WHO WE ARE
Breaking Code Silence is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that represents children, youth, and adults who are/were incarcerated in the U.S. troubled teen industry (TTI), a network of privately-owned, powerfully punitive, and often wilderness-based therapy programs, residential treatment centers, therapeutic boarding schools, group homes, boot camps, and faith-based academies.
Breaking Code Silence intends to be a vehicle for the TTI-survivor community–ever striving to uplift, organize, and inspire present and future generations, while promoting youth rights and evidence-based alternatives to the troubled teen industry.
We are eradicating institutional child abuse and empowering survivors – Together
WHAT WE DO
ADVOCATEShare Testimony & File Complaints
Breaking Code Silence supports all survivors by honoring and affirming their testimonies. We also assist survivors with legal reporting, we provide connection, and we help survivors at all stages of their respective journeys. We support families working to remove their child from unsafe settings.
LEGISLATEState and Federal Policy
Breaking Code Silence educates and collaborates with partner organizations and local, state, and federal government leaders to aid in the crafting and passage of laws that protect youth in congregate care, close loopholes of accountability, and honor the testimony of survivors as central in this process.
With large-scale data collection and global research collaboration, we highlight the irrefutable harm of existing practices and lead and support research into the activities, proliferation, and long-term effects of TTI facilities.
EDUCATEAwareness for the Community and Professionals
In collaboration with healthcare professionals worldwide, we educate the public about the deep roots of abuse, neglect, and coercion throughout the TTI. We work to prevent future placements and encourage evidence-based community treatments that strengthen and empower youth and their families.
Breaking Code Silence supports lawyers, policy makers, and other professionals in identifying programs with extensive histories of abuse. Our robust facility reports show patterns of abuse and have aided multiple attorneys in successfully rescuing numerous children from TTI facilities based on our compiled claims of abuse.
SUPPORTPeer Support & Survivor Resources
Breaking Code Silence supports survivors with resources that improve daily life. With the generous support of the Hilton Foundation, and in partnership with several universities, we will offer peer support to aid survivors in learning necessary regulation tools to better manage distress related to trauma.
Today, there are an estimated 120,000 to 200,000 minors in congregate care facilities across the United States. These youth are pipelined into congregate care placements from the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, school districts’ individualized education programs, refugee resettlement agencies, mental health providers, and private parental placement. Many of these youths have prior trauma histories that are exacerbated by an extended separation from their community once they are placed in an institutional setting.
This industry receives an estimated $23 billion dollars of annual public funds to purportedly treat the behavioral and psychological needs of vulnerable youth, yet it operates without meaningful oversight. The industry’s lack of transparency and quality care has resulted in sexual assault, physical and medical neglect, and bodily assault, civil rights violations, hospitalizations, and hundreds of documented deaths. Youth are too often denied access to legal counsel, advocacy, and the most basic rights to personal safety and satisfactory living conditions.
THE Accountability for CONGREGATE CARE ACT
Breaking Code Silence led the effort to write the Accountability for Congregate Care Act. The passage of this Act will create a uniform Youth in Congregate Care Bill of Rights for all youth in congregate care, regardless of which public or private pipeline through which they entered the facility.
This Bill of Rights will create a standard for the ACCA Joint Commission to advise on reduction of congregate care placement and consult with states on the closure of facilities that are unable to meet standards within the Youth in Congregate Care Bill of Rights.
Breaking Code Silence is a force to be reckoned with.
Over the past year, we have garnered support across different states, political affiliations, and professional disciplines. We are only just getting started, but we need funding to support all the levels of our volunteer organization. We have made it this far as only volunteers – imagine what we can accomplish with more resources!
I was teased relentlessly during my time there. Due to having been sheltered, there was so much I didn’t know, and the other students made fun of it. There was also much I learned there which were things my parents didn’t want me to know. In my first weeks, I got emotional and was scratching myself with anything I could find. I was placed on restrictions. No psychiatrist, no medication, no true therapy. Just physical punishment.
My name is Cat and I am on the autism spectrum. After wilderness, I was sent to Eva Carlston for depression and trauma therapy. Ironic that this place gave me PTSD. I was sent here against my will. I am very intelligent, and the staff knew that. However, I was punished for not being able to make eye contact
“This Is Paris” convinced me to share the story of my time at Spring Creek Lodge Academy (SCLA) in Montana from 2008-2009. It hit me hard when Paris talked about her insomnia and being afraid to close her eyes. I was seventeen when I was abducted in the middle of the night and I lived there for 14 months.
My name is Victoria. When I was seventeen, a “friend” outed me as bisexual to my conservative Christian parents. From the very start, my personhood was violated. My so-called friend had saved very private text messages about my relationship with my best friend, which had progressed into more than friendship one summer when we were together.
Although our organization is very new, our volunteers have already become innovators and leaders in policy, advocacy, and research. We are proud of our accomplishments thus far. We’ve helped divert children from congregate care, pressured abusive programs to close, challenged dominant narratives about the industry, and passed protective state legislation—and we are only getting started!
These are exciting, potentially paradigm-shifting times! Against long odds, BCS has managed to capture the attention space, flip the narrative, and garner sympathy for the plight of institutionalized children and youth in the United States. It seems clear that the punitive tactics and abuses perpetrated by the TTI are out of step with contemporary sensibilities and practices in adolescent mental health. Policymakers, academics, clinicians, and child advocates actively reach out to BCS and view our survivor-led organization as a source of expert knowledge and seek to include our perspectives in reform efforts. We have been presented with an incredibly fortuitous political opening and opportunity to make substantial, durable, structural changes and potentially transform the lives of present and future generations of children and youth in the United States.
PARIS HILTON, THINK OF US, AND BREAKING CODE SILENCE
BREAKING CODE SILENCE GOES TO WASHINGTON DC
In October 2021, Breaking Code Silence and Paris Hilton went to Washington DC to share our bill, sponsored by Congressman Ro Khanna and Senator Jeff Merkley, with congress. Survivors – those with lived experience in these facilities – discuss their shared experiences. Think of Us joined the conversation at this live panel disscussion.
BASED ON LIVED EXPERIENCE
BREAKING CODE SILENCE PARTNERS WITH LIFETIME
With the thousands of survivors breaking code silence and sharing their stories, there are common narratives. Lifetime produced a film that reflects much of what survivors experienced. This film has been well received by the survivor community. Read about survivor reactions from our blog .
Every year, thousands of children are sent against their will – often ripped out of their beds in the middle of the night by strangers – to private facilities to be treated for various mental illnesses, addiction issues, and perceived behavioral problems. While trapped in these facilities, youth experience rampant abuse. This database contains the largest collection of institutional abuse related documentation.