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Petitioning Congress

Pass federal legislation to regulate residential programs

S.1667, H.R. 3126: Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2011

Summary: To require certain standards and enforcement provisions to prevent child abuse and neglect in residential programs, and for other purposes

Letter to
I just signed the following petition addressed to: Congress.


I am writing in support of the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2011, H.R. 3126 and S.1667. The Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth (CAFETY) is member-driven advocacy organization that promotes and secures the human rights of youth in residential placement or who are at the risk of placement. We are primarily made up of individuals who were placed in harmful residential care as youth and are outraged that youth continue to be maltreated in the name of treatment. This widespread pattern of maltreatment unequivocally demonstrates the urgent need for federal standards establishing basic protections states have failed to provide institutionalized youth. These standards include ensuring youth in placement are afforded reasonable access to a child abuse hotline in the event they are being maltreated and, through the development of a national website to ensure program operators who are found to have harmed youth in their care in one state are not easily able to open another program in a different state.

In October 2007 and April 2008, Congressional hearings were held on the issue of abuse, torture and death of youth in residential programs. It was revealed what survivors have known all along – that abuse and torture, often occurring in the name of treatment, occurs across at a variety of programs across the country and is particularly prevalent within private-pay (so-called parent choice) programs. This important bill is designed to protect our nation’s youth from disciplinary interventions that we ourselves have experienced and know to be inherently dehumanizing and psychologically scarring, such as the withholding of food, water, clothing, shelter or medical care, the use of physical and mechanical restraints and acts of physical or mental abuse that humiliate, degrade, or undermine a child's self-respect.

This bill also provides for the training of staff members as to the definitions of child abuse and how to report it, disclosure of staff qualifications and criminal background checks for such staff, policies and procedures for emergency medical care and parental notification of changes in care, and notification of parents of violations of applicable laws and licensing standard. This is welcome change that cannot come soon enough for those families who were misled and have lived through these egregious violations of our human rights, with no recourse available.

While for us survivors, those presently imprisoned in such facilities and, most tragic of all, those families who have lost a child due to the trauma or negligence at the hands of this industry, there is no justice. Left in the wake of our grief exists only hope that the countless needless deaths and harm caused may serve as a warning to and that federal regulation will help ensure future generations of youth who are struggling with behavioral, emotional and mental health issues and deserve to find real help. Youth that face such challenges are entitled to legitimate care and to be protected from harm. Such youth are not simply liars and manipulators; they are, as we were, human beings struggling, in need of support, of being heard and engaged as collaborative participants in their own treatment. Such youth do not need to be further traumatized by being kidnapped in the middle of the night, silenced through censorship, and broken down by being subjected to psychological distress, indefinite imprisonment and punitive and aversive practices. Surely as a nation we have moved beyond such antiquated thinking as ”youth are to be seen and not heard” and recognize the difference between growth and forced submission through the use of violence and fear.

It is clear that many facilities do not adhere to what we know to be best practices within a residential setting. It is those facilities that concern us and that have reason to find this legislation threatening. During the 2008 hearings Dr. Bellonci educated Congress and the public on best practices such as only accepting students from their state, allowing parents open access to the campus, and prohibiting the use of aversive or punitive techniques. We hope that this bill, as well as the continual dissemination of accurate information, will help educate parents on these vital differences – the difference between facilities that demonstrate respect for the youth and families they serve and those that base their practices on misinformation and fear. Most youth do not require long term residential care, and it is therefore unethical for these facilities to profit from the desperation of parents

For these reasons and others, we ask that you support this critically important bill and ensure its passage. The United States must not stand immobile while children continue to suffer in the name of treatment or behavior modification.



Kathryn Whitehead started this petition with a single signature, and now has 189 supporters. Start a petition today to change something you care about.