THE FAMILY FOUNDATION SCHOOL
TRUTH CAMPAIGN

OFFICIAL WEBSITE

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Parent Testimonials - The Family Foundation School TRUTH Campaign
The Family Foundation School TRUTH Campaign has been in contact with many parents since our campaign launch in early 2009 and many of our supporters and core group that put together this campaign have been in contact with families of survivors long before the campaign's launch.

Recently, parents and families of survivors have shown increased interest in telling their story of the abusive practices, the brainwash, the lies, and the manipulation that is part of The Family Foundation School's core operating philosophy.

Parents that have children who need professional help and are making the hardest decision of their lives are taken advantage of by the manipulative marketing tactics of the admissions department of The Family School.  We have information that suggests that The Family Foundation School also pays commission fees to educational consultants who recommend the Family School to families who are looking to place their child in a residential treatment center.  Not only is this unethical, as it is giving incentive to educational consultants to inappropriately referring students to a facility, but it is another one of The Family Foundation School's manipulations.  The current admissions department has on staff Ted Towsley, who graduated from the school back in the early 90's, and who is the center of numerous testimonials from alumni as a physical, emotional, and mental abuser.

The Family Foundation School continues to have the attitude that they can raise your child better than you can and has uses the "send your kids here and we will fix them and you have nothing to worry about" attitude, all while they rob families of more than $50,000 a year and usually parents have to use their child's college trusts, leaving many in debt or unable to attend college all together. 

The Family School even forces parents to participate in the 12-step program based on Alcoholics Anonymous, which they call "Families Anonymous".  This coercion to participating in the 12-step program for both students and parents is part of the philosophy of East Ridge Recovery Center, a recovery cult where the founders of the Family Foundation School and several current staff members lived for many years with their families.  East Ridge bases their program around All Addict Anonymous.  All Addicts Anonymous believes every single person needs a 12-step program in their life to be happy and productive, including people with clinical depression and anxiety disorders.


Below is a new section for parents to tell their stories.  Everything that they experienced, witnessed, and observed both during and after their relative's imprisonment at The Family Foundation School.  To submit your testimony, email us at INFO@TheFamilySchoolTRUTH.com or fill out the form below.


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 Tina Dierna's Story - Sibling of Family School Survivor Nicole
My name is Tina Dierna. My sister's name is Nicole Dierna. I am 25 years old and have a little baby girl who is 8 months old. I recently bought my own house and have a great Career. A career that is hard on the heart. I work at Coordinated Children's Services of Ulster County, run through the Department Of Social Services. Our Mission- To prevent PLACEMENT. People don't know these agencies exist. They are free and the success rate in this county is particularly high! I'm not going to say we don't place kids, because some kids can't be "saved." My Story however... could have ended differently.

My sister was into risky behaviors, she had a background of Trauma. I'm not going into detail about her life, but I'll tell you we were demoralized by our father for years and then he cheated on our mother and walked out on all of us. We were an upper middle class family and taught right from wrong by our parents. We were also taught to value what you have and that you have to work for it. However, my sister didn't have the same upbringing as myself and our older sister. Our father left when she was a Preteen and she was unable to deal with the emotional and mental damage it caused. To make things worse she had the worst time when she was 12. Me, being very close to her, we shared a lot. It was at that time I knew my sister needed more help. I told our mother and She went to the school looking for support. I had so much trust in Mr. Washburn. I thought of him as a mentor.

How could he suggest this school, the Family Foundation School? What foundation of FAMILY do they use????? Isn't everyone's foundation of family different???? I had to deal with being the culprit to "Putting my sister away? She was my best friend growing up. She was "My Baby? when she was born. I loved her so much and from the age of 13-16 I was her 3 times, never spoke to her on the phone and wrote her every day for 3 months, until I was told I had to stop writing because her mail was building up and she couldn't read it due to her behavior. Who does that, I ask? As a sibling, I pleaded with my mother that she was being brain washed and that Nicole had to come home.

