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I've written quite a lot on the subject of coercive "behaviour modification" facilities in past--including legislative efforts to stop the industry in its tracks as well as exposes of their heavy usage as a dominionist "parallel economy" alternative to legit mental health and info on gross abuses in these facilities.

Over the next few days, we are going to focus on a specific chain of these facilities (which have been compared to Abu Ghraib)--Teen Challenge, a chain of Assemblies-run "faith based rehabs" that was the target of a "get out of jail free" deregulation of the "kiddie gulag" industry in Texas by none other than George W. Bush.

We begin with a history of how Teen Challenge was deregulated, and some of the reports of gross mistreatment at the facility--including just about every form of abuse that could have been done to those kids.

Teen Challenge--an Assemblies of God-run "kiddie boot camp" chain

It is almost impossible to understate just how much of a "get out of jail free" card Teen Challenge was provided by George W. Bush.

Teen Challenge is notable for several reasons.  Firstly, it is one of the few groups promoting abusive "kiddie boot camps" that is clearly linkable to a known religious group with documented coercive tactics (to the level that Narconon was linked to the Church of Scientology); secondly, it is a known recipient of federal funds under the "Faith Based Initiatives" program (one of the few abusive facilities of this type to get such funding); thirdly, Teen Challenge acts as a wonderful example of the bad things that can happen when "faith-based" kiddie gulags go completely unregulated.

One reason Teen Challenge has likely gotten preferential treatment from Bush is because it is actually an Assemblies of God frontgroup (and a very closely connected one at that--namely, it's technically a division of its youth ministries program focusing on "troubled youth").  The group operates a chain of facilities (including not only ranches but other inpatient facilities similar to the now-closed "Love In Action/Refuge" "degaying" center) across the US and in several other countries.

Of note (and in a sign that the Assemblies does operate Scientology or Moonie-style fronts), it does not openly advertise its Assemblies links or the fact it is technically an Assemblies youth ministry but this information is easy enough to find, including on the Assemblies' own website.  

Teen Challenge has also been the subject of multiple reports of abusive activity--not only spiritual abuse, but physical and mental as well.  There are also in fact two expose groups on Teen Challenge--not only a site operated by a Teen Challenge survivor, but a second page detailing additional reports of abuse (and further documentation of the Assemblies linkages).

In addition to unlicensed counselors hired at the Texas ranch (an occurence common across Teen Challenge facilities and one which has led to a known child molester being manager of a Teen Challenge facility in Maine), there was evidence of educational neglect (educationally insufficient material) and reports of physical, mental, sexual, and emotional abuse.  And such reports are not isolated; Teen Challenge (which is an Assemblies of God frontgroup managed by their youth ministries division which focuses on "troubled youth") has had many reports of abuse at their various facilities including forced missionary activity, possible violation of child labour laws, forcing people to sign over paychecks to Teen Challenge for not joining additional programs, and the abusive use of "discipling and shepherding", and physical abuse and medical neglect including at least inmate suffering a miscarriage who was not referred to appropriate medical care.

Teen Challenge has also been listed on one group's listing of abusive "faith based" centers--the same site notes that Teen Challenge's present program has close links to Mel Sembler of Straight, Inc, (via his Drug Free America Foundation).

Texas' experience with Teen Challenge's "get out of jail free" card did not go unnoticed--or unchallenged..  Texas Freedom Network, a group fighting dominionism in the Lone Star State, had a specific example of the efforts that eventually led to partial re-regulation:

Teen Challenge is a national faith-based residential drug treatment program that had nine branches in Texas in 2004. The programs have no medical component and center instead of around prayer, Bible study and religious conversion.

Teen Challenge currently operates five drug treatment centers in Texas – none of which have a state license, but only two of which have formally registered their status as a faith-based facility exempt from state licensing. As exempt faith-based drug treatment centers, Teen Challenge facilities are not required to have licensed chemical dependency counselors, conduct staff training or criminal background checks, protect client confidentiality rights, adhere to state health and safety standards, or report abuse, neglect, emergencies and medication errors.

Even prior to seeking an exemption from state licensing, a 1995 state inspection revealed that Teen Challenge was not compliant with numerous state health, safety and quality of care standards.

