Residential Programs: Selected Cases of Death, Abuse, and Deceptive Marketing
In October 2007, GAO testified before the Committee regarding allegations of abuse and death in private residential programs across the country such as wilderness therapy programs, boot camps, and boarding schools. GAO also examined selected closed cases where a youth died while enrolled in one of these private programs. Many cite positive outcomes associated with specific types of residential programs. However, due to continuing concerns about the safety and well-being of youth enrolled in private programs, the Committee requested that GAO (1) identify and examine the facts and circumstances surrounding additional closed cases where a teenager died, was abused, or both, while enrolled in a private program; and (2) identify cases of deceptive marketing or questionable practices in the private residential program industry. To develop case studies of death and abuse, GAO conducted numerous interviews and examined documents from eight closed cases from 1994 to 2006. GAO used covert testing along with other investigative techniques to identify, for selected cases, deceptive marketing or questionable practices. Specifically, posing as fictitious parents with fictitious troubled teenagers, GAO called 14 programs and related services. GAO did not attempt to evaluate the benefits of private residential programs and its results cannot be projected beyond the specific programs and services that GAO reviewed.