Investigations in 18 States Find Serious Abuse at For-profit Youth Facilities

October 14, 2021

En Español

A national report, Desperation without Dignity, was released today revealing widespread abuse and neglect at for-profit youth residential facilities. This report by the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) provides a broad review of investigations by several Protection & Advocacy agencies, including Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT). Brought to light are the failures of youth residential facilities to provide appropriate services and to protect the children in their care from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by staff.

In Tennessee, DRT has been monitoring and investigating youth residential facilities and other places where Tennesseans with disabilities live and receive services. Our work has shown that Tennessee’s most vulnerable children are being harmed in facilities that are meant to protect them. The use of widely banned interventions, such as prone restraint and chemical restraint, harm children and compound with existing traumas. When combined with a lack of appropriate mental health supports and special education services, the children’s suffering is further exacerbated.  

“We need to remember that the children in these facilities are coming from high-risk environments and often have disabilities,” states DRT’s Executive Director Lisa Primm. “These children need support and services, not to be retraumatized and abused.” 

Primm continues, “With our clients, we’ve seen time and time again, that when they receive the right behavioral, educational, and environmental supports, they grow into engaged members of our community. They can fulfil their potential, and everyone wins.”

This report shows that issues of abuse and neglect in youth residential facilities isn’t just a Tennessee problem. It is a national issue rooted in the system of youth residential facilities themselves. A system that is underregulated and designed to be for-profit instead of for the well-being of our children. A system that favors residential treatment, rather than enhancing our community-based services.

“We can’t let the system stand as it is any longer,” says Jack Derryberry, DRT’s Legal Director. “In the face of clear evidence that our children are being traumatized and even killed in for-profit youth residential facilities, we are morally obligated to change the way things work. Action needs to be taken to protect our children.

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This report was created by the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) with several Protection & Advocacy collaborators, including Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT). NDRN and DRT are available to for media inquiries about this report. For DRT media inquiries contact Kelsey Loschke at or 615-732-6965.