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WWASP/Teen Help Debate click here

Doing Business with Teen Help:
A Dangerous Process

By: Karen E. Lile
East Bay, California
925-676-3355 phone ~ 925-672-3792 fax

Copyright 1999 by Karen E. Lile. Used by permission.

I am the parent of a child who was at Tranquility Bay. Walnut Creek Hospital referred my husband and I to Teen Help. Our daughter was in Tranquility Bay for 10 months and rose to level 5. She staffed seminars and helped in the program. At the 10th month, we attended a Seminar, sponsored by Teen Help, that caused us to ask questions and do further investigation into program practices and the businesses affiliated with Teen Help. We found that we had not been told many important things about this program prior to enrolling our daughter in it. One of those things was about the nature of the seminars and the requirement that was made of parents and teens to keep seminar processes and content secret.

Details on our experience can be found by clicking here and by following the links within this piece. Reading these statements written by my husband and myself will give you an overview of the experience that launched our investigation into the Teen Help situation and eventually caused us to fly to Jamaica and bring our daughter home.

The appropriateness of Teen Help program behavior is a controversial subject right now. We have discovered that many parents feel this program has saved their child's life and they are distressed when we talk about our concerns. We were very enthusiastic about Teen Help until our investigation started to turn up things that we had been previously unaware of.

The primary reasons that we took our daughter home from Tranquility Bay and then later began speaking up about our concerns can be summarized as follows:

1. We discovered that we had been deliberately misled and deceived when the program was marketed to us initially. This prevented us from making an informed decision about the safety, welfare and well being of our child. Many things we had been initially told to sell us on the program, we later found out were untrue. A few examples are listed below:

* In April 1997, prior to signing a contract, we were told that the "school" at Tranquility Bay was currently accredited at that time. Several months after we had enrolled our daughter, I checked with the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges and found that this was not true. Because the school was later accredited, some feel this should not matter. But it showed us that Teen Help family of Services was willing to misrepresent the truth to us and then later when we brought it to their attention, they claimed our concerns were unimportant. This we found was a pattern of behavior that was repeated enough to cause us grave concern.

* We were not told about the content and process of the TASKS Seminars before our daughter was asked to take a vow of secrecy. In a recorded conversation with Jay Kay, director of Tranquility Bay and a conversation with Lori Tebbs, TASKS Seminar coordinator for Teen Help/WWASP, we were told after 10 months of being in the program that it was a policy of these Teen Help Family of Services to withhold this information about the process and content of the TASKS Seminars from parents until they were already involved in the program. The spirit of consumer law requires that all pertinent facts be revealed to a consumer before they make a purchase. The ethics of the mental health industry require that no treatment be proceeded with on a minor without the informed consent of their parent. We felt that by deliberately keeping this information from us, Teen Help was depriving us of the ability to make an informed decision and also engaging our daughter and ourselves in an experimental process that was not only controversial and psychologically dangerous, but, within the laws of our own state, illegal.

* There was a pattern of lying that kept reappearing when we started asking questions and pursuing our own investigation. This eventually led us to distrust information given to us by officials from the Teen Help family of services.

2. Things that were promised to us were not delivered. Things in the program were not what they were represented to us to be.

* Before signing the contract, we were told that there were therapists available for private consultation for our daughter at Tranquility Bay and the other programs. When we asked for those services after our daughter had been in the program for 10 months, we were informed that they did not have a therapist available, nor did they encourage therapists to get involved in the treatment. We had come into Teen Help at the recommendation of the Walnut Creek Hospital and had every expectation that this program was built upon the standards, ethics and processes of conventional therapy. This was confirmed by our sales representative and the literature we received at the time. Finding out it wasn't true was a shock.

* We were told that our daughter would receive proper medical care and that we would be informed if anything happened that required medical attention. Upon her arrival home, we discovered that she had had scabies for 10 months. As treatment in Tranquility Bay, she had been put into an isolation room for a week and given "Rid" (a treatment for lice not scabies). The scabies did not go away. After repeated attempts to inform staff of this, our daughter stopped talking about it because she was not believed. She also had jaundice and was so ill that she couldn't walk or eat for over a week. We were not informed and the local Jamaican doctor did not even take a blood test. If we had been informed that local medical help was not competent, we could have at least had her flown into a hospital in Miami, FL. However, we were not given that choice. We were told of none of these things by the staff or director. We had to discover it from the Kaiser doctor after our daughter was returned home. Her scabies, once treated properly, cleared up in 2 weeks. I have talked to several parents who have since brought their children home from Teen Help Programs, many of whom had far worse medical problems than my daughter. In each instance, the teens were given improper medical care and in some cases have permanent scars and illnesses to this day.

* The sanitary conditions at the facility were way below even the minimum standards that we could expect. The following is only one example: Our daughter informed us that all of the janitorial work is performed by the teens. On several occasions toilets were backed up for over a week and left in horrible condition. In some cases toilet paper was denied to the teens.

*One of the reasons we were initially so impressed with the sales literature and promises we received before enrolling our child was because they promised leadership training for our daughter after she got to a certain level. However when we discovered that as a level 5 junior staff she was given increasingly huge responsibilities, with little training and supervision, and required to make vital decisions for errant lower level teens that should only have been allowed to be made by trained professionals with much more experience, we were displeased. It was not only dangerous for the lower level teens to give so much responsibility to their peers, but it was stressful for our daughter. She was left to deal with problems resulting from overgrowth of the program, inadequate staffing, sanitation problems, rebellions in the lower levels, cases of abuse, and other things that even the director, Jay Kay was not paying attention to. She was encouraged to believe that this was entirely her responsibility and that the program did not have any responsibilities for these problems. This was not the kind of education and leadership training we expected. We expected the teens to be given adequate training, oversight and not to be given more responsibility than was appropriate for their experience and expertise.

