Kidnapping incorporated: the unregulated youth-transportation industry and the potential for abuse.

AuthorRobbins, Ira P.


Strangers come into a child's room in the middle of the night, drag her kicking and screaming into a van, apply handcuffs, and drive her to a behavior-modification facility at a distant location. What sounds like a clear-cut case of kidnapping is complicated by the fact that the child's parents not only authorized this intervention, but also paid for it. This scarcely publicized practice--known as the youth-transportation industry--operates on the fringes of existing law. The law generally presumes that parents have almost unlimited authority over their children, but the youth-transportation industry has never been closely examined regarding exactly what the transportation process entails or whether it is in fact legal.

The companies provide a service to parents who want to send their children to behavior-modification facilities, including boot camps and other residential reform schools, but who are unable or unwilling to deliver the children themselves. A transportation company contracts with the parents to arrange for pickup and conveyance; the parents delegate rights over their children to the company, usually by signing a power of attorney. Due to the circumstances in which these transports typically take place, however, this delegation of rights has far greater implications than simply authorizing the transportation of a child from point A to point B. After suffering the emotional trauma of being taken from their parents, children may suffer physical abuse as well, as the companies often use force in the form of handcuffs and other restraints. This Article examines the details of the transport process and raises legal questions about the disciplinary authority that parents possess, including the extent to which they can grant this authority to a third party.

Similar questions arose in the past with analogous private-transportation entities, but those questions were addressed when Congress issued strict regulations to monitor and limit their ability to transport vulnerable individuals. This Article provides the first in-depth examination of the legal issues relevant to the youth-transportation industry and recommends regulations that should be promulgated to keep the delegation of parental authority in check and thus protect the best interests of the child.

TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION I. BACKGROUND A. Youth-Transportation Companies B. General Rights of Parents and Children C. Child-Protection Laws 1. Child Abuse 2. Kidnapping and False Imprisonment D. Parallels: Juvenile-Offender and Private-Prisoner Transport Industries II. POOR REGULATION IN THE YOUTH-TRANSPORTATION INDUSTRY OPENS THE DOOR TO POTENTIALLY CATASTROPHIC CONSEQUENCES A. Parental Delegation of Authority to Youth Transporters Through Power of Attorney Is Inconsistent with the Purpose of Power-of-Attorney Statutes B. The Circumstances Surrounding Youth Transport Often Constitute Child Abuse C. The Circumstances Surrounding Youth Transport Often Constitute Kidnapping and False Imprisonment D. Comparable Abuses in the Transport of Juvenile Offenders and Private Prisoners Demonstrate the Need for Regulation III. PROPOSED REGULATION CONCLUSION INTRODUCTION

It was a quiet fall morning, just like any another. (1) Everyone was asleep, except Julie's parents, who were anxiously awaiting the call. (2) Julie had been experiencing difficulties at school and at home--the fighting over her recent behavior and disappointing academic performance had reached a boiling point. (3) Desperate and confused, Julie's parents had researched online residential reform schools that focused on adolescent behavior modification. Her parents had discovered a facility that seemed promising and enrolled Julie at once. Because Julie had been acting out, her parents feared that she would refuse to attend the new school and possibly run away. (4) After expressing these concerns to the facility, Julie's parents received contact information for a company that transports youths to the facility and similar programs. (5)

Julie's parents contacted the transportation company and received the necessary paperwork. They signed one form delegating parental rights over Julie to the transporters and another form that absolved the company from liability in case of an accident. (6) They also received information concerning how the process would be carried out; this information explained that the most efficient and peaceful way to transport Julie was for the transporters to wake her up early in the morning and to remove her from the house as quickly as possible. (7) The company recommended that Julie's parents not be involved in this process (8) and assured them that no physical restraints would be used unless absolutely necessary. (9) In addition, the company promised to treat Julie respectfully (10) and to keep her safe throughout the trip.

At five o'clock in the morning, the transporters called to let Julie's parents know that they had arrived at the house. (11) Julie's parents let the men inside and directed them to Julie's room. (12) The parents handed over a small bag of Julie's belongings and remained out of sight. (13) The transporters (14) entered Julie's bedroom while she was fast asleep. (15) One man stood by the doorway while the other jolted Julie awake and quickly informed her that she was going to a new school and that she had to leave with them immediately. (16) Confused, Julie asked if she could use the restroom and change; the transporters refused and told her that everything she needed was already packed in the car. (17) At this point Julie became extremely frightened and demanded to see her parents, frantically searching to see if they were in the room or the hallway. Sensing that Julie was agitated, the transporters restrained her with handcuffs (18) and physically forced her down the stairs (19) and into the secure vehicle. (20)

Julie was upset and asked where these men were taking her. She had no idea where she was going. (21) After a few hours of driving, while at a gas station, Julie asked to use the restroom. To her surprise, she was escorted in handcuffs to the restroom, (22) which both she and the male transporter entered. Julie was released from the restraints, but remained supervised. (23) Immediately after, Julie was restrained again and was escorted back to the vehicle in full sight of the patrons of the gas station. Embarrassed and alone, Julie remained silent and cried in the back of the car for the remaining hours of the drive. (24)

The public is largely unaware of how frequently youth transports, like the one depicted in Julie's story, occur. (25) This Article exposes the world of contracted, purportedly legal, child kidnapping and argues that if these practices are permitted to continue, appropriate regulations must be implemented to protect children's safety and well-being. In addition, this Article highlights the fundamental inconsistencies between the youth-transportation industry and the laws protecting children's rights. First, Part I of this Article describes the problems inherent in the transportation of youths by private transport companies and the laws that are potentially implicated. Part I also details analogous industries that have been forced to comply with regulations similar to those proposed in this Article. Next, Part II demonstrates the parallels between established industries, such as juvenile-offender transport and private-prison transport, and the youth-transport industry. Finally, Part III uses these parallels to formulate recommended regulations to protect the rights of children during transport.


    1. Youth-Transportation Companies

      The youth-transportation industry raises important questions about parental authority, children's rights, and the tensions that exist between the two. These companies are third-party entities that transport children to behavior-modification facilities. (26) Typically when "troubled" children and teens are taken to these facilities in the United States and abroad, parents are unwilling or unable to transport their children themselves. (27) These companies exist to remove and deliver the children efficiently and with minimal resistance.

      Youth-transportation companies are in business throughout the United States as well as internationally. (28) Although often established by former law-enforcement and military personnel, many companies do not require any specific background or training for their employees. (29) Despite this lack of training, parents delegate authority to these companies through a power of attorney. Typically, parents meet with the transport company's representative without the child's knowledge and sign a contract that gives the transporter temporary custody of the child in order to legally transport him or her to a facility, often across state lines. (30) These contracts and the rights conferred are executed independently of the state, with no legal or judicial oversight outside of traditional contract law. (31)

      Most transportation companies employ similar procedures when escorting children. Contact with these companies begins with the parents' initial inquiries and can result very quickly in a child's transport to a residential facility. (32) The transport typically occurs in the middle of the night to ensure that the child is at home and asleep and therefore less likely to put up a fight. (33) Other examples of youth transport involve more brazen activity, such as taking the child from school--often without disclosing the true intentions to school administrators. (34) Parents complete and sign a power of attorney, legally delegating their parental rights to the transporters and authorizing them to exercise almost unlimited control over the child. (35) The consequences of signing this power of attorney are drastic.

      The power of attorney in these circumstances is presumptively valid because parents have the ability to temporarily transfer their fundamental...

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