A recent report by the US Congress revealed that there are significant problems in the teen rehabilitation industry and a general lack of oversight and accountability. The US House under the leadership of Congressman George Miller conducted investigations by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) during the 110th Congress uncovered thousands of cases and allegations of child abuse and neglect since the early 1990’s at teen residential programs. The US Congressional investigation revealed that currently these programs are governed only by a weak patchwork of state and federal standards. A separate GAO report, also conducted by at the committee’s request, found major gaps in the licensing and oversight of residential programs – some of which are not covered by any state licensing standards at all. GAO concluded that without adequate oversight “the well-being and civil rights of youth in some facilities will remain at risk.” State reported data to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System in 2005 found that 34 states reported 1503 incidents of youth maltreatment by residential facility staff. Of the states surveyed by GAO, 28 reported at least one youth fatality in a residential facility in 2006. GAO concluded both of these statistics understate the incidents of maltreatment and death. But many facilities are outside the scope of this limited study and many still remain unregulated and uninspected.
The US Congress has needed to examine this problem before in residential treatment centers - first with The Seed and then with Straight Inc. Each time the offending substance abuse treatment program was shut down, but very rapidly new ones sprung up with new legal identities to start the same kind of program all over again. Now there are even more programs who have been reported to be abusive, in spite of numerous state and local investigations and even federal investigations. To those who have been victimized in one of these facilities it is a source of frustration and dismay to realize that not even several US Congressional investigations can prevent the re-occurrence of the same kind of abuse to children. It is a national disgrace that the abuse of children in residential centers has not stopped but has gotten even more governmental power to hide its true nature from law enforcement and regulators. Abusive teen rehabilitation centers are now even more numerous and the industry is still not regulated by the US federal government. There is no adequate means to monitor these facilities for human rights abuses. So it is important to trace the development of public policy in regards to these residential treatment programs in order to determine how they managed to evade public scrutiny and governmental control.
The World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools - WWASPS
The World Wide Association Of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS or WWASP) is an organization based in Utah, in the United States. WWASPS was founded by Robert Lichfield and was incorporated in 1998. WWASPS claims to have treated 10,000 children. WWASPS states that it is an umbrella organization of independent institutions for education and treatment of troubled teenagers, all operating in accordance with WWASP guidelines. Many outside observers believe, however, that the WWASPS-affiliated institutions are actually owned (through limited partnerships, many of which have used the same street address) by WWASPS or its principal officials or their close relatives. WWASPS has faced widespread allegations of physical and psychological abuse of the teenagers sent into its programs, resulting in a lawsuit filed against the organization in 2006.
Why should we be concerned?
Research has uncovered, and families have reported that these teen residential treatment centers have continued to have problems of abuse.
•There are no laws to protect the children outside the US
•Many facilities are not licensed and there is no oversight
•Children often lose their basic human rights
•Many have no privacy to use the restroom or shower
•Children lose contact with the outside world
•Once phone calls with parents are finally allowed, usually 3-6 months after the child enters the program, they are censored; children lose all other verbal contact with the outside world
•Children’s letters to extended family and friends are usually not delivered, and mail is censored
•Many youth have spent months in isolation
WWASPS has had numerous allegations of abuse and many of their facilities have been closed including:
•Academy at Ivy Ridge in Ogdensburg, New York (closed in early 2009; property has been sold)
•Bell Academy in California (shut down in 2003 after issues with state Social Services)
•Bethel Girls Academy in Mississippi (shut down in Feb. 2005 after state officials investigate reports of abuse)
•Brightway Hospital in St. George, Utah (closed in 1998 by authorities for providing inadequate care and abuse)
•Carolina Springs Academy (license revoked, name illegally changed to Magnolia Hills Christian Academy, website changed) in South Carolina. Campus abandoned as of September 2010
•Darrington Academy in Georgia. Closed in March 2009; 90 students were enrolled at the time of closure. School director Richard Darrington was arrested in May 2009 and charged with battery of two students at the school.
•Royal Gorge Academy in Canon City, Colorado, closed in October 2008. Youth sent to Red River Academy.
•Sky View Christian Academy, for boys, in Hawthorne, Nevada. Enrolled about 120 students and employed about 63 staff and teachers, with a total annual payroll of $1.57 million. Closed abruptly in 2007 after a hazing incident.
•Spring Creek Lodge Academy, Sanders County, Montana; operated from the late 1970s until January 9, 2009.
WWASPS programs are still operating
Currently WWASPS is operating the following programs: Cross Creek Programs in Utah, Gulf Coast Academy in Lucedale, Mississippi (formerly Bethel Girls' Academy, Bethel Boys' Academy, and Eagle Point Christian Academy), Old West Academy (formerly Majestic Ranch Academy) in Utah, Midwest Academy in Keokuk, Iowa, Horizon Academy in Amargosa Valley, Nevada, Red River Academy in Lecompte, Louisiana, Woodland Hills Maternity Home in Utah, Pillars of Hope, (previously the site of closed school Academy at Dundee Ranch) in Costa Rica, and Mentor School, located in the former Hotel Carara near Tárcoles in Costa Rica.
Learn more by reading these US government studies by GAO:
Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Programs responds to Congressional Hearings 11 OCT 2007 — Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Programs responds to the testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor on "Cases of Child Neglect and Abuse at Private Residential Treatment Facilities."
Catherine Freet Wilderness Therapy Programs Sends Letter to U.S. Representatives 30 JAN 2008 — Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Programs sends letter to all members of U.S. House of Representatives Education Committee members in response to Committee hearing on residential treatment facilities held on October 10, 2007.
Final GAO Report on Residential Facilities (Full Report) (May 2008) Residential Facilities: Improved data and enhanced oversight would help safeguard the well-being of youth with behavioral and emotional challenges, Report to Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives [PDF, 95 pages}
Final GAO Report on Residential Facilities (Highlights) (May 2008) Residential Facilities: Improved data and enhanced oversight would help safeguard the well-being of youth with behavioral and emotional challenges, Report to Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives [PDF, 1 pages}
GAO Report: Concerns Regarding Abuse and Death in Certain Programs for Troubled Youth (Full Report) (October 10, 2007) Full report of testimony before the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives. [PDF, 38 pages]
GAO Report: Concerns Regarding Abuse and Death in Certain Programs for Troubled Youth (Highlights) (October 10, 2007) Highlights of the report of testimony before the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives. [PDF, 1 page]
Residential Facilities: State & Federal Oversight Gaps May Increase Risk to Youth (Highlights) (April 24, 2008) Highlights of the report by Government Accountability Office of testimony before the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives [PDF, 1 pages]
Residential Facilities: State & Federal Oversight Gaps May Increase Risk to Youth Well-Being (April 24, 2008) Full report by the Government Accountability Office of testimony before the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives [PDF, 21 pages]
Residential Programs: Selected Cases of Death, Abuse, and Deceptive Marketing (Full Report) (April 24, 2008) Full report of testimony before the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives. [PDF, 24 pages]
Residential Programs: Selected Cases of Death, Abuse, and Deceptive Marketing (Highlights)(April 24, 2008) Highlights of testimony before the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives. [PDF, 1 page]