Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities

What are Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities?

Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities (PRTFs) are places for children and adolescents to go to receive long-term care. Young people are admitted to PRTFs to get mental health treatment.

The problems with PRTFs

Many PRTFs fail to provide mental health treatment. They are not caring or trauma-informed places. Instead, staff maintain control through strict rules and routines. Kids and youth there may be abused or neglected. And they are separated from their families. This separation makes it harder to work through family issues. PRTFs are also expensive. They are not considered a best practice in treating mental health issues in youth. Yet, North Carolina has increased its reliance on PRTFs — at a rate of 119% since 2010.

Behavioral healthcare for NC kids

NC Health News invited a panel of experts April 21, 2022 to describe the challenges NC kids have accessing behavioral health services, especially when they have developmental disabilities. The discussion featured DRNC attorney Joonu-Noel Andrews Coste; Clarissa Donnelly-DeRoven, NCHN rural health and Medicaid report; and Delia Bailey, parent advocate.

Learn more about PRTFs

Shadow of kind in chair on wall in front of an empty chair

Horrors of a broken system

Investigative reports and news articles reveal that children who are sent to PRTFs can experience significant trauma and often leave in worse shape than when they arrived. Horrific conditions, abuse, neglect, and inadequate staffing are the common themes in their stories. Meanwhile the for-profit companies running the facilities get rich warehousing children.

Empty bed in Piney Ridge PRTF

What the state knows about PRTFs

What really happens behind the locked doors of PRTFs? The state goes into these facilities to investigate complaints. Their reports corroborate the news reports. The state knows these facilities are mistreating and abusing kids. It’s in their own documents.

profile of a girl sitting on the floor by her bed in a prtf. She looks towards a window, her face obscured by her hair. She is sad.

What DRNC is doing

DRNC launched #BringNCKidsHome in January 2021. Learn more about the campaign, read stories of survivors and join our campaign to help end abuse in PRTFs, and increase community-based supports and services so kids can live at home with their families. Tell NC it’s time to #BringNCKidsHome.

DRNC monitors in PRTFs

DRNC monitors in PRTFs to protect the rights of young people. We investigate abuse and neglect allegations, and represent youth in legal matters. One of our target goals for 2020 is to reduce NC’s reliance on PRTFs to treat our children and youth.

In January 2021, DRNC launched #BringNCKidsHome, a campaign to end abuse in PRTFs.

NDRN Member Agencies


Your rights in PRTFs at a glance

You have the right to:

  • Be treated with dignity and respect
  • Not be abused, neglected or exploited
  • Contact your parent or guardian at any reasonable time — not just on your scheduled “phone day”
  • Contact your advocate or attorney at any reasonable time
  • Make and receive private phone calls
  • Send and receive unopened mail
  • Be outside daily
  • Make visits and have people visit you
  • Participate in religious worship

Children’s Rights in PRTFs

View all mental health resources for children and youth: