Thursday, November 29, 2012

HEAL Review of The Discarded Ones by James Tipper

HEAL Book Review: The Discarded Ones by James Tipper
by The HEAL Team

Coordinators and Parent Support Volunteers alike were riveted by James Tipper's The Discarded Ones.  From page one readers are drawn into the life and struggles of Charlie, a teen sent away due to his ability to face reality when his mother could not bear to do so.  Minor details were changed to protect the identities of those referenced in this less-than-fiction work of art.  But, the story itself is true and echoes the painful reality of far too many "discarded ones". 

Whether or not you are a survivor of institutionalized abuse or cults, this book is for you.  It certainly sheds light on how regular kids like Charlie have been discarded by their families and left with strangers in strange environments.  Can you imagine the fear of being left with strangers operating a cultish compound by family members who refuse to face reality and take responsibility?  If not, you soon will if you pick up this book.

The one error, which we understand has been corrected since publication, was the fact that the first bill introduced in Congress to regulate the unregulated, often fraudulent and abusive, behavior modification industry was introduced in 2005, not 2009 as the book suggests.  But, it did pass the House of Representatives in 2009, but with very little bi-partisan support.  See www.heal-online.org/vote.htm for more information on the 2009 vote.  For information on previous versions of the bill, check out www.heal-online.org/ebook.pdf or look up HR 911 AND 2009 using your favorite search engine.

HEAL is happy to recommend this book and we hope you will pick up a copy and take a walk with Charlie. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Perfection, Hypocrisy, and Other Issues…

By Angela Smith

What is the definition of perfection? Many sources say it is completion. Those who work to nurture personal and universal health and harmony understand that nurturing and working on a future goal in itself shows processes are incomplete and therefore imperfect by definition. So, in our present lives and times, we are not perfect.

Hypocrisy is, on a basic level, the act of saying one thing and doing another. More or less, everyone has been hypocritical at one time or another. It is something we can all guard against. And, it helps if we can look analytically at ourselves and if we can at least consider the recommendations or constructive criticism of others.

I find it somewhat disheartening when someone’s hypocritical actions lead to the inhumane or subhuman treatment of others. Adults have a responsibility to consider their words and actions and how they impact others. Everyone does, really.

One of the major hypocrisies I have found is that people will seemingly blindly do what they accuse others of doing without recognizing or examining their own actions. For example, Jane could unwittingly say something that offends David. David could then stop talking to Jane and cut off communication. And, both Jane and David could claim that the other is wrong.

What if David had responded calmly and asked for clarification? What if David responded upset and accusatory and Jane stopped talking to him? What if both Jane and David started hating each other over a misunderstanding and their own over-reacting?

I’ve personally seen Jane and David’s relationship repeat itself with individuals I know. And, I find it disturbing. I wish maturity was easy and that there was a universal expectation and representation of reasonable and responsible interaction. Given that this isn’t the case, I’d hope to settle on the possibility that everyone can realize their own imperfection, accept their own flaws and those of others, and try to give as much consideration to the feelings of others as we give to our own.

Friday, May 4, 2012

It Is Unwise To Trust Those That Lie...

By Angela Smith

HEAL has received quite a few requests for editing of our site by behavior modification programs, their staff, and former staff.  Often, these requests contain flat-out falsehoods that the program or staff believes will result in a benefit to it or them.

We posted a voice-mail we received with blatant lies and manipulation by Greg Hitchcock, formerly with Abundant Life Academy and Mount Bachelor Academy.  You can judge for yourself at http://youtu.be/Z6XHYTOvuhM.

This week, we received an e-mail from Janine Hieb, formerly with the now closed Choteau Youth Ranch.  Hieb said, "I want my name taken off of the website for the Choteau Youth Boys Ranch. I have never worked for that ranch and do not know why my name is on there." And, "There is no one else in with my name. I also want to assure you I did not work for the Choteau Boys Ranch."

