Exploited Teens | Troubled Teen Industry Abuse Lawsuits and Settlements

The Exploited Teen Lawsuits involve the sad but well-documented fact that the exploited teen industry, sometimes referred to as the “troubled teen industry,” is a source of countless instances of assault, sexual abuse, and even death. Through negligence and wrongful conduct, these facilities and programs, entrusted with the safety of children, instead cause them and their families great suffering.

Our law firm is investigating cases wherein children have suffered or died at the hands of profit-driven programs and facilities, such as youth residential treatment centers, boot camps, wilderness programs, reform schools, and therapeutic boarding schools.


What Do We Know About Abuses in the Exploited Teen Industry?

Exploited Teen Industry Abuses

Although widely known as the “troubled teen industry,” our law firm is hoping to change the use of this phraseology. We feel that saying “troubled teen industry” puts the negative focus on the victims, rather than highlighting the perpetrators of the abuses that happen within this industry.

For this reason, we use the phrase “exploited teen industry,” which centers on the inexcusable actions of the industry that harms the very children for which they have been entrusted to care. For the purposes of this page, we will primarily use the term “exploited teen industry” but will sometimes refer to “troubled teen industry.”

The abuses, neglect, and deaths that occur in the facilities and programs that make up the unregulated exploited teen industry directly result from a prioritization of profits over safety. These programs are masters of elusive practices and deceptive marketing that prey on well-meaning parents, judges, and psychiatric professionals.

The alarming realities of the exploited teen industry have been documented over decades of studies on the topic:

2008: Government Accountability Office (GAO)

Residential Programs: Selected Cases of Death, Abuse, and Deceptive Marketing

GAO studied selected closed cases in which a youth died while enrolled in a private residential program, including boarding schools, wilderness therapy programs, and boot camps. The closed cases spanned from 1994 to 2006. GAO used investigative techniques to uncover questionable practices, posing as parents with “troubled” teens. The resulting report revealed that:

…ineffective management and operating practices, in addition to untrained staff, contributed to the death and abuse of youth enrolled in selected programs. The practice of physical restraint also figured prominently in three of the cases. The restraint used for these cases primarily involved one or more staff members physically holding down a youth.

GAO presented the following table of sample cases in a document that highlighted the result of its investigation:

GAO chart on abuse

2021: National Disability Rights Network (NDRN)

Desperation Without Dignity

This report uncovered “widespread abuse and neglect” at for-profit youth residential treatment facilities.” Protection and advocacy agencies in 18 states examined the history of the for-profit residential treatment industry, as well as the private funding that supports it.

The report detailed the most common problems that youth in these facilities endure, including:

  1. Physical abuse: Whether as a control mechanism or punishment, incidents of punching, dragging, throwing, or slamming children against the floor or walls
  2. Emotional abuse: Persistent verbal abuse, yelling, cursing, insulting, and humiliating in front of other youth residents.
  3. Sexual abuse: At the hands of facility staff and other children at the facility
  4. Restraint and Seclusion: Resulting in injury and sometimes death, such as that of 16-year-old Cornelius Frederick
  5. Overuse and misuse of psychiatric medication: In the absence of appropriate health and medication information and monitoring, which can pose life-threatening risks
  6. Poorly maintained facilities: Inadequate access to clean water, as well as poor sanitation and bedding

The report described these abuses and neglect as “nationwide and systemic.”


Our Law Firm Has Fought Large Corporations Since 1955

Since 1955, Levin Papantonio Rafferty has stood up for the rights of individuals injured by the negligence and wrongful conduct of large corporations and organizations. Many of our attorneys are listed in The National Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame and the Best Lawyers in America.

Twice a year, thousands of personal injury attorneys attend our Mass Torts Made Perfect conference to learn from our lawyers how to handle complex litigation like the exploited teen industry lawsuits.

If you or your child suffered severe abuse or neglect at an exploited teen center or program, please contact our office today for a free case review: (800) 277-1193.


News Updates for Exploited Teens

December 2023

On December 13, 2023, the scope of lawsuits alleging systematic discrimination against children with disabilities in childcare facilities throughout Alabama has been expanded to include various crucial state agencies. New defendants in the legal actions now encompass the Alabama Department of Human Resources, the Alabama Department of Education, the Alabama State Board of Education (where Governor Ivey holds a membership), along with multiple county DHR offices and directors.

