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javaz On November - 9 - 2009


Fifteen year old Erica suffered from depression, suicidal thoughts and self destructive behavior.

Her parents sought assistance from doctors in helping their daughter, and it had been a counselor and psychiatrist that advised Erica’s parents that they must do more.

The anti-depressants, anti-psychotic and street drugs were a potentially lethal combination.
Erica’s mother spent time researching options, and decided on one of the wilderness-therapy camps available for troubled and/or difficult teens.

The camp promised a fun, camping experience, in which Erica would have an adventure while stopping the illegal drug use.

On the first day of Erica’s camp arrival, she was dead that evening, and not from suicide.

There are almost no regulations in place concerning the wilderness boot camps/treatment camps.

In 2007, the GAO documented thousands of reports detailing the abuse and neglect and ten deaths at these camps nationwide.

To read about Erica’s story :


From the article:

“The programs are huge moneymakers, because the overhead is so low. Some don’t even require a high school degree for so-called “therapists.” Because much of the program involves camping, there are no facilities to pay for. The food served isn’t great.
There is no research to show any of what goes on at these camps works. No peer-reviewed journal articles, no controlled studies. Just anecdotal testimony from parents and kids — some of which has been paid for.” (pg 2)

“The GAO investigated many deaths in “therapy” programs, including:

• A 16-year-old girl from Virginia who died of a massive head trauma at a camp in Utah. She fell while hiking on Christmas Day. The staff had reportedly not scouted the dangerous area and didn’t have medical equipment. It took paramedics an hour to arrive.

• A 14-year-old boy from Texas who died of hyperthermia (overheating) at a Utah camp. He had difficulty hiking and sat down, then fainted and lay motionless. A staff member hid behind a tree for 10 minutes to see if the boy was faking before discovering he had no pulse. The boy died soon afterward.

• A 15-year-old boy from California who died at a Missouri boot camp/boarding school, probably as a result of complications from a spider bite. Despite showing signs of medical distress for days, the program’s medical staff said the boy was faking — and because he was weak and couldn’t exercise, he was forced to wear a 20-pound sandbag around his neck.

……. also documented are cases of girls forced to give lap dances as part of their therapy, and another girl told to cover herself in dirt to symbolize the fact that as a rape victim, she was dirty.” (pg 2)

Parents pay out thousands of dollars in seeking help at these camps, and rarely does health insurance cover or help with the costs.

From the article :

“So far, there’s been no action in the U.S. Senate.
And even if there is, the sad truth is that a federal law might not do much. The U.S. House legislation is modeled largely after a state law in Oregon, the location of the most recent death at a wilderness-therapy camp, in August.” (pg. 3)

These are not adults paying $9-$10,000 and signing waivers for sweat lodges in Sedona.
As the Phoenix New Times article details, these are loving parents entrusting the lives of their children to people who advertise these therapeutic camps.

Shouldn’t our government have regulations for the camps to protect the parents and their children?

Categories: Society

Written by javaz

I am a retired aerospace engineer, happily married for over twenty-four years. My hobbies include blogging on PPOV, reading mystery/romance novels, playing guitar, learning the piano and writing. My husband and I love to travel in our camper/trailer, and have visited 45 states, besides having lived in France for 2 years and seeing most of Europe. "Today is the first day of the rest of your life? Well, that's true of every day but one - the day you die." American Beauty "All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure." Mark Twain "A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar." Mark Twain

59 Responses so far.

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  1. BigDogMom says:

    javaz, another great post! I’ve read very little on these wilderness camps, this is shocking that they are not regulated and do not licensed practitioners onsite, I assumed that they would.

    I’m suprised that these camps have gone on this long unregulated after the number of deaths and cases of abuse there have been. This is tragic….

  2. KQuark says:

    Great topic.

    Frankly I have very little knowledge about boot camps and how well they work. I only caught part of a documentary a while ago.

    I feel bad for parents who have to raise difficult teenagers. My brother who is 10 years older than me was one of those trouble teenagers but he ended up volunteering for real boot camp and his ass ended up in Vietnam which left him much more fucked up for years.

    Government should highly regulate any organization that is charged with the custody of minors. In fact the problem is these boot camps should be government run, not privately run.