HEAL provided Hieb with the staff list from 2007 taken directly from a copy of Choteau Youth Ranch's own website at the time.  We told Hieb that she would need to have the former owner/director of Choteau Youth Ranch contact us and state that Hieb never worked for Choteau Youth Ranch and that Choteau Youth Ranch falsely advertised that Hieb worked for the program.

We received an e-mail on April 30th, 2012 from Ron Daley, the program director at Choteau Youth Ranch in MT in 2007.  Daley said: "Writing this in regards to the Choteau Youth Ranch or Choteau Ranch for Boys. You are putting a name of an individual that never even was associated with this program. I was the Program Director (Ron Daley) at one time.  Janine Heib was never part of this program."  One might think the issue is resolved.  But, it is not.  We provided Daley with the copy of Choteau Youth Ranch's website where Hieb was listed as staff.  And, we asked Daley if Hieb ever worked for Choteau or if Choteau falsified its staff list.  Here is the response we got from Daley:  "Thank you for your response so quickly. Everybody on that list was full time staff except for the counselors. They were only contracted. So Pam Johnson, Janine Heib, and Linda Blankenship weren't full-time staff."

As you can see, the initial contact and follow-up messages regarding Choteau and Hieb are full of contradictions and misinformation.  And, this is our most common experience with the industry and why working with the industry is not within the scope of what is reasonable given their propensity for dishonesty.

On very rare occasion, we are contacted with real and factual information and a legitimate request for correction to our site contents.  We check out every request for editing made and re-verify the information posted or confirm the information submitted that adds context or corrects mistakes.  Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming amount of dishonesty by those within the industry and representing the industry, we find it difficult to take anyone from the field at their word and always double-check anything they say against independent sources, public records, and available information.

It is unfortunate that lying comes so easily to operators of behavior modification programs.   It may be the primary reason that fraudulent and abusive programs continue.  They convince (con) the unwitting public (talk show hosts) and parents that they mean well and can help.  But, really, they are nothing more than snake-oil salesmen.  Your best bet is to remember the old saying "Buyer Beware" and don't go bankrupt emotionally or financially by investing in the "teen help" scam.  Sometimes nothing is better than anything.  Think about it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Manipulation and Lies, How Programs Destroy Lives

by Angela Smith

HEAL recently celebrated our 10th Anniversary fighting institutionalized abuse and supporting other human rights, environmental, and animal welfare campaigns. In the last ten years, we have been up close and personal with victims and survivors of institutionalized abuse. We have witnessed the long-term damage caused by the methodology, manipulation, and lies of deceptively marketed behavior modification programs.

Some victims of institutionalized abuse never recover to the point of living healthy lives and having healthy relationships. And, the twisted methods of the programs seems to have left some in an emotionally infantilized state of mind. Some victims appear unable to reclaim their lives and mature into functioning, responsible, and considerate adults. And, it seems that cruel or immature "acting-out" against those they use as surrogate family or parents is a repeated pattern that cannot be broken by even the most compassionate, loving, and ethical survivor advocate. These instances are rare. But, when they surface create a lot of pain, distress, and heartache for the entire survivor community.

In these rare instances, victims of institutionalized abuse mimic those in authority at the programs where they were held captive. They will misrepresent information so as to avoid accountability or responsibility for their actions. They will flat out deny any wrong-doing even when hard evidence such as audio or video footage of the actions are available. They will claim that their words have been twisted by others to persecute them. And, they will attempt to use the kindness, goodwill, and compassion of others against them to "save face" or create confusion and distress to avoid accountability. These behaviors are taught by and learned at behavior modification programs. And, they create distrust, isolation, and a repeat pattern of pain and rejection.

HEAL is a network of survivors and families that have been victims of fraud and institutionalized abuse. We advocate for children and families and do everything in our power to stop the institutions from ruining more lives. We are an inclusive network and we do our best to support all victims and survivors of fraud and institutionalized abuse. And, this means not working with those who would harm other survivors or our work through personal or other forms of attack. And, sometimes it means for the greater good, that we take action to protect ourselves and others from perceived harm.

