What are YOU thankful for this holiday season?
A warm, comfortable bed? Safety and security? Connection to those you love?
Right here in our state, there are children for whom these things are sadly out of reach. For the 800 children currently receiving services in psychiatric residential treatment facilities (PRTFs) across the state, life is anything but a holiday.
Chaotic environments. Unsafe conditions. Some of the lowest state-mandated standards in the country. It’s time Arkansans know what’s really going on in these centers designed to treat our state’s most at-risk children.
Learn the ABCs of PRTFs here…and then follow us on Facebook and Twitter. In the coming weeks, we’ll take you inside, showing you what we’ve seen and learned from our monitoring work. And we’ll share information on how YOU can help hold those responsible to account for the conditions in these facilities.
First things first. What’s a PRTF?
According to the Arkansas Department of Human Services, a PRTF is a “separate standalone entity providing a range of comprehensive services to treat the psychiatric condition of residents under the age of 21, on an inpatient basis under the direction of a physician. The purpose of such comprehensive services is to improve the resident’s condition or prevent further regression so that the services will no longer be needed.” In short, these facilities are designed to provide therapeutic services and programs for children and youth who struggle with psychiatric, behavioral, and emotional disorders and challenges. The services provided are less medically intensive than those you’d find in a psychiatric hospital or the psychiatric unit of a general hospital.
There are approximately 800 beds in PRTFs across the state. Most of the 13 PRTFs in Arkansas are private for-profit entities. Their marketing materials boast the use of “empirically-validated, scientifically-sound treatment methods”…”individual, family, group, and recreational therapy”…”a highly structured” program in a “nurturing environment.” Treatment is said to be administered by multidisciplinary teams of highly trained professionals in a residential setting.
What’s the problem? That sounds much needed.
Unfortunately, our monitoring activities in the PRTFs tell a much different story. Youth in these facilities spend most of their waking hours sitting around, not engaged in any kind of structured programming, therapy, or even recreational activities. Most children aren’t receiving more than one hour of individual therapy per week, less than many children receive in outpatient settings.
Facilities are supposed to provide education, but some facilities have gone months without teachers for their residents.
Children for whom English is not their first language and deaf/ hard of hearing children are often isolated because they do not have access to the interpreting resources they need to communicate effectively with their peers and facility staff.
Conditions are unsanitary and children report feeling unsafe.
Far from being a therapeutic refuge, PRTFs engender conditions that contribute to further trauma. Methods of restraint and seclusion are used frequently, often inappropriately. Residents are at risk for sexual assault, suicide attempts, and self-harming.
And because Arkansas has some of the lowest state-mandated standards in the country, there’s not much will on the part of those in charge to take decisive action on behalf of these children.
What can I do to help #protectARchildren? And how can I learn more?
Over the coming weeks, we will be sharing via this blog, Facebook, and Twitter many of the key findings from our monitoring visits to facilities around the state. We will share photos, quotes from residents, and other documentation. We will use the hashtag #protectARchildren.
We’re doing this because we feel strongly that those to whom we entrust the care of children and youth MUST be accountable. We’ll share information for the administrators and policymakers who are charged with oversight of the PRTFs so that you can urge them to act on behalf of the youth in PRTFs.
You wouldn’t want this for your own children. Now, it’s time for all of us to demand better for ALL children.
Learn more about the PRTFs, and DRA’s monitoring work, on the November episode of Speak Up Arkansas. Click here to listen to the recording.
Kerri Michael is Communications and Outreach Manager at Disability Rights Arkansas. Email her at kmichael@disabilityrightsAR.org.