Paris Hilton backs California bill requiring sunshine on ‘troubled teen industry’

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Celebrity hotel heiress Paris Hilton is backing California lawmakers' push to increase the transparency of residential teen therapeutic centers by requiring these programs to report the use of restraints or seclusion rooms in disciplining minors.

"We shouldn’t be placing youth in facilities without knowing what these children will be subjected to," Hilton testified Monday to the Senate Human Services Committee in Sacramento. "The Accountability in Children’s Treatment Act is a simple transparency measure that would make a lasting impact and show the world what truly happens behind closed doors."

Hilton, 43, has become a high-profile advocate for getting tough on what she describes as the "troubled teen industry," which promises to rehabilitate teenagers struggling with substance abuse, mental illness, and problematic behavior. Such programs lack federal oversight and have been exposed for riots, assaults, and even deaths of minors, prompting a pushback to protect the rights of young people.

After releasing a documentary in 2020 detailing abuse she faced while attending Provo Canyon School in Provo, Utah, as a teenager, Hilton traveled back to the state, helping pass a bill strengthening inspection and oversight of the industry. Advocates have successfully passed related laws in Illinois, Missouri, Montana, and Oregon.

Last year, Hilton went to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the federal Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act, which would establish best practices and transparency in youth residential care programs. But national efforts have failed for more than a decade and the latest proposal has been stalled for a year.

Now, Hilton and others are eyeing the most populous state as an opportunity for change.

Senate Bill 1043 is a bipartisan bill by Republican state Sen. Shannon Grove and authored also by Democratic Sens. Aisha Wahab and Angelique Ashby. The bill aims to protect young people housed in short-term residential therapeutic programs licensed by the California Department of Social Services by requiring the agency to produce a public dashboard by 2026 on the use of restraint and seclusion rooms, and when it results in serious injuries or death. It would also require foster parents and guardians to be notified when restraints and seclusion rooms are used on minors.

"There are complaints of broken arms, slammed hands in doors," said Grove, who noted that these facilities typically house vulnerable populations, including foster youth. "There's no data to show what happened and what caused that. And so, the goal is to go after the data."

There was no formal opposition. The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, the nation's largest such member organization, told KFF Health News that it supports the California bill.

During Monday's hearing, Hilton shared that while she was housed at facilities in California, Utah, and Montana, she was subjected to abuse disguised as therapy. She said if she tried to tell her parents about the abuse, facility staff would rip the phone from her hand, restrain her, and force her into solitary confinement.

"When I close my eyes at night, I still have nightmares about solitary confinement 20 years later," Hilton said. "The sounds of my peers screaming as they were physically restrained by numerous staff members and injected with sedatives will also never leave me."

Zoe Schreiber, another survivor, said she was sent at age 13 to a Utah facility, where she was restrained face down in the mud by six adults for hours in the rain. Schreiber described enduring seclusion, hard labor, and humiliation for four years.

Democratic state Sen. Marie Alvarado-Gil, who chairs the Human Services Committee, said she had worked in such residential treatment facilities and noticed that staff often didn't have proper training.

"I don’t think they’re all bad, but I do think the ones that are bad, that impact the trauma of our children, that are unregulated, that are unstructured, that do not have evidence-based programming — I wonder how we get away with that here in California," Alvarado-Gil said.

Wahab said it's important for California to act in the absence of a federal bill. California enacted related legislation in 2021 to prevent the state from sending foster children to out-of-state facilities.

"I'm hoping that we do some justice to the kids here," Wahab said.

The Senate Human Services Committee passed SB 1043 on a 5-0 vote. The bill now goes to the Appropriations Committee.

This article was produced by KFF Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation. 

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from khn.org, a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF - the independent source for health policy research, polling, and journalism.

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