January 5, 2009

This is an apology to Survivors of Straight Inc.

January 3, 2009

Dear Kelly,
This is an apology to Survivors of Straight Inc. from me, as a Former Executive Staff Member, in response to the Straight, Inc. Survivor's Letter Requesting Acknowledgment and an Apology.

As you know, my name is Richard Mullinax. From 1985 - 1989, I was a staff member at Straight Incorporated, a drug and alcohol treatment facility for adolescents. If my memory serves me correctly, the dates, locations and positions of my employment were as follows:

Fall 1985 - Group Staff Trainee, Springfield, VA
Fall 1985 - Spring 1986 - Junior Staff, Springfield, VA
Spring 1986 - Winter 1987 - Senior Staff, Springfield, VA
Winter 1987 - Spring 1987 - Executive Staff, Springfield, VA
Spring 1987 - Fall 1987 - Executive Staff, Cincinnati, OH
Fall 1987 - Spring 1988 - Executive Staff, Springfield, VA
Spring 1988 - Spring 1989 - Executive Staff, Atlanta, GA

There were brief periods between 1985 and 1989 that I was not employed by Straight, and I may have some of the months wrong above.

For 19 years, I gave very little thought to my actions as a staff member of Straight. Then, in the Spring and Summer of 2008, I began to interact with Straight Survivors and listened to their experiences. As the weeks and months progressed, I became increasingly aware of the damage I caused to Straight Survivors as a staff member. After much reflection on the events of the 1980's I have become very much aware that many Straight Survivors lost their integrity, innocence, sense of self worth, youth, ability to trust others, family relationships and more as a result of my actions as a staff member, and I deeply regret that I am responsible for this as a Staff Member.

I realize now that many Survivors still suffer from diagnosed psychological disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder, severe depression, social phobias, panic disorders, etc. caused by imprisonment in Straight, Inc, and that many Survivors still endure vivid Straight, Inc. nightmares, can still hear the screams of children as they were abused, and cannot forget the abuse they personally endured or witnessed as vulnerable children. I am deeply ashamed of my role in this, including not putting a stop to it.

I am acknowledging to you that Straight, Inc. unjustly committed various crimes, abused children, and utilized extremely unethical practices against innocent young clients, which included, but were not limited to the following:

1) Brainwashing (aka coercive thought reform);
2) Physical abuse;
3) Usage of illegal and or unethical restraints – children routinely restrained children at the direction of staff for minor infractions (i.e. not motivating, not paying attention, etc.);
4) Unethical forms of extreme humiliation, including but not limited to; beltlooping, no privacy/watched while urinating, defecating, or bathing, motivating;
5) Food deprivation (ie. peanut butter diets, inadequate portions of food);
6) Sleep deprivation – caused by unwarranted, prolonged daily group hours (12), other time spent in the building (up to at least 3 additional pre and/or post group hours), lengthy commuting time, and in many cases, due to intentionally withholding sleep as punishment for not “cooperating” to coerce compliance;
7) Verbal abuse – unduly harsh confrontational tactics that included swearing, screaming, yelling, spitting, belittling, humiliating, etc., a child in front of a large group of child clients;
8) Sexual abuse; (while I was not aware of this while on staff, in recent months I have become aware, through the testimony of other Straight survivors, that this did happen)
9) Psychological abuse;
10) Coerced confessions;
11) Unjustifiable and lengthy isolation in intake and/or time out rooms;
12) Denial of necessary medical care;
13) Kidnapping;
14) False Imprisonment;
15) Accepting clients with little/no drug history (the so?called “dry druggie” theory); (Specifically, I was personally responsible for conducting client intakes that resulted in children with little history of drug or alcohol use);
16) Employing uneducated, unprofessional teenage staff. Specifically, I allowed myself to be employed by Straight as a counselor, knowing full well that I had no outside training and no education.

Additionally, I apologize for allowing the abuse, unethical practices and crimes to continue for years, and lending my name to, sponsoring, recommending, and endorsing Straight Inc., and for admitting children, their siblings and parents to Straight Inc., and for failing to properly and adequately oversee and monitor Straight, Inc.

