On "The Family School Saved My Life" group on Facebook, here is what a
relative of the owners of the school had to say about the abusive conditions
when one alumni questioned others who claimed they did not
witness any child abuse and then excused wrapping kids in duct tape
by calling students "Flat out crazy":
Over the past year, the administration and owner of The Family Foundation School have attempted to respond to this campaign, calling our campaign a "smear" campaign and calling the content on this site "lies", including alumni testimonials and investigations we published.
Would you want to send your child to a school that has an administration team along with no problem calling your son or daughter a liar, even years after they leave the facility?
Would you want to send your child to a facility that still employs staff members that participated, encouraged, and see no issues with cruel 'therapeutic' tactics like duct taping children as a form of restraint, encouraging the use of escorts who kidnap and handcuff children in the middle of the night to bring them to the facility, and using food deprivation and forced manual labor as punishment?
We ask you to consider that in 2008, Family School administration's response to Jon Martin Crawford's congressional testimony included them stating, "we will not dispute his testimony" and now because of this campaign and The Family Foundation School's diminishing student enrollment, they are calling everything that is stated by alumni who are not supportive of the school lies.
The Family Foundation School also has a questions and answers-like section on their website where that attempt to answer some of the pressing questions that one may have about our campaign and their school. We need to sort out these claims that are spoken about in the Q&A. We are now telling you our side of this story. Below, you will see a question and the Family Foundation School's answer. Then in bold and italics, you will see our Official response to the Family School's claims.
Who evaluates and monitors the practices of the Family Foundation School including advertising?
· The Joint Commission for Behavioral Health Care
· The Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges
· The New York State Department of Education
The Joint Commission deals with health and safety. Their last visit to the school was near the end of 2008. You can read their evaluation at the school at www.thejointcommission.org (Just type in The Family Foundation School under search for a facility) What should be noted is that the evaluation doesn't deal with the quality of the therapeutic programming, just health and safety. Without the therapeutic part of the program being licensed, the accreditation isn't all that meaningful. The program could be licensed by either the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services as a substance abuse program, or the program could be licensed by the Office of Children and Family Services as a child-caring institution but it's not. The school wants to say it's a school on one hand, and a therapeutic program on the other. The Family School is quick to flaunt its accreditation by private agencies that they claim have a checks and balances, although we do not find that to be true.
Who evaluates and monitors their web sites?
· No One
The Family Foundation School TRUTH Campaign has a fairly liberal moderation policy. If students want to come forward with positive testimonies about their experience at the school, based on the guidelines of the submission, they will be included. It is what it is. These are the stories of close to 80 former students, from the late 70's until 2009, that are posted on our site. Take it for what it's worth. We can't say for certain that children are currently being abused at the school, we have good reason to believe that things aren't as nearly as bad as they were in the past, but for one thing, The Family School administration will NOT take responsibility for their past wrongs. But as the school freely admits, they are too concerned about a freestanding abuse hotline accessible to every student being manipulated by students to make that available until if it becomes a legal requirement to do so under H.R. 911 (Federal regulation still in Congress). We are told that students feel more comfortable coming to senior administration if they have a problem with certain staff. What we can say for certain is that there are staff still working at the school that a significant number of alumni have expressed concerns about, and we see how the school treats those claims - they call them lies. If there is still abuse happening at the school, particularly coming from the experienced and protected staff members such as the Ducey family, Losicco family, as well as Paul Greer, Tom Cummings, and Ted Towsley [August 2010: Ted no longer works for The Family Foundation School] today, we would have to conclude that the response of the school would likely be to cover it up or call the students making such statements liars as well. At least one question to parents picking a residential program is, "do you want to send your child to a program where the owners of the program have no compunction calling your child a liar"?
Who are these critics?
A Small group of disgruntled former students seem to be fueling the issue. Through their web page and Face Book page, they have solicited more “testimony.” To the extent that we can count individual voices the complainants are about 1.6% of our more than 3000 students ever placed in our care.
We are constrained by both personal and professional ethics from commenting directly on the issues that brought these students to us. We would point out the obvious. We work with students who have behavioral difficulties including substance abuse, oppositional defiance, depression, and bi-polar disorder. No one working with this population can claim 100% success.
It's good to see the school has learned the value of confidentiality. We don't know of any program that has had this kind of organized hostility against it. It's a credit to the relative quality of the school's educational program that it has produced well spoken graduates. Using the diagnoses of your former students to discredit them, frankly shows the kind of program you are. Its not only wrong, but alarming that the administration of The Family Foundation School has no issues with discrediting alumni with diagnoses. This is the exact reason that our campaign exists, because of The Family Foundation School's discriminatory attitudes to youth with emotional disabilities.
If we weren't here, who know how much longer the abusive practices would occur and who knows how long your facility would be using emotionally drained parents' to keep your business open; as we have stated from the beginning, The Family Foundation School continues to show parents that FFS can take care of their children better than their own family.
What about that Congressional Investigation?
