The decision to place a child in a residential treatment facility is rarely an easy one. Parents and caregivers who turn to residential treatment facilities often do so as a last resort, but they do it with the child’s best interests at heart. Typically, they have already tried to get their child or loved one assistance through outpatient programs. While these treatment programs are often successful, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when a child or adolescent is dealing with a severe mental health disorder or behavioral issues such as criminal acts or substance abuse. In those situations, a residential treatment center may be the best – or only – option.
However, despite what may be stated in the brochures, not all residential treatment centers for children and adolescents are created equal. This is especially true when the facility is one for juvenile delinquents. According to an article by the New York-based non-profit organization ProPublica, there are few federal or state requirements for residential programs involving children, and little oversight. In fact, the federal government does not track allegations of neglect or abuse or maintain a comprehensive database of all programs.
Regardless of the reasons behind a parent or caregiver’s decision to turn to a residential treatment facility for their child or loved one, they do so with good intentions and place their trust in the facility. At best, they are hoping that the child or adolescent they place in the facility’s care will receive the treatment needed in order to heal and be able to return home. At the very least, these parents and caregivers are expecting that their loved one will receive basic care and attention.
Tragically that is not always the case. Some children and adolescents are abused, either physically or sexually – or both, by the very people entrusted with their care. Others face neglect, which at times can be so serious that it can have lifelong or even deadly consequences.
If you have entrusted your child or loved one to the care of a residential treatment facility, it is vital that you know the type of behavior that constitutes neglect of a juvenile. You should also be familiar with the signs of neglect so that you know what to look for in case your child does not, or cannot, tell you what is happening. If your child has been a victim of neglect while in the care of a residential treatment facility – or if you suspect that they have been neglected – you must speak with a child injury attorney.
What are some examples of neglect in a juvenile residential treatment facility?
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classify child neglect as “the failure to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs.” According to the CDC, a child’s basic needs include:
- Access to medical care
When a child is living at a residential treatment center, they depend on the staff to provide for their basic needs. However, not all facilities meet the CDC’s requirements for providing a basic level of care. Instead, some neglect children by failing to provide:
- A clean, safe place to sleep. Every child must have their own bed with clean and adequate bedding. This means that your child is not forced to share a bed with any other resident due to overcrowding or lack of space; their sheets, pillow, and blankets are washed regularly; and they have blankets that are appropriate for the weather (i.e., warm enough during winter months). Additionally, the room in which your child sleeps is kept at an appropriate temperature depending on the season. It also means that your child does not have to fear bedtime, as they know they will not be assaulted by other residents or staff.
- Nutritious food. Children and adolescents require enough healthy food to fuel their growing bodies and minds. However, some residential treatment facilities do not provide balanced meals. Others may limit a child’s access to food, leaving the child hungry. Still others neglect to adhere to a child’s dietary restrictions, such as food allergies or restrictions related to religion.
- Appropriate clothing. If your child is in a juvenile detention center, he or she may be required to wear a uniform. That uniform should be cleaned regularly, fit your child, and be appropriate for his or her age. Children and adolescents living in residential treatment facilities may be permitted to wear their own clothing, but the facility may be responsible for providing regular laundering. In either living situation, children who may be suicidal should not have access to any articles of clothing such as belts or laces that may present a danger. If the facility fails to do so and your child is harmed, the facility may be liable for neglect.
- Access to education. Children living in residential treatment facilities such as juvenile detention centers are still entitled to an education. If the treatment facility fails to provide that education – or interferes with your child’s access to schooling – it is neglecting one of your child’s basic needs.
- Necessary medical care. There are numerous opportunities for the staff at residential treatment facilities to neglect a child’s medical, dental, or psychological care. This includes failing to provide prescribed medications according to the required schedule or administering the wrong medication or dose. In addition to providing improper medical care for existing health issues, staff may also be neglectful if they ignore a child’s symptoms or pleas for help, or if they fail to report signs of illness to appropriate medical staff such as nurses or doctors.
Moreover, when living in a residential treatment facility, it is vital that your child receives the appropriate level of supervision for his or her age and needs. A facility whose staff fail to provide adequate supervision may be guilty of neglect. That lack of supervision can lead to avoidable accidents and injuries.
Is ignoring a child’s social and emotional needs a form of neglect?
In some instances, yes. While it depends on each child’s specific needs, isolating or otherwise cutting children off from social interactions may be considered a form of neglect.
What are some signs my child is being neglected?
If your child is in a residential treatment center, it is important that you are alert to possible signs of neglect or abuse. However, these signs may not be obvious, and your child may not tell you everything that is happening. In fact, he or she may not even be aware that the treatment they are currently receiving or received is considered neglectful. According to the Mayo Clinic, some common signs of neglect in children and adolescents include poor hygiene and noticeable fluctuations in weight. However, these may be difficult to observe if your child is living in a residential treatment center.
For children who are or have been living in a residential treatment facility, it is important to look for other signs as well. These could include changes in behavior or personality not related to treatment, unhealthy sleep patterns, nightmares, changes in appetite, and academic changes such as skipping classes, failing to complete or submit work, or performing poorly in classes the child previously enjoyed. Additionally, a child whose medical needs are not being met – for instance because he or she is not receiving required medication or treatments – may show signs of worsening health rather then improvement.
It is also worth noting that some signs of neglect may overlap with signs that your child is being neglected in a residential treatment facility. Those signs may include:
- Attempts to run away from the facility
- Calls between you and your child are monitored
- Changes in your child’s behavior, like anger, hostility, or depression
- Injuries that don’t match the given explanation
- The facility doesn’t allow you or other family members to visit
- The facility encourages you not to believe allegations of abuse
- The facility does not contact you immediately when your child is injured or sick
- Unexplained injuries, like bruises, cuts, or fractured bones
- Unusual health complaints, like sudden headaches or stomachaches
Ultimately, the signs of neglect may vary based on the individual child and his or her specific circumstances. Parents and caregivers should trust their instincts if they suspect neglect and ask open-ended questions to help the child open up and share more about their experience in the facility. It is also important to consult an attorney who has experience handling child injury cases – particularly those related to neglect and abuse in residential treatment facilities.
Why are children neglected in juvenile residential treatment facilities?
There are many reasons why neglect occurs, but often it is the result of mismanagement. This includes facilities where the staff is stretched thin due to understaffing. It also includes poor hiring practices, such as hiring unqualified staff because the facility fails to do its due diligence and complete a proper background check on job applicants. It is also not uncommon for residential treatment facilities to provide employees with inadequate training – or no training at all.
Any of these practices on the part of a residential treatment facility may create a neglectful environment that leaves children and adolescents at serious risk of experiencing physical, mental, or emotional harm. If your child or loved one suffered neglect in a residential treatment facility, the consequences can be long lasting and leave him or her with physical, mental, and emotional scars.
The South Carolina personal injury lawyers at McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips, LLC have experience handling child injuries, including those involving abuse or neglect in residential treatment facilities. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with a South Carolina child injury attorney. You can reach us by calling us at 803-327-7800 or by completing our contact form.
Randy is the former President of the South Carolina Association for Justice. He has been certified by the American Board of Professional Liability as a specialist in Medical Malpractice Law which is recognized by the South Carolina Bar. Randy has also been awarded the distinction of being a “Super Lawyer” 10 times in the last decade. He has over 25 years of experience helping injured people fight back against corporations, hospitals and wrong-doers.
Read more about S. Randall Hood