I regret my decision to go on staff and I regret my actions as a Straight staff member. I made the decision to go on staff and I made the decision to advance to Executive Staff. I am responsible for these actions and take full responsibility. As a former Straight client myself, I, of all people, should have known better.

I am aware of several former Straight clients who have taken their own lives as Steve did. Many of these people I knew personally, including Chris Weiss, Lisa D, Ira, Duane and others. I can't begin to understand all of these deaths, but I damn sure know Straight is why Steve took his life. My heart aches for you and your Mom. I wish I could bring him back.

I would like to turn the clock back to 1985 and make better decisions. However, I am unable to undo the damage I have caused. I am unable to make any financial restitution to former victims, as well. However, in recent months, thanks to you, I have had the honor and privilege of interacting with former Straight clients who were victims of my actions and the actions of other Straight staff.

It is my hope that these interactions have been a step toward healing the wounds that have remained for 2 decades.

Along those lines, there is something I can do; I can make myself available to you. If you or your Mom or anyone else wants to talk or e?mail with me about this, please do.

It is my hope that other Executive Staff and administrators will take this opportunity to acknowledge and apologize for their part in Straight, Inc. If you know of any former staff would like to communicate with me privately for any reason, please pass my contact info on.

In closing, it is my sincere hope that survivors of Straight can find the healing and closure that they need and deserve. I look forward to being a part of that healing.

And thanks for making this possible.
Richard Mullinax
Straight Inc. Staff
1985 - 1989

May 7, 2008

When Tough Love is Torture-- And How to Stop It by Maia Szalavitz

By Maia Szalavitz
May 4, 2008
Last time this country witnessed somebody with a bag over his head and a noose around his neck, the world was horrified and the nation was embarrassed," thundered Rep. George Miller, on hearing testimony this April regarding abusive treatment of troubled teens in unregulated residential programs. "To be told [by these witnesses] that this is considered a valid therapy by someone in the care of someone else's child…It's hard to believe."

Miller—who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee—had called for the congressional hearings to introduce legislation to regulate the programs, which use such "tough love" methods in an attempt to discipline difficult adolescents. He'd also requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation. At the first round of hearings last October, the GAO had released its initial report, finding "thousands" of allegations of child abuse, medical neglect and "reckless and negligent operating practices," in "boot camps, "wilderness programs" and "academies," which currently hold tens of thousands of American youth. Two additional GAO reports were introduced at the April hearings—with investigators describing the treatment of some of the youth as "torture." One youth was beaten for weeks and denied medical attention after a suicide attempt left him with an exposed bone from a broken arm; others were taunted, then ignored as they lay dying; some were even hooded and had nooses placed around their necks.

Sitting in the audience—and well aware of how difficult it can be to get people to comprehend the extent and severity of the abuse taking place in these programs—was Phil Elberg, a New Jersey medical malpractice attorney. His cases against the industry helped bring the issue to congressional attention and his work, mentioned in two of the three GAO reports, helped guide investigators in understanding the issues and key players. Elberg has probably done more than anyone else to hold the billion-dollar teen treatment business accountable. If the legislation passes, he may soon have many more cases—and perhaps, finally, some competition from other lawyers for them.

So far, however, he's the only attorney to repeatedly take on the industry successfully, racking up $16 million in judgments for five clients who had been subjected to "treatment," including beatings, food and sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, and stress positions. Though even-tempered, the 61-year-old—who resembles a weathered Richard Gere— is a man obsessed. When he told his wife he might not attend the hearings, she replied, "What train will you be taking back?" knowing full well that he couldn't stay away.

Elberg, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, had wanted to be an attorney since childhood. After law school, however, he became less sure—nearly detouring into psychology before he realized that practicing law, going to graduate school, and having time for his wife and young child was too much to take on at one time. He's raised three sons—two of whom are graduates of Ivy League law schools, one still in his teens. So he knows both personally and professionally how difficult it can be to parent adolescents.

