BEWARE NON-PROFESSIONAL ADVICE
By: Lon Woodbury
The private parent-choice industry for struggling teens has unfortunately attracted a number of people who see big and easy money in it. Perhaps the worst is the person who has a smooth telephone voice, and a sympathetic ear, pretending to be helping parents but in reality just helping him or herself at the expense of desperate, frightened and confused parents. For these people, desperate parents are seen as a "cash cow" to obtain money from programs for talking parents into enrolling their child into a cooperating program. This activity, sometimes called Finders Fee or kickbacks, is condemned as highly unethical by the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and the National Association for Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP), the professional organizations in this industry. The self-serving advice from these "referring Agencies" can do great harm to parents and the children.
The following is a letter I received from a mother who got sucked into the scheme of a so-called "educational consultant." The name has been withheld by request, but the story is one that is repeated all too often.
Emotional Growth Schools that offer a referral fee to professionals or another parent for your child's placement is not an urban legend.
I contacted a woman whose name and phone number was passed along to me. She called herself an "Educational Consultant" and told me there was no fee for her services, that she was getting paid for the placements she made by the schools. She seemed knowledgeable, helpful and an empathic ear, listening to how the lives of my daughter and our family were spiraling out of control. I thought that finally someone had a direction I could take to help my daughter. The principal at my daughter's local private school had obtained the number from another parent and passed it along to me. He did not know who this woman was, but suggested I talk to her, that she had helped another parent. The principal was at a loss how we should help my daughter. At that point, my daughter had not come home nor had we heard from her for many days, so I called this woman in desperation.
At first I did not think it sounded unusual that this woman took fees from the placements; I was too caught up in the crisis of what was going on to understand exactly what this meant or how that would affect her recommendations. She was just so helpful and seemed to have a solution. I thought that is the way it worked with these special boarding schools.
Then after a couple of calls to the schools she recommended, and when some of the schools contacted me directly, something did not seem right. It dawned on me the schools she was recommending were selections that were not going to be appropriate for my daughter's emotional, behavioral and academic needs. It was then apparent that being paid by the schools was a conflict of interest, since she steered me to only very specific placements that paid her and were a terrible mismatch for my emotionally fragile troubled daughter. My daughter needed all types of treatment, not punishment.
Here we were eight months after her fifteenth birthday; she had become a completely different person, was now an emotionally fragile and deeply troubled girl who was addicted to street drugs. She started hanging out with different kids, they all seemed troubled, and many I never met. I found out later on they were experimenting with heroin and she was using cocaine daily, smoking pot, taking mushrooms and ecstasy on a regular basis.
Her descent into the abyss was only months after a horrifying tragic event; she had been a well-adjusted teen, in a stable loving family. She was busy with school and athletic activities and leading a charmed childhood as many children do these days. Sadly, that past summer she had been abducted from a resort town beach and raped at gunpoint; the police found and rescued her and arrested the rapist. It was a traumatic summer for all of us. Three weeks after the rape my husband walked into his office at 2-World Trade Center and became a survivor of 9/11.
Our daughter was in the care of a psychiatrist and therapist immediately after the rape and eventually put on medication to help with her posttraumatic panic attacks and depression. She went to a therapist weekly, but it was not enough help for her. Her life and our lives were completely unraveled into searching for a troubled child running the streets of Manhattan stoned every day, a danger to herself and anyone she met.
Therefore, when the kind woman who called herself an "Education Consultant" told me about all these special boarding programs, it sounded like the loving thoughtful way to save our daughter's life and get her back on track.
The placements this woman was connecting me with were some of the most controversial specialty boarding schools. At the time, I did not know how much controversy surrounded the particular schools she recommended until I did further research. Talking to this woman was my very first exposure to this industry before I found any other websites or spoke to other parents or legitimate educational consultants. My gut instinct was to find out more about the schools she recommended. One sounded too good and I was so happy it was not too far away in Massachusetts.
I called the local police department in the Massachusetts town to ask about the school. The police department referred me to the local District Attorney's office.
I knew immediately that was a very bad sign. Then, when the police officer asked me if I could find another school for my daughter, I knew something was wrong with this so- called "Educational Consultant's" recommendations. Why did this helpful woman, who said she was an "Educational Consultant," not know how controversial this school was and why didn't she understand my daughter's needs? I wanted a boarding school to have a clinical component for my daughter and none of these schools had anything but a punitive sounding agenda. There was no therapy, no doctors available nor any credentialed professionals on staff working with the children. I knew immediately that the places she was recommending had no regard for a child's emotional wellbeing and were not based on a sound approach in helping troubled teens.
I was already seasoned through dealing with our selective local private school's admissions process. However these places sounded so scary, and something seemed so off, especially when they proudly told me how they treated kids and that I did not need to come up and look at the schools. It did not jive with what my gut told me would be a healthy atmosphere for my daughter to grow and get her life back on track and learn better coping skills. That's when I realized this so-called "Educational Consultant" was not making matches based on my child's needs but on her own financial needs.
A completely new world of legitimate options opened up to me when I was given the number of another parent who had been going through a similar situation with her son. She had found a reputable educational consultant and program for her son; he was in a very healthy environment growing and changing his life. That mother was so incredibly helpful. She directed me to Lon's placement guide and his website. I then discovered the parent's forum and started reading other advocacy websites.
My daughter was at her therapeutic boarding placement for two years, healing her emotional, psychic and physical wounds. She then graduated from High School, and was accepted to all the colleges she applied to. She is her own success story; today she continues to be drug free, living at home attending her sophomore year of University, working part time and has a loving healthy relationship with all the people in her life. It might have been a story entirely different from that if I had stayed with the recommendations of the first so-called "Educational Consultant."