The Reality of Residential Treatment

Written By:

Brianna Vanderstelt

Publishing Date: 

November 19, 2022

As defined by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, residential treatment centers offer intensive care for youth with severe emotional and behavioral problems while being housed in a supervised facility away from home. The types of services offered can vary from location to location, though across the board they are advertised to offer therapeutic care to residents in a safe and secure environment. However, a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) cited thousands of instances of abuse and even death in residential treatment centers across the country. Despite the disturbing findings, no legislative action was taken. In hopes of stoking the flames, previous residents of these facilities have stepped forward to share their stories, shedding light on the questionable practices and the lasting trauma that the troubled-teen industry has benefitted from for decades.


Brighter Path Tuskegee is a residential facility in Alabama specializing in caring for young men aged 12 to 18. Brighter Path prides itself on the healing of children and their families, promising a safe space for growing, learning, and building pro-social relationships. However, an NBC News report shares that Connor Bennett’s stay at the facility reflected something different. During 15-year-old Bennett’s residency, he was the witness and victim of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse from other residents. His reports to staff and authorities, who are trained and certified professionals, were ignored. Unable to go home, neglected by staff, and continually abused by those around him, Bennett’s mental health deteriorated and his six-month-stay culminated in his suicide.  Another NBC News report states that Brighter Path has a history of abuse and negligence ranging from unsanitary environments such as feces staining the walls and floors, physical abuse by the staff, and the denial of medical care.


Sadly, Connor Bennett’s story is not an uncommon one. Trinity Teen Solutions is another residential program located in Wyoming that has a long-standing history of maltreatment.  It is said to be a christian-based program for young girls aged 12 to 17 that aims to enrich the mind, body, and soul. However, past residents have come forward with horrifying claims, stating they were used for free labor, forced to work long grueling hours across the 160-acre ranch, and given cruel punishments. NBC News reports that one punishment involved restricting their food intake to a can of olives and beans. Injuries were often dismissed with the exception of open wounds. Young girls were forced to carry heavy irrigation pipes and bales of hay, build barbed wire fences, and even drag dead animal carcasses. A past resident discloses that he was once branded as punishment, leaving him with a permanent scar in the shape of a cross. Any communication with home was heavily supervised and censored. Letters that made reference to anything that wasn’t “fun” or positive were ripped up and thrown away. The facility has also sued three former residents for defamation after they posted negative reviews online. The investigation also cited one former resident who had a diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which weakens the tendons and ligaments. She was at the facility for five months before she needed surgery to address the pain and injuries sustained due to the staff’s dismissal of her diagnosis.


The sad reality is that these facilities, while designed and promised to be a safe and healthy place for young individuals to heal and grow, are often not what they seem. Paris Hilton, a high-standing celebrity, was also a victim of this industry. During an interview with Good Morning America, Hilton came out with her own experiences at a treatment center located in Utah, describing it as the “most painful and traumatic experience” of her life. During her time at this facility, she was physically abused and even watched by male staff while she showered. Her experience has left her with lasting psychological effects and PTSD. Her experience is the catalyst for her work as an advocate for youth affected by these residential facilities. Fighting for tangible change, Hilton has partnered with Breaking Code Silence, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness of the industry that currently uses $23 billion in public funding. Their recent battle involved the Accountability for Congregate Care Act, which aims to hold these residential facilities accountable and protect the youth from the horrors that many have experienced and continue to experience. For those interested in learning more, the website offers links for donating, volunteering, interning, and more information on the cause.


Sources

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). (2017, September). Residential Treatment Programs. Residential treatment programs. Retrieved September 19, 2022, from https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Residential-Treatment-Programs-097.aspx


Breaking Code Silence. (2022, August 26). Breaking Code Silence: Prevent. Empower. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.breakingcodesilence.org/

Brighter Path. (n.d.). Brighter Path Tuskegee. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://brighterpathtuskegee.com/


Hartung, K., Said, S., Messer, L., Riegle, A., & Dukakis, A. (2021, October 20). Paris hilton discusses 'painful and traumatic' time at Youth Treatment Center. Good Morning America. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/culture/story/paris-hilton-discusses-painful-traumatic-time-youth-treatment-80652146


Kingkade, T. (2022, September 7). Teens were sent to the ranches for therapy. they say they found a nightmare of hard labor and humiliation. NBCNews.com. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/wyoming-christian-troubled-teen-ranches-abuse-rcna46112


Rappleye H., Kingkade, T., Snow, K. (2020, December 16). A profitable 'death trap': Sequel youth facilities raked in millions while accused of abusing children. NBCNews.com. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/profitable-death-trap-sequel-youth-facilities-raked-millions-while-accused-n1251319


Siemaszko, C. (2022, September 1). Mom sues Alabama Youth Facility, sequel TSI, where son died by suicide to escape 'Living hell'. NBCNews.com. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/mom-sues-alabama-youth-facilty-sequel-tsi-son-died-suicide-escape-livi-rcna45729


Trinity Teen solutions. (n.d.). Residential treatment center for troubled girls. Trinity Teen Solutions. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.trinityteensolutions.com/

U.S. Government Accountability Office. (2008, April 24). Residential Programs: Selected Cases of death, abuse, and deceptive marketing. U.S. GAO. Retrieved October 11, 2022, from https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-08-713t