In my time at the treatment facility, I was constantly being degraded and humiliated for numerous reasons -- the main reason that stuck out to me was because of my sexuality," said Stephanie Scheider, a survivor of the abuse at New Beginnings, a treatment facility for LGBT teens. “I was sure not to be open about my sexuality while I was there, but the staff assumed they knew – they told me I was going to hell and that I was going to die because I was a lesbian. Being sent New Beginnings has made a very large negative impact on my life and teenagers should not have to go through the things I went through. I thank the political and community leaders who are introducing this bill and urge Congress to pass it and the President to sign it -- we cannot wait any longer."


“This legislation is needed because families who turn to residential programs for help must know that their children are safe and in the care of professionals,” said President of the Survivors of Institutional Abuse Organization Jodi Hobbs. “This type of abuse has gone largely unchecked in the United States for decades. How many children must suffer and die? The time is now, to protect our children from Institutional Child abuse. We have an opportunity here to create change with Federal Legislation Stop Child Abuse in Residential Treatment Programs for Teens Act of 2015.”


“It’s long past time for Congress to pass sensible legislation to regulate this rogue, multi-million dollar industry that¹s profiting from the abuse of young people,” said Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean. “If you¹re on a plane that¹s stuck on the tarmac for more than two hours, federal regulations require the airline to give you food and water. But if you¹re a kid sent to a residential treatment program, there¹s no regulation that protects you from being deprived of food and water for weeks.


“The provisions in this proposal touch on so many of the issues that arise in the lives of children like my son Tim who are struggling with the earlier signs of serious mental illnesses and have been treated in residential treatment programs,” said Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO of Mental Health America. “What I know from experience is that they need stability, an effective treatment program, continued access to their families, and freedom from abuse or neglect; this proposal will help give these things to them.”


The legislation is supported by sixty outside groups, campaigns and survivor networks, including: ACCSES, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, American Orthopsychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center, Association for Ambulatory Behavioral Healthcare, Brain Injury Association of America, CA Coalition for Youth, Campus Pride, Center on Halsted (IL), CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers, Coalition for Juvenile Justice, Colors LGBTQ Youth Counseling Center (CA), Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Covenant House International, Delta Foundation (PA), Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, Divine Truth Unity Fellowship Church (CA), Equality CA, Equality Federation, First Focus Campaign for Children, Human Rights Campaign, Kalamazoo Gay Lesbian Resource Center (MI), Las Vegas LGBT Community Center, League of United Latin American Citizens, LGBT Center OC, Log Cabin Republicans, Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, Marriage Equality USA, Mental Health America, Metro Wellness and Community Centers (FL), Montrose Center (TX), National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities, National Association of Social Workers, National Association of State Directors of Special Education, National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, National Disability Rights Network, National PTA, National Youth Rights Association, North Star LGBT Community Center (NC), Phoenix Pride LGBT Center (AZ), Rainbow Pride Youth Alliance (CA), Resource Center (TX), Restoring Dignity (International), Rise Up and Shout!, Ruth Ellis Center (MI), Safe Teen Schools, Stonewall Democratic Club, Sun Serve (FL), Survivors of Institutional Abuse, The Center Palm Springs, The LGBTQ Center Long Beach, Transgender Law Center, Trevor Project, Triangle Community Center (CT), Unity Fellowship Social Justice Ministries, and WWASP Survivors.


The bill text can be found here.