There was no investigation into the Family Foundation School. There was a legislative hearing in support of a bill regulating residential treatment at which one of our alumni, Jon Martin-Crawford, volunteered his testimony. He had been working with a advocacy group called CAFETY which had lobbied for the bill. As is common in such hearings there was no rebuttal or chance for cross examination.
The Family Foundation School was cited in the Congressional testimony, cited on the GAO reports specifically on a map of abusive facilities. Even if the wording of "federal investigation" is not the best, our campaign has investigators all over the country who are investigating every aspect of The Family Foundation School.
Who is this guy who testified?
Jon Martin-Crawford is an alumnus from the mid 1990’s. Since he has put his history on the public record, we can comment on it. He had been expelled from public and private school for drug use prior to coming to us. We helped him get through high school with a Regents Diploma and he did well enough to be accepted at Vassar. He did well his first semester and then relapsed during his second. Jon’s memories of the school are 15 years old and are misleading, distorted and thus inaccurate about how it was.
At about the time he graduated, Cornell University developed Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI). TCI is a series of techniques to deescalate crises and failing that to safely restrain residents who threaten themselves or others. The Family Foundation School was an early adopter of this program. Since 2000, we have required all direct care staff to become certified in this approach. We support two TCI trainers on our staff.
Our campaign team would like The Family Foundation School to comment on which parts of Martin-Crawford's testimony were misleading? Our campaign has other testimonials from alumni who attended the school at the same time as him as well as well after he left the school report the same use of certain techniques such as the use of duct tape to wrap kids in blankets to restrain them and requiring students to haul buckets of rocks instead of attend school as punishments?
Why do these alumni feel so strongly?
That’s not a question we can answer. The work we do is intense. We ask students to adopt some values that are not part of the current youth culture. If a student has started a recovery, and then slips back into old behaviors, the personal contradictions can be very painful. Reordering the past to relieve this cognitive dissonance is a possible outcome.
This paragraph can be viewed as evidence of therapeutic abuse right here. What kind of values is The Family Foundation School asking youth to adopt that aren't part of current youth culture? What statement does that imply about The Family Foundation School's own prejudiced views about youth culture?
Also residential treatment is not inexpensive. Parents have often used college money and even trust funds left by grandparents to pay for college in order to attempt to get their children help. Twenty-somethings burdened with college debt may really resent this loss of capital.
Particularly if the only reason a student was placed in a residential program was due to family conflict, and that if the residential program had asked the grandparents if they would be willing to take care of that child instead of taking the grandparent's money, the grandparents would have been happy to. We know examples where this was the case. And it speaks to the hubris of the school, that The Family Foundation School can do a better job raising a child than that child's grandparents.
Finally we have a bandwagon effect. These alumni repeat their “truth” to each other. The distortions of memory are intensified and emotions build. They convince each other.
We can say the same thing for those who support the program. That is why we will not even go there.
What about that other video where it looks like someone is testifying in court?
This is entirely staged. Chris N, one of our alumni, is questioned by a psychologist who is a member of ASART, a group that opposes residential treatment. The visual implication—never stated—is that this examination is happening in a courtroom or perhaps a government hearing room.
This sort of dramatic staging is typical of this smear campaign. Exaggerations and distortions are as much lies as pure fabrications.
Now The Family School is taking things out of context. In most places where that video is available, it is a piece of the 21-part Abuse in Residential Treatment: A Call to Action. There was no effort to exaggerate or distort in the making of this film. This particular film was held in the meeting room of the Rayburn House Office Building, and was organized by the Alliance for the Safe, Therapeutic, and Appropriate Use of Residential Treatment (ASTART) and the Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth (CAFETY), and was attended by many national advocacy organizations such as the Child Welfare League of America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the American Association of Children's Residential Centers among others.
Why don’t you sue for slander or libel?
The internet is the new Wild West. The laws governing its use and misuse are few and far between. We’d love our day in a fair court with real rules. The best legal advice we can get says that in any case of “internet speech” all the advantageous go to the libeler. We are trying to help families and will not waste resources in futile battles.
Like many others we underestimated the power of the new social media. Look at the White House, during the election no one had a better handle on social media than the Obama campaign. When Sarah Palin made her remarks about “death committees” as part the health care bill, everyone at the White House thought that it was so obvious an absurdity that they need not refute it. But conservative tweeted and blogged enough to get it taken seriously. Passion and repetition give lies life on the internet. Our only defense is a reply like this one.
A slander or libel case is difficult but not impossible to win. The point is that The Family Foundation School needs to be able to prove these statements are false. A true statement taken out of context is not libel. Even if what has been described on the website is a half-truth or an exaggeration it would still be concerning. Their are survivor groups on the internet that have much more evidence of child abuse and sexual abuse (i.e. www.mormongulag.com), and those facilities have yet to sue as well; remember The Family School could sue, but to win the case, they must prove in court that our statements, and the statements of all the alumni who have testimonials posted, are false.
How have you responded to Alumni?
In 2006, at our founder’s 50th wedding anniversary, we had an Alumni reunion. At that time we talked with many who had mixed feelings about the school. We listened carefully to them, apologized when appropriate, and took their criticism to heart. Alumni input has made us a better school.
