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Residental Treatment Abuse
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“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Rapporteur wishes to recall that, from a human rights perspective, drug
dependence should be treated like any other health care condition.
Consequently, he would like to reiterate that denial of medical treatment
and/or absence of access to medical care in custodial situations may constitute
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is therefore prohibited
under international human rights law. Equally, subjecting persons to treatment
or testing without their consent may constitute a violation of the right to
physical integrity. He would also like to stress that, in this regard, States
have a positive obligation to ensure the same access to prevention and treatment
in places of detention as outside.”
— Manfred Nowak
Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
(Geneva, January 14, 2009)
Why Should We Be Concerned
- Research has uncovered, and families have reported, that these teen residential treatment centers have continued to have problems of abuse.
- There are laws within the US that specifically exempt Faith-based facilities from governmental regulation and oversight while funding them with tax payer dollars.
- There are no laws to protect children and young persons in facilities outside the U.S.A., and the number of abusive residential facilities worldwide is growing at an alarming rate.
- Children and young persons have been abused physically, emotionally, psychologically and sexually. There is little recourse to have accused abusers investigated, prosecuted or punished.
- Many facilities are not licensed and there is no oversight.
- Children often lose their most basic human rights.
- Many do not have privacy to use the restroom or shower.
- Contact with the outside world is curtailed, censored and monitored – often only phone calls with parents allowed. But even contact with family is only permitted 3-6 months after the child was admitted, and only if certain conditions are met.
- Many young people have spent months in isolation.
- Forced conversion to a religious ideology and belief system often occurs.
- There have been instances of torture and mistreatment that would meet the international standard set by the United Nations Convention on Torture.
- The abuse inflicts lifelong psychological scars on the victims. Proper mental health care and therapy is difficult or impossible to obtain given the governmental authority which facilitates and protects these private residential treatment centers.
- There has been neglect of young persons’ medical care, sometimes leading to death.
- When abuse has led to death, such deaths are not always investigated as homicides and sometimes are not investigated at all. This results in a lack of access for these crime victims to the criminal justice system.
- Victims/Survivors and their families are denied recourse through the court system by forcing them to sign legal documents prior to admission that remove their basic right to due process in the civil court system.
- Peer pressure within a closed religious network forces family and friends to hide abuse.
US Congressional investigations don’t stop abusive rehab centers
A recent report by the US Congress revealed that there are significant problems in the “teen rehabilitation” industry, including a general lack of oversight and accountability. In 2009 there were Capitol Hill briefings related to abuse of teens in facilities run by WWASPS and other programs. [i] The US House, led by Congressman George Miller, conducted investigations by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) during the 110th Congress (2008). These uncovered thousands of cases alleging child abuse and neglect since the early 1990’s at teen residential programs. Further, the investigation revealed that currently these programs are governed only by a weak patchwork of state and federal standards. A separate GAO report, [ii] conducted at the committee’s request, found major gaps in the licensing and oversight of residential programs, including some programs not covered by any state licensing standards. GAO concluded that, without adequate oversight, “the well-being and civil rights of youth in some facilities will remain at risk.” State-reported data to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System in 2005 found that 34 states in the United States of America (USA) reported 1503 incidents of youth maltreatment by residential facility staff. Of the states surveyed by GAO, 28 reported at least one youth fatality in a residential facility in 2006. GAO concluded that both of these statistics understate the incidents of maltreatment and death. They emphasized that many facilities are outside the scope of this limited study and many still remain unregulated and uninspected. [iii] [iv] [v] [vi] [vii]
In 1971, the US Senate Judiciary Committee convened a sub-committee on constitutional rights under Senator Sam Ervin to investigate government's role in behavior modification. Senator Ervin's 650-page report was published in November 1974 under the title “Individual Rights and the Federal Role in Behavior Modification.” [viii]
The US Congress previously examined problems in The SEED [ix] [x] [xi] and then in later residential treatment programs. These later substance abuse treatment programs were modeled on the Synanon program, [xii] [xiii] [xiv] [xv] [xvi] [xvii] the SEED and Straight Inc. Each time, the offending substance abuse treatment program was shut down. However, new programs rapidly emerged with new legal identities to start the same kind of operation. There are now even more programs reported to be abusive, despite numerous local, state and federal investigations. Those who have been victimized in one of these facilities are frustrated and dismayed to realize that not even several US Congressional investigations can prevent the recurrence of the same kind of abuse. Although Straight Inc. programs were closed, the governing principles remain a model for drug rehabilitation. It is a national disgrace that the abuse of children in residential centers has not stopped. Rather, governmental sanction hides its true nature from law enforcement and regulators. [xviii] Abusive teen rehabilitation centers are now more numerous and the industry remains unregulated by state or federal law.
