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Do not accept the program's credentials, certifications or licenses without confirming them directly with credentialing authorities. Find out exactly what is covered. Don't take a "gold seal" at face value.

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Use Caution with “Struggling Teen” Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Mother and father argue with son in foregroundMany therapeutic boarding schools for teens have a troubled history of being neither therapeutic, nor places where youths receive an adequate education.

Unfortunately, some, if not most, of these facilities are places of harsh and ineffective “therapy” for young people who have had trouble with family relationships, school performance, acting out sexually, drug or alcohol use, or who have been in trouble with the law.

Youth are isolated from parents and advocates

A hallmark of facilities that may be abusing teens is the near-total isolation of youth. Contact with parents and the outside world is extremely limited. Many are located in very remote rural areas, and youth are forbidden to leave campus. Survivors consistently report that scheduled calls with parents are permitted only rarely, if at all, and are strictly monitored and controlled. Calls are never granted at the request of the child who feels they may be in danger. Mail, if allowed, is censored and/or withheld.

The teens almost never see their parents—a few days a year at most—and family members are rarely, if ever, allowed to visit. We know of no facilities that permit youth to have access to legal or social service advocates. When abuse or neglect occurs, it is virtually impossible for youth to report this to the authorities or to parents.

Confrontational “therapy” known to be harmful   

Nearly all youth we’ve talked to who were confined in these facilities tell us they were required to attend harsh, confrontational group “rap” groups 2-3 times per week for 2-4 hours. In these sessions they were forced to accuse and yell at each other. One student becomes the focus of debasing verbal attacks by the group. The attacks go on until the teen is humiliated and sobbing. Survivors tell us that when they did not participate in attacking another teen, they risked being attacked themselves. These abusive “group therapy” sessions take the place of up to 12 hours of class time each week.

This type of "therapy" has been shown to be harmful, especially to youth with emotional or behavior challenges.

In 2009, the State of Oregon declared this type of program to be child abuse as defined by Oregon law. Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) authorities had investigated Mount Bachelor Academy (MBA) near Prineville, and ordered the school closed immediately.

The report by DHS named nine substantiated claims of abusive practices, including “punitive, humiliating, degrading and traumatizing” activities such as “sexualized role play and reenactment of traumatic events, such as prior physical or sexual abuse.” Oregon DHS also found that “many of [the abusive] behaviors fell within the range of behavior expected, encouraged or condoned by the Mount Bachelor Academy program itself…MBA poses a serious danger to public health or safety of children . . . [and] should not be permitted to continue operating as a therapeutic boarding school for children.”

Complaints about substandard education

Survivors frequently report that the education they received in therapeutic boarding schools was substandard. For example, one young man was given a mathematics textbook and told to teach himself; he was at that school for three years. Many report that teachers were inexperienced or unqualified to teach. Nearly all say that minor misbehaviors, such as making eye contact with a student of the opposite sex, were punished by being banned from the classroom, sometimes for weeks or months.    

States and institutions not recognizing diplomas from programs

Former students of therapeutic boarding schools have found that diplomas and credits from therapeutic boarding schools may not be recognized by state education authorities or institutions of higher learning. For example, in 2005, the Attorney General of New York found that the Academy at Ivy Ridge had been issuing unauthorized high school diplomas, and was falsely advertising itself as an accredited school, and 25 families sued (Dungan, et al. v. The Academy of Ivy Ridge, et al., July 25, 2006).

ASTART recommends that parents and families personally investigate, in detail, the academic credentials of programs and teaching staff. Do not accept the program's credentials, certifications or licenses without confirming them directly with credentialing authorities, even if an educational consultant has recommended them. Ask and understand exactly what is covered by the certification or license, especially medical or behavioral health certifications.

Read more about Deceptive Marketing Practices.

Last updated 5/13/14