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House Education Committee Approves Legislation to Stop Child Abuse in Teen Residential Programs

In Institutional Child Abuse on February 21, 2009 at 4:43 am

House Education Committee Approves Legislation to Stop Child Abuse in Teen Residential Programs

Bill Would Help Ensure Parents Have Information They Need to Keep their Children Safe

WASHINGTON, DC – Today the House Education and Labor Committee approved legislation to protect teenagers attending residential treatment programs, including therapeutic boarding schools, boot camps, wilderness programs and behavior modification facilities, from physical, mental, and sexual abuse and increase transparency to help parents make safe choices for their children.
Investigations conducted by the Government Accountability Office during the 110th Congress uncovered thousands of cases and allegations of child abuse and neglect since the early 1990’s at teen residential programs. 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.

GAO concluded that without adequate oversight “the well-being and civil rights of youth in some facilities will remain at risk.”

State reported data to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System in 2005 found that 34 states reported 1503 incidents of youth maltreatment by residential facility staff.  Of the states surveyed by GAO, 28 reported at least one youth fatality in a residential facility in 2006. GAO concluded both of these statistics understate the incidents of maltreatment and death.

The Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2009 (H.R. 911) would establish minimum standards for preventing child abuse and neglect at teen residential programs. It would require states to inform the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of reports of abuse and neglect at covered programs, require investigations of such programs and require the HHS 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.  

“Today, we are taking an important, common-sense step toward finally ending this culture of abuse and neglect that has put thousands of teens in jeopardy,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the chairman of the Committee, and one of the bill’s authors. “Parents deserve every assurance that their child will be safe when attending a residential program intended to help them build a better life.”

“I am pleased to see that we are moving one step closer to making residential treatment facilities safer and better regulated,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), the chairwoman of the Healthy Families and Communities subcommittee.  “Hopefully, as a result of the Committee’s actions today, we will be able to move forward with the necessary reforms to end the deceptive marketing practices and patterns of abuse that have already impacted so many families and make residential treatment facilities safer places for children to get the help they need.”

In addition, the legislation would also ensure that parents have the information needed to make safe choices for their children about teen residential programs.

Among other things, H.R. 911 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. The bill would require programs to provide children with adequate food, water, medical care, and rest. And to prevent deceptive marketing practices and create transparency to help parents make safe choices for their children, it would require, among other things, that programs 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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