Tuesday, October 16, 2007

GAO: Boot camps neglected teens' fatal health problems

Reading an article like this (see below) should make any parent stop and think before sending their child into any residential treatment program, boot camp, wilderness program, behavior modification program, etc.

The Coalition Against Institutionalized Child Abuse (CAICA) (www.caica.org) warns parents about finding programs on the Internet, and encourages parents to try all other options before resorting to sending their children or teens away.

It has been said by many that this is a "Buyer Beware" industry. Parents are encouraged to do extensive research prior to making the decision to send their child away and to remember that at this time there are not governmental regulations and there is no oversight. Anyone can open a program for kids. They can hire staff off the streets who have no experience working with kids, let alone troubled teens. Those people are the ones who often spend the most amount of time with these kids. Some programs do not deliver what they promise, often saying they offer therapy when in reality they do not.

Parents, please beware and do your homework. Your children are the most precious things in your life. It only makes sense to take the extra time to explore other options whenever possible. We understand that parents are at their wits end, that things at home have gotten unbearable at times by the time parents reach the point of looking for placement outside the home.

But we would urge you to stop, take a breath, and reassess. Often many of the problems parents are facing with their kids have to do with miscommunication and a lack of communication. Often teens are crying out for help. It can be very difficult for them to express the fact that it is their parent who they want by their side and who they would like advice from. They want advice, they don't want to be told what to do at this age. They want to start managing their own lives but aren't quite old enough to do that and need your help.

If you've tried therapy and find it's not working, or that your teen won't attend, or if your therapist is recommending you find a residential treatment center for your child or teen, you might want to look into parent and teen coaching. Coaches and parents have found that often coaching works and that most often times the answers lie within you, the parent. You can learn how to coach your own teen as they struggle through this most difficult time in their lives. It won't work for everyone, but we believe it's worth looking into.


By Ken Dilanian, USA TODAY

The mortician told Bob Bacon he needed to see his 16-year-old son's body.
When he looked, Bacon "buckled at the knees," he told Government Accountability Office investigators.

"What he saw was unrecognizable as his son, except for a childhood scar above the eye," says a draft GAO report planned to be released today. The body was "covered with cuts, bruises, abrasions, blisters and a full body rash."

Bacon is scheduled to testify at a House hearing today on the investigation, which was requested by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. The death of Bacon's son, Aaron, at a Utah wilderness program in 1994 was one of 10 fatalities examined by the GAO.

No government agency is able to say how many children have died at boot camps or wilderness programs. The GAO investigators reviewed records, talked to law enforcement officials and interviewed parents. They visited five facilities that remain in operation.

Here's some of what they found:

•A 15-year-old date-rape victim from California enrolled in a 9-week wilderness program in Utah in 1990 to build her self-confidence, her parents said.

Brochures described camp counselors as "highly trained survival experts." The parents would later learn, however, that their daughter would be going on the program's first wilderness trek, a five-day hike on federal land. She collapsed and later died of dehydration.

According to the GAO, the staff ignored her complaints and accused her of faking her illness. Police records say the staff did not call for help because they lacked radios. No criminal charges were filed.

•A month later in Utah, a 16-year-old Florida girl struggling with drug abuse died of heat stroke while hiking during a 9-week wilderness program. The program brochure described "days and nights of physical and mental stress with forced march, night hikes and limited food and water."

The state child protective services agency ruled it was a case of child abuse. The camp was closed and the owner placed on a state list of suspected child abusers — but the owner was able to open other camps in other states and abroad.

•In March 1994, two former employees of that camp opened a new program in Utah. That's where Aaron Bacon died from an acute infection that went untreated for nearly three weeks. He had been sent to the camp because of minor drug use and poor grades.

Court documents say that after 11 days, he fell ill with severe abdominal pain. His condition was ignored for 20 days, until he collapsed. The autopsy showed he died from a perforated ulcer.

Five camp employees pleaded guilty to negligent homicide, and one other was convicted of child abuse. All were sentenced to probation and community service.

•A 15-year-old Oregon boy died at an Oregon wilderness program in September 2000 of a severed neck artery. The boy had refused to return to the camp site after a group hike. Two staffers held him face down for almost 45 minutes in an attempt to bring him under control. The death was ruled a homicide, but a grand jury did not issue an indictment.

For an in-depth look into deaths in residential treatment programs, click here.