Content warning: Sexual assault, suicide, and abuse.
Sixty-one members of the U.S. House and Senate from both parties are co-sponsoring legislation called the Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act, which would require more accountability and transparency at youth residential care facilities.
The legislation is championed by socialite and reality TV star Paris Hilton, who says she was abused at a Utah facility, and dozens of advocacy organizations.
Abuse, excessive restraint, forced isolation, suicides and deaths have continued unabated at U.S. homes for troubled teens for decades, despite landmark research in 2008 by the Government Accountability Office, piles of exposes by newspapers and calls for action from dozens of child welfare and advocacy organizations.
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Among high-profile deaths of youth at residential facilities in the past two years:
- 15-year-old Connor Bennett, who took his own life in Alabama in April 2022. His family alleged in a civil lawsuit that staff at a Tuskegee facility then run by Sequel, one of the country’s largest providers, ignored his pleas for help after sexual, emotional and physical abuse.
- 7-year-old Ja’Ceon Terry, who died in July 2022 of asphyxiation after two employees held him in a chokehold for several minutes at Brooklawn, a foster care facility in Louisville, Kentucky. His death was ruled a homicide.
- Taylor Goodridge, a 17-year-old cheerleader and athlete who was sick with a treatable infection. According to extensive media reports, she died from sepsis in December after being told by staff at Diamond Ranch Academy in Utah to "suck it up." The facility has since closed.
In Iowa, nearly 80 complaints over three years were made to the local sheriff about beatings of youth, sex between residents and staff, and ignored pleas for medical attention at Midwest Academy in Keokuk before state and federal agents raided the tough-love boarding school and shut it down in 2016.
Reports of excessive restraint use, assaults and forcible rape also preceded the closing of Sequel's flagship, Clarinda Academy, in southwest Iowa in 2021.
In addition, the Eldora Boys State Training School, sued by advocacy groups over the treatment of residents, has operated under court-ordered supervision after being told three years ago to stop using harsh discipline methods, including a physical restraining device, on juvenile delinquents. A judge characterized its use as "torture."
Iowa closed a similar state home for female juveniles a decade ago after paying settlements in lawsuits over its use of long-term isolation.