Hon. George Miller, Chair of the Committee on Education and Labor in the U.S. House of Representatives initiated the legislation, Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2009 H.R. 911 (formerly H.R. 6358, H.R. 5876). U.S. Representative Miller had received a shocking report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) regarding abusive and neglectful treatment of children in residential programs.[xix] The report also contained information about fraudulent practices of these institutions. Subsequent investigations and GAO reports indicate that there is a widespread problem of abuse in the residential treatment industry which has flourished due to a lack of government regulation, inspection and accountability. [xx] [xxi] [xxii] [xxiii]
There was very disturbing testimony provided to the US Congress about the pervasiveness of the abuse and the failure to curb it by Health and Human Services or the Department of Justice. [xxiv] Video tapes of those testimonies can be seen here. [xxv] After much discussion and deliberation The House of Representatives approved legislation to Stop Child Abuse in Teen Residential Programs. The bill was intended to ensure that parents have information they need to keep their children safe.[xxvi] [xxvii] [xxviii] [xxix] [xxx]
The U.S. Senate has not moved to act on the bill or to draft suitable legislation to stop further abusive practices in the teen residential treatment industry.
[i] Washington, D.C., U.S.A., Capitol Hill Briefing - February 2009, Abuse of Youth in Residential Placements: A Call to Action, a meeting sponsored by the Alliance for the Safe, Therapeutic, and Appropriate Use of Residential Treatment on (ASTART) and co-sponsored by the Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth (CAFETY) http://astart.fmhi.usf.edu/.
[ii] Final GAO Report on Residential Facilities (Full Report) (May 2008) Residential Facilities: Improved data and enhanced oversight would help safeguard the well-being of youth with behavioral and emotional challenges, Report to Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives [PDF, 95 pages] GAO.gov, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08346.pdf.
[iii] Final GAO Report on Residential Facilities (Highlights) (May 2008) Residential Facilities: Improved data and enhanced oversight would help safeguard the well-being of youth with behavioral and emotional challenges, Report to Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives [PDF, 1 pages] GAO.com, http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d08346high.pdf.
[iv] GAO Report: Concerns Regarding Abuse and Death in Certain Programs for Troubled Youth (Full Report) (October 10, 2007) Full report of testimony before the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives. [PDF, 38 pages] GAO.gov, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08146t.pdf.
[v] Residential Facilities: State & Federal Oversight Gaps May Increase Risk to Youth (Highlights) (April 24, 2008) Highlights of the report by Government Accountability Office of testimony before the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives [PDF, 1 pages], GAO.gov, http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d08696thigh.pdf.
[vi] Residential Facilities: State & Federal Oversight Gaps May Increase Risk to Youth Well-Being (April 24, 2008) Full report by the Government Accountability Office of testimony before the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives [PDF, 21 pages], GAO.gov, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08696t.pdf.
[vii] Residential Programs: Selected Cases of Death, Abuse, and Deceptive Marketing (Full Report) (April 24, 2008) Full report of testimony before the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives. [PDF, 24 pages].
[viii] Individual Rights and the Federal Role in Behavior Modification – A Study Prepared by the Staff of the Subcommittee, Scribd.com, www.scribd.com/.../Individual-Rights-and-the-Federal-Role-in-Behavior-Modification-A-Study-Prepared-by-the-Staff-of-the-Subcommittee, or obtained at NCJRS.gov www.ncjrs.gov/App/publications/Abstract.aspx?id=142690.
[ix] TheStraights.com, Synanon Story, http://thestraights.com/theprogram/synanon-story2.htm#theseed.
[x] The Seed, Inc. was founded in 1970 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Seed received a $1.8 million U.S. government grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) soon after it opened. And the grant had been administered by the founding director of NIDA who also happened to be the second White House Drug Czar-Robert DuPont. http://thestraights.com/images/seed-funding.gif The Senate forced NIDA to require Seed clients to sign a "risk to human subjects" form as required by NIDA's own policy for grants involving human experimentation. Barker balked at this and lost his bid for an additional federal grant for expansion. Another feature of The Seed was berthing clients at foster homes run by other Seedling parents. By 1975 Barker had opened four expansion Seeds, but in 1974 both houses of the US Congress had investigated The Seed and produced critical reports with the US Senate likening Barker's methods to the brainwashing methods employed on American POWs by North Korean Communists. http://thestraights.com/images/seed-Ervin-brainwash.htm.
