You may have heard that Paris Hilton made a visit to Congress yesterday. Social media certainly stood up and paid attention when they heard that the “socialite and former reality TV star” would be visiting — but I hope we all paid attention to why.

As a former lawyer for court-involved kids, I was trained to persuade people with power to prioritize the experiences and well-being of my child clients. In a political environment that is actively ignoring the multifaceted needs of children, I was proud to join Representatives Ro Khanna, Rosa DeLauro, Adam Schiff, and Senator Jeff Merkley. And I applaud them for choosing to prioritize the humanity and the well-being of all our children by supporting the Accountability for Congregate Care Act. So long as structural accountability is lacking, institutional abuse will continue to hurt children in congregate care settings. 

I was also proud to stand alongside fellow advocates from the National Disability Rights Network, Think of Us, and Breaking Code Silence as well survivors of abuse at congregate care facilities — including Paris Hilton.

In a Washington Post OpEd earlier this week, Paris detailed her harrowing experiences of abuse at these facilities when she was just a teen and declared that “every child placed in these facilities should have a right to a safe, humane environment, free from threats and practices of solitary confinement, and physical or chemical restraint at the whim of staff. Had such rights existed and been enforced, I and countless other survivors could have been spared the abuse and trauma that have haunted us into adulthood.

Institutional abuse is an unacceptable collateral consequence of congregate care. Ending institutional abuse requires us to stop allocating different levels of protection to children based upon the systems that bring them to congregate care and start seeing all children as our children. Every child deserves protection for institutional abuse regardless of whether the child was dropped off via private transport, a foster care case manager, or a juvenile court worker.

That being said, there is an additional moral tragedy that occurs when children in the juvenile justice system who have been deemed at serious risk of harming themselves or their communities then go on to become victims of institutional abuse in congregate care. Too many places that are meant to keep our children safe are actually pulling them deeper into the experience of trauma and violence.

Far too often the abuses that justice-system involved youth experience in congregate care are shrugged off and paired with statements like “they have to learn their lesson” or “it’s for their own good.” The lessons these young people — who lest we forget are endowed with every bit of beauty and brokenness as non-justice-involved youth -— are learning is that people are expendable and meant to be controlled by any means necessary and that abuse is an acceptable tool.

For any child who is reading this, I need you to know that these are lies.

The Accountability for Congregate Care Act is the right first step for Congress to take so that our government can institutionalize more protective reforms for children rather than institutionalizing the children our government is trying to protect.

Check out the full press conference featuring all of the speakers below: