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Posted December 22, 2002 

Dundee Ranch
Karen Burnett/ Zipperlein
Shepherdsville, KY
502-955-1219
December 19, 2002

The author of this article is Karen Burnett/Zipperlein, whose son was at Dundee Ranch (a WWASP program) in Costa Rica for 4 months.

Dear People - I would like to comment on WWASPS/TeenHelp, and it won't be flattering. If you are absolutely opposed to hearing a negative word about 'The Program,' close now.

First, let me say our experience wasn't all bad. My son has told many funny stories and had some good friends and spoke much about how pretty it was. He was in Costa Rica for 4 months.

I have tried to stay on good terms with WWASPS. Then decided neutral was the best I could hope for - and am now feeling strongly that I have to begin to at least try and speak out.

My own biggest concern and complaint was how grossly I was mislead about the actual methods used to modify the students behavior. Maybe your experience has been different - but I was never told while considering enrollment, that there was such a thing as O. P. When I was informed my son was in O.P. and asked what it was, all I was told was, itís a place where we send them to sit quietly and think about their actions and the consequences and what would have been a more working choice. The enforced silence seemed the harshest thing about it. This wasn't alarming and I wasn't concerned. Then I read a news paper article that described OP. Ridiculous, I thought. So, I asked my son, who had at this point been transferred to a non wwasps program, what was all that non sense in that story about OP? Mom, he said - I told you about OP. We argued a little, because I never got any such letter or email. It became clear that that was just it - I never got it. He wrote it, I never got it. This happened on several occasions that I am now aware of.

Do you know what OP is?

After a while, I found a number of links that had some very disturbing stories about what goes on in many of the programís schools. I was upset to think it was maybe, largely true - but took comfort Dundee wasn't mentioned. It hadn't occurred to me it is such a new program, they have very few graduates or kids who've spent time there, out and talking yet. I felt Dundee was an exception and the more brutal things hadn't gone on there. I gave the kindhearted, good nature of the Costa Ricians credit for this.

As a result of a conversation with another parent yesterday, where she asked about restraint and beatings, and seemed so genuinely surprised when I said it didn't happen at Dundee; I asked my son last night - Did you ever see anyone beat up while at Dundee? He gave a short laugh, a sudden explosion of breath, and said well, yeah! (Like, no duha) I was quite startled. What do you mean! You never said a word about anything like that, I exclaimed. Well, he tells me, it happened so often, I didn't think it was anything to tell. He went on to say, usually, they'd grab a kid up and drag them into the OP room, and you would hear them getting a beating - it didn't happen often out in the open. So what about Restraint, I asked. Oh yeah, every day, many times. Now I know, and I know you know, in any program for troubled kids, restraint is sometimes needed for the kidís safety, as well as others. But what my son described to me is restraint taking place for little or apparently no reason - and at the whim of the restrainer. And it isn't done with any concern for non injury. My son told me, they (the kids) where told the staff could break one bone with no reprisals, as all the parents had signed documents to that effect.

I never signed anything giving my permission break my son's bones. Have you? It might be wise to write and let your kid know you never signed any such thing.

Now, I know you've been told, over and over, how all these stories are just the kids being manipulative. I know you have been convinced anyone like myself is just a BMW, a malcontent and a trouble maker. I know. But what if the truly skilled manipulators aren't the kids, but the program? What if I truly am concerned and genuinely want to help?

Consider the fact my son had no need to manipulate, and had never even brought up these things until asked about it. Poor kid thought I knew. Or, found the subject so distastful heíd rather avoid it. (a lifelong pattern of his)

Consider the fact, that if your kid tells you anything like this, he/she is still stuck there with people who can twist their arm behind their back so hard it leaves their shoulder black and blue; or slam them to the ground and grind their joints against the dirt or concrete; or make them knell or lay in OP for days at a time, all for having had a bad attitude - and you may begin to see why nothing much gets said. At least not until after theyíve been home awhile.

If you get letters that have comments in them that seem disjointed, as if they think you know something you don't - don't be blind. You aren't getting everything written, and I'd suggest its because it contains something no one wants to explain.

My son has no reason or motive to lie. None at all. And I hope youíll consider, I, who know his history, do believe him. Heís never in his life been a liar, except as concerned his drug use or something related to it.

People, There is far to much smoke for there not to be fire.

Unless you where made aware that your kid would spend hours at a time - up to 12 a day, for days at a time, on their knees, facing a wall, hands behind their back - no one has explained what OP is, really, until just now. Dosenít that bother you?

You where told restraint was sometimes used, but did anyone tell you it could be for something like smiling, when some staff member thinks they shouldn't be?

You where told the food wasn't the best, but have you been told about the strict diet restriction, or had anyone explain why its so important the kids be kept hungry?

You aren't going to learn about these things on the board wwasps runs, thats for sure!

Lastly, I want to make a statement of personal regret. There where occasions, during my time using the WWASPS board, that parents would ask about the appropriateness of the program for a mentally ill child. Iím thinking specifically of  Borderline girls, altho, I think what I am about to say would apply to many others as well. I do have a better than average laymenís understanding of BPD. Thinking I knew how the program was managed, I at times advised worried Moms and Dads that the highly structured environment and close therapeutic relationships could be good for their BPD daughters. I always pointed out how very much the condition could vary and that no blanket statement can ever be made. Thats still is true... But I am fearful now, having come to understand the realities of the Program better, that these girls, or any mentally ill child, could be made very much worse by the kind of stress and ill treatment they would be enduring. I am very fearful the kind of girl that most concerns me, could be made seriously suicidal; and it Must be understood, no one ever seems to be turned down for WWASPS placement, due to the Program being an inappropriate treatment for a childís problem. I am deeply regretful that I may have added to the probability of causing real and lasting psychological harm.

Well, I'm done for now. I hope you open your hearts and think about these things.

There are alternatives to WWASPS. It is just harder to find them, as they don't have that monstrous marketing program shoving them in a searching parent's face at every turn.

Wishing you well -

God's Peace,

KarenZ

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