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Abusive Practices and Programs?
A Youthwork Response

Recently several programs for youth have been under investigation or shut down because of alleged abusive practices. This page expresses one opinion about abusive practices and invites response.

Ethics of Child and Youth Care Professionals developed by North American Child and Youth Care states that (A youthworker) "Does not participate in practices that are disrespectful, degrading, dangerous, exploitive intimidating, psychologically damaging, or physically harmful to clients." Do all youthworkers agree that youth should not be damaged or harmed by anything we do for or with them? I hope so, yet there is a growing awareness of programs which are inflicting physical and psychological pain in the guise of dealing with "out of control behavior".

Dangerous and abusive practices can occur in any program. Deadly Restraint, (article now only available for a fee) an investigative report by the Hartford Courant (CT US) documents deaths resulting from excessive or inappropriate restraint or seclusion in adult and youth residential facilities throughout the US.

I am aware of the testimonials from young people and their parents about the help they have received at schools for "out of control" teens and I do not mean to condemn all residential programs. However, I do think that individually and as a profession, we need to be informed of the "treatment approach" being used in programs which serve youth and we need to speak out against programs which ignore the rights of youth to self determination and a safe environment.

Speaking out may take a variety of forms. For example, I recently became sensitized to this issue when a visitor to Youthwork Links and Ideas informed me of a link on the site to an umbrella site for Teen Help, Adolescent Services International, and World Wide Association of Specialty Programs. I removed the link and created this site because, in my opinion, these types of programs cross the line from responsible intervention to violations of youth rights. IntrepidNet Reporter will give you some eye-opening insights into these programs. Many thanks to the visitor who brought this to my attention!

The definition of abuse in specific situations is debated by both professionals and the public. Consider the following questions, I have given my answers in italics and I invite your response:

Personal Experience

Although I have no personal experience with extreme behavior modification programs, I have been associated with several residential programs whose staff are skilled at forming relationships with youth, avoiding power struggles and resolving conflicts. The incidences of violence or out of control behavior in these programs is minimal. I have also seen the staff in some of these programs receive training in physical restraint and, immediately following the training, restraint becomes the intervention of choice in too many situations. This has happened despite the fact that these have been excellent training programs which spend a lot of time teaching techniques to avoid the need for restraint.

I think this "leap to restraint" is a result of our natural human tendency to skip to the last step in the process, whatever the process is, because it promises quick results without the uncertainty and hard work of going through the steps of building human relationships. I believe this tendency can be overcome by remaining grounded in your own beliefs about youth rights, by staying up to date on models and techniques which work and which respect individual choice, and by maintaining strong relationships with positive peers and supervisors who can help you maintain perspective on what is happening with you and with the youth you are serving.

Please post your views on the message board or click Subscribe to join the Youthwork Links and Ideas email list. After clicking "subscribe", click on send in the email window that pops up.

For more information visit the sites below

Abusive Practices Youth Rights
Specialty Schools For Defiant Teens
Too-tough love? Child Rights Information Network
The Use of Restraints and Seclusion in Residential Care Facilities for Children YouthSpeak


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