As a parent, I've had deep reservations about the for-profit "therapeutic school" industry I'm not alone.
A START, the Alliance for the Safe, Therapeutic, and Appropriate Use of Residential Treatment, is an organization of mental health professionals, parents, advocates, and young adults who came together in 2005 amidst growing concern about mistreatment of youth in residential programs.
These programs are largely unregulated, and are frequently staffed with poorly-trained and poorly-supervised workers from the surrounding communities. The programs tend to be in rural, high-unemployment areas. Many (if not most) have used "Large Group Awareness Training" (LGAT) methods in their programs (see below). Many of the children enrolled in such programs have co-occuring conditions such as ADHD, learning disabilities such as dyslexia, Asperger's syndrome, or psychiatric conditions such as depression or bipolar disorder. The programs do not have a research base in addressing the issues raised by the students' co-occuring conditions.
According to the Oregonian
Mount Bachelor Academy (MBA), a Prineville boarding school investigated by the state for allegations of child abuse, will close by December 9.
The facility will start letting employees go on Wednesday, with a total loss of between 69 and 72 jobs.
The state Department of Human Services told parents to remove their children from the school last week after a seven-month investigation concluded that students were subject to inappropriate sexual role-play, public humiliation and physical deprivation.
The "inappropriate sexual role-play public humiliation and physical deprivation" are all characteristic of the LGAT format of CEDU. The LGAT format used by MBA was renamed "Lifestep".
Mount Bachelor Academy, according to its website, was founded in 1987 by Linda Houghton with financial backing from Barry Weiss of College Health Services. Houghton had been on the staff at CEDU and brought the CEDU LGAT model to Mount Bachelor. Eventually Mount Batchelor became part of the Aspen Education Group, a for-profit chain of programs for "troubled teens".
In 2006, some parts of the Aspen Group developed reservations about the LGAT form of "emotional growth", the mainstay of many Aspen program.
The emotional growth schools that emerged in the 1960's incorporated a number of expressive therapy techniques and experiential methods that were "popular" in the 1960's and 70's such as marathon, encounter groups, and psychodrama. Emotional growth schools recognize the role of feeling and powerful, here-and-now experiences for adolescents.
Advances, however, in our understanding of trauma, the adolescent brain and disorders of affect regulation have correspondingly led to more judicious applications of expressive therapies. These understandings have played a key role in Swift River's implementation of an evidenced based clinical model.
The label from "Lifesteps" to "psychodrama" may have changed, but the abusive conditions go on.
From the "Troubled Teen Help" website.
The state’s action last Monday was deeply disappointing to Mount Bachelor Academy after all of our cooperative efforts these past months. We intend to do everything possible to defend the excellent record of our staff of dedicated professionals built over more than 20 years at Mount Bachelor, and to refute these erroneous allegations.
We are told that the state’s order to suspend operations at Mount Bachelor was largely based on a 200-page report that we still have not been given. However, from what we read in the media, it appears that the report includes allegations that date back as far as 10 to 12 years, many of which were based on a prior treatment process that was overhauled in 2002.
From the April Time Magazine story
"We feel very strongly that for-profit residential facilities are completely inappropriate for special education. They have been shown to be ineffective and commonly employ practices that do harm," says Alison Barkoff, senior staff attorney at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.