In the mid-1990's, he took over the case of a teen with bipolar disorder who had been wrongly diagnosed with a drug problem and held by the New Jersey branch of a now defunct national program called KIDS for seven years. Elberg had expected a typical malpractice case; instead, he found himself challenging a bizarre, cult-like organization run not by mental health experts but by amateurs. KIDS was operated by Miller Newton, a charismatic man who entered the addictions field when his own child had a drug problem. He'd previously served as clinical director for a national program called Straight Inc, which claims to have treated some 50,000 teens in the 80's and 90's—but despite the endorsement of Nancy Reagan, it turned out that his psychology credentials were bogus.

Newton told parents that his way was the only way to save their children—and that if they didn't do exactly as advised, the teens would die. "I came to understand how con artists have stolen the language of the mental health system and redefined child abuse as therapy," Elberg says. "And I understood the extraordinary vulnerability of families and adolescents to charlatans offering simple solutions to the hard work of raising kids."

That first case resulted in a $4.5 million dollar judgment against Newton and KIDS. In 2003, Elberg's second case yielded $6.5 million for a young woman named Lulu Corter who had also been held in a KIDS program for 13 years, since she was 13. Even though she didn't take drugs or drink, she was accused of exhibiting "druggy behavior" and was diagnosed as a sex addict because she had been sexually abused. But this left her in a bind: In order to graduate the program, she had to admit to addictive behavior. As a virgin, she had none to confess. She spent hours in "restraint," with fellow teen participants pinning her to the floor, sometimes restricting her breathing. Corter eventually escaped, but by then, she'd developed post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. She found Elberg after reading a newspaper article about his earlier victory.

"He's a fantastic and caring lawyer," says Corter. "He understood that we went through a living hell—he just understood it. He's not like a lawyer who just leeches money off of you." Elberg's most recent case against kids was cited in the latest GAO report. A 14-year-old boy, who had been in trouble at school, was brought to KIDS in 1994 for an evaluation. After a six-hour investigation, he falsely confessed to marijuana and cocaine use just to stop the questioning. But the program then held him for four years to "treat" his "addictions." His parents were never told that all of his drug tests were negative. His records show that he was restrained over 250 times, and prevented from leaving even after he turned 18. When his father refused to participate in program meetings because they interfered with his work, his mother was told to divorce him—and she did so, believing, as Newton told her, that it was the only way to save her son.

Elberg discovered that, although its practices were on the extreme end, KIDS was part of a massive industry including hundreds of poorly-regulated programs still operating nationwide. A young man who testified at the hearings described one such program in upstate New York called the Family Foundation School, with teens restraining fellow teens, forced confessions, and denial of bathroom access—just like at KIDS. Unlike KIDS, however, the Family Foundation is still open, though it told ABC News that it no longer uses such restraint practices. The exact number of "tough love" residential programs remains unknown; the GAO is still trying to determine how many exist and how many teens are in their custody. With no professional or legal oversight—and guided by a fervent belief that their ends justify even the harshest means—they present enormous risks. "If a program is isolated and not accountable and has a model of making people suffer in order to get better—it's a recipe for abuse," says William Miller, emeritus professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of New Mexico and an expert on evaluating addiction treatment.

Elberg was the first to recognize that malpractice law was a potentially powerful weapon against the industry. According to Miller, tough love programs don't meet the accepted standards for treating addiction, depression, and the other serious conditions they claim to cure, in part because confrontation and humiliation are contraindicated for mental illness. Elberg explains, "if they say they're treating a particular medical condition, there's got to be a standard of care. If there's a standard of care, did they meet it?"

Unfortunately, parents don't realize that these programs don't meet standards— in part because they don't know that psychological treatments aren't regulated like other types of medicine. In order to introduce a new medication, a drug company has to meet FDA standards for safety and efficacy—but a new talk or behavioral therapy, even for children, can be introduced and sold by anyone without being vetted by any government agency. And until very recently, legitimate psychologists and psychiatrists have largely been unaware of the private industry's practices.

