In the preview of the episode, a young teen boy is seen being sent to a Wilderness program and the second teen is sent to a 'reform' school with strict rules and dress code. CAFETY's concerns rest on how MTV will portray the industry often labeled "Troubled Teen" programs. In recent years, 'reform' schools have come under intense scrutiny in the media and in Congress due to system wide abuse and the use of practices that undermine the dignity of youth and are widely considered unethical and illegal practices. Wilderness type programs, that often go unregulated by the state and federal government and market themselves as serving youth with disabilities using practices where evidence exists to show practices are not only not healing, but in fact harmful (ie. using punitive measures such as exposure to harsh environments, where youth have to work for their basic rights and are forced to undergo strenuous hiking and live in the woods for weeks on end). Moreover, numerous deaths, even in regulated facilities have occurred, due to an industry wide problem of program cultures that ensure staff place the objective of changing the teen over medical common sense or training and where 'manipulation' is for treatable conditions is suspected as causing youth suffering and death.
In the past twenty years, wilderness programs have been operating as the gateway to the equally poorly understood and generally unregulated industry, so called 'therapeutic' boarding schools - also known by a wide range of names such as reform or boarding schools, character education schools, and behavior modification school. Their overlapping similarity amounts to their marketing to parents of kids with emotional, behavioral, academic challenges, and serious mental health issues who often would not qualify for placement residential treatment centers because of their right to treatment in the least restrictive setting and rights afforded to them to ensure appropriate placement. These "Troubled Teen" programs by-pass such rights by using semantics and, effectively, providing a private detention center for kids who are struggling and need care of their family and community - not trauma that inevitably occurs in these type of programs.
CAFETY's work, the 2007/2008 Congressional Hearings, media reporting and the work by mental health professionals such as the Alliance for the Safe, Therapeutic and Appropriate use of Residential Treatment (ASTART) unequivocally demonstrates that these schools and wilderness programs instill fear in parents by insisting they 'act now' and suggesting their child is in far greater danger than is likely to be the case and promise a 'quick fix'. ASTART data, reported during the 2007 Congressional hearings on Troubled Teen facilities suggests that, after years of attendance at these programs and thousands of dollars spent on them, the coercive and manipulative methods used result in symptoms consistent with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Both of these types of programs have also come under fire as staff and alumni continue to speak out regarding abusive and unsafe conditions, resulting in the closing of numerous programs nationwide, but yet most continue to operate without oversight and CAFETY is unaware of any that allow a child to contact anyone for assistance should he/she encounter an abusive staff or abusive milieu. Most Troubled Teen facilities go to great lengths to keep youth from reporting abuse by monitoring internet access and having password protected phone systems.
CAFETY believes that the best parent for a child is their parent, and though parents (and child) may have much to learn and a parent may even need a break from their child - parenting classes, community care and respite services exist for such a purpose. To send a child thousands of miles away, under limited and monitored contact, does not resolve the broken bonds, but rather further drives a wedge between a parent and child. CAFETY's understanding is that parents who have an 'out of control' teen are usually on the breaking point and the troubled teen facilities take advantage of that raw emotion and very real fears and turn it into profit. Parents often do not see beyond the beautiful facility and well dressed students, for it is beneath the service that lies the terror, sadness, and sense of abandonment and rejection of the model student who speaks the language and learns to perform for their freedom at these Troubled Teen facilities. That brat from such programs as 'Brat Camp' is turned into the child who knows what to say, but has learned little and learned to trust even less. But, that 'brat' is actually a child who may have some serious mental health problems or learning disabilities - none of which these programs are required to screen for or are required to show that their treatment meets the medical standard of care for such a condition.
CAFETY has spent years fighting for mandatory federal regulations for the industry and has successfully mobilized alumni who have, on their own, created campaigns to expose the horrors of specific schools and programs, some that have single handedly shut down these facilities.
While the content of the MTV True Life episode remains to be seen, CAFETY is hoping that the show presents a fair depiction of the troubled teen facilities and industry. CAFETY will continue fighting for youth with no voice, held in the troubled teen industry's schools, programs, and wilderness camps, but the fight is part of transforming something larger than the industry - changing the public misconception that treating youth poorly has value in our society and teaching that the use of care, not coercion to change youth is the only appropriate approach to a society who values its citizens as having an inherent dignity as a result of their humanity - and such humans include youth.
For More information on the Troubled Teen Industry or the fight to regulate it, email us firstname.lastname@example.org .
CAFETY Press Release