There is nothing more horrifying to a parent or a family than the neglect or abuse of a child or loved one. But as government investigators told the House Education and Labor Committee today, they have found thousands of allegations of child abuse at private residential treatment programs, often referred to as “boot camps,

Parents often send their children to these programs when they feel they have exhausted their alternatives. Their children may be suffering from depression or suicidal ideation, abusing drugs or alcohol, or attempting to run away. Parents send their children to these programs because of the promise that staff members will be able to help children get well or straighten their lives out.

In far too many cases, however, the very people and programs entrusted with the safety, health, and welfare of these children are the ones who violate that trust in some of the most horrific ways imaginable. At our hearing today, we heard stories of children at these programs suffering inhuman conditions, such as being forced to undergo extreme physical exertion without sufficient food and water until they died of heat stroke or dehydration. We heard of abuse cases where children were forced to eat their own dirt or vomit.

While this nightmare has remained an open secret for years, it cannot be allowed to continue any longer. What our committee heard today highlights the urgent need for Congress to act to ensure the well-being of children participating in these programs. We have no mandate more urgent than keeping children safe.