The Family Foundation School Responds to the Recent Hearings
by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor.
May 11, 2008
As many readers may know, Congressman George Miller (D-CA), who is also chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, has been at the head of a Congressional initiative to regulate private wilderness programs, residential treatment centers, and therapeutic boarding schools. The Committee held hearings both in October of 2007, and again on April 24 of this year. Following the latter round of hearings, the Committee introduced proposed legislation (H.R. 5876) to regulate private treatment facilities. In both rounds of hearings, the Committee presented witnesses that testified about cases of neglect, abuse and/or deaths in these facilities. To our surprise, The Family Foundation School became a named party in this initiative by one of our alumni, Mr. Jon Martin-Crawford, who attended the Family Foundation School from 1995-1997.
We will not dispute his testimony. His experiences are his own and will always remain so, regardless of anything anyone says or does. Rather, we wish to unequivocally state: we deeply regret that anyone who has come through our program feels in any way damaged by their experience. This is because as people of good conscience, we take our work and our mission to help young people overcome self-destructive behaviors very seriously, and we pursue that objective with the best of intentions while exercising our best-thought-out judgment in each and every case.
Yet, as with every mission that involves science, education, medicine or psychology, our development over the 20 years that we have been an accredited school must be considered as a practice: an evolution of methods based on the best-understood principles of the period. In that context, the Family Foundation School of Jon's memory is far removed from the Family Foundation School of today. Indeed, the 11 years that have passed since Mr. Martin-Crawford graduated from the Family Foundation School is a very long time, over which a great deal has changed in the general understanding of childhood development and psychological best practices. This evolutionary understanding has likewise led to sweeping changes within our program.
Our experience with restraint is a perfect case in point. In order to ensure safety from harm by a student experiencing a crisis, whether to faculty, staff or other students, we will of course restrain the student's movements until the crisis has passed. Indeed, it could be reasonably argued that failure on our part to act in such circumstances would potentially lead to greater harm or possible tragedy. During the 1990s we had modeled our restraint practices on the first-aid methods of securing people who were experiencing seizures or convulsions. In other words, by using blankets.
Shortly after Jon's graduation, the New York State Department of Education, the authority overseeing our accreditation, investigated our restraint policy. While they acknowledged our effort to keep children physically safe and noted that we had not physically harmed anyone with this method, they recommended that we switch to a "quiet room" policy. We immediately changed our practices to meet this recommendation. Soon thereafter, Cornell University developed its Therapeutic Crisis Intervention program (TCI). We sent two of our staff to Cornell for the trainers' course. They in turn trained our staff in more modern and effective ways to de-escalate a crisis, including how to perform safe physical restraints in the event that the de-escalation techniques failed to resolve the situation. Since 1999, we've required all Family Foundation School staff to be trained in TCI.
To us, this seems an excellent example of oversight by a governing body that led to better training of our staff. As a result, we have a more humane and more effective set of restraint practices, because a government agency worked with us to improve them.
We share with Congressman Miller the goal of protecting our children. In fact, the Family Foundation School's program meets or exceeds many points of the proposed legislation, both in spirit and practice. This is because for many years, the Family Foundation School has pursued a concerted effort to evolve our approach, to become a rigorous academic program based on a model of love and support. Moreover, we firmly believe that programs that have failed to keep abreast of current knowledge and best-practices, or stubbornly refuse to abandon harsh behaviors and confrontational methods, do indeed need to be regulated. Especially when such programs have a history of avoiding oversight by changing their names, crossing state lines, or even reestablishing themselves in foreign countries - beyond the reach of American jurisdiction.
We feel that in the interest of achieving the best possible results, that primary responsibility for any oversight must remain with the states. It must be noted, though, with all due respect to Congressman Miller, that there is more work to be done. This is especially true if this important legislation is to meet the dual objectives of keeping children safe while allowing responsible, progressive programs to effectively perform their mission. Indeed, we recognize that one of the challenges inherent in forming appropriate legislation to that end is establishing protocols for the collection and the reporting of claims of abuse or neglect. This challenge was also noted in the original Government Accountability Office (GAO) report of last October.
Open access to telephone or email seems an obvious solution. However, the bill's proposed phone policy, while clearly designed to ensure that parents have adequate access to their children and that the children have a way to report practices that are potentially abusive, consists of language that is so broad, it could allow calls to (or from) former drug dealers, gang members, or other predators that have attached themselves to our students, placing them at continued risk. Obviously, such conditions create the potential that these young people might never truly escape the dangerous influences that led them to a therapeutic boarding school in the first place.
More importantly, the proposed legislation is presently aimed at private sector programs only. If we consider the tragic death at the State of Florida's Bay County Sheriff's Office boot camp in 2006, it is clear that state run facilities must also be subject to oversight, especially when it comes to incident reporting and training of appropriate interaction with young persons in need of responsible intervention.
Despite these challenges, if we had proper lines of communication, we could find common ground with the Committee, the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate before this bill becomes law.
It has been said that change is often difficult. In fact, some of the hardest times we ever undertake come with the realization that change is being visited upon us whether we wish it or not. An ethical person or organization will seize the opportunity to shape inevitable changes as they come, and then re-form to meet those changes in a positive, progressive way. Embracing positive change, but also resisting negative change, is essential to bettering an organization. Progressive and healthy organizations constantly re-evaluate their practices to ensure that they are doing the best possible work for the communities that they serve. This is the essence of what we do at the Family Foundation School for our students, and what we strive to represent to our peers.
