Lawmakers, survivors team up to improve juvenile treatment facilities

Maryland

WASHINGTON (WDVM) — Allegations of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse of juveniles at residential facilities across the nation lead lawmakers and survivors to Capitol Hill this week to announce the Accountability for Congregate Care Act.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Or.) says abuse at these facilities has flown under the radar for far too long.

“Congregate care without oversight becomes congregate abuse, and that’s what we discover all too often when we look into the system,” said Merkley in a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol.

The act would establish a ‘bill of rights’ for kids and teens living in residential facilities, provide funding to allow for reporting and tracking of institutional abuse, and include training for state officials and mental health professionals on best practices.

Survivors are speaking up too: Paris Hilton stood with lawmakers to recount the abuse she faced during her time in these facilities as a teen.

“I was strangled, slapped across the face, watched in the shower by male staff, called vulgar names, forced to take medication without a diagnosis, not given a proper education,” said Hilton.

It’s happened in our own backyard, too. Back in 2019, three staffers at The Jefferson School in Frederick County, Maryland were arrested on abuse charges and later convicted of those crimes. The day school and residential treatment center ended up shutting its doors a year ago.

Democrats are hoping to gain Republican support for this bill, saying it’ll make an impact in the lives of over 120,000 American children who find themselves placed in these kinds of facilities each year.

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