Archive for the ‘Spring Creek Lodge’ Category

by Jay Stevens

As mentioned in yesterday’s post summing up the hearings for Trudi Schmidt’s teen program licensure bill, there’s a alternative bill in the draft stage and sponsored by Trout Creek Democrat, Jim Elliot.

So, what’s the difference between the two?

Plenty.

The biggest difference between the bill can be found in the text surrounding Section 2-15-1745, MCA, which describes the composition of the oversight board over teen programs.

Schmidt’s bill calls for the board to be expanded from five to nine members, with the addition of a psychologist, physician, a representative from the superintendent of public instruction, and a representative from the department of health and human services. Basically, Schmidt’s bill puts health care professionals in the majority on the oversight board.

Elliot’s bill doesn’t include any change to the current board, which is comprised of three industry representatives and two members of the public, appointed by the Good Guv. In other words, Elliot’s bill keeps the industry in charge of its own licensing – and we’ve already seen how that goes:

In 2005 the Legislature passed a bill creating the Montana Board of Private Alternative Adolescent Residential or Outdoor Programs (PAARP). Later that year the five-member board—which includes three industry representatives—went to work examining the benefits of licensing such schools. Last summer the panel released a 64-page report recommending that the Legislature grant it another two years to continue considering registration and licensure.

I don’t think so.

The next big difference comes in who the licensure program covers. Under Schmidt’s bill, the board has the power to “license and regulate” any program that is a “24-hour supervised group living environment for four or more individuals,” and includes boarding schools, summer camps, religious programs and doesn’t include programs already licensed under the state or girl or boy scouts or 4-H clubs.

Elliot’s bill restricts the bill to behavioral modification programs:

“Program” means a private alternative adolescent residential or outdoor program that provides a structured, private, alternative residential setting for youth who are experiencing emotional, behavioral, or learning problems and who have a history of failing in academic, social, moral, or emotional development at home or in less-structured traditional settings.

The board does not oversee any schools with a “focus on academics,” training or vocational programs, camps, or “an organization, boarding school, or residential school that is an adjunct ministry of a church incorporated in the state of Montana.”

Call me crazy, but I think what the Spring Creek Lodge Academy has shown us is that we can’t afford to let businesses run programs for children without regulation. Period. If we have licensing for food and liquor, we should have licensing for teen programs.

Another reason to support the language in Schmidt’s bill is that Elliot’s bill creates a loophole that could be easily exploited by some of these private behavioral modification schools. All they have to do is reclassify themselves as an academic or faith-based organization, and they’re free from scrutiny. And that’s not to mention the faith-based “straight camps” would probably slither out from under regulation under Elliot’s bill.

Basically, Elliot’s bill protects the status quo, and that’s just not good enough. Not all private teen behavioral programs are bad; but some apparently are. In the end, we shouldn’t allow schools to put profit over the health and well-being of the children in their care.

Support Trudi Schmidt’s bill.

by Jay Stevens 

John Adams has a good summation of the hearing around Trudi Schmidt’s teen program licensure bill.

(If you haven’t seen my posts on this topic before, check them out.)

The interest in licensing teen programs was sparked by abuses that took place at Spring Creek Lodge Academy.

In 2005 the Legislature passed a bill creating the Montana Board of Private Alternative Adolescent Residential or Outdoor Programs (PAARP). Later that year the five-member board—which includes three industry representatives—went to work examining the benefits of licensing such schools. Last summer the panel released a 64-page report recommending that the Legislature grant it another two years to continue considering registration and licensure.

Schmidt wasn’t satisfied with the board’s recommendations, so she responded by introducing SB 288.

What Adams doesn’t mention, is that the 2005 bill was sponsored by Trout Creek Democrat Paul Clark, who himself runs a teen program. Considering that three of the five members of the board created in 2005 belong to the industry (and one seat belongs to a representative from Spring Creek), it’s no wonder they failed to accomplish anything.

A licensure program needs to be created and created now.

According to Adams’ piece, the hearing made evident the widespread support for Trudi Schmidt’s bill from former students, health professionals, and educators. Those that opposed the bill?

The only programs on the record opposing the legislation were Spring Creek Lodge Academy of Thompson Falls and Monarch School of Heron.
Only two people verbally testified in opposition to the bill. The first was Gary Spaeth, a lobbyist for the Montana Alternative Adolescent Private Programs (MAAPP), an organization Spaeth said represents “between 10 and 12” programs operating in Montana (Spaeth couldn’t recall which Montana schools were members of MAAPP, nor could Patrick McKenna, director of Monarch School and the organization’s president).

Spaeth wants the industry to be able to transfer licenses, like alcohol or solid waste. (Senator Kim Gillan: “I found that comment sort of a strange analogy given that we’re talking about children.”)

Spaeth is also against expanding the oversight board so that the industry is in the minority:

According to [Patrick] McKenna, having a lopsided number of board members who don’t represent the industry could stifle innovation at the expense of the teens in the programs.

But we’ve clearly seen the effects of an industry-dominated oversight board. Nothing got done.