In that spirit, the readers of Woodbury Reports all have a stake in the pending legislation. We all want teens at risk of falling into lives governed by risky and destructive behaviors to receive safe treatment, develop effective self-governing skills, earn a superior education, and to become vital, contributing members of our society. We therefore encourage you to join us in reaching out to your community of parents and alumni. Ask them to help demonstrate that there is a great deal more good in our industry than the hearings conducted so far have represented. Readers should be encouraged to contact their elected representatives in order that their voices, too, can be heard.
With consensus, we can all be assured of truly representative and effective legislation that assures the safety of the young people in our care, and the accountability standards we strive to achieve as educators, parents, mentors and leaders.
May 07, 2009
I was also very upset because I attended the school from 2003-2005. During that time period many students were physically and verbally abused. I myself did was not due to the fact that I was too scared to even try to act out after seeing what they would do to all the other students. This school has made my life even more complicated than it was before. It did not help me in anyway, if only took me out of reality for a few years and once I got out wanted to be free and do anything I could do. It was like a prisoner getting out of a jail sentence. I was the only person who could help me get on the right path; I had to make the decision. I made this decision until about a year after getting out of the Family School. I think they take their so called "principles" to another level. I have nightmares at least once a month regarding the horrible experiences I had. Concerning comment from Susan S.: your son is only stating beautiful things because he is scared of the school and is trying to make you happy so they he can get out of there ASAP, I was too scared to even tell my parents the truth because I knew that the staff would deny it and I would immediately get punished for my actions. This school needs to have a undercover review of its facility, so that the truth can be shown.
The Family Foundation School has been actively inviting feedback from their alumni, both positive and negative. We hear a lot of positive feedback, from both alumni students and parents, but sometimes only hear negative feedback through these type of postings. While we do not want to discount anyone's experience (as it is theirs), we are interested to hear from alumni as the school continues to grow and develop. Feedback from alumni students, who are willing to share their experiences honestly and directly, we have found is tremendously helpful in providing support to the changes that are a natural evolution for any dynamic organization. As we completed and were awarded Joint Commission accreditation this past December, the number of changes made were substantial - while still holding true to the values and principles that are foundational to healing and recovery. By nature of the reasons why adolescents are enrolled at The Family Foundation School, we know the recovery and healing process is a difficult one for them - and as Samantha identifies, does not always occur while enrolled at the school. We remain committed to helping at-risk youth and their families find the avenue for help and healing - and invite any alumni who have concerns about their experience while at the school, to contact me. Several alumni who have engaged us directly have discovered that the changes are real, and that there is healing in being heard and responded to.
In terms of the suggested "undercover review", The Family Foundation School sought the most rigorous and demanding accrediting organization that exists in the health care industry. The Joint Commission (or many will recognize it by its previous JHACO acronym) serves as close to an undercover review as one can find. The surveyors spent many days on campus speaking with students (alone and without disclosing student feedback), speaking with parents and can return at any time without notice. We received full accreditation with very positive feedback, as well as some recommendations for improvement - which we have already taken action on. This, combined with Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools and adherence to the ethical principles set forth by the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, ensures that there is independent oversight to both the educational and therapeutic programs at The Family Foundation School.
Jeff Brain, MA, CTS, CEP Vice President for External Relations
& Director of Admissions
March 02, 2009
To whom it may concern:
I only just now noticed this informative letter from Jeff Brain.
My son currently is enrolled and attending the Family Foundation School. After being at the school for over a year my son revealed: "I'd probably be dead if I wasn't at this school." I was certain I was saving his life by placing him at this wonderful school but to know that my son, now, agrees with me is incredible.
My son has been one of those at-risk students Mr. Brain refers to in his article. My son's emotional and sometimes physical outbursts, the resistance to the program, even the running away from the school was never met with neglect, abuse, or any punitive isolation. Whatever was done for my son was out of a desire to keep him safe, and to teach him that his life is worth his taking seriously. The direction that he has received in an atmosphere of love, care and strength has been monumental. The first 13 months of my son's time at the school was fraught with the above problems that got in the way of his moving forward academically and emotionally. For the past several months there has been a change in my son. For the first time in his life he has some clarity (a true ability to reflect on his thoughts and behaviors), understanding that he can transcend his emotions where he can actually control them and not the other way around. Academically he is meeting with success and now he is seeing what can be achieved by effective hard work.
The Family Foundation School (owners, administrators, therapeutically trained staff, teachers, clinicians, and the students themselves) stands by an extremely high standard for all the students. Every single staff person is assigned to a grouping ("Family") and there is no such thing as "taking a lunch break" or "a dinner break". Staff is expected to spend meal times with the assigned Family. There are many opportunities for students to interact with staff/adults as well as to receive on-target peer feedback.
The Family Foundation School is assisting my son in seeing the bigger picture of his life. For the first time he has hope for his future: he displays an inner strength that is palpable; he is pursuing his passion for art (fine art, Japanese Anime, etc.); he is making an academic turnaround where graduation from high school is in his view; he is dealing with issues that he resisted just months ago; and his relationship with his family has grown in warmth and honesty.
The Family Foundation School had been able and continues to create a strong foundation for students to self-direct so that a new life can be formed before they leave the School. At the same time, the School creates a forum for the students' families such that these families can be equipped to handle the issues that will meet the student when he/she leaves the School for college, university or trade/vocational school.
I recommend The Family Foundation School for students who are considered at-risk for self-medicating through drugs and alcohol, and for those students whose emotional life has been out of control.
I am quite upset with the response from the family school. They said these actions took place years ago and that things have evolved from then. That's not all true, I graduated from FFS December 2004 and still remember the things I went through. They bothered me for a long time and they still do till this day.