Christopher Bellonci, MD, a child psychiatrist who is medical director of a children's residential center that does not practice "tough love," testified, "I'm frankly horrified to learn about these kinds of things going on in the name of therapy. Nothing I learned in medical school could ever justify them. There is no place for these techniques in mental health and substance abuse treatment."

Another reason parents remain ignorant of problems with the programs is that they are often deliberately deceptive. In one phone call surreptitiously recorded by the GAO, a program recruiter told an investigator posing as a father to "tell [his wife] that it's a college prep boarding school… if she thinks you want to send her daughter to a place where there are drug addicts and people that are all screwed up, she will look at you and say no way."

In another call, a supposedly independent referral service called Parent Help told investigators that the program it recommended, "feed[s] the child a whole-grain diet" and that as a result, in combination with the exercise and rest provided by the program, "the bipolar, the depression, those kinds of things, they just go away after a while." In addition to this blatantly false medical claim, Parent Help did not disclose that its owner is married to the owner of the school to which it referred the child, the Thayer Learning Center— and other phone calls using different stories of children were all referred to the same place, despite claims of individualized referrals.

Thayer has recently tangled with Elberg as well. He represented the International Survivors' Action Committee (ISAC), a watchdog group that runs a website that investigates teen programs and posts damaging documents about them. ISAC had been sued by Thayer, which is a boot-camp program located in Missouri. Thayer claimed ISAC was helping whistle-blowing former Thayer employees steer parents away from Thayer and demanded to search the group's computer for evidence that Isac was collaborating with them. Those employees had signed non-disclosure agreements, which Thayer claimed prevented them from speaking publicly about anything they'd seen while employed there.

Following the first hearings and GAO report, the FBI had been asked to investigate Thayer, in connection with the 2004 death of 15-year-old Roberto Reyes in its boot camp. Reyes' death had been attributed to complications from a spider bite, but the GAO report said that, "staff did not recognize the victim's medical distress or provide adequate treatment." The FBI turned over its findings to the Justice Department at the end of March, pending further action.

Before Reyes died, according to a letter to Thayer from the Missouri Department of Social Services (DSS), Thayer "supervisors denied requests for medical attention." Reyes was suspected of "faking," even though he had been "so sick that he had feces and urine all over him" and had to be "hosed down" in the shower. A 20-pound weight was tied around his waist "because he was too sick to exercise." (The GAO calls the weight a "sandbag.")

Thayer's attorney, Rhonda Smiley, says that the shower incidents never happened, and that the statements cited in the letter were from "ex-employees who had been fired and were not under oath." She says "there are no 20-lb weights at Thayer and there never have been," and that these are "old unsubstantiated and false allegations." Thayer is appealing a DSS report that blamed it for negligence in the boy's death, but has settled a lawsuit brought by Reyes' parents for $1 million. Smiley says Thayer settled because "they wanted the parents to have the insurance money."

Elberg was ultimately able to limit the scope of the search and kept ISAC's computer out of Thayer's hands, keeping its website online. He describes Thayer this way: "What we have here in the center of the U.S. is a private jail for adolescents without oversight by judges, mental health professionals or schools. Children are treated with methods which run afoul of compulsory education laws and accepted treatments for psychiatric conditions and wouldn't be permitted in juvenile prison."

But despite the widespread evidence of abuse, there are only two ongoing major lawsuits against the industry: both class action suits against the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASP). WWASP is linked to 12 currently operating programs in eight states and three countries, including the notorious Tranquility Bay in Jamaica.

Few attorneys are willing to take these cases. "The victims don't make attractive plaintiffs," says Elberg, "They are considered damaged goods going in. If they are still in terrible trouble afterwards, they are not the kind of people jurors want to give money. If they are better, the facility takes credit." Victims are also often unable to recognize the nature of their injury until the statute of limitations has passed.

