So Cynthia Clark Harvey started speaking out. She testified before Miller's committee in October 2007, six days before what would have been Erica's 21st birthday. Clark Harvey has become one of the most vocal advocates in the country on this topic; she's a treasured member of a group called A START (Alliance for the Safe, Therapeutic, and Appropriate Use of Residential Treatment). Clark Harvey is, indeed, an eloquent speaker and writer, at turns witty and heartbreaking — and always painfully honest. (Disclosure: I have participated in writing groups with Clark Harvey for years, and read her poetry and prose about Erica both before and after her death.)

Clark Harvey's work as an advocate is far from over. While the U.S. House of Representatives has now passed Miller's bill twice, in two different sessions of Congress (despite not getting the vote of Clark Harvey's own congressman, John Shadegg), the legislation has yet to be introduced in the Senate, and that could take some time because the Senate Health Committee, which will consider the bill, is currently consumed with the task of overhauling the nation's healthcare system.

The Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2009 would establish minimum standards designed to prevent child abuse and neglect at camps for troubled teens — including physical, mental, and sexual abuse. It requires that adequate medical care, food, drink, and rest be given and establishes civil penalties for violations. States would be required within three years of passage to implement the law. Because the GAO had so much trouble documenting cases of abuse, the act would also establish a toll-free national hotline and a Web site listing documented cases.

A poem by Cynthia Clark Harvey written before Erica died.
A poem by Cynthia Clark Harvey written before Erica died.


THE LOST KIDS: Part 2 of an Ongoing Series

Part 1 told the story of Alex Varlotta, a boy who has struggled with mental illness. When he was 12, his mother called the police as a last-ditch attempt to get him help and keep her family safe. It worked — but at a price. Because their insurance wouldn’t pay for care, the Varlottas had to give up custody of their son to Child Protective Services. Now the state pays about a quarter-million dollars a year for Alex’s care. Today, the Varlottas play a tiny role in the caregiving process.

Part 2 explores another family’s struggle — and the tragic outcome. In both the Varlotta and this case, it’s painfully apparent that adequate services for mentally ill teenagers are tough to come by in our community.

So far, there's been no action in the U.S. Senate.

And even if there is, the sad truth is that a federal law might not do much. The U.S. House legislation is modeled largely after a state law in Oregon, the location of the most recent death at a wilderness-therapy camp, in August. Szalavitz says there have been several deaths at that camp.

"Oregon was supposed to be the state that did it well," Szalavitz says. "You tell me the regulation is working."

The good news is that federal oversight would mean parents could look online and see examples of abuses at programs. The downside, Szalavitz says: "The industry can then say we're federally regulated so we're safe, and that can become a fig leaf to hide what's really going on."

Clark Harvey is devoted to lifting that fig leaf. Even if a law is someday passed, she says, that won't be the end for her.

"The advocacy is painful at times," Clark Harvey says. "But in the last couple of years, it's moved somewhat beyond the personal pain of Erica's death. Now the sorrow is also about all the other families and individuals who've suffered because of these abusive practices.

"Telling our story used to be more cathartic, and I'm grateful to have been able to have had many opportunities to do so, though at times, I really wanted so much more to talk about Erica's life than her death."

Cynthia Clark and Michael Harvey met in 1977, working retail at Goldwater's department store in Albuquerque. They were married two years later. Michael wound up with a job in computer systems, which took them to Colorado, Massachusetts, and, finally, Arizona — just close enough to both of their families in New Mexico.

Erica and Briana were born in Denver, 25 months apart. Cynthia has an undergraduate degree in English and an MBA, but for the most part, she stayed home with her girls.

Cynthia still slips sometimes and speaks of Erica in the present tense.

"Erica's really artistic and she was athletic, in a different kind of way," she says, explaining that Briana was the one who liked team sports. And Briana was "always really the sunshine-y one. Not that Erica didn't have a great smile."

The girls were definitely different from the start. Erica wasn't cuddly. She never took more than a 45-minute nap; Briana would nap for three hours straight.

Erica was always sensitive, her mother recalls. "She really always took things to heart."

When Erica was 3, the family cat was put to sleep. A year later, she'd still cry for the cat at night. And when she was 6, and the family flew to New Mexico to see Cynthia's brother, who was dying of AIDS, Erica fed her uncle ice cream and asked him if she could get him anything.

When she was 10, Erica learned about a no-kill animal shelter in town and persuaded her parents to take her there every Saturday to volunteer, which she did for many years. And that same year, Erica watched the Atlanta Olympics on TV and decided she wanted to dive. That November, she tried out for a diving team and made it — shivering through practices all winter at an outdoor pool.

"Ten was a big year for Erica," Cynthia recalls.

Erica was artistic, always surrounded by friends. "Tons," Cynthia says, laughing. "She was a collector." The Harvey house was the place the kids came to hang out and eat massive quantities of pizza rolls.

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Kids have been dying at these things for decades.

Why didnt she bother to spend 5 minutes looking into their qualifiacations?

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