With all the marketing out there it can be hard to tell the difference between a therapeutic boarding school, a residential treatment facility, and what all too often these programs really are, behavior modification programs. You need a keen eye and inside knowledge to catch on to all the misrepresentations. It is very important for any parent looking into residential placement for their struggling teens/ children to do all the research, and not to trust that what they see in the marketing materials is really the whole story. Many programs claim they are no longer affiliated with WWASP, however upon further investigation it becomes apparent that most (if not all) former WWASP schools still share many or all of WWASP’s policies, practices, and staff, and many are still owned by the corporations or individuals that owned them when they were associated with WWASP.
To assist in research purposes the WWASP Survivors Network has compiled some information on how to recognize a WWASP school, and how to identify abusive practices in any other program, regardless of affiliation. For more information on the abusive policies commonly practiced by WWASP and other questionable programs please see our Red Flags List.
1. Ownership: Since WWASP is technically no longer a functioning company (only continuing to exist due to legal reasons related to the Turley lawsuit) it can be difficult to tell what might constitute a program owned by WWASP and you may have to dig deep to find the connections. Many attempts at name changes and obfuscated ownership have been made by the primary ownership of WWASP programs to separate themselves from the reputation their abusive practices have earned them in the past. The primary ownership of WWASP programs and/or property housing WWASP programs is the (Robert Browning) Lichfield Limited Family Partnership LLC, whose primary business address is 50 South State Street LaVerkin, UT 84745. Other business alias may be: Youth Foundation Inc, (Youth Foundation Success Academy) Optimum Billing Services LLC, Business Kit Services LLC, BMF Investments LLC and Browning Academy LLC. Looking into corporate or property records may be necessary to confirm these connections.
2. WWASP Program Model: All WWASP schools share a similar program structure, policies and practice their own kind of “therapy”. The WWASP program model employs a level system, (usually 4 to 6 levels) where there is a considerable difference between the rules for the lower levels, those of the upper levels and where the responsibilities to enforce those rules on the lower levels generally falls on the upper level students (or Jr. Staff). Upper levels are expected to watch over the lower levels, pass out consequences/ citations for rule violations and participate in restraints and isolation practices. This creates a peer dynamic that not only encourages misconduct but puts a good deal of pressure on the students to bully others in order to succeed in the program. Levels are earned with points which are earned through strict observance of the program rules. Demerits are administered through “Consequences”, which are slips of paper students are required to use to take written responsibility for rule violations. If a student contests a Consequence, the staff (or Upper Level) is required to “Staff it” which results in a higher point demerit. Levels are achieved with support from the group/ “family”, student council and case manager/ “therapist”. This method is little more than a peer-pressured popularity game, in which a student is expected to show full acceptance of the program and the program’s policies in order to move up and eventually go home.
WWASP programs usually have very strict rules, many that do not often seem to make logical sense. These rules are meant to control and oppress the students in order to make them miserable enough to submit to the program and move up in the levels. These rules include complete silence 24 hours a day, restriction of movement and refusal of the right to use the restroom when necessary. In order to speak, even to ask to go to the bathroom a student must first raise their hand, wait to be called on by a staff member, and ask permission to speak and then ask to use the restroom. All too often are students requests and attempts to request to use the bathroom ignored, causing many students to soil themselves waiting for permission. Many rules are so vague that nearly anything could be construed as a rule violation, when left up to the discretion of staff and upper levels, falsification of violations are commonplace.
WWASP programs do not respect the human rights of the children in their care. They are usually involuntarily committed, often without any court order or doctor recommendation, and in most instances detainees have absolutely no criminal record or history of drug use. They are denied all rights to contact with the outside world, including access to local authorities or any third party grievance system. Contact with their families is heavily monitored in all forms. Email and mail are read and censored and sometimes not sent at all. Lower level students are not allowed the right to speak to their parents on the phone until they have achieved level 3, this stage can take months if not years to achieve. When they do earn the right to call their parents the conversation is intensely monitored by their case manager, may often only take place via speakerphone and disconnected if students describe anything negative about the program.
