More should be done to ensure that abuse does not go unnoticed at residential schools and other similar facilities serving youth with disabilities, government investigators say.

A new report from the Government Accountability office finds that local, state and federal agencies are not sufficiently coordinating their efforts to monitor residential facilities for young people with disabilities and those in foster care.

Investigators interviewed officials in Arkansas, California, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. responsible for overseeing residential facilities serving those in the child welfare system and residential schools paid for by Medicaid, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or other federal sources. They also spoke with stakeholder groups and examined state laws and regulations.

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In addition, GAO officials held virtual discussion groups with facility administrators and former residents in various states.

The report found that different interpretations of what counts as maltreatment can lead facilities to report too many or too few incidents. It is primarily up to state and local agencies to oversee these types of facilities, but government investigators said that they were told “states face some challenges related to data collection, training and imposing consequences and holding facilities accountable for maltreatment in these facilities.”

The report recommends that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services work with the Department of Education to help states share information about best practices for preventing and addressing mistreatment in residential facilities.

“Ending child abuse and maltreatment is an all-hands-on-deck effort, but too many children in residential facilities — many of whom have disabilities — are not always being treated with safety and care,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., one of the lawmakers who requested the GAO investigation. “This report makes it clear that the federal government needs to better communicate and coordinate with states to share best practices to prevent maltreatment. This is a first step but there’s more work to be done to ensure more accountability and better training for residential staff, including when working with trauma survivors and people with disabilities, particularly nonverbal children.”

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