Rather than force Teen Challenge to meet the basic health and safety standards to which their secular counterparts must adhere, then-Governor George Bush pushed through legislation that would exempt Teen Challenge and other faith-based drug treatment centers from state licensing – and the health, safety and quality of care standards that accompany that licensure. "Teen Challenge should view itself as a pioneer in how Texas approaches faith-based programs, I’ll call together people, ask them to make recommendations. I’d like to make recommendations to the legislature...But Teen Challenge is going to exist...and licensing standards have to be different from what they are today," then-Governor Bush said. (World Magazine, 7/29-8/5/1995)

A repeating pattern around the country

Texas is also, sadly, not the only state that Teen Challenge was given a carte blanche in.  Florida has a nearly identical scheme to the one Texas had until recently, in that centers can be completely exempted from regulation by joining the Florida Association of Christian Child Caring Agencies--and Teen Challenge happens to be a member of FACCCA.  Not surprisingly, evidence of extensive abuse has turned up with the Florida facility of almost an identical manner to what was documented in Texas before Dubya shut the investigation down:

West Florida Teen Challenge Boys’ Ranch—in Bonifay, Florida is a confirmedly abusive teen program.  The contract parents must sign with Teen Challenge does not indicate that the school meets standards that might be roughly equivalent to state requirements.  The contract states that the Florida Association of Christian Child-Caring Agencies’ (FACCCA) "intent" is to "insure the physical and spiritual health, safety, and well being" of the children and therefore that thee boy’s ranch must meet FACCCA’s "minimum standards," but the only one described in the contract is allowing access to public officials who inspect for fire, health, safety, and sanitation codes.  Parents have to agree to hold the ranch and its employees harmless from "any and all liability" for injury to the child "even injury resulting in death."  Parents must agree "that God desires that they resolve their dispute with one another within the church and that they be reconciled in their relationships in accordance with the principles stated in I Corinthians 6:1-8, Matthew 5:23-24, and Matthew 18:15-20."  If they cannot resolve their disagreement privately within the church, parents must accept resolution through "biblically based mediation" by rules of the Association of Christian Conciliation Services.  There is no refund of tuition or deposits if the boy leaves the ranch before 15 months even if the ranch has expelled him.  Several former students say that staff, "use physical punishment, ridicule intimidate and/or verbally abuse children; use chemical restraints; employ cruel or humiliating treatment or other emotionally abusive behavior; assign excessive exercise or work duties, deny food, clothing, shelter, medical car, and/or prescribed therapeutic activities, or contacts with family, counselors, or legal representatives as a form of punishment."  Please do not send your child to any Teen Challenge program.   Detailed report provided by Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, Inc. Nov. 4th, 2004 newsletter.  

(CHILD, Inc. is a group working to stop religiously motivated child abuse and neglect, in particular working towards removing "religious loopholes" to providing children lifesaving treatment.)

There have also been similar reports focusing not only on Texas and Florida but also with a facility in California, and reports have been made by walkaways of similar abuses not only in the US but with Teen Challenge facilities overseas as well.

Tomorrow, we focus specifically on spiritual abuse and coercive tactics within the org.

Originally posted to dogemperor on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 02:02 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  :-) This is a good length (7+ / 0-)

      enough information to have impact, not so much as to overfill the reader.  Nice job.

      Are you planning to post the other sections daily?

      •  Yes. (6+ / 0-)

        The one part I still worry about being a post from hell (length-wise--there's no real way to make the subject matter palatable, I'm afraid) is part 3--and that's because I'm having to extensively document some of the very coercive rules and practices within the group from admissions documents that are, in part, only available via the Wayback Archive (and I've already had to split it at least once already).

        The rest of them should be around this length, a bit more, a bit less--and will be posted as close as I can to 5pm sharp every day. :3

        •  Ah... Teen Challenge (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dogemperor, kurt

          yet another blast from the past you've provided me with, dogemperor!

          I've spoken to you before about my close run-ins with these groups back in the 70s (FGBFI, Amway, etc.), but I'd forgotten about Teen Challenge.

          Thankfully I escaped deeper knowledge of them as well (somewhat past "teenhood" by then), but I certainly remember the name being bandied about liberally by many of my Christianized acquaintances.

          Funny how so much of this stuff dropped off the radar back when, and remained so all these years. And only now do I learn that they're all still alive and virulent today.

          By the way, I don't mind lengthy diaries in the least when the subject matter is this important. Take as many words as you need to make your point.

          Meddle not in the affairs of dragons... for thou art crunchy and good with ketchup.

          by Pariah Dog on Sun Apr 27, 2008 at 04:05:52 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Too late. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Avila, dogemperor, Neon Vincent

      The subject itself makes it a post from hell. The shorter length just makes it more legible and a bit more palatable.

      Tipped, recced, will keep an eye out for the other three parts.

