26 Jan 2011

Teen behavior modification industry preys on fears of parents and abuses young people

Change.org - Education December 6, 2010

Child Abuse Is Illegal, Right? Not At Teen "Boarding Schools"

by Dave Moss

If you've logged onto Facebook this week, you've seen a popular effort to raise awareness about violence against children. The campaign asks people to change their profile pictures to a picture of a cartoon they enjoyed as children.

This campaign very well may get thousands and thousands of people to at least think about child abuse for a brief moment. However, I suspect that the vast majority of those thoughts will focus on illegal child abuse. I’d like to take a moment to remind you that, in this country, we often force our children to endure legal abuse.

Operating mostly in secret, while making billions of dollars, is the abusive "teenage behavior modification" industry. Posing as schools, these unregulated monstrosities are praying on the fears of parents while physically, emotionally and sexually abusing young people in facilities that wouldn’t meet prison standards, let alone standards for schools or hospitals. These programs often look very much like boarding schools complete with websites that use words like “college preparatory” and “therapy.”

But punching a ten-year-old boy in the face for wetting his pants on a field trip is not therapy and I don’t know about you, but I was never forced to eat worms in college.

I am very sympathetic to the concerns of parents who feel that they have no place to go and that their teen-aged son or daughter is spiraling out of control. I spent a year working at a residential school in Vermont for boys who struggle with learning disabilities. While there I worked with an amazing group of teachers dedicated to helping young people navigate their troubled adolescence in a sympathetic way. We did not yell at our students. We did not deprive them of food, water or sleep. We did not deny them emergency medical services. We did not use corporal punishment. Unfortunately, there are many programs that do.

Following a Government Accountability Office report entitled "Selected Cases of Death, Abuse and Deceptive Marketing in Residential Programs,”Congressman George Miller led passage of H.R. 911 with a bipartisan vote of 295-102. H.R. 911 would require that all residential programs treating youth implement some common sense provisions. These include providing access to a telephone, a toll free hotline to report abuse and a requirement that programs provide emergency treatment. They would also allow for regulators to make unannounced inspections. Something needs to be done to prevent this currently legal abuse. Especially considering the GAO report’s finding that “ineffective management and operating practices, in addition to untrained staff, contributed to the death and abuse of youth enrolled in selected programs,” and the testimonies compiled by groups like my organization, the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) and the Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth (CAFETY).

As a former employee of a residential program I can confidently say that the proposed regulations in H.R. 911 would, in no way, interfere with the function of a successful program. Any program that claims allowing their students to use a telephone periodically would interfere with the educational environment should not be allowed to educate. Any program that claims that being required to feed their students would interfere with the student’s therapy should not be providing therapy. Any program that claims that physical abuse is necessary for their program to function should be arrested for child abuse – because that’s what you are when you hit a child – a child abuser.

So yes, let’s raise awareness around child abuse. Let’s target that awareness to those members of the United States Senate that refuse to implement any of the requirements of H.R. 911.

Sign this Change.org petition and tell Senators that ending child abuse, particularly institutionalized child abuse, should transcend partisanship.

Dave Moss is the Director of Development and Operations for the National Youth Rights Association.

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