We have met face to face with three of the four leaders of the disgruntled alumni and have talked with many that offer “testimony” on their website. Some have genuinely responded with a desire to work through their feelings toward us and have even adjusted their comments accordingly. For others, it is clear that nothing we can do other than close the school will satisfy them.
All other alumni have an open invitation to return and easy phone or email access to staff members. We form strong attachments to many of our students that do not disappear at graduation.
We wonder about the former student Emil who had a short email exchange with Mike Ducey and Richard Reeve. After one email where Emil was asking Mike Ducey why he abused him, Mike responded without answering the pressing questions and then stated he didn't want to correspond with him anymore. Emil then email Richard Reeve who also ignored his emails. From information we received from a person very close to the school administration, Richard Reeve had to have his email's screened by Mike Argiros before he sent them. We also learned that Argiros denied Reeve authorization to send a follow up email to Emil, while Mike Ducey flat out ignored Emil
The Family Foundation School will respond to alumni who they feel can help them sell their program
There are certain things that happen at the Family School that in the judgment of many youth rights advocates require revolutionary action and reform doesn't cut it, such as the school's unapologetic use of escort services.
What are our policies concerning student behavior?
We provide a safe, structured environment. Like any social order we have rules and consequences. Parents seriously interested in entering their child in the school will find full discussion of our policies through our admissions process. There is no need to present them here. We need to note that all of the practices are reviewed by our accrediting bodies and that they interview students during their site surveys. Additionally, complaints from the smear campaign have reached Child Protective Services in New York. None of these went further than a preliminary investigation. These findings of course lead the smear campaign to claim that all of these bodies are incompetent since they disagree with the intent of the campaign. As Brian Lombroski, President of CAFETY has expressed his opinion regarding The Joint Commission: “it’s pretty meaningless without licensure. Better that you have it than not, but it’s kind of like having nice rims on the tires without doing anything to the engine when you’re trying to sell something.”
Incompetence isn't the right word, ambivalence might be. Regulators in general don't dig that deep unless they have a reason to. The Joint Commission is a private organization that has no regulatory committee. Why isn't the Family School regulated by a government agency? They publicly stated that they don't want to have regulation that will effect their program as the reason.
What should you do?
The decision to send a child to a residential school is a serious one. Read the material carefully. Remember how each side is held accountable. Visit these positive web sites and face book pages also started by alumni who are hurt by this attempt to smear the school and denigrate an experience they value.
In fairness, we have no reason to believe that the most egregious practices that were in place when Jon was at the school are still in place today. Based on student testimony both currently included on this website, as well as other student testimony not included on the website, verified during the meeting with school staff, we have reason to believe that aversive behavioral interventions that were outlawed by the State in the beginning of 2007 were ended by the school roughly in the middle of 2008. We believe that the Family Foundation School did not end the outlawed practices until a year and a half after they were put into law because they didn't think they would be caught. It wasn't until Jon Martin-Crawford testified in front of Congress that FFS changed their policies to abide by those regulations. We believe that in the event of an investigation, there are likely three issues that would still be of issue to a State regulatory body, first an over-reliance on the use of restraint and seclusion, second, specific instances of staff abuse that the school dealt with internally rather than contacting the proper authorities, and third providing inadequate mental health care to students who have serious mental health issues.
Part of the challenge in this whole discussion is the definition of abuse. We believe that the use of private escort companies to transport youth to residential programs when that youth has not had their fair day in court or given access to a lawyer is a violation of that youth's human rights. Most of the public mental health industry agrees with this, most of the private mental health industry disagrees with this. We believe that restraint and seclusion is a technique that programs should work to abolish, from what we can tell the Family School hasn't made a serious effort to reduce their use of restraint and seclusion.
Regarding someone from CAFETY meeting with the school, CAFETY has a firm policy of not directly engaging with residential providers who are unregulated or utilize escort services. CAFETY's precondition to officially meeting with staff from FFS would be for them to stop their use of escort services, and for them to be properly regulated. We, here at The Family Foundation School TRUTH Campaign, would like to make very clear that our campaign is not connected to CAFETY in any official affiliation. We do, however, work with CAFETY to help end child abuse but this site is not run or moderated by CAFETY.
We are appalled that The Family Foundation School disparages the testimony of former alumni. Their attempt to call 50 of their former students liars is unconscionable for a therapeutic program.
Finally, there was a program in New York State called SLS that was licensed by the New York State Office of Mental Health. The NYS OMH successfully fined SLS Residential for abusing patients in their care, and revoked their license. We'll let you read the blog and you can see the parallels.
We believe that FFS couldn't withstand the scrutiny of a New York State licensing agency or else they would get a license to operate. Perhaps they have changed, but until we see the fruit of that change in certain policy changes that have already been identified previously, we can only believe that the program has made surface changes, but has not changed it's core culture in a meaningful way despite claims by senior administration officials.
________________________________________To contact us here at The Family Foundation School TRUTH Campaign, email INFO@TheFamilySchoolTRUTH.com