Thursday, April 12, 2007

Isabelle Zehnder, Founder and President of CAICA

The Coalition Against Institutionalized Child Abuse (CAICA) was founded in 2004 by Isabelle Zehnder.

Isabelle has recently prepared a letter to staff who have worked in abusive facilities asking that they come forward and report what they witnessed. Last summer she helped locate a law firm that would assist families that have been harmed. What started as a 3-plaintiff lawsuit has grown to 82 plaintiffs, and more are expected to join.

She has spent the past three years researching this industry, helping families, mentoring children who have been abused, providing the public with what has been called the most comprehensive website on this topic, working with lawyers and legislators. She has listened to hundreds of stories from children who have been abused and neglected in these programs. She has researched and reported on deaths in programs, something that has been extremely difficult to do. She consults with families in crisis who do not want to make the same mistakes so many others have made.

What she has uncovered has been chilling. It has been the consistency of the children's stories that has convinced her this is a huge, silent, national problem that desperately needs attention. The child/teen help industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar per year industry, and there is no sign of it slowing down any time soon.

Advocacy for this cause has been difficult at best. There are radical groups that want all programs shut down. Isabelle realizes this is not the answer. She has worked to find other organizations and advocacy groups that can assist in her efforts to regulate this industry. After spending the past three years researching deaths in these facilities she has concluded that dangerous face-down prone restraints have been the cause of most restraint deaths. Therefore, Isabelle has recently spearheaded a campaign to ban the use of these deadly restraints.

Isabelle hopes that more people will come forward to be a voice for children who do not have a voice. Time and time again it has been reported that once children and teens are locked behind closed doors of some facilities they have no access to the outside world. Some have gone as long as 18 months or more without speaking with their parents, some have gone as long as 2 years or more without seeing their parents. They are cut off from all contact with other family members and friends. They are allowed to write letters to their parents and parents are allowed to write letters to their children. However, it has been reported that all mail is censored and that often parts of these letters have been blacked out. All at the urging of the program. No clinical studies have proven these methods are effective. There is plenty of proof that it is not beneficial either to the parents or the child. It is not effective in bringing the family unit together.

The bottom line is that children are being abused, neglected, and are dying in some residential programs. This needs to stop. Families do need help at times and they should not have to fear for their child's safety when seeking that help.

Isabelle encourages parents who are considering placing their child or teen in a program or facility away from home to contact her at She provides a free, one-hour consultation to help parents make an informed decision for their child. As mentioned above, this industry is not regulated. There is no Federal oversight and there is no governing body monitoring what goes on behind closed doors. This leaves the door wide open for abuse and neglect to occur. Isabelle believes it is vital that parents seeking residential placement for the child or teen be well informed. This is one of the biggest decisions parents will make, so making it in haste, out of fear, and without doing research can be disasterous, as we have too often seen.