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

GAO-08-146T Published: Oct 10, 2007. Publicly Released: Oct 10, 2007.
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Residential treatment programs provide a range of services, including drug and alcohol treatment, confidence building, military-style discipline, and psychological counseling for troubled boys and girls with a variety of addiction, behavioral, and emotional problems. This testimony concerns programs across the country referring to themselves as wilderness therapy programs, boot camps, and academies, among other names. Many cite positive outcomes associated with specific types of residential treatment. There are also allegations regarding the abuse and death of youth enrolled in residential treatment programs. Given concerns about these allegations, particularly in reference to private programs, the Committee asked the General Accountability Office (GAO) to (1) verify whether allegations of abuse and death at residential treatment programs are widespread and (2) examine the facts and circumstances surrounding selected closed cases where a teenager died while enrolled in a private program. To achieve these objectives, GAO conducted numerous interviews and examined documents from closed cases dating as far back as 1990, including police reports, autopsy reports, and state agency oversight reviews and investigations. GAO did not attempt to evaluate the benefits of residential treatment programs or verify the facts regarding the thousands of allegations it reviewed.

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Child abuseCrime victimsCriminal liabilityData collectionMental health care servicesProgram evaluationProgram managementRegulationReporting requirementsSafety regulationState-administered programsTeenagersProgram implementationSocial programs