The mental health industry watchdog, Citizens Commission on Human Rights International says a Private Equity Stakeholder Project’s report, “The Kids Are Not Alright: How Private Equity Profits Off of Behavioral Health Services for Vulnerable and At-Risk Youth” is a must-read for regulators. The report vindicates the work of many community groups—CCHR among them—that for years have been exposing the abuse and harm prevalent in behavioral and psychiatric facilities throughout the U.S. and in what has become a $23 billion a year “child abuse” industry.
The Private Equity Stakeholder (PES) Project report, released on 17 February, found investment has continued, reaping massive profits, “despite horrific conditions at some youth behavioral health companies.” The report states: “For-profit youth behavioral health facilities and for-profit foster care have garnered criticism from youth justice and disability rights advocates.” In residential facilities, criticism has included “physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; forced isolation; use of physical and chemical restraints; and squalid living conditions.”
The $23 billion refers to congregate care facilities that include wilderness and boot camps (for youths with behavioral issues), residential treatment programs, centers or facilities (hospitals); “therapeutic” boarding schools (aka “academies”); behavior modification programs; and youth justice facilities.
Jan Eastgate, president of CCHR International, says: “Fueling this is a psychiatric diagnostic system that defines nearly every aspect of childhood as mental disorder, although there are no physical tests that can confirm these. This has led to nefarious labeling of vulnerable children and adolescents that has made the industry a lucrative investment.”
Since 2015, CCHR has filed more than 70,000 complaints to state and federal legislators providing evidence of child abuse uncovered in behavioral hospitals. Media such as Buzzfeed News, NBC News, ABC affiliates, Dallas Morning News, ProPublica, The Chicago Tribune, and more, have done extensive investigative reports.
Since the early nineties, when CCHR began investigating for-profit psychiatric facilities, it identified the lack of oversight, transparency and accountability in child and adolescent psychiatric facilities as problematic. The reports of abuse and neglect “as well as pressure and investigations by state and local governments have led to over a dozen facility closures” in one youth hospital chain.
A catalyst for reform came following the tragic death of Cornelius Frederick, an African American 16-year-old, who was pinned to the ground by staff in one Michigan facility and restrained for having thrown a sandwich in the cafeteria. Two days later, on May 1, 2020, he died. The “horrific video” of Frederick’s death reveals a “culture of fear and abuse,” said Geoffrey Fieger, the lawyer for Frederick’s family.
This death and other abuses in the troubled teen/behavioral industry has generated support from many vectors, including the National Juvenile Justice Network, Paris Hilton and #Breaking Code Silence. Hilton testified before Utah and Oregon legislatures in 2021 in support of bills that now protect children and teens from punitive restraints.
In October, Hilton held a press conference in Washington, DC with Rep. Ro Khanna and Sen. Jeff Merkley where a plan was announced to introduce federal legislation to regulate youth residential treatment centers. The proposed Accountability for Congregate Care Act would address how “The industry’s lack of transparency and quality care has led to youth experiencing maltreatment including sexual assault, physical and medical neglect, and bodily assault that has resulted in civil rights violations, hospitalizations, and death.”
Oregon State Senator Sara Gelser has also been a leader in the campaign for reform, after discovering that Oregon’s Child Welfare Department had increasingly relied on out-of-state facilities such as Sequel to house youth placed in foster care. Gelser was instrumental in putting an end to this.
She spearheaded legislation enacted in 2021 to protect children from brutal restraint use. “Whether or not this is a state or federal responsibility, it is unconscionable that we’ve left this industry unregulated,” she said. “I believe that is criminal, or at least it should be.”
CCHR International’s Model Law Against Restraint Use demands just that: prohibition and criminal culpability for restraint or other child abuse in the troubled teen and child behavioral industry—not just for the psychiatric-behavioral facilities allowing this, but also for those psychiatrists or doctors “prescribing” restraint use and the staff that carry this out, when it leads to physical damage or death.
Eastgate added, “More reports such as those from PES Project are vital to help turn this abusive industry around and to put patient protection before profit. Until then, children are definitely not alright, as the PES Project indicates.”
 “The Kids Are Not Alright: How Private Equity Profits Off of Behavioral Health Services for Vulnerable and At-Risk Youth,” Private Equity Stakeholder Project, 17 Feb. 2022, pestakeholder.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/PESP_Youth_BH_Report_2022.pdf
 Ibid., p. 21
 Kenneth R. Rosen, “Lawmakers, federal investigators target teen facilities billed as therapeutic but accused of abuse,” Youth Today, 18 Feb. 2022, youthtoday.org/2022/02/lawmakers-federal-investigators-target-teen-facilities-billed-as-therapeutic-but-accused-of-abuse/
 Tyler Kincaid, “Video shows fatal restraint of Cornelius Frederick, 16, in Michigan foster facility: Newly released video shows staff members holding the teen down after he threw a sandwich. He died two days later,” NBC News, 7 July 2020, www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/video-shows-fatal-restraint-cornelius-fredericks-16-michigan-foster-facility-n1233122
 Op. cit., Private Equity Stakeholder Project, p. 5
 “Oregon Brings Back All Foster Children Placed Out Of State,” OPB, 30 June 2020, www.opb.org/news/article/oregon-brings-back-all-foster-children-placed-out-of-state/
 Op. cit., Youth Today, 18 Feb. 2022
 “Far from Home, Far from Safe California sent more than 1,000 vulnerable children to out-of-state facilities run by a for-profit company. Reports of rampant abuse followed. Now, confronted with a Chronicle and Imprint investigation, the state is bringing every child home,” San Francisco Chronicle, 11 Dec. 2020, www.sfchronicle.com/projects/2020/california-youth-sequel/
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