    • javaz says:

      Good point!

      Some of these camps have exceptional advertising, and at the very least, regulation is needed to oversee if the advertisements are truth or fiction.

      They advertise about qualified therapists, whereby that is simply not true in all cases.
      If these people that run these camps are not skilled in wilderness survival, then they should not be allowed to open these camps and promote them saying otherwise.

      Imho, people need to be made aware of the dangers of these camps.

    • FeloniousMonk says:

      My brother, who wasn’t difficult per say, went into the Navy in 1968 or 69, served multiple tours off of VietNam on a tin can. He went in a shit and an asshole (sorry, it’s the way it is) and he came out probably a bigger one. No character improvement.

      Me, I have been told I would have been one of those people they made an example of in real bootcamp, and then probably chased out. Real authority problem. Luckily my draft number was high in 1972 and I stayed in school. But I don’t have the “union card” that right wingers think all patriots (except Dick Cheney) ought to have.

      There is no disrespect for those who served, my best friend was in-country in 1965-6. And one of our good members here is a solid veteran and I respect him very much.

      • KQuark says:

        Wars wounds go far beyond the physical scars. It took years and years for me and my brother to connect on a regular basis.

        • FeloniousMonk says:

          KQuark: I knew that after my mother passed away, any remaining vestiges of “family” would be gone. Last year I talked to him twice, this year once. He is not receptive. It is the way it is. I accept that.

      • escribacat says:

        Your brother sounds a lot like one of my brothers. After Vietnam, he spent years in my parents’ basement and now lives in a small house in the middle of nowhere, nursing all his various paranoias and hatreds (mostly of Mexicans).

    • kesmarn says:

      Good point, KQuark. The CCC camps of the thirties did amazing things as far as turning kids’ lives around. And that wasn’t even the main reason they were created! They were really a jobs/economic program that just happened to give kids decent food, clean housing, lots of fresh air, meaningful work, a sense of helping their families back home, and a sense of community in the camp itself. Lo and behold--improved mental health. Go figure.

      • KQuark says:

        It’s a good idea to promote structure and a sense of civic responsibility within all youths. President Obama’s new national service program is a good step in this direction. It’s amazing how the right wing is trying to demonize such a good program.

        • javaz says:

          I don’t care how much Republicans deny that Rush Limbaugh is the voice of their party, Rush IS the voice.
          The GOP are working hard on Obama failing, and never mind that Obama failing would be bad for the country.
          I truly do hate politicians, from both sides, but I especially hate the Republicans -- the party of NO.

          And did I just go off topic?
          I’ve lost track, because I see yet another HP poster coming on, and even though I have disagreed with that poster on many occasions, I am so glad that he is here.

          • KQuark says:

            The only person you will agree with 100% of the time is yourself, unless you are schizophrenic of course.

            Democratic politicians are politicians, enough said. Republican politicians are individuals with personality disorders.

            • javaz says:

              As I tell my husband, the only opinion that matters to me, is mine!

              Opinions are like assholes, and everyone is an asshole!
              Except for me, of course!

              What a great site you all have going here.
              And I cannot thank you all enough for your warm welcome.
              I would volunteer to help you in anyway that I could, but I am computer illiterate when it comes to this type thing.
              If you have anything that I can help you with, just let me know and I will do what I can.

            • KQuark says:

              You write some great posts that bring up interesting topics. Keep up the great work. Adlib has some no ideas he’s working on so ask him in passing how you can help.

            • Kalima says:

              Oh I don’t know about that KQ, I fight with myself on a daily basis, got the bruises and black eyes to prove it. If you want me to send you a recent pic, I will.

            • KQuark says:

              People’s fundamental views rarely change from my experience. Even if they say they have changed in many cases.

            • Kalima says:

              Thank you so much for your offer javez, it means a lot to us. We realize that your use of the computer is limited and want to encourage you to just keep on writing more posts and whenever the opportunity arrives, pass on the word about the Planet.

              Thanks again!

            • Kalima says:

              Oh my core belief don’t ever change, it’s who I am but decision about changes in my life do and I’m my own worst enemy at times.

            • KQuark says:

              Yeah but only opportunistic Murdoch wannabees change their fundamental views.

