Tag Archives: wilderness programs

Troubled Teen Industry – Legislation to stop abuse in boarding schools and camps

Troubled Teen Industry – Legislation to stop abuse in boarding schools and camps
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There is good news about stopping abuses in the Troubled Teen Industry.  Today, February 11, 2009, a committee in the House of Representatives voted to present a bill, H.R. 911, to the House for a vote.  You may be interested in the remarks made by the committee chair below.

 

SEE MY PREVIOUS POST ON THIS SUBJECT FROM JAN 26, ’09:

with tips for how to check if a program is legitimate.

 

(excerpt)  Remarks of the Honorable George Miller Chairman, House Education and Labor Committee regarding the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act Wednesday, February 11, 2009.  H.R. 911

 

Today, our committee considered legislation to stop child abuse in residential programs for teenagers and ordered it reported to the House.  It builds on a two year investigation into the shocking abuse and neglect of teens at residential programs across the country.  The Government Accountability Office uncovered thousands of cases and allegations of child abuse in recent years at teen residential programs, including therapeutic boarding schools, boot camps, wilderness camps, and behavior modification facilities.  A number of these cases resulted in the death of a child. Our committee heard stories about program staff members forcing children:

 

–  to remain in so-called “stress” positions for hours at a time;

 

–  to undergo extreme physical exertion without adequate food, water, or rest;

 

–  to stand with bags over their heads and nooses around their necks in mock hangings;

 

–  and to eat foods to which they are allergic, even as they get sick.

 

Bob Bacon, whose son Aaron died after being deprived of adequate food and water at a wilderness therapy program, told this committee last year, “The stories of Aaron’s death and the others who have died, or survived the abuses of these programs, are chilling reminders of the dangers of absolute power, and point out the extremely high risks we take in allowing these programs to operate without strict regulation and oversight.”

 

We heard from parents of children who died preventable deaths at the hands of untrained, uncaring staff members.  We heard from adults who attended these programs as teens about the physical and emotional abuse they witnessed and suffered.  We also learned about the weak patchwork of regulations governing teen residential programs.

 

Parents often send their children to these programs when they feel they have exhausted their alternatives.  They trust that these programs and their staff will be able to help children straighten their lives out.  In far too many cases, however, the very people entrusted with the safety, health, and welfare of these children are the ones who violate that trust in some of the most horrific ways imaginable.  The GAO informed us about programs’ irresponsible operating practices that put kids at risk, and about the deceitful marketing practices that programs use to lure parents desperate for help for their kids.  We know that there are many programs and people around the country who are committed to helping improve the lives of young people and who do good work every day.  But unfortunately, it can be extremely difficult for parents to tell the good programs from the bad.

 

H.R. 911 requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to establish minimum standards and to enforce those standards. Ultimately, however, states will be responsible for carrying out the work of this bill:

 

–   within three years, set standards and enforce them at all programs, both public and private.

–   standards will include prohibitions on the physical, sexual, and mental abuse of children.

–   …will require that programs provide children with adequate food, water and medical care.

–   …require that programs have plans in place to handle medical emergencies.

–   include new training requirements for program staff members, including training on how to identify and report child abuse.

–   set up a toll-free hotline for people to call to report abuse at these programs.

–   create a website with information about each program, so that parents can look to see if substantiated cases of abuse have occurred at a program that they are considering for their kids.

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Filed under bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, law enforcement, mental illness, oppositional defiant disorder, parenting, suicide, teens

The Troubled Teen Industry – A warning about boarding schools and outdoor camps

The Troubled Teen Industry – A warning about boarding schools and outdoor camps
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There is a troubled teen industry out there—boarding schools, outdoor programs, and “boot camps” that are not licensed, not certified, and not experienced with youth with disorders.  Maybe you’ve seen the ads that promise to improve your teen’s behavior in the back of some magazines.  They promise that their program will “fix” your child.  They promise that your teen will learn important lessons about respect and about following your rules.  There are quotes from satisfied parents about how the program saved their teen’s life.  The ads claim that staff are highly trained, strict, and caring.  The location is usually too far to check on easily, an airline flight away from home, often in a rural area.  The cost is outlandish.  To help with payment, the program provides financial advice to parents about getting loans and 2nd mortgages.

 

You’re a desperate parent and you’ll do anything you can to stop the craziness and get a break.  You tell yourself it must be a nice place even though you haven’t seen it in person, yet the representative on the phone seems to know exactly how you feel and what your teen needs.  If you’re desperate, you may not think to ask if the organization is a legitimate mental health treatment facility.  Many are not!

 

What to ask:

 

What is the training and licensure of staff?  You want to know if they have therapists with MSW degrees, registered nurses, psychiatrists or doctors, and if a professional is available on site 24/7.  Mental health programs are about treatment and stability through medication or therapy, and positive activities with lots of emotional support.  Safety must be paramount.  Staff must be aware of the types of things that can go wrong and how crises should be handled.

 

Does the camp or school have a business license in their state?  Do they have grievance procedures?

 

Is the camp or school accredited as a treatment facility, and by whom?  Does it have mental health agency oversight?  Are emergency services (hospital, law enforcement) a phone call away?

 

Can you call and talk to your child when you request?  Can you visit?  Can your child call you when they request it?  Some of these programs limit or disallow parental contact.  Why?  According to one testimonial, a young man was used as slave labor at a camp.  The staff kept communicating to his mother that he was misbehaving, that he hated her and didn’t want to talk, and that they recommended he stay another 6 months.  In this way, they drew out his stay for 3 years.

 

I’ve heard personal testimony from parents and troubled young people whose condition was aggravated by the camp or school, or who felt betrayed by their families.  On rare occasions, children have died at the hands of young, untrained staff who thought they were just disciplining the child.  Other stories included teens being offered drugs by staff or other campers, or sexual relationships with staff or campers.

 

Check out the article below.  The problems in the “troubled teen industry” are significant enough such that an advocacy group has formed to change state laws to protect youth.

 

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Unlicensed residential programs: The next challenge in protecting youth. –excerpt-

 

By Friedman, Robert M.; Pinto, Allison; Behar, Lenore; Bush, Nicki; Chirolla, Amberly; Epstein, Monica; Green, Amy; Hawkins, Pamela; Huff, Barbara; Huffine, Charles; Mohr, Wanda; Seltzer, Tammy; Vaughn, Christine; Whitehead, Kathryn; Young, Christina Kloker

American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Vol 76(3), Jul 2006, 295-303.

 

 

According to this article, many private residential facilities are neither licensed as mental health programs by states, nor accredited by respected national accrediting organizations.  The Alliance for the Safe, Therapeutic and Appropriate use of Residential Treatment (A START) is a multi-disciplinary group of mental health professionals and advocates that formed in response to rising concerns about reports from youth, families and journalists describing mistreatment in the unregulated programs.  There is a range of mistreatment and abuse experienced by youth and families, including harsh discipline, inappropriate seclusion and restraint, substandard psychotherapeutic interventions, medical and nutritional neglect, rights violations and death.

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Filed under bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, mental illness, oppositional defiant disorder, parenting, schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, teens