Sunday, January 28, 2007

Isabelle Zehnder (CAICA): Attention staff: a call for help

Letter to staff who have worked or who currently work in a residential facility or program for children or teens.
Written January 27, 2007
By: Isabelle Zehnder (Copyright 2007)

Dear Staff:

CAICA has received reports that staff members who work in residential facilities and programs for children and teens have been asked to sign an Employment Agreement stating they cannot talk about what goes on in the facility and that if they break confidentiality they will be sued for large amounts of money. We have contacted government officials and legal professionals for their advice and have done our own independent research. We have concluded this is simply a scare tactic that will not hold up in court.

Staff members who work or who have worked in residential facilities and programs for children are mandated (required) by law to report child abuse and/or neglect they witnessed there. There is protection for people who report child abuse. Remember, it is not only your moral obligation, but it is your legal obligation to do so.

Some staff members have reported they were not sure if what they saw was abuse because they begin to believe treating children in a harsh manner is necessary for their treatment. There is evidence that shows treating children in this manner can do more harm than good. If you are not sure that what you witnessed was abuse, please see the list below. These are things that have been reported to us that we believe should be reported and investigated.

Below I have provided information about:

1. The responsibilities of people working with children and their duty to report child abuse and/or neglect;

2. Protection available to staff who report child abuse and/or neglect;

3. How to file a report; and

4. Examples of what should be reported.

Kids are coming forward to report they were abused and/or neglected in facilities or programs (boarding schools, behavior modification programs, wilderness programs, boot camps, mental health facilities, etc.). These children and teens need help from the adults (staff) who worked with them and who know they are telling the truth.

We believe it is time for staff who witnessed child abuse and/or neglect in facilities to come forward for the sake of the children. People who witness child abuse and do not report it because they are scared are usually haunted by what they saw. They feel guilty for not reporting and not helping the kids. It’s not too late if that happened to you. It’s not too late to come forward and do the right thing – for those children, future children, and for yourself.
Again, when working in abusive programs sometimes the staff begins to believe what is happening is OK because they are told by people in authority that it is OK or that it is policy and because they need their job. I would ask you to listen to your own inner voice, and if you have a nagging feeling that it isn’t or wasn’t OK, then do something to protect the children or teens. They are helpless and need you to be their voice.

If you’re not sure what you saw was abuse or neglect, ask yourself if you would want to be treated the way the children were treated, or if you would want you brother, sister, or your own child treated that way. If the answer is no, and you saw things happen to kids that you think are abuse and/or neglect, then it is your duty to report it. Again, please refer to the list below.

I would also like to warn staff that face-down, prone restraints have killed many children. Staff should be properly trained in the use of restraints and they should only be used in the event of an emergency – when a child is truly a danger to himself or others - not just because the child is misbehaving. This should be used as a last resort and should never be done face-down. We have had reports that staff have placed children face-down on the floor, twisted their arms behind their back, put pressure on their upper body, while another staff member held down the child’s legs, sometimes bending them at the knees and pushing their legs towards their bodies. These restraints are abusive and have caused many deaths. Please do not allow someone to force or coerce you into abusing children just because you need your job. These children need your protection and they need you to speak up about what is happening to them.

A couple of things to remember: people who abuse children usually do it again, and no child or teen deserves to be abused or neglected, even if the child is troubled and is acting out. Whether they are voluntarily or involuntarily admitted into these programs, children look to these staff members to help them, not hurt them.

1. Responsibilities of people working with children:

Anyone working with children, and who reasonably believes a child has been or is being abused and/or neglected, must report it. When they report their suspicions they are legally protected because they are doing what they are mandated (required) to do by law … and that is to REPORT!

CAICA has received reports from staff that they were pressured into signing an Employment Agreement stating they would not talk negatively about the facility where they worked or what they saw there. They were also told if they did, they were in “breach of their contract” and that they could be sued for large amounts of money.

We believe it is important that staff understand the facility cannot legally do this because not reporting child abuse and/or neglect is illegal. What (illegally) happens in residential facilities cannot stay in those facilities. This in itself is illegal because facilities and programs are not above the law, and the law says anyone working with children must report child abuse and neglect. In all 50 states!

Remember, you as a staff member could be subject to prosecution for standing by and taking a passive role during an obviously abusive situation. Understand that if you participate in abuse or stand by as it occurs, you are not "doing your job", you are breaking the law!

No child should be harmed or killed if staff members are doing their jobs.

2. Protection is available to staff who report child abuse and/or neglect:

There is protection for people working with children who report child abuse and neglect. As stated above, it is your duty to report - you cannot be sued for doing what you are required by law to do. You can also ask that your name not be revealed if you have concerns someone will retaliate against you.

Also, authorities have proved to be understanding of staff members who come forward after participating in an act they believed was not right at the time, or have later concluded was not right, but were under pressure from directors, fellow staff, or supervisors.

Some staff members have already come forward to report child abuse they saw. Because they reported to the proper agencies they were not retaliated against.

In some states there is further protection for staff through the “Whistleblower Act” that was enacted to protect people like you. It allows anyone with information about child abuse and neglect to come forward to the police and to government officials.

"Whistleblowing" has been defined as "the act of a man or woman who, believing the public interest overrides the interest of the organization he or she serves, publicly 'blows the whistle' if the organization is involved in corrupt, illegal, fraudulent, or harmful activity." (456) Chapter 554 of the Government Code, commonly known as the Whistleblower Act, was initially enacted by the legislature in 1983.

The purposes of the act have been described as: (1) to protect a public employee from retaliation by his employer when, in good faith, the employee reports a violation of law; and (2) to secure in consequence lawful conduct on the part of those who direct and control the affairs of public bodies. (460) Another court has declared that the statute's purpose is to "enhance openness in government and compel the government's compliance with the law by protecting those who inform authorities of wrongdoing." (461)

3. How to report suspected child abuse and/or neglect:

There are several ways to report child abuse. Below is a list of websites and telephone numbers for each state (the toll-free numbers are only accessible from within the state listed). You can also get help in reporting by calling Childhelp at 1-800-422-4453. This is a confidential hotline. Their website is

If you know a law firm is involved in a lawsuit against a program where children are or were abused and you witnessed the abuse you can contact the law firm directly and be a witness for the children.

You can also file a report with the Police Department or Child Protective Services nearest to the facility.

Suggestions from the Child Welfare League of America: If it is an emergency, call your local police department. They can ensure the immediate safety of a child and get medical attention if needed. Then call your state or local child abuse hotline (listed below).

4. Examples of what should be reported:

Staff members have reported they were unsure if what they witnessed in residential facilities for children was abusive. We have compiled a list to try to help clarify what types of things constitute child abuse and neglect.

If you witnessed teachers, therapists, staff, directors, family representatives, doctors, nurses, escorts, security staff, or anyone else working with children, doing any of these things, you should report them to the proper authorities (as mentioned above) so they can be investigated.
We may not have thought of everything so if you feel you witnessed something that is not on this list that you believe was child abuse or neglect please report it so it can be investigated. If you have difficulty locating the agencies please e-mail us at and we will assist in locating the proper agencies.
  • Forcing a child to lay on the floor for extended periods of time
  • Slamming a child to the ground
  • Hitting a child
  • Restraining a child on the ground or in any way that was hurtful
  • Seclusion (restricting them from activities, their parents, other family members, etc.)
  • Throwing a child against the wall, ground, or floor
  • Depriving a child of food or water
  • Twisting a child’s arm
  • Depriving a child of proper clothing and shoes for the conditions
  • Denying a child access to a toilet
  • A child forced to stay in isolation for long periods of times
  • Locking a child in small spaces
  • A child being bound and tied by their hands and/or feet
  • Use of electric shocks
  • Spraying water or lemon juice on children's faces (used mostly on developmentally disabled children)
  • Use of ammonia inhalants on a child (which ultimately led to the death of Martin Lee Anderson)
  • Pulling a child's hair
  • Locking a child in a basement
  • The use of mechanical restraints for extended periods of time, as was the case of Matthew Goodman
  • Restraining a child in a blanket, using a pillow, etc., that would restrict their breathing
  • Forcing a child to lie in their own waste as a method of punishment
  • Forcing a child to scrub toilets and floors with their toothbrush and forcing them to use it afterwards
  • Forcing a child to sleep any place other than a normal bed (unless they are camping)
  • If they are camping, forcing a child to sleep out in the cold without proper bedding and shelter
  • Forcing a child to stand, sit, or lie in uncomfortable or unnatural positions for long periods of time
  • Denying a child proper medical and dental treatment and care
  • Exposing a child to extreme hot or cold temperatures for long periods of time
  • Forcing a child to exercise beyond his or her physical capacity
  • Sexual contact between staff and children
  • Verbally abusing a child telling them their parents know what is happening to them are support it
  • Subjecting a child to older students who were allowed to physically, mentally, or sexually abuse him or her
  • Forcing a child to eat rotten food
  • Poking and prodding a child with objects during a strip-search
  • Forcing a child to write false confession letters to parents to justify them being there and to keep them longer
  • Threatening sever punishment, including death, to a child if they told anyone about the abuse or poor living conditions
  • Emotionally abusing a child by subjecting him or her to near total parental and societal isolation
  • Not allowing a child to have contact with the outside world - visits and phone calls were forbidden or discouraged even between parents and children
  • Not allowing the child a chance to contact the authorities if they were being abused
  • Not allowing the use of a bathroom
  • Confiscating and/or keeping students' mail to or from their parents and blacking out what they wrote
  • Upper level students abusing lower level students
  • A child forced to eat their own vomit

    There are several ways to report child abuse. Below is a list of numbers for each state (the toll-free numbers are only accessible from within the state listed). You can also get help in reporting by calling Childhelp at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453).