Trudi Schmidt’s bill is popular and effective. Let’s get it done. Kids’ lives are at stake.

(There’s a link to the committee hearing audio. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I will and will bring you the highlights. Also, there’s a draft version of a modified version of Schmidt’s bill — LC 1003 — that’s sponsored by Democratic Senator Jim Elliot. I’ll be taking a look at that, too. So there’s more to come…)

by Jay Stevens 

I recently wrote about abuses occurring at a private behavioral modification program for at-risk teens, and called for stricter regulation of teen programs.

There were some very concerned and informative comments to that post, even from my sister who worked at a private teen program in Massachusetts for a few years.

First, the problem here is unregulated private schools, and WWASPs schools in particular, and Spring Creek Lodge, specifically. Second, there exist teen programs of all stripes, and many people who work for them or who have graduated from them swear by them. In no way am I going to pretend that I’m an expert on child psychology or behavior modification, and I don’t know the pain of parenting an at-risk teenager, so I’m not going to comment on these programs in general.

But I will say that the death and assault at Spring Creek have made it abundantly clear that teen programs need more oversight than they already have. Which is next to none. There’s currently no licensing for teen programs in Montana, which is reprehensible, given the awesome responsibility given to these programs.

Enter state Senator Trudi Schmidt’s bill, LC 1004, which creates licensure for teen programs, among other things, such as:

–mandatory background checks for program managers and workers
–program adherence to state building codes
–“surprise” inspections
–adds a physician, psychologist, and a representative from both the superintendent of public instruction and the Department of Health and Human Services to the regulating board
–expands oversight to all overnight teen programs of four or more chidren

None of these provisions seem excessive. I like the change to the board that oversees the industry; the new board ensures that industry representatives don’t start with a majority, but instead seem to give the power to the “swing voters,” the Governor-appointed citizens.

License application of a teen program requires the following information:

–description of the program
–goals and objectives
–population of the program, including max number and gender of children
–location and contact information of the school
–list of professional and supervisory personnel
–average daily number of participants
–policies and procedures on admission; behavior management; communication with family; availability of medical and psychiatric care; medication management.

The board will approve applications.

As my sister pointed out, there’s some risk to programs with cutting-edge or experimental programs. (For example, her school used peer counseling, which the Massachusetts state government did not approve of, although it was widely successful.)

While some may claim that these basic oversight powers will drag down some teen programs, consider what damage more bad news about Spring Creek and the WWASP schools could do to the entire industry. Another death or two, and you’ll have “60 Minutes” crawling all over the state, and then you’ll see what kind of regulation you’ll get.

But what do you think? Are Senator Schmidt’s proposed changes excessive? If so, what can the state do to ensure that no more abuses occur in the industry’s worst schools?

by Jay Stevens 

Montana has a loads of “behavior modification programs” for at-risk teens. We’ve got the rugged terrain they thrive on, and a distinct lack of oversight.

The programs generally rely on a boot-camp-like atmosphere combined with an almost cultish message and style, especially the schools subscribing to the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs theory of behavior modification. The member, and former member schools, divide teens into “family” groups, use a points system, and demand complete obsequious to the program’s “message.” Oh, and the kids can’t leave.

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding these schools – some claim that it’s institutionalized child abuse – several have been shut down, and there are scads of lawsuits out against these schools. The most notorious incident involved the suffocating death of a fourteen-year old boy, Martin Lee Anderson, at the hands of “boot camp” guards – which was caught on film.

Montana’s most controversial program is at Spring Creek Lodge, where a girl recently committed suicide and a boy was savagely beaten by fellow inmates. The Independent’s John Adams has written extensively on the abuses at Spring Creek Lodge and other schools: I heartily recommend reading every word he’s written on the subject.

In the last state legislative session, responding to allegations of abuse, HB 628 put oversight of Montana teen programs into the hands of a five-person governor-appointed board under the Department of Labor and Industry – the brain child of Representative Paul Clark (D-Trout Creek), who also runs a teen program, and an intensive lobbying campaign on behalf of the teen program industry.

The problem with this solution is that it puts the foxes in charge of the hen house: three of the board’s members are representatives of the industry, and the bill ducks licensure of teen programs, as proposed by Senator Trudi Schmidt (D-Great Falls) in SB 101, which would also put regulation under the Department of Health and Human Services. That makes sense – the problem with the teen programs is with the mental and physical well-being of the program participants, not labor issues.

If Adams’ well-written and –researched stories don’t underscore the importance of decent licensing of the industry, check out Montana PBS’ documentary, “Who’s Watching the Kids?” which is a great summary of all the issues and provides video evidence of abuse.

Or check out the testimony on sites created by teen behavioral modification “survivors,” like the Community Alliance for the Fair and Ethical Treatment of Youth,” and the “Coalition Against Institutionalized Child Abuse.”

Bottom line is this: Maybe the programs work. Maybe they don’t. But kids have died, and it’s our responsibility to ensure that abuse isn’t occurring at these teen programs. We need real oversight. We need a real and effective licensing program.




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