    •  It looks like an informative diary... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dogemperor, Cassandra Waites

      ....but as one of those West Virginians you feel "isn't worth it",  I wasn't sure if it was my place to enlighten myself by reading.

      Alas.

      If only we in WV weren't enslaved by ridiculous stereotypes and gross generalizations.

      ...But it all amounts to nothing if together we don't stand...

      by LeftOverAmerica on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 08:07:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Actually, I'm in the same boat myself (4+ / 0-)

        As it is, I'm from Kentucky, and we're pretty much also not considered "worth it"--possibly even more so than West Virginia is in that diary.  (Personally, I don't think our states should be abandoned--but there are some real issues, largely because there are a lot of poor folks who are frankly scared of any member of any perceived underclass possibly being over them.  Yeah, I've known folks in Appalachia--and know all too well that even into the mid-80s that Corbin, KY was still a "Sundown Town". :P)

        Never mind that we actually do stand a good chance of getting votes for Obama outside of eastern Kentucky. :D

        At any rate, we accept all folks here, even those of us from states already being proclaimed "throwaway states" (then again, seeing as Kentucky's primary was literally at the ass end of the primaries, this was kind of expected).  And yes, even Hillary voters are welcome here. :3

      •  I'm afraid I don't get (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dogemperor, Remembering Jello

        the snarkiness of this comment.

        First of all, if you didn't read the diary, why comment at all?

        Secondly, you seem to be calling out dogemperor for saying WV "isn't worth it." Yet the link provided reveals dogemperor was not, in fact, the one who made that comment. Wasn't even participating in the conversation in question, ftm.

        Thirdly, I'm looking, and... let's see, we have Texas, we have Florida. Nope, no mention of West Virginia here at all. So, I'm confused. What has the subject of this diary got to do with West Virginia?

        Just askin'.

        Meddle not in the affairs of dragons... for thou art crunchy and good with ketchup.

        by Pariah Dog on Sun Apr 27, 2008 at 04:17:01 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Exemption from regulation or not (7+ / 0-)

    these places could be put out of business by appropriate lawsuits and prosecution by district attorneys who really cared about kids.

    You can't reason someone out of something they weren't reasoned into. - Jonathan Swift

    by A Mad Mad World on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 02:29:51 PM PDT

    •  This is difficult to do in practice (10+ / 0-)

      Among other things (and I'll be getting into this later), people who join the program are forced to sign documents banning them from suing Teen Challenge--in almost exactly the same manner people joining Scientology are forced to sign indemnity contracts which supposedly remove their right to sue Scientology.

      These sorts of "contracts" are almost certainly not legal, but the trick is finding a lawyer willing to fight for you.  (Also keep in mind that the Assemblies as a denomination does have a lot of well-paid lawyers--and has no less than two dominionist legal associations, Allied Defense Fund and American Center for Law and Justice, that it can call on if necessary; it has in fact been well known to not only attempt to SLAPP critics into bankruptcy but also tie up any successful awards in the courts for years.  Laura Schubert, who won a $300,000 court award for an involuntary exorcism in 1996, has still not seen any of her money and has had the expected award (if it ever leaves the courts) whittled down to $100,000 because the Assemblies of God have kept fighting the settlement for twelve years running.  This is typical in regards to lawsuits involving the Assemblies, and it is rare that people who successfully sue any Assemblies-linked group and win ever see court settlement money.  For that matter, the Assemblies have been known to sue to prevent books critical of them from being released--hence one reason (of many) I remain pseudonymous and have taken a lot of pages from the more successful protesters against Scientology.)

      •  This kind of thing isn't unique to Teen Challenge (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dogemperor, kurt

        ...some of the more "secular" of the abusive rehabs have similar contracts. Typically, they include the 'hold harmless' language that you mentioned and, in addition, a clause whereby the parents indemnify the program from any suit that the kid might file on his own behalf (i.e. after he turns 18). In other words they're trying to set it up so if a kid sues he has to sue his own parents. Sweet.

        •  Actually, it's worse than *that*. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kurt, spacecadet1

          As I'll get into in the next few posts (this is now, counting this post, a seven-part series), the indemnity agreements not only prohibit all parties (including the parents) from suing, but mandate a "Christian Conciliation" mediation agreement for any disputes.

          People are also, whilst interred, prohibited from contacting anyone but immediate family and approved pastors--technically people in alternative sentencing (where they've literally been sentenced to Teen Challenge) cannot contact judges, their own attorneys, or parole officers to warn them of what is occuring (and if they do, they get kicked out, which automatically counts as a violation of parole--and Teen Challenge has a documented history of pushing for maximum sentencing in these cases).

