Disability Rights South Carolina Statement on Report about Serious Abuse at Congregate Settings for Youth with Disabilities

October 22, 2021


MEDIA CONTACT: Maggie Knowles, [email protected]

Columbia, SC– On October 14th, the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) released a new report that revealed widespread abuse and neglect at for-profit youth residential treatment facilities in 18 states. The report Desperation without Dignity, examines the history of the for-profit residential treatment industry, the private funding structure that fuels it, and discusses alternatives to residential placement that are both nurturing and provide the treatment that children and youth need.  The report recommends specific solutions at the federal, state, and local level.

In South Carolina, incidents similar to those cited in Desperation with Dignity have happened in all types of congregate settings for youth, including private facilities as well as youth in juvenile justice settings. Instead of receiving treatment, rehabilitation, and education, youth with disabilities face inhumane treatment, abuse and neglect. National statistics show that the youth in these settings are largely children with disabilities and disproportionately children of color.  This level of abuse and neglect and the impact on children of color cannot be ignored.

NDRNs report is issued 44 years after the creation of the Protection and Advocacy system, created by Congress to protect and advocate against this exact type of abuse and neglect of people with disabilities.  As the Protection and Advocacy agency for South Carolina, we continue to investigate and monitor to improve conditions for youth with disabilities to ensure access to necessary support and treatment.

The issues highlighted in this report are similar to issues uncovered in South Carolina. There are currently eight for-profit Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities (PRTFs) in South Carolina.  Over the years, Disability Rights South Carolina has received and investigated many complaints about these facilities. Some of these complaints include issues in areas such as excessive use of restraint and seclusion, serious injury during restraint and seclusion, concerning practices implemented in restraints/seclusion (i.e., types of holds), issues with documenting restraints and seclusion, issues with properly reporting serious occurrences, issues with the use of chemical restraints, issues with COVID-19, issues with staffing shortages (lack of supervision), issues with law enforcement involvement at facilities, and issues with general care/treatment of residents at PRTFs.  For more information on the situation in South Carolina the Legislative Audit Council issued a report in 2019 called A Review of Children’s Behavioral Health Services at the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Disability Rights South Carolina strongly supports the recommendations for change outlined in Desperation without Dignity, especially those for the State level, and encourages state agencies engaged in oversight of facilities serving youth to take them into serious consideration.  These recommendations include but are not limited to:

  • A consistent and effective system of state oversight of these facilities to ensure youth are safe and receive the treatment they need.
  • Community-based systems of support must provide a continuum of services to meet the needs of children and youth with disabilities so that out-of-state residential treatment and over-use of residential treatment is eliminated. Effective alternatives to residential treatment exist.
  • Vigorously enforce state licensing requirements
  • Require more and better-quality financial disclosures by for-profit providers (including private equity) provided to state regulators
  • Suspend Medicaid payments to facilities that have a history of abuse and neglect and investigate violations of applicable Conditions of Participation and other regulatory mandates

In addition, Disability Rights South Carolina, supports the new federal legislative initiative announced on October 20, 2021 by Rep. Ro Khanna, Senator Jeff Merkley, and Rep. Adam Schiff with Paris Hilton and other institutional abuse survivors to establish a national bill of rights to protect children placed in congregate care facilities. No child should be subjected to solitary confinement, to inhumane methods of restraint, or to any form of institutional abuse.

Disability Rights South Carolina (DRSC) is the statewide protection and advocacy agency for South Carolina.  DRSC protects and advocates for the legal, civil, and human rights of people with disabilities.

UPDATE November 18, 2021 The Fayetteville Observer has released an investigative series on PRTFs in North Carolina.

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