Senate Passes Lara Bill Protecting Youth from Abuse at Residential Facilities with Bipartisan Support

June 01, 2015

SACRAMENTO, CA – Today, the California Senate approved Senate Bill 524 by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) which defines private residential facilities for youth and requires them to obtain a license from the Department of Social Services (DSS) to protect youth health and safety. The measure passed with bipartisan support by a vote of 31 to 1.
“Over the past few decades hundreds of facilities have been established nationally for youth with emotional or behavioral problems nationwide and abroad, including camps that claim to scare the gay away or cure homosexuality” said Senator Lara. “Tragically, many young people have experienced horrendous abuse, neglect, and even death at these unregulated institutions. My bill would require private residential facilities to meet basic standards of care and ensure essential health and safety standards are met to protect youth.” 

Since the 1990’s hundreds of residential facilities have been established for youth with emotional or behavioral problems in California and across the country. These institutions are meant to serve as less restrictive treatment options for children with serious emotional or behavioral programs. They operate across the state and provide services in a range of settings, from residential boarding school facilities to military style academies and boot camps. They offer behavioral programs, emotional counseling, drug and alcohol treatment, among other services. 

“No institution should be free to abuse children,” said Dave Garcia, Director of Policy and Community Building at the LA LGBT Center. “This legislation is an important step toward providing common sense supervision, regulation and oversight of an industry that for far too long has been able to operate in the shadows. The Los Angeles LGBT Center, along with The Survivors of Institutional Abuse, are proud partners in this important effort and we will not stop until all youth, whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity, are adequately protected.”

Institutions that receive state funding are required to be licensed by the state. However, children sent by their parents or guardians to participate in private programs have little if any oversight and as such youth do not experience the same protections. A 2008 Government Accountability Office Report found in California, 69 reported cases of abuse, 15 cases of physical abuse, 45 cases of neglect or deprivation of necessities, 2 cases of sexual abuse, and 6 cases of psychological and emotional maltreatment. Often parents and guardians have no idea that the facility they are sending their child to is not held to any standards and does not have any oversight. 

The bill now heads to the Assembly.