And because the programs are often located in states or even countries with high unemployment that look favorably upon the programs as economic engines, getting favorable judgments is difficult. Suits brought in the state or country where the program operates are often defeated by jurors and judges who support the program because it employs their neighbors and they see the victims as liars with no local ties. Jurisdictional problems also abound. In some cases, it's difficult to determine where to sue—because the victim lives in one state, the program is located in another, and the people who actually profit from it somewhere else entirely.

The new legislation, however, could level the playing field. It contains a private "right of action" which allows attorneys to recover their fees if they sue these programs on behalf of teens and their families. This would make these cases far more attractive than they are now: Attorneys wouldn't need a large judgment to recoup their losses, only one that favors their side. "If this legislation passes, I would have no hesitation in devoting my entire practice to these cases," says Elberg.

Other provisions in the legislation include a federal ban on "disciplinary techniques or other practices that involve the withholding of essential food, water, clothing, shelter, or medical care," and on "acts of physical or mental abuse designed to humiliate, degrade, or undermine a child's self-respect." The new law would also require that teens have access to a new 24-hour national abuse reporting hotline and provides $50 million to fund and enforce the new standards. Miller's spokesman, Tom Kiley, says, "We are confident that the legislation will receive strong support in the House." The picture in the Senate is as of yet unpredictable, in an election year. Whatever happens, Elberg's not about to give up.

April 27, 2008

Sue Scheff trying to claim she doesn't refer kids to boot camps...

This is disgusting. Here, a lady who has referred many parents to ABUSIVE rehabs, Sue Scheff (P.U.R.E.), is claiming she/they don't refer kids to bootcamps. Just because they don't refer to bootcamps doesn't mean they don't refer to abusive rehabs. The fact that they are taking these current hearings and use it as propaganda to "prove" they are on the up and up when in fact they are just as bad, sickens me. And of course ever single post she's made about it on one of her 1002 blogs that repeat the same B.S. have comments turned off. She knows better, the truth would out her as it has so many times before. Parents Beware of P.U.R.E. and Sue Scheff!

You can read her lies here. You can't comment but definitely feel free to email her and ask her questions.

That's all for now. Have a lovely day!

ABC News Video. Report on abusive Bootcamps.

Click here to see the video.

Marketing of boot camps under congressional scrutiny - Yahoo! News

WASHINGTON - Youth boot camps and their referral services are using deceptive marketing practices when trying to convince parents of troubled kids to try the programs, a federal investigation has found.

The programs — also referred to as residential treatment facilities, behavior modification programs or therapeutic boarding schools — have been under congressional investigation for about a year. It's estimated that at least 20,000 U.S. teens attend such facilities.

As part of the federal review, investigators at the Government Accountability Office made undercover calls to boot camps and referral services that work with them.

In one case, an investigator posing as a father was advised to hide information from his wife about a program, according to GAO investigator Greg Kutz, who was scheduled to testify about the investigation Thursday before a House committee.


Full Committee Hearing: "Child Abuse and Deceptive Marketing by Residential Programs for Teens"

The Committee held a hearing to examine allegations of child abuse and deceptive marketing at residential programs for teens, including boot camps, wilderness camps, therapeutic boarding schools, and behavior modification facilities. The hearing also examined legislation to prevent child abuse in these programs by establishing standards for the programs.

The committee heard about the results of undercover work from the Government Accountability Office and from individuals who attended residential programs when they were teenagers.

Chairman Miller's Statement at Committee Hearing on "Child Abuse and Deceptive Marketing by Residential Programs for Teens"

WASHINGTON, D.C. ­ Below are the prepared remarks of U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, for a committee hearing on "Child Abuse and Deceptive Marketing by Residential Programs for Teens."

Good morning. Welcome to today's hearing on "Child Abuse and Deceptive Marketing by
Residential Programs for Teens."

Last October, this Committee heard from the parents of three children who died in private residential programs as a result of the abuse and neglect they experienced at the hands of staff members.

The stories these parents told left everyone in this room stunned, heartbroken, and angry.

Bob Bacon testified that program staff members mocked his son, Aaron, when the 16-year-old boy asked for medical help, calling him a "faker." For weeks, the staff deprived Aaron of adequate food and water ­ even when his weight loss became frighteningly apparent.