            • escribacat says:

              Does changing your mind count as disagreeing with yourself, which leads to schizophrenia?

            • KQuark says:

              I’m schizophrenic and so am I.

      • FeloniousMonk says:

        If you missed it, PBS American Experience did the CCC camps this last week.

  3. javaz says:

    Thank you to the administrator(s) for fixing my images, again.
    And thanks for fixing the link in the article.

    • AdLib says:

      My pleasure, and thank you for a very meaningful and under-discussed issue.

      I had thought back in the ’90’s, when reports came out detailing the abuse and neglect at these camps, that most people knew that these camps were bullshit and could even be dangerous. Due to your article, I realize I was very mistaken.

      These camps are set up in places like Arizona, Monatana, Wyoming, Utah, where state laws allow adults lots more leeway in how they treat minors. Some of these if not all allow spankings/beatings. By complete strangers.

      Some also have very minimal licensing requirements, all kinds of inexperienced yahoos could have authority over minors and there’s nothing they can do.

      I remember all of those daytime shows which would have episodes about out of control children being sent to boot camps to shape them up. They’d almost always come back on after the camp being “good” kids.

      Because, whether or not their behavior changed, they knew how to play the game. I understand that it is not a majority that get “scared straight”.

      These talk shows which glorified these abusive places share a great deal of responsibility in the popularizing of sending one’s children into a situation rife for abuse.

      • javaz says:

        I forgot about those shows!
        If I remember correctly, Sally Jesse Raphael was a big promoter of the boot camps, as were Montel Williams and Maury Povich!
        Thanks for the reminder and I agree that they are partially to blame for promoting these camps.

        (Sheesh, I’m embarrassed to admit to actually watching those shows!
        But I was working back then, so watched them on sick days, and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!)

  4. nellie says:

    What’s especially sad to me about this situation is the cynicism displayed on the part of the camp staff — assuming a child is faking and therefore offering no help. It’s a mindset that seems to be shared by the parents — send the difficult child off for tough treatment.

    Aside from the fact that these places are poorly staffed and managed, the idea of boot camps to solve any kind of distress seems completely irresponsible. If people are in distress, they need relief — not more distress. Counseling is a very complex field. Even professionals can mess up. In this situation, the camps are just asking for trouble.

    • KQuark says:

      Sending youths to any kind of detention camp as a punishment is the kind of nihilistic approach conservatives love. While we spend tens of thousands sending kids to boot cams and keeping people incarcerated in some way, conservatives don’t want to spend one more dime on education or counseling. It’s always more expensive and less fruitful when we react to problems in society rather than trying to prevent them. But then again like K7 always says conservatives revel in being reactionary.

      Again the root of almost every problem in America is our inability to dispel conservative philosophy as an utter failure.

    • javaz says:

      Well said, Nellie!

      I also believe that there needs to be more media coverage to expose these boot camps.

      Within the article, there is reference to an advocacy group, which is trying to illuminate the problems in this industry.
      There are charlatans galore out there and for whatever reason, people, even intelligent people, become victims.
      Look at Bernie Madoff and how he scammed some very educated people into a glorified Ponzi scheme.

  5. PepeLepew says:

    Oh, I personally know of someone who had a weird experience with this. This was a boss of mine about 10 years ago who was having a lot of problems with a teenage son — shoplifting, dope, dealing at school, involved on the periphery of a couple burglaries, helping friends cover up a mugging, etc. Finally, he got in real trouble for making death threats at school. She signed him up for something called Obsidian Trails, in Oregon, a wilderness “boot camp.” A couple of weeks after she signed him up, a kid died at Obsidian Trails. So she switched him to Outward Bound.

    Well, he came back more pissed off and angry and resentful than ever. He had been expelled from the one school and so had to attend another. He got expelled from there for ditching class, being high at school and finally getting caught carrying a weapon on campus. Eventually, they had to hire a tutor so he could get his GED from home.

    My point is, she almost sent the kid to a camp that killed a kid (It was eventually shut down), then when she did send him off to a wilderness camp, it didn’t magically turn him around. He had all the same problems as before and if anything, it just made him more angry. I don’t believe any of these camps do anything for kids, especially if you’re forcing them into it. They’re pitched to desperate and in my opinion, oftentimes lazy parents, who want a quick, magic bullet to save their kids. My criticism of my boss is that she somehow thought boot camp was going to be the answer, when ultimately if the kid was going to be turned around, it was up to her and his dad.

