Federal bill would regulate ‘troubled teen’ industry, ban ‘conversion therapy’

Butters Stotch was sent to a “Pray the Gay Away” camp on a 2007 episode of “South Park.” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) wants to regulate the “troubled teen” industry with health and safety standards that would ban “conversion therapy.” Photo: Comedy Central.

Electric shock or trying to “fix” gay and lesbian youth with “conversion therapy” — the discredited and dangerous practice of trying to change gays and lesbians to heterosexual — at residential treatment programs, also known as the “troubled teen” industry, would be outlawed under a proposed law that’s been re-introduced in the House of Representatives.

‘TROUBLED TEEN’ INDUSTRY

In most states, residential schools, camps or wilderness programs marketed toward families with troubled teenagers are unregulated and not licensed to treat the mental health issues they claim to treat. Between 10,000 and 14,000 youth are enrolled in these programs, according to one estimate.

RELATED: ‘Conversion therapy’ horrors exposed in ‘Kidnapped for Christ’ film

HB 3024, The Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act, would hold these residential programs accountable to a set of minimum health and safety standards and crack down on offenders who try to move abusive facilities across state lines by requiring all states to improve their licensing and oversight processes.

The bill would also require treatment programs to publicly disclose their licensing status and any history of violations.

The bill, reintroduced by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) in June, is based on legislation championed by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) in 2009 and 2011.  

Schiff first introduced his bill in 2015. At that time, it was HB 3060.

“Without stronger federal regulation and oversight, programs that engage in abusive practices will continue to slip through the cracks, leaving behind traumatized and abused children and families,” Schiff said in a press release.

RELATED: California ban on ‘conversion therapy’ for gay teens upheld by Supreme Court

HEALTH, SAFETY STANDARDS

Here are the health and safety standards Schiff’s bill would require:

  • Prohibit programs from using anything other than safe and evidence-based treatment — meaning any form of junk science such as “conversion therapy” or electric shock would be banned
  • Prohibit all programs from withholding food, water or shelter from a child, putting a child in seclusion, and all other forms of physical and mental abuse
  • Require licensed medical staff on hand at all times in case of an emergency, and require all staff members to be properly trained in recognizing and responding to signs of child abuse and neglect, and mental health crises
  • Allow youth to stay in contact with their parents, allowing them to know their children are safe, and provide uninhibited access to a child abuse hotline
  • Publicly disclose any past record of child abuse and their state licensing status

CHILD ABUSE AT FACILITIES

Miller’s bills passed the House both times, but never went any further.

In 2008, Miller held hearings on the topic, and the Government Accounting Office issued a report.

Among the findings, the report said 1,619 program employees in 34 states were involved in incidents of abuse, including substantiated accounts of starvation, excessive use of physical restraints and isolation, verbal abuse and intimidation, and medical malpractice.

“Weaknesses in the current federal-state regulatory structure have failed to safeguard the civil rights and well-being of some of the nation’s most vulnerable youth,” the report said.

If a minor died at a facility or a journalist discovered the abuse, many shameless owners would move to another state and reopen under another name.

Also, these money vampires, who marketed their programs to deeply religious families with anti-LGBTQ attitudes, played the victim card when exposed, as if exposing or scrutinizing the cruel programs violated the owners’ religious freedom.

CALIFORNIA LAW

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed, S.B. 524, the Protecting Youth From Institutional Abuse Act, into law, which requires private alternative youth treatment and education institutions — such as boot camps, therapeutic boarding schools, religious children’s homes and behavior modification programs — to be licensed by the state Department of Social Services.

As of last year, at least a dozen unlicensed youth residential institutions exist in California, and nationwide, hundreds of similar facilities, serving between 10,000 and 14,000 youths each year, operate, according to the bill.

Stephanie Thai contributed to this report.

Related posts:

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBT community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBT students.