August, 16 2018

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What to do about Teen Boot Camps

What to do when your teenager goes off the rails in ways that seembeyond your control anything from drugs and alcohol abuse to depression, violence and more? In desperation, many parents turn to thehundreds of private boot camps, wilderness programs, residential treatment centers, and therapeutic boarding schools across the country.

What Congress is Now Saying about the Troubled Teen Industry

Last week, a report to Congress stamped a long-overdue "buyer beware" label on an industry that hasexploded since the 1990s with only patchy regulation and oversight.Many slick operators sell expensive "solutions" to frantic parents, yet seem to have borrowed their manuals from the sadistic fictional camp in the movie Holes.

There's no hard data on how widespread the abuse is, or even how many camps exist. But the report, by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, is a wake-up call.

It found thousands of allegations of abuse, some of which involved death, at programs across the country and U.S.-operated programs overseas. During 2005 alone, for example, 33 states reported 1,619 staff members involved in incidents of abuse. In one tragedy, a 15-year-old girl collapsed and died while hiking. She lay dead in the road for 18 hours. Staff had accused her of faking two days of illness, not recognizing classic symptoms of dehydration.

Yet despite years of controversy, the industry is lightly regulated. In many states, monitoring and licensing is so lax that camps simply give themselves a label and falsely claim to have expertise in areas from survival training to specific mental illnesses.

What about Good Programs for Troubled Teens?

Properly run, the camps do give many troubled teens "a general sense of mastery" and "the opportunity to feel successful," says Allison Pinto, spokesperson for Alliance for the Safe, Therapeutic and Appropriate Use of Residential Treatment (A START), a task force of leaders in children's mental health. At the same time, "the problems are not limited to just a few programs with a few bad folks."

So how can desperate parents, and their troubled teens, separate the worthwhile camps from the horrors?

Some lawmakers want better federal and state regulation and oversight of the industry. Other proposals include databases and websites like those maintained by Consumer Reports or Trip-Advisor.

All good ideas. And a more comprehensive report later this year will provide better data to work with. For now, though, parents should proceed with extreme caution.

Related Articles:
History of Troubled Teen Boot Camps in the US 10/14/07
Troubled Teens and Canine Assisted Therapy 10/13/07
Florida Boot Camp Verdict: Tensions Run High 10/13/07
Troubled Teen Boot Camps: Proceed with Caution 10/12/07
Help for troubled teens in Florida 10/11/07
Dems want probe of wilderness therapy programs on federal lands 10/12/07
Florida boot camp staff cleared in teen's death 10/12/07
Florida Boot Camp Case Closing Arguments 10/11/07
Investigations ordered into wilderness therapy Programs 10/11/07
Teens Who have Died in Utah Wilderness Therapy Programs 10/10/07

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