NOTE: Once you click on the links below, click on the “connect me now!” button in the middle of the page:

Alabama Local (toll): (334) 242-9500

Alaska Toll-Free: (800) 478-4444

Arizona Toll-Free: (888) SOS-CHILD (888-767-2445)

Arkansas Toll-Free: (800) 482-5964

California Website:
Click on the website above for information on reporting or call Childhelp (800-422-4453) for assistance.

Colorado Local (toll): (303) 866-5932

Connecticut TDD: (800) 624-5518 Toll-Free: (800) 842-2288

Delaware Toll-Free: (800) 292-9582

District of Columbia Local (toll): (202) 671-SAFE (202-671-7233)

Florida Toll-Free: (800) 96-ABUSE (800-962-2873)

Georgia Website:
Click on the website above for information on reporting or call Childhelp (800-422-4453) for assistance.

Hawaii Local (toll): (808) 832-5300

Idaho Toll-Free: (800) 926-2588

Illinois Toll-Free: (800) 252-2873 Local (toll): (217) 524-2606

Indiana Toll-Free: (800) 800-5556

Iowa Toll-Free: (800) 362-2178
Kansas Toll-Free: (800) 922-5330

Kentucky Toll-Free: (800) 752-6200

Louisiana Website:
Click on the website above for information on reporting or call Childhelp (800-422-4453) for assistance.

Maine TTY: (800) 963-9490 Toll-Free: (800) 452-1999

Maryland Website:
Click on the website above for information on reporting or call Childhelp (800-422-4453) for assistance.

Massachusetts Toll-Free: (800) 792-5200
Website: pageID=eohhs2subtopic&L=5&L0=Home&L1=Consumer&L2=Family+Services&L3=Violence 2c+Abuse+or+Neglect&L4=Child+Abuse+and+Neglect&sid=Eeohhs2

Michigan Website:,1607,7-124-5452_7119_7193-15252--,00.html
Click on the website above for information on reporting or call Childhelp (800-422-4453) for assistance.

Minnesota Website: Click on the website above for information on reporting or call Childhelp (800-422-4453) for assistance.

Mississippi Toll-Free: (800) 222-8000 Local (toll): (601) 359-4991

Missouri Toll-Free: (800) 392-3738 Local (toll): (573) 751-3448

Montana Toll-Free: (866) 820-5437

Nebraska Toll-Free: (800) 652-1999

Nevada Toll-Free: (800) 992-5757 Local (toll): (775) 684-4400

New Hampshire Toll-Free: (800) 894-5533 Local (toll): (603) 271-6556

New Jersey TDD: (800) 835-5510 TTY: (800) 835-5510 Toll-Free: (877) 652-2873

New Mexico Toll-Free: (800) 797-3260 Local (toll): (505) 841-6100

New York TDD: (800) 369-2437 Toll-Free: (800) 342-3720 Local (toll): (518) 474-8740 Website:

North Carolina Website:
Click on the website above for information on reporting or call Childhelp (800-422-4453) for assistance.

North Dakota Website:
Click on the website above for information on reporting or call Childhelp (800-422-4453) for assistance.

Ohio Website:
Contact the county Public Children Services Agency using the list above or call Childhelp USA (800-422-4453) for assistance.

Oklahoma Toll-Free: (800) 522-3511

Oregon Website:
Click on the website above for information on reporting or call Childhelp (800-422-4453) for assistance.

Pennsylvania Toll-Free: (800) 932-0313

Puerto Rico Toll-Free: (800) 981-8333 Local (toll): (787) 749-1333
Spanish Information on Website:

Rhode Island Toll-Free: (800) RI-CHILD (800-742-4453)

South Carolina Local (toll): (803) 898-7318

South Dakota Local (toll): (605) 773-3227

Tennessee Toll-Free: (877) 237-0004

Texas Toll-Free: (800) 252-5400
Utah Toll-Free: (800) 678-9399

Vermont After hours: (800) 649-5285

Virginia Toll-Free: (800) 552-7096 Local (toll): (804) 786-8536

Washington TTY: (800) 624-6186 Toll-Free: (866) END-HARM (866-363-4276) After hours: (800) 562-5624

West Virginia Toll-Free: (800) 352-6513

Wisconsin Website:
Click on the website above for information on reporting or call Childhelp (800-422-4453) for assistance.

Wyoming Website:
Click on the website above for information on reporting or call Childhelp (800-422-4453) for assistance.