STATS ARTICLES 2004

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How to Save a Troubled Kid
November 16, 2004
Maia Szalavitz
Avoid reading Time magazine on tough love.

In a “state of the science” conference in October, the National Institutes for Health (NIH) released a consensus statement saying that tough treatments – including so-called “boot camps” for troubled teenagers – “do not work.” They also warned that “there is some evidence that they may make the problem worse rather than simply not working.” But in the November 22 issue of Time magazine, the “state of the science” is almost completely ignored in an account that highlights the positive aspects of a highly profitable tough love chain.

Time’s “How to Save a Troubled Kid?” focused on a teen with bipolar disorder, whose father said that the Montana-based Spring Creek Lodge program, a tough love program affiliated with the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs (WWASP), “improved his attitude and sense of responsibility.”

In an 1,800-word article, Time included just two sentences about the NIH’s findings. It didn’t explain, for instance, that years of research are summarized in NIH consensus statements, which are issued when the state of the science is believed to be good enough to draw basic conclusions about treatments.

And while Time acknowledged that WWASP had one program shut down in Mexico for abuse, the magazine failed to mention that WWASP has had at least five affiliates closed following reports of abuse and human rights violations. The Mexican government alone raided and closed three WWASP programs: Sunrise Beach, High Impact and Casa by The Sea.

At High Impact, police took video of teens housed outdoors in dog cages, which later aired on Inside Edition. The Costa Rican government shut Dundee Ranch Academy, reporting human rights violations. One official there told the media that “In Costa Rica, we don’t even allow that kind of punishment for our prison inmates,” citing the use of isolation rooms in which teens were made to kneel for hours.

The U.S. State Department documented abuse at WWASP’s Samoa facility, which closed following an investigation by the Samoan government. The Czech Republic also raided a WWASP facility there and documented abuse. Brightway Hospital, which WWASP ran in Utah, was closed after the state found licensing violations like failure to report abuse allegations. Congressman George Miller (D-California) has at least twice called on Attorney General John Ashcroft to investigate the program.

If the NIH had said a cancer or AIDS treatment provided by an organization with such a controversial history was ineffective and possibly harmful, would a reputable news organization counter with a story that focused instead on anecdotal claims that the treatment worked?


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