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October 26, 2021Advocacy Matters

Serious Abuse and Neglect of Youth with Disabilities in Congregate Settings

Disability Matters with Joyce Bender

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

#AdvocacyMatters Segment

Serious Abuse and Neglect of Youth with Disabilities in Congregate Settings


Last week, Paris Hilton, along with key members of Congress, spoke out about the serious abuse and neglect of youth with disabilities who are sent to youth residential treatment facilities.

This press conference followed the October 14 release of the National Disability Rights Network Report Desperation without Dignity that revealed widespread abuse and neglect at for-profit youth residential treatment facilities in 18 states. The report examines the history of the for-profit residential treatment industry, the private funding structure that fuels it, and discusses alternatives to residential placement that are both nurturing and provide the treatment that children and youth need. The report recommends specific solutions at the federal, state, and local levels.

In Pennsylvania, incidents like those cited in the press conference and in Desperation with Dignity have happened in all types of congregate settings for youth, including non-profit and state-operated facilities as well as youth in juvenile justice settings. Instead of receiving treatment, rehabilitation, and education, youth with disabilities have faced inhumane treatment, abuse, and neglect.

Disability Rights Pennsylvania has previously filed litigation to improve conditions in our state. Disability Rights Pennsylvania v. Pennsylvania Department of Human Services was filed in April 2019 on behalf of youth with disabilities at three state-operated youth development centers. The litigation alleges that staff at those centers abusively retained youth with disabilities, often because of their disabilities; verbally abused and harassed residents based on their disabilities; and failed to provide residents with appropriate programs, services, and rehabilitation. S.R. v. Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, filed in 2017, alleges the Department of Human Services violates federal law by failing to provide children with mental health disabilities in the foster care system with medically necessary behavioral health services in the most integrated settings.


We urge your listeners to read the report and support the recommendations for change outlined in Desperation without Dignity. These recommendations include:

A consistent and effective system of state oversight of these facilities to ensure youth are safe and receive the treatment they need.

Community-based systems of support must provide a continuum of services to meet the needs of children and youth with disabilities so that out-of-state residential treatment and over-use of residential treatment is eliminated.

Congress should pass legislation to ensure sufficient financing for community-based placements for youth in the Medicaid program.



National Disability Rights Network Report Desperation without Dignity


NBC News Coverage of Paris Hilton Press Conference