HEAL hopes that all victims of institutionalized abuse will truly heal, recover, and live healthy and productive lives. Our hearts go out to each other and to all who have suffered at the hands of fraudulent and abusive programs. For the few who find themselves excluded by or from HEAL, temporarily or permanently, we hope you understand that we are doing what we believe is necessary for our personal safety and the greater good. And, we hope that someday you will have the insight and wisdom to understand that HEAL is made up of human beings. And, that we have feelings, needs, desires, and goals that require us to make decisions that will best meet or help us achieve an end to institutionalized abuse.

The programs use methods that require children turn on themselves and write out false confessions. The programs often encourage children to spy on, lie about, and set up other children in the program in order to make the victim a target for punishment, scorn, and abuse. The programs say whatever they can and encourage others to be sociopaths in saying and doing whatever they can (ethical or not) to get what they want or need. Programs teach children to lie and some children fall victim to the brainwashing to such an extent that they believe their own personal needs/wants justify any action no matter how unethical or harmful. And, unfortunately, HEAL has learned a hard lesson through experience that a rare few victims repeat the patterns of harmful actions outside of the program. And, while these victims deserve and have our love and compassion, we cannot devote time to those very few who cannot break free of the mental chains of the program. For those few, you will need to free yourselves and when you are ready, we can't wait to work with you and welcome you back.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Crazy Interventions v. Reasonable Suggestions

by Angela Smith

I've been thinking a lot about what is and is not acceptable and appropriate in human relations. So, I've decided to use a number of situational examples with inappropriate (crazy) responses and acceptable (reasonable) suggestions. I hope you get something out of this entry and that at least some of the examples can be used to benefit your relationships.

Example #1

Jeremy is sick. He believes he is terminally ill. Janet cares about Jeremy. Janet has many options in regards to how she chooses to intervene or support Jeremy. We will go with two for brevity's sake.

Janet's Crazy Intervention Option: Janet can contact Jeremy's parents to keep tabs on his welfare. Janet can make appointments with doctors for Jeremy without his consent and then manipulate or attempt to manipulate him through guilt or other emotional warfare to get him to go to the appointments she has made for him.

The above scenario crosses a number of lines. Janet has disrespected Jeremy's autonomy and intervened in an over-bearing manner. She has taken her concern/care for her friend Jeremy too far and has definitely crossed the proverbial line or violated Jeremy's personal boundaries. She may be well-meaning. But, this type of intervention is unhealthy and controlling. Jeremy has every right to put his foot down and refuse her "help".

Janet's Reasonable Suggestion Option: Janet can be supportive of Jeremy and help him investigate his options without making decisions or trying to make decisions for him. She can make suggestions and even state her feelings and opinions regarding what options she would consider if she were in his shoes. And, she can do so while respecting his autonomy.

The above scenario is supportive and respectful. It does not cross any lines nor exhibit any unhealthy or controlling issues as were present in the "crazy" option.

Example #2

Carrie wants to eat at a restaurant that has a history of customers contracting food-born illnesses. David cares about Carrie and is aware of the problems with the restaurant. Carrie is also aware of the problems with the restaurant, but, really respects one of the chefs that frequently assists the restaurant with menu suggestions. Carrie owns her own restaurant and consults with the chef that assisted in the "tainted" restaurant's menu. While David also has many options of how to handle the situation, I will stick with the two as in example #1.

David's Crazy Intervention Option: David quits his job. Follows Carrie everywhere with a list of menus from other restaurants and tells her he will cook anything she wants that is offered at the "tainted" restaurant to ensure she does not ever eat there. He tells her he will do whatever it takes, including proving that the chef she likes is absentee at best and that the chef is not aware or simply ignores the problems with the restaurant. He goes so far as to threaten to burn the restaurant down and to focus all of his time and energy in making sure she never eats there.