October 2023

Global celebrity, entrepreneur, and advocate Paris Hilton joined renowned Levin Papantonio Rafferty (LPR) Attorney Mike Papantonio and Oregon State Senator Sara Gelser for a candid and driven discussion about egregious abuse within hundreds of facilities in the so-called “troubled-teen” industry. The session marked the opening of the Mass Torts Made Perfect (MTMP) seminar in Las Vegas last week, and drew an audience of nearly 2,000 mass tort attorneys from across the U.S.

September 2023

On September 21, 2023, Several lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama against Nancy Buckner, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Human Resources, and Eric Mackey, State Superintendent of the Alabama Department of Education. The lawsuits assert blatant violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Specifically, six federal lawsuits were filed on behalf of children residing in residential treatment facilities in Alabama.

These legal actions contend that children with disabilities in these facilities face discrimination through the segregation within on-site “schools,” thereby depriving them of education opportunities equal to those provided to their non-disabled peers in regular education settings. The objective is to address and rectify these alleged inequalities through legal means.


Profits Make the Youth Facilities’ Wheels Go Around

The exploited teen industry is booming. It is a monster machine that generates consistent program revenue. One might expect the industry to suffer after the release of studies like the 2008 GAO study. To the contrary, the opposite occurred.

Investors began to take note that this business model promised massive profits. In 2017, Sequel Youth and Family Services, one of the largest for-profit companies in the industry, announced to its investors that the company had expanded its presence:

  1. Across 19 states
  2. Covering around 19,000 children
  3. With a value of $42.3 million

Plenty of Money to Do the Right Thing—But They Don’t

According to the American Bar Association’s 2021 estimates, between 120,000 and 200,000 youth reside in some variation of exploited teen treatment center, facility, or program. Around $23 billion of public funds go directly to this industry.

Despite all this funding, these youth centers have a reputation of being stingy in the areas that matter most:

  1. Staff are paid minimum wage.
  2. Staff are overworked.
  3. Staff lack resources.
  4. Facilities are decrepit.
  5. No medical or therapeutic treatments.

Questionable Marketing Tactics Deliver Fresh Teens

The exploited teen industry uses a wide range of sophisticated marketing strategies to stay profitable, in business, and free of accountability.

How Kids Are Brought In

These facilities enjoy a steady stream of fresh “clientele” that requires very little in terms of advertising. State juvenile authorities, juvenile courts, and other governmental actors are empowered to commit children to any such juvenile treatment center. The facility receives payment from local, state, or federal tax dollars, charging from $130 to $800 per day per child.

In other instances, children’s parent or guardian can admit them to the youth program. Here’s where the troubled teen industry shows ruthless marketing prowess. Websites issue promises of hope to vulnerable parents who might be concerned about their child’s depression, academic struggles, promiscuity, defiance, suicidal thoughts, or self-esteem.

The Power of Creating Something Out of Nothing

Clever industry players go so far as to use the parents themselves to essentially sell the program to other parents. In one known instance, a mother recalled that the youth center would discount her son’s “tuition” by $5,000 every time a site visitor would click on the parent’s testimonial and enroll their own kid into the program.

The creative tactics don’t end there. For starters, the term “troubled teen” is a fabricated “diagnosis” concocted by the industry to sell more programs.

Some facilities even have made up false accreditations and used “referral services” to evaluate a child’s need and place them into the best facility. In actuality, all children were referred to the same program.


Abuse and neglect in teen youth centers and programs could prompt legal actions for negligence, recklessness, false advertising, medical malpractice, and a host of other failures that cause injuries to youth residents.

These injuries can cause the injured children or adult survivors and their families to sustain a wide range of damages, which our exploited teen industry attorneys would aim to recover on behalf of those affected.



What Compensation Could You Recover in an Exploited Teen Settlement or Verdict?

Settlement and verdicts in an exploited teen industry case will depend on a variety of factors, all of which stem from the type and extent of the teen’s injuries. This type of lawsuit could result in several types of recoverable damages, including (but not limited to):

  1. Medical treatment and expenses (past and future)
  2. Lost income (past and future)
  3. Pain and suffering from injuries, as well as treatment and recovery (past and future)
  4. Diminished enjoyment of life (past and future)
  5. Diminished future potential earnings
  6. Possible punitive damages

Levin Papantonio Rafferty’s exploited teen industry lawyers will investigate your case and fight to recover the maximum financial compensation for losses stemming you’re your or your loved one’s injuries from abusive treatment at a residential youth center.


