Responding to cases of abuse and even death in Texas' residential treatment centers — some the result of staffers physically restraining kids with emotional disabilities — a mental health organization is funding a program to better train direct-care workers.
The three-year, $589,172 grant, funded by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at the University of Texas at Austin, will be coordinated by the Texas Network of Youth Services. It will make training, information and technical assistance available to all residential treatment centers in Texas, which can apply to get individualized services at their facilities.
“We’ve seen some [residential treatment centers] that have made good changes and other centers that have made lasting changes,” said Dr. Lynda Frost, director of planning and programs at the Hogg Foundation. “We’re hopeful that we’ll get a good number of centers that want to make those lasting changes.”
Many facilities use seclusion or restraint techniques to control unruly youth, including using physical force or isolating them to manage their behavior. In January, the 2010 restraint-related death of a 16-year-old boy at the Daystar residential treatment center near Houston was ruled a homicide. The boy died of asphyxiation after a staffer at the center pinned him in a closet.
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The now-closed Daystar center is just one of the dozens of centers in Texas where the Tribune and the Houston Chronicle discovered more than 250 incidents of abuse and mistreatment documented by the Department of Family and Protective Services. On another occasion, Daystar employees forced seven developmentally disabled girls to fight with each other in order to win after school snacks.
Frost said for these troubled centers, the key to change is in the culture and values of the agency.
"Some agencies are able to make cultural change and some aren’t," Frost said. "In some ways the money is just as important as the motivation and the support.”
The Hogg Foundation has funded a series of programs since 2004, but Frost said this is the first to be funded at this high level — and to specifically target seclusion and restraint reduction.
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