Therapeutic boarding school

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A therapeutic boarding school (TBS), also known as private residential treatment, is a tuition-based, out-of-home placement that combines therapy and education for students with emotional and behavioral disorders, substance use disorders, or learning disabilities.[1][2]

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a disability rights organization, opposes placement in therapeutic boarding schools, equating them with residential treatment centers. The organization questions the appropriateness and efficacy of group placements, citing failure of some programs to address problems in the child’s home and community environment, lack of mental health services, and substandard educational programs. Concerns specifically related to private therapeutic boarding schools include inappropriate discipline techniques, medical neglect, restricted communication (such as lack of access to child protection and advocacy hotlines), and lack of monitoring and regulation. Bazelon promotes community-based services on the basis that they are more effective and less costly than residential placement.[3]

From late 2007 through 2008, a coalition of medical and psychological organizations that included members of Alliance for the Safe, Therapeutic and Appropriate use of Residential Treatment (ASTART) and the Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth (CAFETY), provided testimony and support that led to the creation of the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2008 by the United States Congress Committee on Education and Labor.[4]


According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office Report:[5]

GAO reviewed thousands of allegations of abuse, some of which involved death, at residential treatment programs across the country and in American-owned and American-operated facilities abroad between the years 1990 and 2007. Allegations included reports of abuse and death recorded by state agencies and the Department of Health and Human Services, allegations detailed in pending civil and criminal trials with hundreds of plaintiffs, and claims of abuse and death that were posted on the Internet. GAO did not attempt to evaluate the benefits of residential treatment programs or verify the facts regarding the thousands of allegations it reviewed.

Many therapeutic boarding schools in the United States are relatively unregulated.[6] The Federal Trade Commission has issued guides for parents considering residential treatment programs.[7][8] The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has recommended that decision makers ensure that any therapeutic program is accredited by the Joint Commission, the Council on Accreditation, or the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. Instead, however, many of these programs are members of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP), a non-accrediting membership body,[citation needed] which does not enforce ethical nor any other kind of regulations on its member programs and does not investigate allegations of professional misconduct and/or abuse of students.[9]

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