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October 18, 2021Statement

Statement on Report about Serious Abuse at Congregate Settings for Youth with Disabilities 

For Immediate Release


Monday, October 18, 2021

Contact: Peri Jude Radecic  (412) 770-8463


Disability Rights Pennsylvania Statement on Report about Serious Abuse at Congregate Settings for Youth with Disabilities

Harrisburg, PA–  On October 14th, the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) released a new report that revealed widespread abuse and neglect at for-profit youth residential treatment facilities in 18 states. The report Desperation without Dignity, 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 level.

In Pennsylvania, incidents similar to those cited 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 face inhumane treatment, abuse and neglect. National statistics show that the youth in these settings are largely children with disabilities and disproportionately children of color.  This level of abuse and neglect and the impact on children of color cannot be ignored.

This report is issued 44 years after the creation of the Protection and Advocacy system, created by Congress to protect and advocate against this exact type of abuse and neglect of people with disabilities.  As the Protection and Advocacy agency for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we continue to investigate, monitor, and litigate to improve conditions for youth with disabilities to ensure access to necessary support and treatment.

The issues highlighted in this report are similar to issues uncovered in Pennsylvania, and 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 restrain resident youth with disabilities, often because of their disabilities; verbally abuse and harass residents based on their disabilities; and fail to provide residents with appropriate programs, services, and rehabilitation. S.R. v. Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, filed in 2017, alleges that 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 setting.

Disability Rights Pennsylvania supports 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 Pennsylvania 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. Effective alternatives to residential treatment exist.
  • Congress should pass legislation to ensure sufficient financing for community-based placements for youth in the Medicaid program.
  • The federal government should create a dedicated funding stream to allow Disability Rights Pennsylvania, and other Protection and Advocacy agencies, to address the need for independent, knowledgeable, and thorough monitoring and investigations of the care and treatment provided by congregate facilities.

Disability Rights Pennsylvania (DRP) is the statewide protection and advocacy agency for Pennsylvanians with disabilities.  DRP protects and advocates for the rights of people with disabilities so that they may live the lives they choose, free from abuse, neglect, discrimination, and segregation.  DRP’s vision is a Commonwealth where people of all abilities are equal and free.

Read the report here.