    She left my workplace soon after this and I really have no idea how it all turned out for her and her kid ultimately.

    • javaz says:

      One of the reasons parents believe these camps are the answer is because that’s how they advertise.
      If we have regulations that do not permit cereal-makers to tout on the covers of their boxes that the ingredients in the cereal help fight H1N1, shouldn’t we have regulations in which these camps cannot claim their successful treatment for troubled teens?

      I understand your opinion regarding lazy parents, but raising children, especially teens is not an easy job.
      I cannot fault desperate and hurting parents for falling victim to the scams anymore than I can accuse them of being lazy because they have a difficult child.

      Thanks for sharing your story, Pepe!
      And good to see you this fine day!

      • PepeLepew says:

        To be fair, I’m not saying all parents who find themselves in this situation are lazy. The one particular situation I described, yes, IMO, the real problem was lazy parents and the lack of boundaries and expectations they put on their kid — and then thinking a boot camp was going to somehow solve that. I probably should have been more clear about that.

        In my family, my parents weren’t lazy, but they were very old-fashioned. I had an older brother who got involved with hard drugs (meth, amphetamines) at 14, and they thought the solution was to be more strict and rigid with him and all that did was make him more rebellious. They grew up in the 40s, so they had no clue how to relate to a kid determined to get high all the time. They really didn’t have any answers. So, I fully recognize it can happen to any parent.

      • nicole473 says:

        Hi javaz, thank you for posting an interesting topic!

        I have heard nothing good about these camps, except for from the camps themselves in ads.

        As for the parents…..I tend to agree with Pepe. Even though it is of course wrong for the camps to falsely advertise, it is ultimately the responsibility of the parents to care for the child.
        This would include checking out the credentials of those employed at any facility to which you are considering entrusting your children. This just seems very basic to me.
        I also believe that in many cases, concentrated effort by the parents is probably more successful than a program. In fact I suspect that many of these kids are simply lacking enough love/nurturing at home.

        • PepeLepew says:

          What I saw in the case I described, it wasn’t necessarily lack of nurturing … it was lack of involvement, lack of boundaries and lack of expectations, none of which necessarily involve being strict or a disciplinarian.

        • javaz says:

          The discussion about raising teenagers can be an emotional topic!

          All I can say from personal experience, is that the teen years are difficult and trying.
          A parent can have the sweetest child and then once the child gets into their teens, it can almost seem like an alien swoops down and takes over until the child reaches 22 or 23 years old, and then the sweet child is returned!

          Teens are clever, and even more so today with technology.
          I really do not think it fair to lay all the blame at the parents’ feet, but I do agree that as parents, they must be vigilant.

          • nicole473 says:

            I agree that the teen years are trying. I raised one manchild of my own, and 2 step manchildren. Two out of the three required extraordinary efforts.

  6. FeloniousMonk says:

    Javaz, there are a lot of “organizations” out there claiming to do therapy whose only real ability is marketing to people who are desperate, whether they be the parents of a child, the actual person with the issues, or others trying to be “helpful”. Personally, I’m suspect of most of them, but then again, I haven’t seen a lot of really effective professional licensed councelors, either. But yes, they should be licensed and monitored and not just be allowed to operate in an uncontrolled manner.

    • nicole473 says:

      And parents should behave responsibly and check out ANY facility to which they entrust their children, including the credentials of those employed by the program.

    • javaz says:

      It’s shameful that groups prey on the desperate, but the epitome of irresponsible and abhorrent behavior is that some of these groups are truly dangerous.
      The stories in the article are very sad.
      All people wanted to do was help their children and it ended badly and now the parents are forced to live with the guilt.

  7. javaz says:

    Oh no.
    I thought for sure I followed the attaching image directions!


    • kesmarn says:

      I kinda like the “big” wilderness background, javaz!

      But to address the issue you wrote about: I think at the very least there has to be a mechanism whereby kids in residential or camp-type programs have much more access to communication with parents and guardians, and there needs to be a minimum level of medical expertise available on short notice.

