What’s best for troubled teens?

Increasingly, Canadian youth are put in U.S. residential programs


Kristen Schmid/ St. Petersburg Times/ Zuma/ Keystone

Using boot camps or wilderness programs to treat youth suffering from emotional, behavioural or addiction problems is a divisive issue in the mental health profession. So a conference in Toronto this month that will include representatives of more than 100 such residential therapeutic programs—four are Canadian, the rest are U.S.-based—has reignited the debate about their efficacy, and the increasing placement of Canadian youth in these facilities.

The conference, organized by the Fairfax, Va.-based Independent Educational Consultants Association, is an opportunity for these programs, as well as traditional boarding schools and colleges, to market themselves to the IECA’s members, who offer placement advice to parents and youth. Mark Sklarow, the IECA’s executive director, says the gathering is being held in Canada due, in part, to an uptick in interest from Canadian clients.

But Roch Longueépée, founder of Restoring Dignity, a Halifax-based NGO that fights institutional child abuse, says the inclusion of U.S. residential therapeutic programs is “a wake-up call” about Canadian recruitment to largely privately run facilities with “a lack of oversight [or] structure for safeguards.” Some recent high-profile cases of abuse and neglect at therapeutic facilities, he says, are proof that such programs can put vulnerable kids at risk. Sklarow says all of the programs represented at the conference have met national accreditation and state licensure standards. “If we have evidence that any attendee at the conference has ever been convicted of child abuse,” he says, “we would not allow them to attend.”

The conference has also attracted the attention of Ontario’s child advocate, Irwin Elman. More than anything, Elman is concerned these facilities fill a “vacuum” of services in Canada, where, he says, “we are not meeting our commitments to children and youth.”


What’s best for troubled teens?

  1. It is important to note that the IECA conference, which brought over 750 professionals to Toronto, featured dozens of presentations by healthcare professionals, experts on learning issues and forums for debate which allowed all sides, including those of Mr. Longueepee to be heard. We all share one overriding concern: treatment for adolescents with behavioral or emotional issues or substance abuse that has prevented them from achieving success in life and school. As an association our members insist that member counselors understand all options: from home-based to community-options to residential alternatives.

    • Dear Mark:

      I am looking for an experinced US Ivy league university adimission consultnat with a good successful tracking record in Toronto area. Will you be able to recommend me one?

      I appreciate your help.

      Sincerely yours

      Xiaoping Wang

  2. I finde the IECA and their associations with programs and member programs that have lost multiple civil suits for abuse and/or wrongful death (i.e. Aspen Education Group, Universal Health Services (CHAD Youth Enhancement Center, Provo Canyon School, etc.) to be nothing but a pretense of credibility for an unscrupulous, greedy, and inhumane industry that regularly defrauds families and hurts kids. Freedom includes the freedom to err. At least, Gandhi thought so. But, these programs do not forgive the growing pains common to the teen years and treat even a "roll of the eyes" as a capital crime. It is time for strict regulation and/or the complete abolition of such programs. We need to strengthen family bonds and heal families, not bankrupt, harm, and destroy them. I guess Mr. Sklarow doesn't understand that.

  3. The US "troubled teen industry" is unregulated, psychologically damaging and at times deadly. There is no scientific basis showing that any of these residential programs help anyone. These programs resemble CULTS more than treatment. PLEASE DO NOT SEND YOUR YOUTH TO THESE PROGRAMS! According to Maia Szalavitz' book, "Help At Any Cost" (a fantastic book on this subject), on pg. 260- " These "educational consultants" present an additional set of problems. Some are former (or even current!) employees of tough love programs and believe in their methods based on this work. Many have little training beyond their own training as parents of troubled teens or as former program employees. …Like many involved in running these programs, often these "consultants" are not licensed professionals of any kind. There's no regulatory oversight – anyone can call him- or herself an educational consultant."

  4. I have information from a person who attended the conference that said that the majority of schools donate some sort of money to the IECA which goes against ethical standards and also shows that are not independent and a conflict of interest. I find it interesting that Mark S brought up Roch L seeing as this man before this conference knew very little about the industry and that all knowledge is peripheral knowledge. Roch L and the IECA both have an common link both are for profit and claim not to be and also both have no idea about the realities of the private residential industry

    • I am just seeing this post now and frankly, your comments Lee Goldman are false and defamatory. You know nothing of my background or experiences. You have a reputation for causing disrution among survivor groups. People in glass houses should not throw stones. I need not remind you of your behavior during this conference raised some serious security concerns for people. I was and continue to be critical of the this industry and IECA. I brought government officials who were likelwise investigating this conference and its attendees. And just so you know, I was also mistreated by this industry and know far more than you think you know about the problem.

  5. The IECA Conference mentioned in this article was protested by several protestors for a few hours on the last day of the conference. Why wasn't this protest mentioned in this article also? It seems like an important event to mention. Also, why were these protestors not interviewed by any local media? Death and torture of youth in private programs is a subject which receives far too little attention.

  6. While there have been a very few instances of indefensible neglect and even abuse at a very few programs in the last 25 years, the hyperbole which regularly gets posted on these comment boards is extremely disproportionate to the entire industry.

    I work at a wilderness program in the states and ask that – if you are needing help for your family and cannot find good options in Canada – that you consider wilderness therapy. If you are unfamiliar with the program and distrust their reputation, do your due diligence: ask hard questions.
    Here are good general questions to include along with your family-specific questions: What kind of training do you require of your field staff and what is the longevity of senior Instructors? Include their behavioral management policies, level of medical expertise in the field and frequency of visits by medical personnel to the groups. What credentials do your therapists maintain? How often are managers in the field, are there any concerns at your state licensing agency? What is the contact information for the state agency which licenses the program? Etc., etc. Then contact the licensing boards and ask them the same questions.

    Good programs are not offended or defensive about this level of concern for your child.

    (FYI: I was at that conference and didn't see any protesters, but that may be because they didn't show until the last hours.)

    • What program??

    • Yeah I am wondering what program you work at as well, because I'm looking for a very good program for me. Thanks!!

    • Hello I am wondering what program you work at? I have a 17 year old son who has major behavioural and anger issues (among other issues). The only way I can get help here in Canada is if he is charged and has a criminal record, which he doesn’t. We want to stop it before it gets to that point.

  7. I am 29 years old and went to an amazing wilderness therapy program when I was 15 and it totally changed my life and my relationships with my family members. There was no "tough" and just love and trust. It is one of the few (only?) non-profit programs and was one of the first.

    I don't know very much about other programs, but I think it is unfair to group them all together.

    PS (I went to ANASAZI)

    •  I would like to suggest one more helpful troubled teens resource to find most of the information on troubled youth is http://www.troubledteens.net/

  8. Parent should always guide their kid or kids. I still believe in Parental Guidance. Responsible Parenthood in accordance with their religious and ethical values.

  9. parents and guardians should give what they think is best for their children that will make them a better person. So sometimes what we have to give to our children are our time, guidance and care for them.

  10. the answer is only two words: Boot camp and it works! Since he/she still a minor it wont be their decision to go or not! That could be the best thing you could do for your teen.

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