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!