          So short of having a judge find out that the contract is technically illegal in that state or having a third party (such as another family member) sue--and with that option, there's a real risk that the family member will not be found to have standing to sue--they're SOL.  (Fortunately, the wording of the indemnity agreements may not be legal in all states.  There's enough there that finding an attorney willing to assist in a lawsuit may be difficult, though.)

          The best shot at shutting these down, right now, focus on four separate areas:

          a) Revoking laws that give these type of facilities carte blanche to operate without inspection and licensure.  HR 5876 would be an extremely powerful tool in this regard; so would state laws requiring all facilities to be licensed.

          b) Finding violations in law.  This doesn't work so well in states that give almost total carte blanche to these facilities like Florida, but in states with specific requirements for dispensing medication, you could theoretically bust them on this (Teen Challenge makes this much more difficult as most facilities do not dispense medication or use nurses--some do, however, and it's possible those could be shut down).

          c) Requiring state licensure of addiction counselors similar to what is required with psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers including in so-called "faith-based" facilities.  (This would of course require these counselors to follow ethics guidelines prohibiting work in abusive facilities.)

          d) A prohibition on the use of any facility for diversion or alternative sentencing which is proven to be exclusively sectarian or which has multiple verifiable reports (both in and out of state) of abuse.  (This would pretty much derail the "faith-based coercion" industry.)

          •  These programs aren't only explicitly dominionist (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            dogemperor, kurt

            And, BTW, the abbreviation "TC" can also mean "theraputic community", a term which by itself should send you running for the hills. This Teen Challenge thing seems to be a fusion between the dominionism that you're concerned about and a very nasty tradition that grew out of Synanon and out of AA (with all of the Buchmanite baggage that entails).

  •  I wasn't aware,.. (7+ / 0-)

    ...but not the least bit surprised, that GWB dirty little fingers were in this mess.  This must be another example of the "Compassionate Conservative"

    Important info.  tipped & REC'ed

    Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear." W.E. Gladstone -8.25 / -5.64

    by carver on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 02:34:16 PM PDT

  •  "he believes in plexiglass...." (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dogemperor, nanobubble, Neon Vincent

    sorry that this is OT, but thought that you might find it of interest.

    http://www.cnn.com/...

    "...fighting the wildfires of my life with squirt guns."

    by deMemedeMedia on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 02:47:50 PM PDT

    •  Good catch. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dogemperor

      There's been a whole series of diaries here, often on the rec list, by Troutfishing and a couple other folks, on the Christianist infiltration of US armed forces and religious harrassment of nonbelieving or dissenting troops. dogemperor may have also written about it; his terrific work on dominionist tentacles reaches as far & wide as its tentacles.

      Children in the U.S... detained [against] intl. & domestic standards." --Amnesty Internati

      by doinaheckuvanutjob on Sun Apr 27, 2008 at 11:33:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks, dogemperor (4+ / 0-)

    for continuing to keep this important issue on the progressive radar.

    "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." -Edmund Burke

    by carolita on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 04:42:36 PM PDT

  •  What are Jeb and George's (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dogemperor, kurt

    connections with Assembly of God, do you have any information about that?

    "YOPP!" --Horton Hears a Who

    by Reepicheep on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 09:34:02 PM PDT

  •  If you like fiction, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dogemperor, kurt

    I have seen a couple of young adult novels that deal with these camps.  The most recent is "Boot Camp" by Todd Strasser, which is about a young man sent by his parents for missing school and having a relationship with an older woman.  It has an endnote from the author, who says that teens in these camps have been incarcerated without due process and without any charges of crime, by their parents, and that this practice is legal.  The second was more of a thriller, called "Shock Point" about a girl sent to a camp in Mexico.  This one features resistance and a grand escape, as well as intrigue by a scheming step-father.

    The Strasser one was a better read because it focused on the goal of the program leaders to "break" the teens.  It wasn't enough for them to obey and not be defiant.  The people wanted the spirits and wills of the teens destroyed.  The story focuses on the main characters struggle to hold on to his true self.  

    "YOPP!" --Horton Hears a Who

    by Reepicheep on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 09:43:38 PM PDT

  •  TC people in govt (5+ / 0-)

    Thanks for the diary - reading it made me a little nervous, since I work for a federal agency that regularly and explicitly funds faith based organizations.  I did some research and found out more than I wanted to - a former director of Teen Challenge in Southern California is now the National Director of USA Freedom Corps, the umbrella agency for all federal agencies supporting volunteer service:
    http://www.usafreedomcorps.gov/...

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