[xi] The Seed had been founded by a comedian and recovering alcoholic named Art Barker. The St. Petersburg Times reported that Barker had a mail-order degree in psychology. Barker had ambitions to make The SEED a national program. http://www.survivingstraightinc.com/FloridaGovernmentDocuments/StraightInvestigations/Project-Straight-SPECIAL-MONITORING-REPORT-by-FL-Bureau-of-Criminal-Justice-Planning-and-Assistance-1978_Combine.pdf
[xii] Szalavitz, Maia “The Cult That Spawned the Tough-Love Teen Industry,” Mother Jones, August 20, 2007, http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2007/09/how_a_cult_spawned_the_tough_love_teen_industry.html.
[xiii] CEDU Sued for Abuse and Fraud, International Survivors Action Committee, was at http://www.isaccorp.org/cedu/ceduabuse.pdf but now see website SurvivingStraightInc.com, www.survivingstraightinc.com.
[xv] Morgan, Fiona, One big dysfunctional family: A former member of the Synanon cult recalls the "alternative lifestyle" that shaped her, for better and worse, Salon Magazine, March 29, 1999, http://www.rickross.com/reference/synanon/synanon2.html.
[xvi] Clark, Michael D., Her life with "One Big Brother,” San Jose Mercury News, March 19, 1999, http://www.rickross.com/reference/synanon/synanon4.html.
[xvii] Fager, Wesley, Where did it come from?, Synanon Church and the medical basis for the $traights, or Hoopla in Lake Havasu, by Wes Fager (c) 2000, http://thestraights.com/theprogram/synanon-story2.htm
[xviii] Wes Fager, “Has Operation PAR become the new treatment arm of Drug Free America Foundation? Or: 3 strikes and the 6th Circuit is out!,” TheStraights.net,
[xx] May 14, 2008 – GAO Report Shows Need for Minimum Standards to Protect Teens in Residential Programs, Says Chairman Miller—Education & Labor Committee Will Vote Tomorrow on Legislation to Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs, House.gov, http://www.house.gov/apps/list/speech/edlabor_dem/RelMay13GAOReport.html.
[xxi] May, 2008 – Residential Facilities – Improved Data and Enhanced Oversight Would Help Safeguard the Well-Being of Youth with Behavioral and Emotional Challenges, GAO.gov, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08346.pdf.
[xxii] May, 2008 – Residential Facilities – Improved Data and Enhanced Oversight Would Help Safeguard the Well-Being of Youth with Behavioral and Emotional Challenges, GAO.gov, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08346.pdf.
[xxiii] October 10, 2007 – Also Residential Treatment Programs: Concerns Regarding Abuse and Death in Certain Programs for Troubled Youth GAO-08-146T, GAO.gov, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-146T.
[xxvi] 2008 Congressional Vote, Govtrack.us/congress, http://www.govtrack.us/congress/vote.xpd?vote=h2008-459.
[xxvii] April, 2008 – 110th Congress – Growing and Strengthening America’s Middle Class (more info on this act), House.gov, http://www.house.gov/ed_workforce/publications/residentialcampspamphlet0408.pdf.
[xxviii] Legislation H.R. 6358 (formerly H.R. 5876) The Bill, Thomas.loc.gov, http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:h.r.06358: Bill Passed, GovTrack.us/congress, http://www.govtrack.us/congress/vote.xpd?vote=h2008-459, govtrack.us, http://www.govtrack.us/congress/vote.xpd?vote=h2008-459 Vote on HR 6358: GovTrack.us/congress, http://www.govtrack.us/congress/vote.xpd?vote=h2008-459.
[xxix] June 25, 2008 – House Approves Legislation to Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs, House.gov, http://www.house.gov/apps/list/speech/edlabor_dem/rel062508c.html.
“We believe that the United States of America must be an example of moral leadership and integrity for the world community. We cannot, as a nation, be that example if we fail to protect our own children or those for whom we accept responsibility. Incidents in many of these teen residential treatment facilities have gravely compromised America’s moral authority. We ask that the United States of America, its legislative bodies, its courts, and its executive branch, not only articulate the moral and ethical values that made the U.S.A. a world leader in human rights, but act decisively and proactively to protect human rights standards. We ask that our nation’s leaders create and enforce more effective legal policies for protection of the vulnerable. We must, as a nation, take proper action so as to 1) prevent the use of cruel and degrading treatment and torture, 2) embrace and advance standards of international human rights law, and 3) honor the dignity of all human persons. We also request public acknowledgement of the terrible wrongs done to these innocent victims of abuse. We ask that a viable legal pathway be established for reparation and redress. We respectfully request U.S. President Barack Obama to provide leadership for our nation that honors the ethical and moral values embodied in our Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution and its Amendments. These principles respect and honor the human rights of all.”
Dr. Janet Parker DVM
Medical Whistleblower Advocacy Network
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Medical Whistleblower Advocacy Network
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Roosevelt- Excerpt from the speech "Citizenship In A Republic",
delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910