WWASP programs employ policies that are unsafe and unethical, and would be considered malpractice in any other treatment facility. Students are regularly denied access to medical care because staff are trained to assume that all the kids are liars and are usually “faking it” in order to get out of the program or for other manipulative purposes. These neglectful policies can lead to the death of children in these facilities, an occurrence that has unfortunately and tragically happened many times in the past. Restraints and seclusion are often misused as punishment, and carried out in such a violent manner that serious injuries are inflicted and students may suffer lifetime physiological consequences and psychological trauma. Many incidents of death by asphyxiation, heart failure and suffocation have resulted from improperly administered restraints, the very same restraints used by WWASP.
WWASP programs do not offer clinically approved therapy. Instead, they offer their own experimental “one size fits all” program in place of therapy, and simply call it therapy to lead parents to believe they are offering treatment. Most students describe WWASP’s therapy as “attack therapy”, and that is exactly what it feels like. The idea is that a stranger can take one look at you and can then tell you more about yourself than you are willing to admit to yourself. The concept is for the group to give “brutally honest feedback” to the person who is receiving this therapy, and that person must not respond or become defensive; they must accept this advice and thank them for it. However, it is rarely that straightforward. This kind of therapy often leads to bullying, verbal abuse and emotional torment. This therapy is also continued in personal sessions with the students case managers and throughout every facet of the program. This method is used as a way to harness the power of peer pressure in order to force students to submit to the program, blame the victims of abuse, and to excuse the crimes being committed in these facilities as treatment that is needed to save a child’s life. Parents are also subjected to this therapy through seminars, taught the jargon and expected to hold their children “accountable” by being fiercely loyal to the program and it’s morbid methods.
Be VERY wary of any program that operates a system of “tough love” or Behavior Modification. This fact may not be readily advertised, you may need to review the contracts. Most Behavior Modification Programs will have a clause in their contract that states that they do not offer, and are significantly ill equipped to provide treatment for children with various mental disorders and significant behavior problems. Although many will market themselves as a treatment center and claim to treat a long list of mental disorders.
Sponsors understand that the School is not recommended or very well equipped to provide services for students that are: psychotic, violent, assaultive, diabetic, schizophrenic, deeply suicidal, borderline personality disorder, severely dyslexic, illiterate, highly depressed, or have significant learning disability or very low IQ, serious health problems, traumatic brain injury or any significant behavior, mental or emotional problems.
The School does not provide any clinical screening for these items and it is agreed that the Sponsors are responsible to properly screen for these items before enrollment. Furthermore, Sponsors understand that if at any time during the enrollment, the student demonstrates the need for a treatment or behavior modification program; the student may need to be transferred to an appropriate alternative. The Sponsors hereby agree to indemnify and hold harmless the School for students that have any treatment, behavior, or medical needs as outlined above.
– Youth Foundation Parent Contract
Placing a child with a mental disorder like depression, ADD, ADHD, OCD, Borderline Personality Disorder or any learning or developmental disorder can be a danger to their health and well being. WWASP Programs are not designed to cater to the individual needs of the student and offer no real treatment plan in the care of special needs children. Often it is those children with these disorders that are abused most because the symptoms of their disorder are not recognized or understood by staff and can be interpreted as defiance or “out of control behavior”. Punishments for such outbursts are severe and often result in physical abuse and forced isolation for long periods of time. These punishments can lead to further trauma and negative psychological effects.
3. WWASP Seminars: TASKS, Resource Realizations or now Premier Educational Seminars are the key component to the program’s operations. They set the tone for the program, they keep the parents loyal and serve as a marketing ploy to pull more kids into the program. The kids also must undergo and successfully complete them in order to move up in the levels. These seminars use many verified tactics of brainwashing and mind control. Playing on the psychological responses to intense emotional distress, Resource Realizations/Premiere uses both negative and positive aspects of manipulation to indoctrinate it’s participants into the program, encouraging absolute trust and loyalty to both the methods of the seminars and the program. For parents the threat is often used that if they don’t devote themselves 100% to this program their child will be dead, insane or in jail in a short period of time. For kids, the situation is simpler: Graduate the seminars or stay in the program. The fear of being kicked out of the seminar and held back in the program another month is used to coerce kids into participating in humiliating processes, attack therapy and often forces them to admit to things they have never done, in order to seem like they are “dealing” with their issues and “working the program”. WWASP Seminars also utilize deprivation of sleep, food and bathroom breaks to keep people on edge and more likely to break down.