*We were led to believe that this program did not have anything in it that would conflict with our religious values and beliefs. We were told that many staff and owners were of the same faith as ourselves and that this program was approved by our church. Later, we discovered that the TASKS seminars were not only contrary to our religious beliefs but that the leaders of our church had issued official statements warning members against participation in these types of seminars. We also found that the philosophy of the seminars and program was contrary to anything that we would have wanted our daughter to be taught. In an academic setting, without coercion, we would like our daughter to be exposed to many different beliefs so she can formulate her own opinions. However, this type of training offered in the program only promoted one belief system and had heavy consequences for those who did not go along. To have these beliefs and values thrust upon us and our daughter without our consent and laden with heavy consequences if we didn't adopt them was outrageous.

3. When we brought our concerns about the TASKS seminar we attended, we were not believed or responded to in a professional manner by the Teen Help family of services. Instead of addressing the problems and answering our questions about the safety of our child, we were threatened by irate Teen Help parents and called by a therapist who tried to persuade us to come back to a seminar and stay for all three days so that "we would be desensitized and see things clearer." Then we were offered over $12,000 by Jean Schulter, CEO of Teen Help and other businesses if we would attend another seminar and threatened with legal action if we did not attend the seminar. Our concerns have not been addressed nor our questions answered to this date. We continue to find this irresponsible behavior of a highly questionable sort.

4. When we decided not to complete the TASKS Seminars, several efforts were made to divide us from our child. The program proved to be entirely inflexible when we didn't adopt the Seminars whole-heartedly and they had no provision for helping our family if all family members didn't participate in all the Seminars. Several staff developed hostility towards us and showed it openly to our daughter. Duane Smotherman, the facilitator of our seminar mocked us in a seminar two weeks later at Tranquility in front of our daughter and all the other teens. These behaviors were quite shocking. We have been able to manage some family unity despite all of this, but the strain put on our family by the program's behavior was great. We have talked to other parents who had an even more difficult situation than we did. In many cases they were divorced. When one parent attended the seminar and the other did not it was reported to me by these parents that staff and peers in the program tried to prejudice their child against the parent who did not attend the seminar. As far as we have seen, there is no program which helps families to reunite and resolve family programs when only part of the family members attend all the seminars.

5. Our investigations led us to discover more than 27 businesses that were all owned by friends and family members of the same three people. Although this in itself may not seem alarming, we found that the setup and operation of these businesses was used to evade responsibility and accountability when we started asking questions and voicing our concerns. In addition, we discovered that the education and treatment of our child was primarily handled by businesses we had not checked out or researched because their names were not revealed to us. It took much painful discovery to unravel this complex web. It is extremely important for us to know the credibility, reputation and track record of anyone we do business with. When it comes to the safety of our child, this is even more important. I asked many questions and was told things that deliberately obscured the ownership of the businesses I attempted to research before signing the contract.

6. We interviewed many parents, some staff and former staff and found repeated reports of verbal, psychological, physical and in some cases sexual child abuse in more than one Teen Help program. We interviewed the lawyers who were preparing lawsuits against Teen Help. Most of these parents had made their complaints with the Teen Help/WWASP family of services. (click here for more). These cases have not come to trial yet and so we cannot conclude whether or not they are accurate. However, the reports of abuse we heard corroborated with each other, even in instances where the teens did not know each other and before the media got involved. Our experience has shown that Teen Help/WWASP program officials have a policy of discounting the reports of abuse by teens as manipulation and do not take the concerns of the parents seriously.

7. When we sent our daughter to Tranquility Bay, there were only 40 teens and 13 staff. In ten months this program grew to over 250 students and three facilities with plans for more growth. There were signs of inadequate and under-trained staffing, and the addition of guard dogs to the facility. We discovered that the director of Tranquility Bay was much younger and less experienced than we had believed and not well informed about vital parts of his business.

8. We read the reports of the Utah Health Department's two years worth of citations against Brightway Hospital (another Teen Help run facility). These reports showed the same patterns of deception, inferior care and standards, insufficient oversight and "one size fits all" approach that we discovered from our own investigation with other Teen Help programs. This confirmed our belief that our experience was representative of a pattern of behavior, not just a few isolated incidents. Among other things, two teens were sent out of the country, one to Tranquility Bay and the other to Paradise Cove with positive TB tests without reporting it to the appropriate U.S. Health Department as required by law.

We feel that the behavior of Teen Help and its programs merits further investigation and we have made reports to more than 10 government agencies who have jurisdiction over various aspects of the Teen Help's Family of Services operations and behaviors. We have personal knowledge and evidence that Teen Help programs and associated businesses are currently under investigation by several state, national and international agencies. I personally believe that there are other programs available for our teens that take far fewer risks and are much less controversial than those run by the Teen Help family of Services.

I know that several parents and teens claim important successes to their families from this program. I commend them on their results. This however does not change any of the facts and opinions I have listed above. To me the end does not justify the means and a willingness to accept any means to get a desired end is dangerous to the health and safety of our families and our society, in my opinion.

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