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Article of Interest - Children At-Risk

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Child Welfare Boss on War Path Over Camp 'Counseling'
Lauren Beckham Falcone, Sunday, July 31, 2005
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ABC's summer reality hit "Brat Camp" has made the head of the Child Welfare League of America one unhappy camper.

CWLA Executive Director and CEO Shay Bilchik has asked the Government Accounting Office to investigate "anecdotal reports" of abuse and neglect at residential boarding schools and boot camps for out-of-control children.

"When this type of camp is publicized, it makes it appear that it's something a parent should consider doing," Bilchik said. "A lot of these programs can be harming kids. A number are reported to be excessive, but because many are unlicensed and unregulated, we don't know if the abuses are real or not."

Bilchik's group wants the GAO to study "Brat Camp"-like programs and report to Congress on what kind of regulations, oversight and funding might be in order to better protect children.

"Brat Camp" features nine troubled kids who are unwittingly sent to Sage Walk, a 60-day survival camp in central Oregon that promises to break their reckless behavior through therapy and outdoor living. Such programs can cost anywhere from $13,000 to $25,000.

"Brat Camp" has come under fire from child advocates who say it exploits the participants and suggests to parents that tough-love schools and camps are the only option for wayward kids.

"First of all, when do we call troubled kids 'brats'?" asked Andrea Watson, founder of Parents for Residential Reform - A Project of the Federation of Children With Special Needs in Massachusetts.

"No responsible (program) would allow taking kids or adolescents who have issues of any sort and put them on a reality TV show for viewer enjoyment. Shame on that provider."

Bill Lyttle, executive director of the Framingham-based Key Program, a nonprofit residential and nonresidential program for kids from DSS, DYS and DMH, said he doesn't think that boot camps and "scared straight" programs - televised or not - do much good.

"Maybe for a couple of kids, but the fact that it's publicized seems exploitive," he said. From 1980 to 2001, at least 31 teenagers in 11 states died at outdoor camps from troubled youths, according to a 2001 report in The New York Times. Most recently, a 13-year-old boy died in May at a state-run camp for troubled youth in Atlanta after counselors restrained the boy and refused to give him his inhaler.

****Note - Andrea Watson is the Founder of Parents for Residential Reform, an organization she began following the death of one student, rape of another, and concerns about restraint and medication practices at her daughter’s former residential school. She can be contacted at:

Ms. Andrea Watson
Parents for Residential Reform - A Project of The Federation for Children with Special Needs
1135 Tremont Street # 420
Boston, MA 02120
Phone: 617-236-7210 X 145
Fax: 617-572-2094


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