4. Marketing: False advertising is nothing new to WWASP. Fancy websites with photos of children laughing and playing games and doing fun activities make the school look like a summer camp or Club Med. Many survivors will report that this is all a lie, and that they never got to swim in that pool pictured on the front page of the website, or never left the campus to enjoy the outdoor activities presented to parents as a common occurrence. Many ex-students say that they were given a script and instructed to provide positive testimonials for promotional videos and social media campaigns. Even more troubling are their claims to treat kids with mental disorders despite their clear inability to properly treat mental illness and lack of qualified mental health personnel to do so. Referring to themselves as “Non-Profit” is also a very misleading statement, as they most certainly are a for-profit businesses as well, are they quite keen to cut corners on the children’s care in order to ensure those profits.
A WWASP school will also be advertised by the many verified marketing companies of WWASP, and be marketed with the other verified WWASP schools. There are many of these companies, with multiple websites all marketing the same schools. A few marketing arms of WWASP have been identified as: Teenhelp Inc., Help My Teen LLC and Teen Revitalization. If the school you are looking into is marketed by any one of these sites, or any other sites who market the same programs on these sites, DO NOT ENROLL YOUR TEEN! Beware of programs that have recently rebranded and other spinoffs of WWASP programs that claim not to be affiliated with WWASP. These programs are not making the necessary changes to protect your children; they are simply spending more money on their evasive ownership maneuvers and false advertising.
The most significant deception is that what is being called “treatment” at these programs is nothing of the sort, and while it seems to cost more than an ivy league education, the methods used are really no more therapeutic than a good ol fashioned beating. These programs, although they may be licensed as Residential Treatment Centers are not in reality actual treatment programs, quite simply they are disciplinary programs that are NOT equipped to be providing treatment to those kids who would legitimately qualify for residential treatment. In fact the existence of these programs tends to serve more the need for the parent to simply remove the child from the home, access to bad influences and place them somewhere they are supervised 24-7, which amounts to little more than a private prison. All this becomes very confusing in the eyes of a parent just looking for help for their family and in their desperation, they choose to place a child in a program simply because they are the only programs that claim to be offering treatment that will accept a child quickly and without requiring a series of evaluations or due process.
5. Unqualified Staff & Improper Training: WWASP staff are hired without the requirement of adequate qualifications and are improperly trained through WWASP. In fact, their training is quite opposite of what would be considered safe and clinical standards. The employees tasked with following the kids for 90% of their day typically have no more than a high school education and are usually paid at or near minimum-wage. These are the staff members responsible for the majority of the discipline and restraining children at their own discretion.
Owners and Directors are unqualified and untrained in childcare and healthcare. Many have little more than a high school education. If college, you will notice their studies were in sales and marketing. Owners and Directors have little experience outside their ill training working within the WWASP system, many of them from programs that were shut down due to allegations of child abuse under their care. Why do these people, who have hurt so many kids, been caught and shut down, get to move to another state, open another WWASP spinoff program and keep running the same abusive system?… In any other school these atrocities would put these people out of business forever. However, it seems that the status quo in Utah (and many other states who lack appropriate oversight) is to allow abusers and accused rapists to run teen-care programs, with total impunity and no accountability for their past crimes. This means that any program that is owned or staffed by former WWASP staff/ therapists is likely to be unrepentant of improper policy and continue to operate a broken system until another tragedy strikes.
