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Miller, McCarthy Reintroduce Legislation to Stop Child Abuse in Teen Residential Programs

In Current Events, Institutional Child Abuse, Legislation, politics, programs on February 10, 2009 at 1:45 pm

House Education and Labor Committee will consider legislation on Wednesday

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Reps. George Miller (D-CA) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) today reintroduced legislation to protect teenagers attending residential treatment programs from physical, mental and sexual abuse and to prevent deceptive marketing practices by operators of private residential programs for teens. The lawmakers also announced that the House Education and Labor Committee will mark up the legislation on Wednesday.
Investigations conducted by the Government Accountability Office during the 110th Congress at the lawmakers’ request have uncovered thousands of cases and allegations of child abuse and neglect since the early 1990’s at teen residential programs, including therapeutic boarding schools, boot camps, wilderness programs and behavior modification facilities. Currently, these programs are governed only by a weak patchwork of state and federal standards. A separate GAO report, also conducted last year at the committee’s request, found major gaps in the licensing and oversight of residential programs – some of which are not covered by any state licensing standards at all.

In addition, the GAO’s investigation revealed that many teen residential treatment programs have been using deceptive marketing practices and questionable tactics to lure vulnerable parents desperate to find help for their children.

“For far too long, these abuses, neglect and mistreatment of children – some of the most horrific violations of trust imaginable – have been allowed to go on completely unchecked,” said Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. “Parents deserve every assurance that their children will be safe and protected when attending a program intended to help improve their lives.”

“It is no doubt a painful and difficult decision for parents to send their children to residential treatment facilities and the last thing they should have to worry about is the possibility of unknowingly putting their kids in harms way,” said McCarthy, chairwoman of the Healthy Families and Communities subcommittee. “It is crucial that federal standards are set in place to prevent the abuse, neglect and deceptive marking practices that have devastated so many children and families.”

To address these problems, the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2009, would:

  • Establish, for the first time, minimum federal standards for preventing child abuse and neglect at teen residential programs. The bill would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to inspect all programs around the country every two years and to issue civil penalties against programs that violate the new standards. The bill also calls for states, within three years, to take on the role of setting and enforcing standards for both private and public youth residential programs.
  • Strengthen protections for children attending these programs. The bill would require programs to provide children with adequate food, water, medical care and rest.
  • Ensure that programs are transparent and provide parents with information about teen residential programs that enable them to make safe choices for their teenagers. The legislation would create a toll-free national hotline for individuals to report cases of abuse and a website with information about substantiated cases of abuse at residential programs, including programs locations, owners, and history of violations and child fatalities. Programs would also be required to inform parents of their staff members’ qualifications, roles and responsibilities.

The House passed similar legislation last June by a bipartisan vote of 318 to 103, with the support of the American Association of Children’s Residential Centers, American Bar Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, the Child Welfare League of America, Children’s Defense Fund, Easter Seals, Mental Health America, the National Child Abuse Coalition and many other organizations.

For more information on this legislation, click here.

For more information on the committee’s past hearings on these abuses, at which GAO released its reports, click here.

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