Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Bill to expand regulations for therapeutic youth residential programs clears the House

State health officials could soon have more oversight of alternative therapeutic youth residential programs. Several of the facilities have been accused of abusing children in recent years. The Montana House passed a bill that expands regulations on the industry.

Alternative residential programs are often seen by parents as a last-ditch effort to get treatment for children with severe emotional and behavioral issues. The industry, which was previously self-regulated, has been under increasing scrutiny over alleged physical, psychological and other abuses as well as youth suicides at some facilities.

Rep. Laura Smith of Helena says legislation passed in 2019 giving the state health department oversight of industry didn’t go far enough to protect children.

“So my own experience as deputy director of DPHHS for about five years led me to more information about these programs,” Smith says. “Without going into any names, we received several complaints, including a suicide of a young women at one of these programs.”

House Bill 218 builds on administrative rules implemented by the state health department. The bill expands definitions of physical abuse and corporal punishment. It increases the frequency of inspections and requires state officials to interview all children during inspections. The legislation also requires that children have 24-hour access to a phone line and weekly unsupervised video calls with their parents.

It unanimously passed out of committee and passed with near unanimous support in the House. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
Become a sustaining member for as low as $5/month
Make an annual or one-time donation to support MTPR
Pay an existing pledge or update your payment information