My mother though, didn't understand. She did do the best she could do with the skills and knowledge she had. I had resentment, much like our entire family as well as extended family. Not so much at my mother, but for what the school shared with her! They called her a lot and explained things. I remember her 15th birthday! It was going to be so much fun. I bought her a gift a few books to help her through her journey and was so proud of the weight she lost! Then the call comes- FAMILY BLACKOUT. She couldn't see us due to her tantrum. Do they not know when children have anxiety, it comes out in different ways and the way to deal with that is counseling and strategizing a plan for her????

The punishments were heinous, and gifts and letters went unopened for months. Some stolen by the staff, like a Tiffany's heart necklace my father sent her for Christmas a year she was unable to see us all. I was a Senior in high school applying for Communication?s in college when I decided Mid-May I would apply to Mount Saint Mary's School of Social work and Psychology. I graduated from there with a BA in Psychology and Human services. I am now seeking my Masters of social work. Why- because of my sister! My sister's horrible experience had an everlasting experience on everyone. She came home from the school and we were sharing a room.

She was a neat freak (wow- what happened to clutter queen) not to mention she was nasty about it and everything had to have its spot. It was a little OCD- but most of all it was like if she didn't do it the powers that be will come get her! It lasted for a while, but then it went away in about a year when she started to retreat to NICOLE- but in a different way. She had lost so much weight from being on food punishments due to her behavior that she ended up needing an emergency gallbladder removal. The doctor said she lost the weight fast and unhealthy. Nicole gained back all the weight and some, and doesn't have a gallbladder!

She is currently working on losing weight the healthy way. She got into trouble with the law, I won't say much, but had to live with me for a little while after visiting an orange jump suit. She wasn't taught all the things you need to know as a teenager, all the risky things in life that you explore when you?re that age, talking back to your mom, smoking a cigarette, sneaking out. She didn't get to do it... So you think this school will help them, but it doesn't it prolongs the process of risky behavior. It sets these adolescent up for a disastrous return home, one that leaves them to fend for them and act out in their 20's. It has taken Nicole years to recover; she is still in recovery every day.

You cannot give me, her, our sister, parents, grandparents, NO ONE the time we lost with her back. You can not erase her memories... although I wish I could. When we look at pictures we cry, when she gets mad she blames me... Do you know how hard it is everyday... No- I beg that you will never need to feel that way. Please get help at your local DSS preventative unit and fight for more Community based preventions... it takes a community to build a person- but not a closed minded, selfish school that profits off of a families misfortune. Take out that second mortgage to finish your backyard and add a meditation garden, keep saving that college fund, they will get there one day, talk to your children, tell them what you?re thinking, go to therapy. And number one, don?t give up and cop-out! It's not worth it... You can't get those years back. What the testimonies say about the punishments, if you?re reading them and saying NO WAY- YES WAY? It?s all true, not embellished, it?s horrible and heinous what they did to these children, talk about DEMORALIZE!

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 Camille Ellsworth's Story - Mother of Family School Survivor Nicole

My daughter Nicole was placed at the FSS in February 2003. Nicole was a troubled child who did not have good coping skills. she was in no way evil but as she entered adolescence and her father and I divorced in a traumatic way her behaviors intensified into dangerous and life threatening. After doing six months of research and getting advice from a school employee who worked with troubled children i was encouraged to "spend her college money now or she will never get to college" and to enroll her at the FFS. He highly recommended the school and had personal experience with it. I was also a school employee and trusted his opinion. I knew i needed help with her and i couldn't handle it.

Everything said in all the testimonials i read was true and was my experience as well. The first month was awful and i cried every day. i joined the FA group that i was advised to in order to get strong. it helped me cope but it never made me stronger when it came to missing my daughter. i would live for those 5 minute conversations once a week that were often canceled. after one year there i asked to speak with the doctor about her mental health. i spoke with him several times concerning earlier diagnoses made by other doctors and family history. he agreed to my suggestions and we saw some improvements in her behaviors but they didn't last and he didn't try other medications because they claimed they didn't need meds. NOT TRUE!!! many people need meds and when conditions run in families they should not be discounted as manipulations.