Our Attorneys Can Handle Your Exploited Teen Wrongful Death Claim

There is no greater suffering than that which accompanies the loss of a child. If your child died as the result of injuries from a youth treatment center, program, or facility, we are deeply sorry for your loss. Please know that you have the right to pursue a wrongful death action. Our legal team is here to investigate the circumstances of your loss and hold all responsible parties accountable.


Injuries & Side Effects of Exploited Teen Industry Abuse, Assault, and Neglect

University of New Hampshire Inquiry Journal published a research article in its Spring 2022 edition. The article’s author, Jamie Mater, was a resident in a troubled teen industry facility from age of 13 to the age of 16. Her research explored multiple side effects experienced by participants in these types of programs.

The side effects Mater’s research revealed occurring in youth residents during treatment include:

  1. Worsening of the distress they felt before treatment
  2. Anxiety
  3. Stress
  4. Loneliness
  5. Hopelessness
  6. Feelings of being trapped
  7. Emptiness
  8. Self-harm
  9. Eating disorders
  10. Injuries from physical abuse
  11. Death

The side effects Mater reported in research subjects after treatment include:

  1. Trouble assimilating back into society
  2. Engagement in risky behaviors
  3. Relapsing into old problems
  4. New eating disorders
  5. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  6. Being triggered by everyday tasks
  7. Fear and distrust of therapists and medications
  8. Identity issues
  9. Shame over sexuality and/or gender
  10. Anger
  11. Strained family relationships
  12. Loss of friendships
  13. Difficulty being assertive in romantic relationships, leading to abuse

This Is Not Our First Time Fighting Large Corporations

Our lawyers have the knowledge and experience to take on the exploited teen industry. This is an industry widely funded by Wall Street, but that does not intimidate us.

Levin Papantonio Rafferty has a long history of initiating important national cases, including those against:

  1. U.S. tobacco industry
  2. The U.S. government
  3. National opioid distributors
  4. Human/Sex trafficking enablers like MindGeek
  5. Social media companies like Meta
  6. Pharmaceutical companies for defective products
  7. Chemical manufacturers
  8. Roundup manufacturers

To date, we have won for our clients more than 150 jury verdicts of $1 million or more and a total of more than $8 billion in jury verdicts and settlements.

Read more about our firm’s history, attorneys, and results on the LPR website.


We Charge Legal Fees Only If You Recover Damages

Our law firm works on a contingency fee basis. This means our clients pay legal fees only when and if we recover damages on our clients’ behalf. We never charge fees upfront. If we win compensation in your case, our fee consists of a percentage of the amount you recover (read about our legal costs and fees).

Call today to receive a free, confidential case evaluation: (800) 277-1193

You may also complete and submit our free and confidential inquiry form at Exploited Teens Evaluation form.


Exploited Teens Industry News

December 3, 2022, Brown Political Review

Arrested Development: The Troubled Teen Industry and The United States’ Failure to Protect its Children

The author explores an industry that places around 50,000 teenagers a year into a “dystopian scenario” and questions why the rights of children have gone unprotected in the U.S.

October 17, 2022, HighSchoolInsider, Los Angeles Times

Broken Promises:’ Uncovering the truth behind the troubled teen industry

This LA Times feature article is written by Marlee Porter, upon the launch of her podcast, “Broken Promises.” The purpose of the podcast, and Porter’s mission, is to raise awareness of the trbouled-teen industry and provide survivors with a platform.

August 24, 2022, Teen Vogue

What Happened at Wilderness Therapy: A Look Inside the Outdoor Branch of the “Troubled Teen” Industry

This article explores the story of “Riley,” a 16-year-old girl who attended a wilderness therapy program, and reported feeling like a prisoner, not a client. The author then offers a detailed explanation of the exploited teen industry, with programs that bill themselves as residential treatment centers and residential treatment centers. She also talks about the problematic lack of legislation that enables these centers to thrive.

April 12, 2022, The Salt Lake Tribune

Utah increased its oversight of its troubled-teen industry. Has it worked?

The Salt Lake City newspaper digs into the year-old Utah legislation that aimed to regulate Utah’s “massive teen treatment industry.” Besides earmarking more money for regulators to more frequently visit these centers, it also requires that staff members be reported for using physical restraints on a young person or placing them in seclusion.

February 9, 2021, BuzzFeed

Paris Hilton Testified That She Was “Abused On A Daily Basis” At A Treatment Facility For Teens

Celebrity Paris Hilton shared with Utah lawmakers the abuse she suffered at several troubled youth treatment centers. Hilton described her time at one center, Provo Canyon School, as “hell itself was on Earth.”