ASTART is an active supporter of stronger laws and federal regulation of residential programs for teens. Along with our mission to educate families about the dangers of these for-profit programs, more must be done to protect teens from abuse, and protect families from being ripped off. At the same time, we know such legislation must have teeth and provide resources for enforcement, or programs may claim a level of rigorous oversight that does not exist.
Time Magazine - Oct. 7, 2011
The first legislation aimed at regulating residential programs for troubled teens was introduced on Thursday in the House and the Senate. The bill would crack down on hundreds of programs housing thousands of teens, many of which use punishing "tough love" regimes found to include physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
The Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2011 was sponsored in the House by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and in the Senate by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). A previous version of the bill passed the House twice, but was never introduced in the Senate (at the time, the relevant Senate committee was focused on President Obama's health care legislation).
The legislation would prohibit sexual, physical and emotional abuse and would ban the use of deprivation — of food, sleep, clothing and shelter, for example — as punishment or for any other reason. The use of physical restraint would be permitted only for safety, and all programs would be required to provide residents with "reasonable" access to a telephone. It would require staff to be educated about what specifically counts as child abuse and how to report it, and mandate programs to disclose staff qualifications to parents.
Investigations by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2007-08 found dozens of deaths related to abuse at such residential programs, along with thousands of further allegations, many confirmed, of abuse. GAO investigators posing as parents also discovered widespread use of fraudulent marketing practices.
"The culture of abuse and neglect at some of these programs is simply unacceptable, as is the inadequate staff training, regulation and state oversight. Every day we wait to take action is another day that the safety of teenagers is in jeopardy," said Miller. "I hope my Republican colleagues will join me in helping put an end to these horrific abuses that put the lives of too many children in danger."