CA SB 524: New "Regulations" of "Troubled Teen" Programs in CA Will Not Stop Institutional Abuse
by Angela Smith, HEAL Coordinator
There are many problems with SB 524 that Governor Jerry Brown of California just made law. It is these problems that HEAL raised with individuals working on this legislation during the entire process. HEAL did not support the bill as written because it provided only lip service to the issues raised by victim's groups and did not effectively address the problem. It is HEAL's concern that this legislation will have the effect of convincing Californians that this problem has been solved while institutional abuse and fraud are still rampant in the state.
The first huge problem is that parents and institutions can prohibit or agree to prohibit, censor, and monitor a youth's communication without a court order. Preventing an abused youth from communicating abuse to the authorities or their parents is a serious problem and one of the primary problems our movement has identified in both reporting abuse in a timely fashion and getting justice for victims. SB 524 states:
[Youths have the right] "To consent to have visitors or telephone calls during reasonable hours, privately and without prior notice, if the visitors or telephone calls do not disrupt planned activities and are not prohibited by court order or by the youth’s parent or legal guardian." (Source: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billCompareClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB524 )
Now, anyone with half a brain who had been working on this issue for years would tell you that this is a significant problem and one of the main issues our movement has called to address for decades. Now, we have it encoded in to California law that kids can be held in facilities incommunicado without a court order. That's really bad.
Facilities that are not covered by this legislation include group homes, residential treatment centers, and other facilities approved by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice, or any Juvenile Hall operated by a county. Additional facilities not covered by this legislation include health facilities, clinics, any place where a juvenile is judicially placed pursuant to the Welfare and Institutions Code, and Any facility conducted by and for the adherents of any well-recognized church or religious denomination for the purpose of providing facilities for the care or treatment of the sick who depend solely upon prayer or spiritual means for healing in the practice of the religion of the church or denomination. (Source: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billCompareClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB524 )
But, that's not all. There are more facilities that are not covered by this legislation that include any school or dormitory or similar facility except a private alternative boarding school or private alternative wilderness program as defined in the legislation. Recovery houses and alcohol and drug treatment facilities are not covered by this legislation.
Here's how the bill defines private alternative boarding schools and wilderness programs:
"“Private alternative boarding school” means a group home licensed by the department to operate a program pursuant to Section 1502.2 to provide youth with 24-hour residential care and supervision, which, in addition to providing educational services to youth, provides, or holds itself out as providing, behavioral-based services to youth with social, emotional, or behavioral issues. The care and supervision provided by a private alternative boarding school shall be nonmedical, except as otherwise permitted by law."
"“Private alternative outdoor program” means a group home licensed by the department to operate a program pursuant to Section 1502.21 to provide youth with 24-hour residential care and supervision, which provides, or holds itself out as providing, behavioral-based services in an outdoor living setting to youth with social, emotional, or behavioral issues. The care and supervision provided by a private alternative outdoor program shall be nonmedical, except as otherwise permitted by law." (Source: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billCompareClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB524 )
Beyond that, the initial language identifying staff of private alternative boarding schools and wilderness programs as mandated reporters has been stricken from the final bill. That makes it unlikely that staff will report abuse they witness because they do not have the protections against retaliation by their employers afforded to mandated reporters by law in California.
This bill is a lie. It is a fraud. It is lip service masquerading as legislation while providing no significant regulations. In addition, the exemption of faith-based and any and all facilities that do not meet the narrow definition provided for alternative boarding schools and wilderness programs are not covered by the legislation. It is a hoax to trick victims and the public into believing something significant has been achieved where it has not.
It is similar to the lie California legislators pulled by claiming to pass the bill to outlaw reparative/conversion therapy on LGBT youth. SB 1172 was celebrated around the country and in California where it was signed into law as a ban on conversion/reparative therapy also known as "pray away the gay". But, did you know that law only applies to licensed mental health professionals and not churches nor faith-based services that are the primary culprits when it comes to conversion and reparative "therapy" scams? Yes, LBGT people all hailed SB 1172, but, didn't read the fine print. This is just like SB 524 now. People believe a problem has been solved, when in reality lip service was paid to the issue in the form of impotent legislation that tells the public all has been resolved while nothing actually has been resolved. Here is what SB 1172 says:
"Existing law provides for licensing and regulation of various professions in the healing arts, including physicians and surgeons, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, educational psychologists, clinical social workers, and licensed professional clinical counselors.
This bill would prohibit a mental health provider, as defined, from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts, as defined, with a patient under 18 years of age. The bill would provide that any sexual orientation change efforts attempted on a patient under 18 years of age by a mental health provider shall be considered unprofessional conduct and shall subject the provider to discipline by the provider’s licensing entity." (Source: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billVersionsCompareClient.xhtml?bill_id=201120120SB1172 )
So, while all facilities that do not fall under the specific definition of covered programs in SB 524 or are otherwise exempt continue to abuse kids with no worries, the few that actually meet the specified criteria don't have to worry because kids will be held incommunicado and staff will be scared to blow the whistle in fear of retaliation from their employers because they were not defined as mandated reporters in this legislation. (Source: http://www.maineemploymentlawyerblog.com/2014/09/u-s-district-court-holds-company-may-lawfully-retaliate-employees-report-abuse-clients-dhhs.html)
This is what happens when you let fame, fortune, and notoriety override common sense and good judgment in advocacy and activism. SB 524 is garbage and those selling it to us do not deserve our support nor our votes.
Author's Note: I would personally suggest all survivors of programs that are approved and paid for through social services, IEPs, and other state-sponsored placements (including foster care) write anyone and everyone who is saying this legislation solves the problem about how in your circumstance, not a damn thing would have changed even if this had been law during your enrollment.