The above scenario is borderline psychotic on David's part. Carrie has a right to choose where she wishes to eat. And, he doesn't have to eat there as well. So, he needs to allow Carrie to learn the hard way, if necessary. David's putting his entire life on hold and basically stalking Carrie to control her behavior in regards to where she eats crosses many lines and is unhealthy for both of them and their relationship.

David's Reasonable Suggestion Option: David can do his own research and present as much information as possible to Carrie to inform her of the dangers involved with eating at the "tainted" restaurant. He can tell her he will not join her in eating there. And, he can warn their mutual friends as well to make sure that everyone is making an informed decision in regards to the restaurant.

The above scenario is reasonable and shows respect for Carrie's right to make her own choices as well as allows David to provide information and clear boundaries regarding what he will and will not participate in as far as the restaurant is concerned. We can only hope Carrie's infatuation with the advising chef dissipates before she poisons herself and/or any of her associates.

Example #3

Teenager wants to dye hair purple. Parent does not agree and opposes dyeing the hair an "unnatural" color. Parent has many ways to deal with this scenario. As above, we will continue with the two options.

Parent's Crazy Intervention Option: Parent hires kidnappers to take teenager to undisclosed private prison where the teenager's head is shaved and no hair dyes are allowed. The private prison also denies all forms of self-expression, popular music, and access to television, newspapers, reading materials, unmonitored telephone calls, and uncensored mail. Teenager is not even allowed to shower or use the toilet privately. And, is "supervised" 24-7 by unqualified staff or "guards".

In the above scenario, the parent is beyond over-reacting and not considering (therefore not respecting) the thoughts and feelings of the teenager. And, the parent is violating the civil rights of the teenager and, according to some district attorneys, the law. The parent is crossing a lot of lines and is not recognizing or encouraging healthy and respectful boundaries between the parent and the teen. The parent's reaction is inappropriate and unacceptable.

Parent's Reasonable Suggestion Option: Parent recommends teen use temporary hair-color and see how the teen's classmates, school, and/or employer react to the change. This will give the parent the opportunity to see if his/her concerns are warranted and the teen an opportunity to try out the hair color without making a commitment to it. After which, both will be in a better position to discuss whether dyeing the hair more permanently is acceptable or even still desirable by either party.

In the above scenario, the parent is showing support and respect for the teen's individuality and self-expression. The parent is giving both him/herself and the teen an opportunity to test the teen's proposed change in a reasonable compromise. And, this will show trust in the teen's decision-making skills while allowing for the teen to try out something new that is neither illegal nor immoral.

Three examples should suffice and I hope they do. In each example, there is no doubt that Janet, David, and the Parent care deeply for their friends and family and wish to prevent perceived harm, be it physical or emotional.

In the first example, Janet's crazy option was to try to control the situation and may have been based on her own fear of losing Jeremy or witnessing Jeremy's suffering. But, she acted out of fear, not love, in her approach to the situation. She allowed her fear to drive her to intervene inappropriately and to fuel her over-bearing response to a sensitive situation.

Janet's reasonable option was to work independently and with Jeremy to find solutions that may lessen Jeremy's suffering and supportively, with love, assist him in reviewing his options and situation. Janet's curiosity and concern may have manifested in suggestions and a desire to know if Jeremy's situation could improve. This is reasonable given their friendship.

In the second example, David's crazy option was to control the situation through force, mania, and fear. David was not satisfied with having presented information or even continuing to provide updated information regarding the ongoing problems with the restaurant. He would stop at nothing to prevent Carrie from trying out the "tainted" restaurant. This was certainly meant to protect her from harm and food-born illness. But, the option showed no respect for Carrie's right to make her own choices and take her own risks. This is why the "crazy" option is unhealthy and not recommended.

