According to Rainn (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), ages 12-34 are the highest risk years for rape and sexual assault. If someone is a victim here are some numbers to call to get help 24/7 800.656.HOPE (4673) or live chat on their website.
With this scary statistic, what happens if there is a sexual assault or attack or accusation while you or a family member are in treatment? All Kinds of Therapy asked several residential treatment programs and wilderness therapy programs, spanning the teen to young adult years, what plans are in place should there ever be an allegation against a staff or therapist?
- If the allegation against an employee (therapist, staff or management) is of rape or sexual misconduct or any crime perpetrated upon a client, and cannot immediately be proven false by witnesses, that person would be immediately suspended, including being escorted off company grounds. The employee loses access to all client, client family and all company-network access. Another employee would immediately be assigned to the accused’s responsibilities. Additionally, the authorities (police, Department of Human Services) would be notified immediately and program will cooperate fully with legal authorities while caring for emotional and physical safety of the accuser and the general population of the program.
- The program management would conduct a formal, internal investigation with staff and students, with specific and open ended questions based on the situation. The goal of the internal investigation should exhaustively search for any and all root causes or things a program did to
- a) create or contribute to an environment which allowed this to happen and/or
- b) contribute to an environment which failed to prevent this from happening.
- Enlist outside independent professional(s) and contact licensing agent. The outside professional might be Social Worker from Department of Family Services (DFS) or accrediting body to assist and assess systems that may or may not have contributed to the situation.
- Cooperate with the investigation and follow through with any reporting to authorities, including the licensing agency, the state child protective services, and/or the police. Programs should be informed about when and how those agencies require a report to be made.
- Inform the client’s family as soon as possible and the situation is clear.
- In order to provide one source for disseminating timely, sensitive and accurate information, meet with leadership team and decide who will be speaking to press, police, etc. Insist that employees support the system, so as to protect any potential victims of the accusation.
- Communicate with entire staff as to the situation and how communication will be disseminated (avoid rumors and create safety for client).
- If needed inform the student’s families as soon as the situation is safe. Along with providing scheduled updates to involved families, provide around-the-clock mobile access to an employee tasked with providing up-to-date information to involved family members.
- Inform the immediate family’s therapeutic professionals (referral).
- If the police have been involved, prepare a local press release, with as much information and transparency as HIPAA allows.
- Provide group processing for staff and other clients of the treatment program.
- Because this situation would create an escalation of emotions and legal risk, assign one manager to consistently review training and policies to protect the students and staff and make sure you are following them.
Policies and Procedures
Beyond the steps that a program would take, having this conversation brought up solid policies that protect clients and staff/therapists alike. The assumption in this blog is that the programs are following regulations (if there are regulations in the state). However, it was clear from conversations that several treatment programs have additional policies in place to ensure a higher level of safety:
- If a therapist at a single gender program is working with a client of the opposite sex, there always is an uncovered window to the office where therapy sessions take place that is viewable by a common space.
- Line staff of the opposite sex are never alone with one client and must “double up” with other employees.
- In the case of wilderness therapy, generally speaking, field staff are vigilant to provide 100% visual and auditory coverage of each other, so that allegations cannot be justified.
- All treatment programs have a very clear and specific grievance policy that is understood by all clients, in which every student knows exactly to whom they should go with any grievance or complaint, with multiple outlets for their grievance up to and including the state licensing representative or some governing body.
As a parent or young adult evaluating treatment options, it is not uncommon to ask questions of the admissions and clinical team as to what policies are in place to prevent a reasonable accusation and in extreme cases, how an accusation would be handled.
State Licensing bodies expect concerned citizens to see if there are any complaints against the treatment program. For teen treatment program state licensure, refer to this compilation of state regulation links.
Not all states license all types of treatment programs, therefore, as an informed consumer, it is up to you to ask and find out why there is no license or what oversight the treatment program has. Often, programs further qualify for accreditation, as it implies better practices and more oversight; again, ask questions.