      A side issue that does relate: have you heard of the juvenile detention facilities (private, for profit, of course) that have paid off judges to commit kids for extended periods, for minor violations, in order to increase the profit margin? Talk about victimizing kids! (Michael Moore dealt with this problem in “Capitalism” as an example of greed run amok.)

      Thanks for another fine contribution, javaz.

      • javaz says:

        I haven’t heard of the private for profit detention facilities.
        I’ll have to research those!
        Thanks for the information on that!

        Gosh, I am so embarrassed and feel like an idiot and want to run and hide!
        I swear, I followed the directions for attaching an image to the letter, and even did a preview, but something happened in the translation.
        Plus, the link to the article isn’t highlighted and I don’t understand that at all.


        (see if it works this time!)

        • escribacat says:

          Virtual hug, javaz. I haven’t been paying enough attention to embed things either!

          I can actually see why these folks turn to nature camps as a possible way to jolt the kids out of their negative tailspin. I hike a lot and it never fails to bring me back around if I’ve been feeling bad. That is my church out there.

          Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to think that just because we’ve got “civilization” everywhere it means that being out in the woods is a cake walk. It’s really easy to get into trouble out there if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you fall and twist an ankle and can’t walk and you are five miles from the trailhead, a simple sprain becomes life-threatening. Here in Colorado, we have many many mountain rescue organizations (volunteer and government) and they are always kept busy — usually rescuing city folks and midwesterners.

          • javaz says:

            Aw, thanks for the hug!

            I know what you are saying, since we hike also. Not as much or as far as in our youth, but getting out for walk always helps clear my mind.

            Some of these therapeutic camps have such excellent advertising, it’s easy to understand how people fall for it.
            Unless a person is aware, people might not know to dig deeper and find the dark side.

          • FeloniousMonk says:

            Pepe. Those who go out ill prepared, including the knowledge of basic wilderness first aid, don’t get a lot of sympathy from me. I still care, but people need to realize what they need to know away from the reliability (so called) of (so called) civilization. I find it amazing how many people here go hiking in the preserves around Phoenix with insufficient or no water. Pitiful. I have a permanent ankle issue, so being prepared is always on my mind, but I grew up in scouting in the 1960s, so I just think that way.

            EDIT And what do you mean by “midwesterners”? Are you abusing flatlanders? Not all of us are dumbfucks.

            • javaz says:

              Do you recall the family from Wisconsin, I think that was where they were from, and they hiked Piestewa Peak and their son died from dehydration?
              I think it happened around Easter.
              Then after Labor Day, a supposedly experienced hiker from AJ went out to hike the Superstitions, and it was 103 that day and all he had was hard boiled eggs and one of them camels of water?
              Ended up he had a heart attack not far from the parking lot and our Pinal Sheriff called off the Search and Rescue. They might have found him sooner if not for that.
              Must be very careful when hiking and know the terrain and temperatures of the area.

            • FeloniousMonk says:

              javaz, that is very true of everywhere. It’s like going to the beach. Depends on the location what the risks are and people who go should be aware, but most aren’t.

              We have so many people who screw up hiking here I seldom listen, except when it’s about someone who took the dog with them and the dog paid the price. Damn humans!

            • escribacat says:

              Hehe. Maybe I’ll have to start saving you all the little mountain rescue stories from hereabouts. Seems to me they’re either from Kansas or it’s some young scamp who thinks he can do a fourteener in an hour or two!

              Are you aware you called me Pepe? I mean I realize we’re all anonymous here, but not necessarily interchangeable. :)

            • FeloniousMonk says:

              No Escribacat, I missed the misnaming until I read yours again and then mine and said to myself “Shit” and then saw your reply. I do apologize for the slip-up. I have no idea why I did that.

              Maybe the kiddies from Kansas aren’t as tough as they used to be. But it’s like all the fools with 4 wheelers who think they can go anywhere, and often end up taking out the CV joints or worse.

            • PepeLepew says:

              I do climb mountains, though.
              Never gotten myself into a *serious* fix…
              I think I’ve been lucky.
              I also really respect my limitations, though, too.

        • kesmarn says:

          Here’s an NYT article on the for profit juvenile detention story. (Hope this works!)


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