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Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2008

Written by Alex Koroknay-Palicz Jun 12, 2008
What should be NYRA’s and any other youth advocate’s top priority now is HR 5876 (read full text here) Take action on the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2008 here.
Bill could give federal oversight to private clinics for children and would require FDA inspections

In a move that could have implications for D.C.’s troubled special education system, a panel of lawmakers Wednesday passed sweeping legislation that gives federal authorities the right to inspect private children’s clinics and schools.

The bill would require the federal Department of Health and Human Services to inspect therapeutic schools, clinics, camps and ranches every two years and to fine or shut down any outfit that fails minimum standards for safety and care. It passed the House Education and Labor Committee by a vote of 27-16.

Proponents of the measure said it would protect children and their families from fly-by-night operators who promise miracle cures to mentally ill or disabled children and then warehouse the children with little regard to their safety or welfare.

Thousands of D.C. kids have been shipped to camps and clinics all over the country for decades. There have been repeated complaints of abuse and low standards, but as The Examiner has reported, D.C. officials were hardly aware of where the kids were, let alone what was happening to them.

It’s a program that will cost taxpayers nearly $210 million this year.

Tom Kiley, spokesman for health committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., told The Examiner that the bill was necessary to keep kids out of harm’s way.

“A number of children from the District, like thousands of children from all over the country, have been sent across state lines to residential programs where physical, sexual and emotional abuse has occurred,” he said in an e-mail. “We want to make sure that kids are safe no matter what state or setting they are in.”

The legislation has encountered resistance from trade associations linked to the lucrative private clinic and camp industry.

Opponents of the bill said it’s an unnecessary layer of government interference imposed on an industry that’s capable of policing itself.

Miller’s bill now moves on to the full House floor for passage.

As the article said, the bill passed committee and is now going to the full House. This bill is absolutely critical for the rights of youth and their health and safety as well. All NYRA members are strongly urged to support this bill. Typically NYRA is in a position where we are arguing for rights, equality and freedom against those who are too willing to strip away freedom and equality for the idea of health & safety.

This issue however is one of the rare ones where such interests align. Moreover the issue of abuse in teen residential treatment centers shows quite clearly that denying equal rights to youth does not keep them safe but instead exposes them to more danger, more harm, and more risk. These programs generally paid for by parents who just “want what’s best for their kids” are rife with physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and mental abuse of all kinds.

It makes me sick to think that when the country is paranoid about sexual predators lying in wait for our children on MySpace there are dozens and dozens of well documented cases of sexual abuse and much worse at these camps that doesn’t get near that level of public fear and panic. Why? Why does the media focus all their fear mongering on “stranger-danger” and the Internet instead of on real threats like Tranquility Bay, Peninsula Village, Ivy Ridge and all the rest.

I can think of only two reasons: ignorance and control.

It is plausible, and for some time I assumed this was the chief reason, that most in the mainstream media simply hadn’t heard of these programs. Hadn’t heard of the abuse that regularly occurs there. Hadn’t heard of the death, abuse, and trauma that youth are subjected to.

This can no longer be assumed.

Thanks to the amazing work of Rep. George Miller the issue of abuse in the “troubled teen industry” has gotten national press exposure. Victims have had their day in the spotlight testifying in front of Congress. Several victims who I know personally were there to testify. And, to the media’s credit, they wrote stories about the bill and did pieces on the news about it. Yet compared to the coverage devoted to MySpace, video games and any other mythical dangers for our youth this coverage pales in comparison.

So my only thought left is that the main issue here is one of control. If kids are abused, killed, and traumatized for life under the watchful eye of parents or authority figures for their “own good” then society seems to be generally ok with that. Maybe the authority crossed a line, and maybe we should keep a closer eye on what goes on there, but generally nothing to get too upset over.

If, on the other hand, a young person is abused or kidnapped because of their own poor choices, well that’s simply the end of the world. They properly supervised. They weren’t properly controlled. This is the true crime and the true danger that society fears.

This isn’t to say that when left to their own devices youth don’t make bad decisions. They do. Sometimes those bad decisions have very serious consequences. But adults make many bad decisions themselves. Obviously responsible parents, teachers and mentors need to step in to avoid or mitigate the worst and most long lasting consequences that can befall their kids, but for everything else those mistakes and bad decisions are an important part of life. The beauty of bad decisions is that each and every one of them teaches an important lesson. An important lesson that leads to far more good decisions being made in the future.

When you are put in danger by someone else (as opposed to yourself) you don’t learn anything except fear and how to cope.

Misuse of authority is some how less threatening to people than misuse of freedom. While this is no doubt an issue that affects all levels of society and all institutions, it is particularly acute and troubling for youth. Thus we have hysteria over Grand Theft Auto 4 and a passing mention of teen torture camps.

But now is not the time for more doom & gloom worrying. Now is the time for action, now is the time for optomism. While the media and public at large may still be wandering in the wilderness, Congress at least has their head on straight. HR 5876 is the single best youth rights bill in Congress in years. NYRA activists, supporters, leaders and members must do absolutely everything in their power to pass this bill.

So please, please, please, please write your congressperson and tell them to vote YES on HR 5876 the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2008.

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