Congressman Millers Hearing
Congressman Miller's hearing on October 10, 2007, was among other things, the start of a national government push to impose itself into the decision of where a struggling teen should be placed when residential placement is needed.
Federal Legislation of Residential Treatment
Traditionally, the decision of where to place a struggling teen needing residential treatment has primarily been the parents' prerogative. Court decisions have consistently upheld this right and responsibility of parents. The network of private residential parent-choice schools and programs we work in is based on this right and responsibility. The parents hire us, either as consultants or as programs, and we are pledged to do what is right for the children and their families. If the right and responsibility are ever taken away from parents, then our network would either disappear or be radically changed so as to look more like the current publicly funded and regulated schools and programs. Parents would no longer have say in their children's placement and must accept what public officials decide regarding any residential placement. This radical change is unlikely in the foreseeable future, but once legislation is passed into law, it tends to expand its scope and authority over time.
Parent Choice over Federal Legislation
Unfortunately, some parents either refuse to take on this responsibility when their child is having problems, or are unable to due to death, limited finances, crisis in the family, lack of sense of responsibility, etc. As a consequence over the years, all of the states have established several institutions to provide residential care for children with problems through several different agencies when the parents are unable or unwilling to place their children. For these good reasons, the right and responsibility of parents to choose residential programs are no longer absolute. This is now shared between States and the parents with some national government involvement through public institutions in a complicated mixture. At this point direct federal involvement in the private parent-choice network is virtually non-existent. It is the parent's responsibility to choose within the range of schools and programs allowed to operate by the States.
Congressman Miller and Federal Legislation
It is this status that Congressman Miller seems to want to change and to bring the national government into the mix by introducing some kind of national government jurisdiction over the private parent-choice network of school, programs and supporting professionals. If he is successful, the parent's ability to choose will be subtly restricted by having to share this responsibility with the federal government as well as with the several States.
Federal Regulations over Parents right to choose
This is not necessarily a bad thing! If the legislation that comes out of Congress is wise, if the regulations that are written pursuant to the legislation are sensible and true to the intent of the legislation, if the civil servants hired to administer the regulations are sensitive to the needs of parents, children and parent-choice schools and programs, and if they are effective and do their jobs, then national legislation would be good. One result would be that parents could have less chance of being preyed upon by irresponsible and incompetent private programs.
Federal Legislation versus State Regulations
Another possible good that could come out of national legislation might be a restriction on those States that harass private parent-choice schools and programs. That is, States that empire-build by refusing licenses or positive reviews to programs that take only private pay adolescents and are not interested in enrolling State kids. I have heard stories of this empire-building for years, and State empire-building and hostility to private parent-choice schools and programs is one of the reasons there are so few private choices in some States. For an example that happened in Washington State, see "What Happened at Skyland Ranch
" in my online archives.
Federal Legislation on Residential Treatment restrictions
Faith that Congress will get it right and come up with wise legislation that enhances parents' ability to make better choices on placement of their children when needed is very optimistic; some would call it Pollyannaish. An optimistic view depends on a faith that Washington DC will provide better decisions through relying on the "best and the brightest" to make decisions. A look at the track record of Congress is enlightening.
Federal Legislation on HIPAA
One example is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) passed by Congress in 1996. Among other things, the problem Congress was trying to fix was to ensure privacy of medical records consistent with competent health care. Every health professional I have talked with, off the record, is either dubious of how it has helped or asserts that the legislation made the problem worse, partly from the vast amounts of additional paperwork and reporting required from healthcare organizations. From the (off-the-record) comments of health professionals that have to deal with this law, it sure doesn't sound like Congress got it right.
Federal Legislation on NCLB
Another example is the 2001 Reauthorization of the Elementary & Secondary Education Act, commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This legislation is currently the primary consideration of Congressman Miller's House Committee as it is due for reauthorization this year. It seems nobody is happy with this legislation, with the possible exception of the national Department of Education. Criticisms range from claims it undermines real education by forcing teachers to "teach to the test," to being grossly under funded by the national government, to claims it is an excessive intrusion by the national government into a traditionally state-local government and parent responsibility. From the sound and fury over this legislation, six years after passage, and considering American students still are not progressing as fast as those of other countries, it appears obvious Congress hasn't yet got this one right either.
Parent Choice over Federal Regulation
Just because it is conceivable that Congressional action could help parents and their families does not ensure that Congress will get it right. Considering the ham-handed national government efforts in other areas, it more likely will result in a restriction on parents' choice that never could be measured since it would be impossible to count the programs that never start up, or shift to working with legal age young adults. Or, to put it another way, do parents really want the national government as a partner in choosing where to place their teen with problems?
"The parents hire us, either as consultants or as programs, and we are pledged to do what is right for the children and their families."
I agree that almost all of the programs I have come in contact with over my ten years as an Educational Consultant pledge to do what is right for the child. It was appalling to me to find a program, which advertises on Struggling Teens, admit that they still use the wooden paddle to punish children, and in such a way that it was described to me, humiliating, while then following up and having the child eat tuna and green beans out of cans while sitting at a table with other children eating a warm meal. And this program calls this "behavior modification" for a troubled teen.
In my personal opinion, I call this child abuse. This is a private pay Christian facility, and through digging with multiple calls to what appeared to be untrained staff, and ultimately a frank discussion with the Executive Director, I was able to find this out and it was verbally confirmed. It is not mentioned on their website. It was then told to a parent, who thankfully, called me and we diverted her 13 year old son off to another program.
Because there is no current State oversight of their program, this is one of those instances I would like to see be reviewed by a State authority.
This, in my opinion, and as you quote in your article, is one of those irresponsible and incompetent private programs. These types of programs which do still exist, are the ones that bring a bad light to all the remainder of the programs and schools that have progressed in working so very hard towards what is truly in the best interest of a child and their family for long term positive results.