Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, the world has changed. The citizen exchange between Russia and the United States has greatly expanded over the years, as citizens of both countries try to learn from each other. A large number of visits between the countries became possible only after the end of the Cold War, and has been increasing ever since.
I was privileged to observe one of these exchanges recently when a group of Russian clinicians visited the north Idaho schools owned by Universal Health Services. The Russian clinicians spent two days in north Idaho at Northwest Academy, Boulder Creek Academy and Ascent, as part of a tour that included visiting facilities in Alaska and Idaho.
The goal was to help the Russians learn from the American approaches of working with teens with problems. It was obvious they were impressed by what they saw happening in the therapeutic boarding schools and the short-term, base camp wilderness program. They asked questions including where to start if they wanted to establish a comparable program in Russia, or what training and experience the American staff had. The staff did a good job in giving an overall view of the schools for their guests; however, the Russians only saw the program itself, not the supportive dynamic of this type of program.
From the questions asked during the visit, it was obvious that the Russians had nothing with which to compare this model of treatment. They lacked any economic history that could help them understand some of the most important dynamics that make private therapeutic boarding schools and wilderness programs successful. Those elements of course include the private pay and parent-choice concepts, which are pervasive and unique influences on the success of these schools and programs.
Driven by parent-choice enrollment decisions, the US is almost unique throughout the world because of its growing and dynamic private sector of residential schools and programs for children with problems. Based on this very important dynamic, parents are automatically involved, even if only to the extent that they can withdraw their child if displeased with the program. This is in direct contrast to a public pay system where parent involvement is often difficult to obtain, or at best is optional and usually limited when it does exist.
The parent involvement component provides a subtle, but effective watch over private parent-choice programs, as witnessed by the ongoing public controversy over the private residential programs. In part, this is exhibited in the letters on our website from parents expressing their approval or disapproval of specific programs, and the media driven reports from some dissatisfied parents. On the other hand, the limited effectiveness of oversight of public programs is demonstrated by the current news stories of the Florida boot camp death of Martin Anderson. One newspaper reported that Florida regulators apparently ignored the more than 180 abuse complaints filed against that specific program before Anderson's death.
For the Russian clinicians to really understand what they saw in north Idaho, they would need to receive intensive education in the subtleties of the American private oriented concepts and institutions, something far beyond the scope and ability of their hosts in a mere two days. I hope they continue their study of our American schools and programs to supplement what they learned during their visit. I also hope they learn more about how the very important elements of private pay and parent-choice have influenced the program development of these schools.