July 04, 2009

Losing Youth in Residential Placements

author_janis By Janis Prince Inniss

When I first learned of private youth residential facilities (sometimes known as boot camps), I was struck by how ”American” the concept is: pay lots of money to complete strangers to haul away your misbehaving child to parts unknown. I empathize with parents though. It’s the biggest, most important job and yet there are no manuals, licenses or standards to pass before we embark on this lifelong task.

So what’s a parent to do when they “just can’t handle their teen”? What to do with substance using youth and/or those with mental illnesses that may not even be diagnosed, after you’ve done it all? Attendance at boot camps, wilderness programs, and residential treatment facilities has increased dramatically over the last 20 years. Adolescents and youth with disruptive behaviors are more likely to be put in residential facilities and so are those with family problems.

The tales of abuse suffered by teens at these facilities—particularly the private ones—are growing. Distraught parents realize that their children are not being helped and some suffer abuse, returning home in worse emotional pain than when they left, and many becoming suicidal or substance abusers as a result of their experiences. Youth can be sent to these facilities by their parents or by formal institutions like the juvenile court.

For instance, offending juveniles might be sent to to a boot camp as a punishment. Children in state custody (such as those under the care of child welfare) might be sent there because their behavior makes placing them with a family inappropriate. But with families willing to take in children in short supply, professionals in the child welfare system admit that children are often placed in residential facilities because there is no other placement available.

Take the case of Martin Lee Anderson (click here to see video) . Anderson was a 14-year-old honor student who was sent to a boot camp because he violated the probation he was sentenced to when he went for a "joy ride" in his grandmother’s car. When Anderson resisted orders from facility personnel, seven drill instructors (with a nurse looking on) used “standard law enforcement techniques” on him that led to his death. (In the video of the abuse, the seven are seen punching and kicking Anderson.)

Take a look at the web sites of some of these facilities; they’re easy enough to find but I won’t link to any of them without knowledge of their standards. You’ll see that they entice parents by appealing to their desire to do what is best for their children. (One translation: If you love your child enough, you’ll pay to send him/her here.) These residential facilities cost from about $30,000 to more than $70,000 per year! For parents who don’t have that much money lying around, they’ll help them get a loan!

Where are they located? All over the U.S., although there are also American owned and operated facilities outside of the county. You’ll see many “accreditation” seals on these web sites and glowing testimonials from parents and professionals. But how would a parent know whether the accrediting body is legitimate or whether the testimonials were supplied because the writers were paid?

clip_image002What entities should monitor these facilities? Undoubtedly, some youth need stringent programs and there is evidence that some facilities do provide treatment for such children. But how can parents tell whether they are handing over their troubled youth to a good or bad program? How do state agencies ensure that children are not being placed in harm’s way?

The process of regulating residential facilities is mind boggling. Not only do the facilities differ by mission, size, administrative structure, and funding sources, but each state has its own rules, some of which are far more lax than others. A nationwide survey found that there’s usually some version of the following regulation measures: licensure and certification, critical incident reporting, complaint reviews, announced and unannounced visits, regulations governing selected characteristics, and accreditation. Adding to the chaos, in most states, more than one agency regulates these facilities. Many states never revoke licenses or deny renewals though, and some states offer licenses in perpetuity; what is the penalty for facility violations then? Even a child’s death or serious injury does not necessarily have to be reported in some states. After the death of a 14-year-old and because of other concerns, the Department of Children’s Services in Tennessee stopped placing children there. However the facility did not lose its license so children continued to be sent there from other states. Even when facilities meet regulatory standards, quality and appropriateness of placement are not addressed.

Where is the outrage when these facilities are built as when homeless shelters are proposed, for example? What should happen to the staff of these facilities when allegations of abuse are found to have merit? The staff involved with the Anderson tragedy was charged with manslaughter and gross negligence but found not guilty. What qualifications should facility staff hold? Interestingly, six of the seven drill instructors in the Anderson case were former military men. Should state and federal laws regulate these facilities? Restraints and isolation of youth are areas of most variability among states, yet you can imagine the kinds of torture that youth can endure with the inappropriate application of either. And finally, why don’t we have residential programs for parents to check themselves into that might help with their parenting skills?

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Comments


I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Margaret

http://racingonlinegames.net

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Margaret

http://racingonlinegames.net

How do you get a child out of a residential facility once their has been a permanacy hearing to keep him/her another 6 months or even longer?

"What entities should monitor these facilities? Undoubtedly, some youth need stringent programs and there is evidence that some facilities do provide treatment for such children. But how can parents tell whether they are handing over their troubled youth to a good or bad program? How do state agencies ensure that children are not being placed in harm’s way?"

You've got a point regarding residential treatment facility. It is very difficult to parents to see their children/teens suffering. Parents consider this question to provide themselves the assurance of a better life to their children.

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