The Impossible “Minimum Standards” Set Forth by HEAL… 

When asked to identify the basic standards that any program must meet in order to be deemed “worthy” by HEAL, this was their response. While some of these standards are valid, and most are already required by the government, some are simply impossible, such as allowing a child 14 years old to check themselves out of a program at any time, without parental knowledge or permission. Several of HEAL’s standards of “teen liberty” put at-risk kids at a higher risk, especially those who have suicidal tendencies, are gang members, are addicts, have friends who will come pick them up, or have severe mental or anger issues. We know of no program who can abide by these rules and still keep the children in its care safe and secure. The first standard of “No program can accept a child from another state” doesn’t work because some states are so over-regulated (like right now in California) that no program can start up — which means that no kids in that state will ever be helped.

HEAL’s Twenty Standards for Therapeutic Programs:

1. No program can accept a child from another State.

2. No program can use transport/escort services to bring children to the facility or return them home.

3. Children 14 years and older must have the right to sign themselves out of any facility and/or be released upon request to Social Services or their families, depending on circumstances.

4. There can be no level system of “privileges” and “consequences”. Programs must be respectful of children as individuals and put the children’s needs above those of the program.

5. No child shall provide labor or act as staff for the benefit of the program or local businesses. No child shall be placed in a position of authority over any other child in the program.

6. All children enrolled must be enrolled voluntarily. No child should be placed in a program against their will. The only exception to this would be if there were a court-order (i.e. an adjudicated youth).

7. All children have access to and permission to use a telephone from day one of enrollment. And, by any and all telephones should be listed the numbers for Child Protective Services, Child Abuse Hotlines, and Law Enforcement. Phone calls home and to authorities are not to be monitored by staff.

8. Children’s constitutional rights of freedom of speech, free assembly, freedom of religion, and privacy shall not be violated. No program shall use a child’s photo for self-promotion unless and until the child has reached the age of majority and has willingly, without coercion or duress, chosen to permit his/her photo to be used by the program.

9. Incoming and outgoing mail is not to be read, censored, nor monitored by anyone other than the sender and/or intended recipient.

10. All programs must be properly licensed and accredited to perform the services they claim to provide.

11. Therapeutic environments must follow the respectful guidelines for treating adolescents as is outlined in “Reclaiming Our Children” by Dr. Peter Breggin.

12. Children shall not be denied contact with their families, with the outside world, or basic necessities as “punishment” or “consequences”.

13. Children shall be listened to and have their needs and concerns addressed respectfully. Family disfunctions that the child reveals in therapy shall be considered valid and family members who have been neglectful, abusive, or otherwise remisce in duty shall be made aware of their own issues and the program shall require parents and other family members to get counseling to address their own short-comings and needs for improvement.

14. All staff at programs must pass an extensive background check, including sex offender background checks. This means no staff can have a history of physical or sexual assaults. And, this should be applied even to those staff who do not have regular contact with the children (i.e. maintenance, groundskeepers, etc.).

15. All contracts must adhere to fair-dealing standards and not include blanket liability waivers absolving the program for any crimes/torts the program may commit. This includes that all contracts must not be on-their-face unconscionable or illegal. Contracts are not to include disclaimers regarding promotional materials (i.e. websites, brochures, etc.) used by the program.

16. Children shall not be strip-searched.

17. Children shall not be sedated, physically abused, nor verbally assaulted by staff nor at the direction of staff. If a child is in need of psychiatric intervention or medical intervention, they must be immediately taken to a licensed psychiatric or medical hospital.

18. Physical restraint must only be used when actual, imminent severe physical harm to self or others is apparent. This is not something that should be twisted or relaxed to allow for the misuse of restraint by programs for their convenience and/or to intimidate, harass, or otherwise control children who are not a legitimate physical threat to self or others. By “severe physical harm” we mean the child to be restrained must have already punched, kicked, pushed or physically attempted to harm self or others and that the violence is so escalated that no verbal de-escalation techniques would or could work. This means someone who is literally out of control with rage. And, the program should not be operating in a manner that is likely to induce such a rage.

19. Therapy should consist of developing appropriate communication skills for all family members. And, all family members should be counseled to respect and validate each other’s concerns and needs without defensiveness or judgment. Children should not be scapegoated by their families and the programs must adhere to a strict policy of respecting the children as individuals and requiring families to work on better communication and addressing the needs of all family members with the greater responsibility being that of the parents. Parents are adults and have legal duties to provide for their children.

20. Large Group Awareness Training or other “cult-tactics” shall not be employed. Group therapy must be optional and not forced upon any individual. And, programs should not attempt to indoctrinate children into any particular faith or belief-system, but, be set up to provide a safe environment to learn healthy communication skills, heal from trauma, and learn critical thinking skills that encourage questioning authority, self-reliance, and independence.

HEAL will continue to watchdog the industry and work to close all offending programs.


The HEAL Team

Source: email from HEAL to the Founders of ACTSAS, dated December 29, 2011

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