Cynthia Harvey told the committee that program staff members waited 45 minutes before
summoning appropriate medical care for her daughter, Erica, who had collapsed and was having difficulty breathing.

Paul Lewis testified that program staff members ignored his son Ryan's obvious signs of emotional distress, denying him the psychiatric care that could have saved his life.

In each of the three cases, it was clear from the parents' testimony that the deaths of their children were preventable. Untrained and uncaring staff, reckless management, and irresponsible operating practices permitted these horrible tragedies to occur.

Sadly, the deaths of Aaron, Erica, and Ryan were not isolated cases.

The Government Accountability Office found thousands of allegations of abuse and neglect at private residential programs for teens between 1990 and 2007.

The abuses included staff members forcing children to remain in so-called "stress" positions for hours at a time; to undergo extreme physical exertion without food, water, or rest; and to eat their own vomit.

The purpose of today's hearing is to gain a better overall understanding of the industry in which these types of abuses have been allowed, in many cases, to continue almost unchecked.

Specifically, we will learn more about where these programs operate, the loose patchwork of state laws that govern them, and how they market themselves to parents.

We will also discuss legislation that Congresswoman McCarthy and I have introduced to keep kids safe in residential programs.

Residential programs for teens ­ which come in a variety of forms, including therapeutic boarding schools, wilderness camps, boot camps, and behavior modification facilities ­ have sprung up in greater numbers since the 1990s.

As we will hear today, a number of these programs use deceptive marketing practices to appeal to parents.

They claim to be subject to independent inspections that never happen.

They claim to offer services that they don't, like schooling with transferable education credits.

They assure parents that health insurance will cover the cost of their services when in reality it won't.

Programs are aided in these deceptions by their relationships to ancillary service providers, like referral services.

While referral services purport to offer independent advice to parents about which programs would be best for their children, the truth is that at least some of the referral services operate with significant conflicts of interest.

This tangled web of deception, fraud, and conflicts of interest makes it extremely difficult for parents to judge whether any of these programs offer a safe, professional, high-quality environment for their children.

We know that there are many programs and many people around the country who are committed to helping improve the lives of young people and who do good work every day, but it is difficult for parents to tell the good programs from the bad.

Making matters worse, these programs often operate free of minimum standards of care. It is estimated that hundreds of the programs operate nationwide, with anywhere from no regulation whatsoever to some regulation. background image

Even the information that states collect on many of these programs is limited. Indeed, in a survey conducted by the GAO, state agencies in 45 states could not say whether deaths had occurred at exclusively private residential programs for teens in 2006.

The legislation that Congresswoman McCarthy and I have introduced will end the federal government's longstanding failure to address this nightmare of abuse and neglect.

The goal of our legislation is simple ­ we want to keep children safe.

The legislation will require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to establish minimum standards that all programs must meet, including prohibitions on the physical and mental abuse of children and requirements that programs provide children with adequate food, water, and medical care.

These standards will also include new training requirements for program staff members, including how to identify and report child abuse.

The legislation will require HHS to set up a hotline for people to call to report abuse at these programs. It will also require HHS to create a website with information about each program, so that parents can look to see if substantiated cases of abuse have occurred at a program that they are considering for their kids.

The legislation will require HHS to enforce these standards by inspecting program facilities and, when there are violations, by issuing civil penalties of up to $50,000 per violation. Within three years, the legislation would call upon the states to take up this role of setting standards and enforcing them.

We have an obligation to keep kids safe no matter what setting they are in, and this legislation would take the first step toward finally ending the horrific abuses that have gone on for too long in private residential programs for teens.

We must treat this issue with the urgency it demands by acting on this legislation quickly.

Individuals who have themselves lived through this abuse are in the hearing room today, as are family members of abuse victims. I want to thank you all for being here to remind us why this issue is so important.

I also want to thank all of our witnesses. We appreciate that you took the time to be with us today and we look forward to hearing your testimony.

Thank you