Opinion & Essays - July, 2001 Issue #83
By Kristie Vollar, Referral Assistant
Woodbury Reports, Inc.
After watching the Wilderness special on A&E the other night,
I thought about the question many parents have asked: “What happens to the kids 5, 10, 20 years after they complete their program?”
There are several answers to this, ranging from those who return home and continue the destructive behaviors that had landed them
in a program, to those who find a way to successfully lead an adult life. The show didn’t really touch on this subject; there were
no interviews of kids who had been out of the “network” for several years, nor were there interviews from any of the literally thousands
of “success” stories per year.
So why is there such wide a wide variation in outcomes?
First of all, if a program doesn’t match a child’s specific needs, not only will it be ineffective, it also might make the situation
worse. Appropriate placements are made by evaluating the child in terms of all of their issues, actual events, even the personal relationships
they have or don’t have with their family members. When an appropriate placement is made, the child grows from the experience, becomes
more honest and open, works on personal issues, and begins to recognize his or her own role in causing and solving problems.
Some of the kids who have successfully completed a school or program have eventually returned to the network to either work for an
Emotional Growth School or Program, start their own, or begin working as an independent educational consultant making placements.
Their experiences help make the network stronger and more successful. Many return to their former school or a new school to complete
their diploma. Many earn a college degree, create healthy families and have successful careers. Once these kids have started leading
more successful lives however, most just want to focus on their new direction. They don’t want to spend much time dwelling on their
program experience; they’ve already learned from it and now want to move forward to the next step on their new path.
There were quite a few people who had been through a wilderness who responded to the A&E show. They seemed to disagree with it,
and from what I gathered, saw the show as biased. Many responses I heard were from those who felt the particular program they attended
had helped them turn their life around for the best. The A&E program interviewed kids who had just come home and were unsure about
their success, or were unsure why things had to change. Being unsure or scared about progress or the likelihood of success is common.
But a successful completion of a school or program means that the adolescents have received the tools to talk and walk through their
fears to continue their progress, and they have developed insight about when they need to ask for help. Most all, they have now acquired
leadership skills and the self-confidence that they will succeed in life; therefore they do succeed.
There really hasn’t been good follow-up or research about how these kids are doing several years after they have completed a program.
Schools and programs generally have a follow-up service from 6 months to two years, and they gladly welcome alumni who visit or call
for updates. But unbiased research into how these kids fare years after a program is relatively unavailable. This network is such
a private one, those who are successful don’t dwell on this low point in their lives. Even the Strugglingteens.com alumni chat forum
had little response to this question.
We have begun conducting a survey to find out how program participants are doing many years later. Most of the responses we receive
are from parents however; we are trying to reach more of the students. So far, preliminary results indicate that most of the “success
stories” come from reputable schools and programs, IF there was a good “fit” between what the schools or programs offered and the
child’s specific needs.
Anyone who has sent their child to a school or program, or anyone who has attended one or more is welcome and encouraged to participate
in our survey. It is confidential and can be obtained by request either from our office, or on www.strugglingteens.com.
For a more immediate response to the question about how kids are doing five, 10, 20 years after completing a school or program, I
am including a few quotes from graduates who responded to the A&E discussion board:
“I was 12 years old to 14 when I was in Rhode Island. I am now a city employee, received my certificate with honors from the local
community college and have two beautiful boys ages 3 and 6. My 6 year old is ADHD/ODD/Bipolar, and most of all I keep fighting everyday
to provide the best treatment for my son. I believe this works, life is important and if this program is done early enough it can
help. There are some negative results and not everyone is successful, but it really works.”
“I know it is an effective treatment. At age 14 my daughter was totally out of control, drugs, skipping school, etc. She received
various forms of counseling to no avail. When I was contacted by the police one afternoon telling me they had located my 14-year-old
runaway missing for two weeks, I told them to keep her. I was afraid if she got away she would end up a statistic somewhere. The juvenile
officer suggested the wilderness camp. She is 34 years old now and lives a very full productive life with her family, husband and
many friends. She is much loved.”
“I had major problems before I went on one of these and then went to lockdown and I’d probably be dead if it wasn’t from these programs.
I was at the lockdown for 22 months and graduated last year, and as of today I am 2 years 8 months 3 weeks and 5 days clean from hard
drugs and I couldn’t have done that without my programs.”
“My daughter is alive and clean and sober today because of the program she was in.”
“I attended the (program) about 9 years ago. When I first arrived I hated it, I found out later that they had told my parents to expect
me to say anything in order to leave the program, so they told my parents that I would be lying and exaggerating, which set them up
to not believe a word I said. It was definitely one of the most memorable experiences of my life and I even ended up wanting to stay
longer! I miss the friends I made there terribly and can only hope that someday we will run into each other again.”
“I am now married and have an 8 year old son. I am a Scuba Instructor and am happier than I ever thought I could be. At 17 years old,
I could not imagine being who I am and where I am now.”
And, I can speak for myself… I’ve been out of a program for eight years, work for an Independent Educational Consultant as a Referral
Assistant, own my own home/car/life, work full time, am getting ready to go back to school full time, am out of trouble and thriving!