David's reasonable option was to warn Carrie, refuse to go with her and/or support the "tainted" restaurant, and warn their mutual friends of the danger. This provided their community of friends an opportunity to make an informed decision regarding where they choose to eat and also showed respect for Carrie's independent decision-making. It can be difficult to hold back when a friend is going to make a perceived error that puts their lives, reputations, and/or health in jeopardy. But, it is necessary if healthy boundaries are to be maintained by all.

In the third example, the parent's over-reaction in sending his/her teen to a private prison for wanting to dye his/her hair was likely based on fear of being judged or pre-judged based on appearances. The parent wanted to protect him/herself, the family, and probably the teen too, from being made a source of ridicule by neighbors, classmates, co-workers, family, and friends. But, again the decision here is based on fear and not love. This is the primary basis for all mistakes that appear to exhibit irrational or unreasonable control over others.

The parent's reasonable option shows trust and respect for both the parent and the teen's concerns and desires. And, will likely provide a good learning experience for both. The reasonable option was based on love, tolerance, and trust. And, that is always the way to go.

Whenever someone exerts control or attempts to dictate how another legally chooses to express him/herself, it is unhealthy. And, that includes telling others what they can and cannot say, think, feel, or any related self-expression. It is reasonable to warn a friend or loved one regarding a perceived harm and it is reasonable to notify them of a harm they have caused by making a poor choice such as inviting an unwitting friend to a restaurant where food-born illnesses are commonly contracted. It is crazy to cross the line into attempting or successfully achieving, even temporary, absolute control regarding another's legal choices/actions.

This is a balancing act and is best maintained by treating others the way one wishes to be treated him/herself. And, generally, such dictates that we respect each other's freedom and right to make choices, even when we disagree.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Troubled Parents: A Look at the Real Problem

By Angela Smith

I had the privilege of interviewing 51-year old survivor, Scott Walker, last week. He is a survivor of both domestic and institutionalized abuse. You can listen to that interview by visiting www.heal-online.org/swalker.mp3. Walker discussed his abusive home life and the lies and manipulations of his parents that resulted in his being spirited away to group homes for much of his youth. Walker's story is far from unique.

I have spoken to very few parents who have truly exercised every responsible and reasonable option prior to seeking institutionalization for their children. I have seen interviews with parents who had their children taken from them by the State and the State subjecting those same children to abusive institutions. One instance was of a mother whose daughter had stomach cancer. The doctors did not test for cancer and stated they found nothing wrong. The last doctor reported the mother to Child Protective Services, suspecting she suffered Munchausen by proxy. Munchausen by proxy is a mental disorder in which a caregiver intentionally makes a ward ill in order to get attention or sympathy from others. The State investigated and took the daughter away. They placed the daughter in a residential treatment facility. After two years of complaining to the residential treatment center that she continued to have stomach pains, they took her to a doctor. And, she had advanced stomach cancer. Even after the mother and daughter were reunited, the State refused to apologize or admit error. The residential treatment center stated they believed her complaints were a symptom of mental illness or delusion brought on by the mother's non-existent Munchausen by proxy. And, so her illness was not properly diagnosed nor treated in a timely manner.

In another instance, a father had been raping his daughter and she reported him to her school counselor at public school. The counselor reported it to the police and Child Protective Services. The report to police and Child Protective Services was not acted upon immediately. Days after the victim made the report to her counselor, her father sent her to a residential treatment center to avoid investigation and prosecution of his crimes. The girl spent over a year in residential treatment before someone at the program believed she might be telling the truth and called the school counselor to verify. After spending a year in an environment being called a bad kid and told the rapes didn't happen, the truth came out and the father was prosecuted. But, this is one of the few cases where the truth saw the light of day.