Considering the job description of a Case Manager or “Family Representative” it is EXTREMELY necessary for someone in this role to be properly educated, trained and licensed. They are for all intensive purposes acting as therapists. They hold group therapy for the families, they communicate with the family on behalf of the student before they have gained the level/ privilege to call their parents and they censor all communication, monitoring family phone calls and mail. Which means they need to be trained, and practiced to properly identify the children’s progress and diagnose any significant mental disorders/ instability and more importantly, properly treat it. However most often the staff in these roles hold no proper licenses or relevant education to be providing therapy/ treatment to at risk adolescents. This is mainly because at these programs, real treatment is not provided. Their “treatment” is to restrain and isolate the child if they are having issues. This only provides a cycle of mistreatment that leads to more reactionary behavior and leaves the child a victim of the cycle of unprofessional techniques of WWASP.
WWASP Programs often over medicate kids with dangerous drug cocktails that can lead to mental break downs and suicidal thoughts/ attempts. Real licensed doctors and psychiatrist’s are either rarely there, only briefly see the students, or completely non existent. Medications are dispensed by untrained staff and when medical errors are made, accurate reports are not filed.
Through most of WWASP’s history, only ONE licensed psychologist was employed for their entire company, Dr. Marcel Chappuis. He would travel all over the world to the various WWASP programs and hold sessions with the students (for an extra fee) individually, or in groups. He currently owns and operates his own program by the name of Northwest Academy located in Amargosa Valley NV, the former campus of Horizon Academy. His involvement in the program is suspect to his standards in care, considering some of the program’s logic is in direct conflict with standards in legitimate psychological treatment. A quote in an article he interviewed for in 2003 will show the way he strays from clinical psychology and upholds above all the program logic of “holding the kids accountable” for events like, rape and molestation:
One of the groups I do here, it’s called Rape And Molest. They struggle with a lot of guilt in that group. You know, a lot of these girls dress and act provocative. They get involved in substance abuse. They place themselves at risk and then they get taken advantage of. Now, we always say no means no. We’re real clear about that. But then we say, you know, you’ve got to look at how you market yourself. Girls can be hard work to help,’ he chuckles. ‘They are so much more dramatic than boys!
In many cases, reports have been made by survivors that rape and childhood abuse enactments have been used as a form of therapy, with insistence that if you go back through the incident you will realize when and where you made a choice that led to that incident taking place. In essence, they encourage the victim to take responsibility for being assaulted. This kind of Victim Blaming is the same policy they encourage students to accept regarding the physical abuse that takes place within the facility, that somehow some way, you deserved it. The argument has also been stated that the ends must justify the means, if we survived the program, it must have saved our lives… This statement gives you an insight into the manipulative ways of WWASP as they have carefully designed their program to convince their students that abuse is okay, and necessary to save someone. Too many people have fallen for this blatant brainwashing, and far too many families have fallen apart because of the callousness of this philosophy.
6. Educational Consultants and False Accreditations: WWASP Programs have been known to affiliate with Educational Consultants who either receive kick backs for referring kids to their programs (as well as the fees that are paid by the parent to find the school) or are otherwise affiliated, some even hold a position of admissions at one or more of these programs. The industry of Educational Consultants is not regulated, monitored or held to any specific standards of conflict of interest or fraud and are under no legal obligation to expose their affiliations or disclose financial incentives they receive in return for your referral. BUYER BEWARE. When you contact and hire an Educational Consultant you are not likely to get a varied list of available programs, you will likely be recommended to one of a few programs they have contracted with. For instance, if you find a WWASP affiliated Ed Con, you will likely only be referred to a WWASP program. Some Ed Con’s participate in a trade organization like the IECA (International Educational Consultants Association) that may claim to hold their members to high standards and only refer to the best programs, but in fact endorse programs that have had multiple allegations of abuse lobbied against them, including some former WWASP programs.
Accreditation in this industry has proven little more than a smoke screen that will provide a false sense of security for parents/ Ed Con’s looking into these programs. WWASP programs have for decades claimed accreditation by Trade Organizations such as the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP), the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the American Association of Children’s Residential Centers (AACRC) or other organizations. By design these entities appear to legitimize the programs by providing an outline of recommended standards in treatment, but in truth provide no enforcement, monitoring or evaluation of their member school’s policies before allowing them to use their seal of approval. Membership is based only on the payment of membership dues. In return, these trade organizations will use their wealth and influence to lobby for the industry, to abolish laws that protect children, and to exempt their membership from proper government regulation.
