Residential Treatment Programs: Concerns Regarding Abuse and Death in Certain Programs for Troubled Youth

Residential treatment programs operating as wilderness therapy programs, boot camps and academies cite positive outcomes, but there have been numerous allegations regarding the abuse and death of youth enrolled in such programs, particularly private ones. In response, the GAO conducted numerous interviews and examined documents from closed cases dating as far back as 1990. It found thousands of allegations of abuse, some of which involved death. During 2005 alone, 33 states reported 1,619 staff members involved in incidents of abuse in residential programs.

GAO’s examination of 10 cases found significant evidence that program leaders neglected the needs of participants and staff, compounding the negative consequences of hiring untrained staff; a lack of adequate nourishment; and reckless or negligent operating practices, including a lack of adequate equipment.

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