It is not unusual for parents to be neglectful and/or abusive towards their children. And, sometimes the neglect and/or abuse is not obvious. Some parents "play the victim" and find ways to make everyone else the "fall guy" for their own misdeeds and faults. I've spoken with parents by phone and in person who neglect their children and emotionally abuse their children in my presence. I often struggle with the best way to respond to such a situation and weigh the risks versus the benefits of saying something or reporting these abuses. For instance, one parent, with whom I have spoken frequently, often yells at her children and neglects their needs. She is more concerned with her own need for attention and unable to give the needed attention and affection to her children. This same parent institutionalized one of her older children and has almost exhibited Munchausen by proxy in inventing a disease for her older child and then blaming her own lack of responsibility and attentive parenting on the institution itself. The institution/program was definitely abusive. But, this parent fails to accept responsibility in her choice to send her child away in the first place and wants all of the attention and sympathy for herself.

In other situations, I've witnessed parents lie about their children or hate their children because they are gay or have some "imperfection" that the parent can't accept. Some parents have stated they will institutionalize their child if they receive less than an A in every course in school. And, I've known victims of institutionalized abuse who were enrolled in a program simply for getting an A-/B+ on a report card. Many parents reading this blog will likely agree that such is extreme and absurd. But, the larger problem is that the programs will accept children on any basis and will not refuse any new enrollment because it means cash to them. So, we have a system where children can't win.

Often good, well-adjusted kids, are sent to programs for some absurd reason that most people would think is ridiculous. But, once enrolled, the programs know that they must get "dirt" or manufacture "dirt" on an otherwise good kid if the money and enrollment is to be "justified" and to continue for a long-period until the cash cow is milked dry. Children are forced to write letters confessing to things they've never tried nor done that would make any character on HBO's "Oz" look saintly. And, neglectful and hateful parents believe the false confessions or go along with them in order to get out of being responsible for their child for as long as possible.

Neglect is the most under-reported form of child abuse and is not always apparent. Children can be neglected physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. And, the markers are not always easy to read. They can take the form of a child who stays quiet and out of the way. Or, they can take the form of a child who acts out in order to get "negative attention". As Scott Walker stated in our interview, children who act out are doing it for a reason. And, it is up to the adults in a child's life to find out the reason and address the underlying problem. When we institutionalize our children, we are abandoning them and neglecting them. We are showing clearly a disinterest in their lives and an unwillingness to bond with and understand them. Children deserve much better from us.

I would recommend parents spend less time on Facebook or commenting on "America's Got Talent" and more time getting to know, understand, and love their children. It is easy to send a stranger away. And, it is difficult to send away someone you truly love, appreciate, and respect. Please take time to know your children and give them the attention they need and support they deserve. Start by being honest with yourself and with your children. Remember respect is showing consideration for the thoughts and feelings of others and that it should always be mutual. And, don't use fear as a means of controlling children. Children learn what they live and live what they learn. Live by example and be a source of love, honesty, respect, and compassion. This will benefit you and enrich your life and the lives around you for a lifetime.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"Vampires Suck" v. "The Breakfast Club"

By Angela Smith

"The Breakfast Club", along with other films by John Hughes made in the 1980's gave a valuable reminder and insight to the frustrations, perils, and coming-of-age struggles of teenage life. There have been very few films that have better represented what it is like to be a "misfit" youth among conformists and elitists. And, it is John Hughes who likely saved the lives of thousands of teens in the 80's by giving them a reflection not wholly encompassed by other forms of entertainment.

Recently, I had the misfortune of watching "Vampires Suck". It is a parody of the "Twilight" films. "Twilight" appeals to some "misfit" youth of today and should not be disparaged by such an anti-youth film as "Vampires Suck".

"Vampires Suck" is anti-youth and rather disgusting. It exploits teen sexuality. It creates inappropriate sexual innuendos between a father and daughter. And, the attack on the "new" or "weird" girl as being dull, boring, but, "hot", is insulting to women and girls of all ages. Being an individual (or "different") is something that should be encouraged. Individuality should be encouraged. But, the "Vampires Suck" storyline solely works to make youth and individuality look stupid. The movie supports anti-youth propaganda that results in children being demonized and placed in programs. And, the teen girls in the film are brutal, but, this appears to be the accepted norm in the film. This is also distressing as a viewer and a woman who survived "mean girls" in my youth. It seems only stupid, mean girls would like the film. Meaning, girls/women who hate girls that are smarter or have more depth of character than they do and who target those who are "different" with ridicule, insults, and abuse.

