06/23/2008 10:38 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Of Certainty, Child Abuse and Regulation: Support HR 5876

As readers of this blog know, I have long been fighting to expose and hopefully eliminate the abuses in the "troubled teen" industry -- a billion dollar business that enrolls anywhere from 20,000- 100,000 teens in residential programs varying from wilderness sites to "therapeutic" boarding schools.

(My book Help at Any Cost: How The Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids (Riverhead, 2006) was the first book-length expose and history of these programs, their roots in the Synanon cult and why there is no evidence that they help kids.)

HR 5876 -- the first legislation to regulate these programs -- will be voted on by the House tomorrow. I urge everyone who cares about children to call or email their Representative and tell him or her to vote for this bill. This link makes finding the right person and doing so a snap.

As I noted previously, the legislation is not as strong as the initial version, but the bipartisan bill could massively improve things for the teens in these programs -- providing the standards it requires are set high enough by regulators and actually enforced.

The devil really will be in the details here -- as I said in the prior post, if this is done wrong, it could actually aid the industry because its promoters could tell parents that it is regulated and that this prevents the abuse and fraudulent or quackish practices of the past.

With poor enforcement and/or low standards, bad regulation could thus be worse than no regulation. The simple fact that there are federal laws banning abusive treatment might be seen as saying that these programs work -- when, in fact, research is far more supportive of outpatient treatment for the vast majority of teens.

So, people who care about this issue have to redouble their efforts to first get this legislation passed in the strongest form possible; second, continue initiatives to inform parents that there's no evidence that these programs help and significant evidence of possible harm simply from being in an institution with other troubled kids and finally, ensure that the final regulation has high standards and teeth.

For now, just tell your Representative to support HR 5876. It's always easier to point out problems than it is to find solutions that don't make things worse -- but while you can never be certain your efforts won't backfire, doing nothing carries risks as well.