Leaders of the Los Angeles LGBT Center are celebrating after Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 30 signed a bill that will regulate private residential programs that claim to help “troubled youth.”
The bill, SB 524, was authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Los Angeles) and requires boarding schools, camps and other organizations claiming to provide services for troubled youth to register with the California Department of Social Services. The department will also be required to conduct regular checks to ensure participants are not being abused.
“[This] is a victory for the protection of our children,” Lara said. “Many facilities or camps that claim to help children are causing irreparable harm. With this bill we will provide oversight for these facilities to ensure that no child is the victim of psychological or physical abuse at the hands of adults they are told to trust.”
Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center said she was “elated” about the governor signing the bill into law. It was signed on the last day before the deadline for the governor to enact new legislation in 2016.
“This was one of the last ones and I was getting nervous,” Jean said. “In some respects, this was the most personal to me. When I think about these kids being sent to these camps, it just felt so cruel.”
Jodi Hobbs, founder of the nonprofit Survivors of Institutional Abuse, worked with the Los Angeles LGBT Center and Lara on the bill. At age 17, Hobbs was sent by her mother to the Victory Christian Academy in San Diego, and learned first-hand about the tactics some residential programs use against young people in their care. Hobbs said because her mother had remarried, Hobbs was “acting out,” which prompted her mother to send her to the academy.
“My parents tricked me into going there. It was a religious therapeutic boarding school that had off-the-wall disciplinary methods,” Hobbs said. “The ‘get right room’ was a locked closet. They actually put you in the closet. They used isolation, sleep deprivation and extreme physical activity.”
Hobbs, who is heterosexual, was at the Victory Christian Academy from 1989 to 1990 until she turned 18. The experience made her feel like she had done something wrong, and she carried the guilt for years.
“When I left the place, they had transformed me,” Hobbs said. “[I found out later] that it was not the only type of place like this. The more I understood, the more I was able to heal.”
The Victory Christian Academy was closed in the early 1990s after authorities accused the staff of abusing children in their care. In 2010, Hobbs joined other residents of the academy and formed Survivors of Institutional Abuse to advocate for victims of the so-called troubled youth centers. Hobbs said after nearly 20 years, she reunited and repaired her relationship with her mother.
Jean praised Brown for signing the bill and said she hopes it becomes a model for other states.
“Governor Jerry Brown became a hero to thousands of endangered youth – especially LGBT youth – when he signed a landmark bill that will save them from harm and even death,” Jean said. “These programs can no longer shut down in one California city, after reports of abuse surface, and open in another California town to continue their abuse under a new name. No longer can these programs, many of which claim to be Christian-based, hide behind their cross, asserting religious exemption to continue torturing LGBT youth they claim they can ‘cure.’ Thanks to the actions of our state legislature and our governor, LGBT youth – and youth throughout the state – are protected from the abuses of this industry.”
It is estimated that there are 20 to 30 companies or organizations in California that offer services for troubled youth. Federal legislators are also working on laws that will expand regulations nationwide. In July 2015, U.S. Congress members Adam Schiff (D- Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) introduced HR 3060 – the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Treatment Programs for Teens Act. The law is still making its way through Congress.
“Federal legislation is still necessary to reform the ‘troubled teen industry’ and ensure that abusive programs that shut down in one state cannot reopen in another under a different name,” Schiff said. “This is why I am proud to lead a bi-partisan effort in Congress to regulate these programs nationwide and I will continue to push this issue at the federal level.”
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