It is very disappointing that Hollywood is putting out anti-youth propaganda of this nature. And, it would be great to see more films depicting children and teens from a humane and honest perspective.

"Weird Science", "Sixteen Candles", "The Breakfast Club", "Some Kind of Wonderful", and a number of other great teen movies from the 80s are classics because they speak to an eternal truth about the struggles and tribulations of coming-of-age youth. They also depict various socio-economic and conformity v. non-conformity struggles that occur at all levels of society. And, it is such films that will stand the test of time and continue to comfort youth in generations to come.

"Vampires Suck" truly sucks. And, it is definitely for those with no brains and no heart. Sexually disturbed individuals with "daddy issues" may sadistically like the story-line and/or enjoy the sick sexualization of teens or the viciousness of the "mean girls" in the film. However, well-adjusted people who remember their awkward first kiss or "first time" will know that the humor is false and not representative of a youthful spirit. And, individuals who were targets of bullying by conformist "mean girls" or their male equivalents do not need films such as "Vampires Suck" encouraging such maltreatment or making light of such ridiculing and cruelty.

"Pretty In Pink" is another John Hughes film that deserves mention. It respectfully and honestly addresses the issues that face a "misfit" teenage girl who faces her fears, stands up to those that bully her, and proudly attends her "prom" even though the majority rejected her. That is a story that strengthens and comforts both young men and young women who face cruel bullying by those who would seek to conform or condemn those who do not.

In the end, teenagers are human beings that are transitioning from childhood to adulthood. They have raging hormones and ever-changing demands, expectations, desires, and responsibilities. If we can all remember being a teenager and what it was like, our children will fare much better than we did. And, if any "grown up" needs a reminder, please check out the films of John Hughes. If you look at a film like "Vampires Suck" to understand youth of today, it will only reinforce your misunderstanding and dislike for them. Please, look at comedies that are made with love, compassion, and the artfulness of a "slice of life" that will help you relate to youth. Do not fall victim to films that falsely depict youth as stupid, hyper-sexed, mean-spirited, or otherwise unlovable. Show your "teen spirit" and put a little love in your heart.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

HEAL is NOT a Referral Service

By Angela Smith

HEAL receives a number of requests from programs and families asking us to refer to or recommend "good programs". We explain our policies regarding program recommendations on our FAQs page at www.heal-online.org/faqs.htm. However, it seems that even with our policy made quite clear, some people are unable to accept it. So, we hope this article will be the final word on the subject.

There are four primary reasons we do not refer to nor recommend programs. The first reason is that we are a victims' rights network working to stop institutionalized abuse and for justice for victims of fraud and abuse. And, it has been our experience that referring to or recommending programs (good or not) provides fraudulent and abusive programs with an argument that all advocacy organizations/networks are simply working for competitors to smear the competing programs. The second reason is that referring to or recommending programs would create an unreasonable risk of legal liability for HEAL and our volunteers. The third reason is our commitment to children and families. And, the fourth reason is our commitment to society and American values. We shall explore these reasons in greater detail below.

We are committed to human rights and civil rights (Constitutionally protected rights). And, we support individuals and families who have been victimized by fraudulent and abusive programs. Referring to programs is not a part of our agenda and does not fit in with our goals and values. Beyond this, there is a well-established history of so-called advocacy groups speaking out against abuse at some facilities while profiting from referring to equally abusive programs. One example of this is Sue Scheff's Parent Universal Resource Experts (PURE). Scheff/PURE has been a very public opponent of the abuse at the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools' (WWASPS) programs. However, she has also referred to equally abusive programs such as Whitmore Academy (closed by Utah authorities due to abuses) and Focal Point Academy (Scheff was a named co-defendant in a suit against this program). (See: http://www.heal-online.org/focal.htm and links on that page) Due to such actions, abusive programs can and do claim that all advocates are simply trying to smear their competitors or those competing with programs that are partnered with those so-called advocates. HEAL prefers not to become involved in such confusing and muddying-of-the-waters actions as referring to programs. We believe it is most representative of our goals to avoid providing any assistance to those who engage in fraud and abuse. And, that includes avoiding providing a basis for an abusive program claiming that our reports are simply a tool of the competition. HEAL will never take action that will make such an argument seemingly accurate by referring to or recommending programs.

