Lost in the cacophony of the Russia investigation and the newly proposed healthcare bill is the fact that some elected U.S. representatives still care about governance. Among them is Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who on Thursday reintroduced the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act, legislation that would require residential treatment programs to enforce a set of minimum health and safety standards, specifically prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ youth and young people with mental illness.
The Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act (SCARPTA), originally introduced on July 14, 2015, was built on a bill championed by former California Rep. George Miller. In 2008, Miller held hearings with painful testimony about such abuse and neglect that he ordered a Government Accountability Office report on “the troubled teen industry”—unregulated “last resort” residential treatment facilities and “boot camps” that market to desperate parents of children deemed unruly, LGBT, addicted, or acting out with some form of undiagnosed mental illness.
The GAO reported that in just one year (2005), 1,619 program employees in 34 states were involved in incidents of abuse, including substantiated accounts of starvation, excessive use of physical restraints and isolation, severe verbal abuse and intimidation, and medical malpractice. Survivors of Institutional Abuse (SIA) reported 300 deaths on their In Memorial page, deaths linked to starvation, medical malpractice, beatings and suicide.
Miller’s hearings and the GAO report emphasized how the lack of federal oversight and “deceptive marketing,” no unified regulations among states regarding licensing and regulations of residential facilities put vulnerable children at greater risk. Additionally, if a resident died or the media got a whiff of the abuse, the unscrupulous owner would move to another state and reopen under another name. Often the con artists, who prey upon deeply religious families with anti-LGBT attitudes, cry foul when exposed, as if scrutiny of their harsh treatment violated their religious liberty.
Miller’s bill to regulate the billion dollar “troubled teen industry” twice passed the House but stopped there. But some states have stepped up on their own, including California where last year Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill by out State Sen. Ricardo Lara.
Schiff’s bill would not only protect youth through federal minimum standards but would 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,” according to a press release.
“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,” 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.”
Families that turn to treatment facilities, Schiff says, “deserve to know that their children are safe and in the care of professionals.”
According to the press release, 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
“It is long past time for the federal government to follow California’s lead and finally regulate the for-profit, ‘Troubled Teen’ industry,” Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, said in the release. “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.”