Mitt Romney and America’s troubled teen industry

Another letter to Mitt Romney, prompted by his associations with America’s “troubled teen” industry. Also published by HEAL, US advocacy organization for children and young people. Proposals also sent to President Obama. May become election issue.

Dear Mr Romney,

I wrote to you last month urging you to abandon the Mormon faith. You might have considered this letter facetious or vexatious and a desperate attempt to promote my new pamphlet “Hi! My Name’s Richard And I’m NOT A Mormon.” You may well be right on all three counts. I hope that you will not take the same view of this letter, which invites you to take a stand on America’s “troubled teen” industry.

You may it strange to hear this from a British writer, but many Britons have followed the growth of this industry closely, are alarmed at many of its practices and are determined to resist its spread to our country. I understand that you have personal links with it and I hope that it would not enjoy any special favour from your administration should you be elected President.

Specifically, I urge you to appoint someone to inquire on your behalf into the treatment of children at the West Ridge Academy, formerly the Utah Boys Ranch. This is essentially a Mormon facility (since your church exalts family life it seems surprising that there is a demand for its services). It has faced persistent accusations of brutality and abuse towards children, and their use as free labor. Only recently it settled out of court a lawsuit by former residents. The person you choose for such an inquiry needs to earn the trust of former residents, and parents and carers: he or she should not be a Mormon. By taking this course, you would give a simple demonstration of your commitment to children and your willingness to place their interests ahead of the reputation of your church.

As to the industry as a whole, I believe that there are serious inherent risks in any system which uses intensive residential treatments for troubled children as a source of private profit. In particular, “troubled teen” businesses are always likely to use coercive measures on children because they are cheaper than proper therapies, and in order to drum up customers they are always likely to resort to deceptive marketing techniques for parents.

I therefore urge you to study the following proposals. They are not exhaustive and could well be supplemented by the results of any inquiry into West Ridge.

1) Any institution offering long-term residential treatments for children under 18 should be subject to the same rules and standards as a juvenile prison or reformatory in the state concerned;

2) Any such institution should have an independent board of visitors, to include at least one paediatrician. The visitors should have unrestricted access to inmates and records and should make unannounced visits;

3) Parents or carers and public authorities in charge of children should be informed in advance of any placement about the scale of physical activity required of the child; the nature of any therapeutic program he or she will be expected to undergo and the qualifications of its administrators; the punishments or sanctions to be applied to the child and the reasons for them. Without such prior information, all contracts between parents and carers and the institution should be void and the institution should make a full refund of any payments;

4) Parents, carers and public authorities to be informed in advance of any religious links or affiliations of an institution, and of any religious study or contact which the child will be expected to undertake;

5) All punishments to be recorded in a form which can be inspected by parents and carers and the board of visitors. Any punishment not so recorded to become a criminal offence;

6) All agreements in which parents surrender majority control of their parental rights to be unlawful and void;

7) The board of visitors to inquire into all cases of death, serious injury or accident, attempted suicide or escape of a child inmate;

eight)  No institution of any kind to be allowed to offer any program or therapy intended to change a child’s sexuality, since all such attempts are futile and abusive.

I hope that you will demonstrate your commitment to America’s children above the interests of businesses making money from them.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Heller

23. July 2012 by rkh
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