As shown above, referring to or recommending programs can make one a target in a lawsuit. There are two primary legal liability issues involved. One, if we were to refer to or recommend a program we believed to be "good" and it turned out to be abusive or fraudulent, we could be sued as a co-defendant with the program. This is even more true when HEAL promotes strict standards and works to expose fraud and abuse. The reasonable expectation a family would have is that HEAL would only recommend a "good program" and that any program we recommended would have to be "good". HEAL does not wish to assume legal liability for referring to any program (good or not). And, therefore, we do not refer to nor recommend programs. In addition, if a family were to contact us after having already contracted with one program and we were to dissuade them from using that program and recommend another, we would be committing an actionable tort for which we could be sued by the program losing the client. So, to refer or recommend programs would put us at risk for lawsuits, by families who may be harmed by programs we recommend, and by programs who may lose out to competitors on the basis of our recommendations. To avoid these legal liability issues, HEAL chooses not to refer to nor recommend programs.

Beyond legal liability issues, HEAL sincerely believes that children and families require support. And, our commitment is primarily to children and their families. There are too many instances where poor parenting skills, self-centered/selfish/entitled parenting, and other resolvable issues are avoided by irresponsible parents who seek an "easy answer" or "convenient solution". It is very rare that we receive a report from a family who truly has an "out of control" child or teen. We often get reports that children who have been sexually or physically abused by a parent or step-parent is sent away to avoid the authorities getting evidence needed to prosecute the parent or step-parent. Parents have contacted HEAL stating that they want to send a child to a wilderness camp for a few months so they can take an extended European vacation. They use the programs as a virtual "kennel" for their children. Whether the issue is neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or some combination of abuses, the parents must face their own deficits and invest their time in working with their children and within their community to resolve family struggles. HEAL does not believe in enabling bad parenting by coddling parents at the cost of a child's freedom and well-being. And, we are concerned that irresponsible parenting will lead to apathetic adult-children who will institutionalize their parents when they become elderly, disabled, or otherwise inconvenient. HEAL is dedicated to stop institutionalized abuse of the elderly as well. But, with limited resources, we see children as the future and in need of our immediate attention. For the sake of all families and family members, institutionalization must stop.

Families are microcosms of our society. And, unhealthy/unhappy families make for an unhappy/unhealthy society. HEAL is committed to our society and American values of liberty and justice for all. And, part of our commitment is shown in our actions to get the attention of government officials and demand changes that will improve workers' rights and thereby family life. If parents are over-worked and under-paid, then they don't have time, energy, and resources to provide healthy environments for themselves and their children. And, deprivations of basic needs (including emotional needs) result in unhealthy "behaviors" for all involved. These unhealthy "behaviors" can manifest as criminal activity at worst. And, this is where we all must become civic-minded and active in our local, state, and federal governments to make sure that all families and individuals have resources and opportunities necessary for successful and healthy lives.

We hope the above reasons satisfy all who wonder why HEAL does not refer to nor recommend programs. We take our network, dedication, and actions very seriously. And, we have considered the pros/cons of this issue. We feel it is best that no child be institutionalized. We think referring to programs is too risky an undertaking. We want families to stay together. And, we want society to become healthier and happier through collective action demanding real change for the better. Thank you for reading this entry and we hope you will get involved. Start now by taking the action recommended at www.heal-online.org/actionone.htm. Thank you!