Academic accreditation WWASP programs is often provided by non-government organizations, such as AdvancED, the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools (NAAS), the Northwest Accreditation Commission (NAC) or other organizations. Be aware that this type of accreditation does not examine or certify the effectiveness of mental health or behavioral aspects of the program. You will want to investigate whether mainstream colleges and universities recognize diplomas from facilities with this type of private accreditation, and whether high school credits from the program are transferrable to your child’s home school. If not, steer clear.
Being able to spot a WWASP program out of the thousands of programs that operate in a similar way, and all promise the same transformation in your child is by far the hardest part of considering a program for your child. Generally we refer parents to read our Red Flags List to help to identify commonly used practices that have the potential to be abusive, unethical or likely to be set in place only to hide and prevent your child from reporting abuse. Your program may not be affiliated with WWASP, but if they employ any of the practices outlined in the Red Flags List, beware, there is certainly potential for abuse. We also recommend that you carefully examine the enrollment agreements of the program and to speak to a lawyer about the potential for predatory clauses AND a doctorate level psychologist (before enrolling your teen) about the indicated treatment model. The best place for a child will always be at home, with access to evidence based, community resources. In the instance that child requires immediate intervention, only short term residential care should be recommended and that care should not be contracted out of your home state for any reason. Beware of programs that advertise in your state, but operate in other states or out of the country, particularly programs that operate in Utah, Louisiana, Montana and Florida, as these states seem to have lax regulations on the industry and provide a breeding ground for abusive programs.
The difference between a “good” school and a “bad” school is very difficult for even the most critical researcher to ascertain. Particularly because programs will blatantly lie to the public about their policies, the qualifications of their staff and their overall effectiveness. This is how the brainwashing starts, first they convince the parents that their child is in danger and that if they do not act quickly to intervene, the child could die. Most parents only want to do the best thing for their children, particularly when they see them struggling and don’t know how to handle their behavior. Then, they employ pressure sales techniques to convince parents to make hasty decisions in their state of desperation. This method is not only psychologically unethical, considering it’s not just about the money, it’s about the safety and proper placement for the child. Often times a child will be enrolled into a program they are clearly unsuited for, and this is because most programs allow no time for the parent to research, get second opinions and proper psychological evaluations.
It is recommended that parents perform critical research and careful evaluation of any program they are considering for their child. Often times that research can seem like you are being lead down a rabbit hole, and can become overwhelming… but the best thing for your child will be to educate yourself so that if the program you choose starts to show signs of improper treatment, you will be prepared to act quickly and protect your child from harm. Don’t be afraid to question the glowing testimonials or the reassuring reviews that seem to pop up for every program, these reviews are often fake, coerced by brainwashed students and parents can even be offered discounts on their tuition in exchange for assisting in the program’s admissions process. Furthermore, the proof of long term effectiveness is not directly reflected by the satisfaction of parents… far too many WWASP Survivors claim to have been abused while their parents still insist that the program saved their life. The common phrase “the program saved my/ teen’s life” is a learned belief, one heavily enforced by the program and the parent seminars/ groups. This statement should be taken with a grain of salt. The effectiveness of the program can only be measured by the long term influence the program has on the patient, and when it’s far more typical for a survivor to relapse within 6 months of “graduation” it’s likely that the “effectiveness” of the program is actually unproven and the “satisfaction” was only due to the fact that the parent was happy to have their child attend the program for the time they were enrolled.
To avoid being scammed out of hundreds of thousands of dollars on an ineffective and likely abusive treatment program, it is recommended that you keep your child at home. Reach out to your local hospital for help and treatment resources… and just remember… Teens have been acting out and subsequently growing up since the dawn of time. With patience, love and family involvement, all manner of adolescent issues can be overcome. If your teen has a significant mental health or substance abuse issue, please seek REAL evidence based treatment, DO NOT enroll your child in a behavior modification program, this will only exacerbate preexisting conditions and could lead to further psychological issues.