After many blackout instances and so very little contact with my own daughter and her behavior getting more and more defiant and FFS threatening another work sanction, cancelling her confirmation and we couldn't see her for her 16th birthday i was beside myself. At that time there was an employee who shared her concerns with me as well who did not feel that Nicole warranted these treatments and that she was a sweet girl who could not seem to control her outbursts. I decided that all of us had had enough. We wanted her back with us (admittedly she seemed under control at that time) and we wanted to be a family. Unfortunately just wanting it couldnt make it happen. Nicole was full of resentment for having been sent away and exiled from all of us. she felt like the black sheep and often still does. it didnt take long before all her bad behaviors were back again. the only thing i can say about her having spent 22 months at FFS was that she was safe while she was in there - although she tells me she learned lots of bad things there. six months after having her home i almost remortaged the house in order to hire an escort service to have her brought back. but i just couldnt do it. she was close to 17 by then and i knew in a year she would walk and nothing would have been acomplished. Nicole went wild and did lots of damage to herself and our family for a number of years. I am thankful to say that somewhere after 19 things started to click into place slowly and she has been making progress in getting her life together. She has had an awesome amount of challenges to face, some from her own bad choices and some because life isnt fair and some people just cant catch a break. Thankfully we live in a County that has many preventative programs and works with troubled kids like Nicole. When Nicole talks about FFS she hurts. and because she hurts it hurts me. Nicole is the youngest of three girls and prior to being sent away was very close to her sister Tina. Nicole is not really close with any family members now. It is too hard for her. she always feels like she has failed us and is still not able to let go of her resentment and anger towards us for putting her there.

i feel as though it was the one decision in my life that i wish i could change because it very effectively tore what remained of my family to pieces instead of doing what i thought it would do, which was to give her theraphy and coping skills and to help our family deal with her emotional disabilities. Instead of dealing with her ED they made them worse and prolonged her recovery as well as ours.

if i can help in any way, please let me know. Nicole is the one who asked me to visit this web site and if we can help another family make a beter choice for their child it will help us.

Sincerely,
Camille Ellsworth
mother of Survivor Nicole from family 1

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 Pat R's Story - Mother of Family School Survivor, R. D.

 

My son R D became a student at the FFS 12/17/99 and remained there until 10/22/01. He was put in Family 1 with Robin and Mike Ducey.

 After reading E. Levy's story I gained the strength to write something I
 have wanted to say for 8yrs. I even contacted 2 lawyers after I took my
 son out of FFS hoping to sue them for what I am totally convinced was
 verbal and mental abuse of my son and of me.

 And since there are SO many references to them being our child's
 "Family" then I would go as far as to label the treatment as "emotional
 incest!" Yes, this is a strong term but it is used in treatment centers
 (Caron Foundation) and in social workers vocabulary and I believe this to
 be true.

 We also were a family of a very destructive divorce in 1995 and 96 and
 the overall pain and suffering were devastating. My son had undiagnosed
 learning disabilities and behavioral problems that the school district
 refused to acknowledge and constantly punished him until there was no
 desire for him to succeed and he felt very hopeless and lost. He began to
 hang around with the other young lost children in our community and he
 had some experimentation with drugs and alcohol and truancy and anger
 issues.

 Due to a theft issue and coupled with the truancy issue, he now was
 arrested and then we had to deal with Family Court.He now had a law
 guardian and court appearances and the Department of Social
 Services/Probation hanging around to make our lives even tougher.

 I became very paranoid that my son would be sent to a state facility when
 these infractions were relatively minor but the school also seemed to be
 ready to state to probation any thing he did wrong but also not provide a
 referral to the Committee on Special Ed(CSE)for testing and evaluation. I
 also had an ex-husband who did not take any of this too seriously and I
 felt very alone and afraid for my son.

 He was a wonderful child and baby and we were always very proud of him
 and loved him very much.His struggling so hard all of a sudden was very
 heartbreaking.

 When RD was 4 1/2 we had our daughter. We experienced the usual family
 dynamics of sibling rivalry when our daughter was around the age of 2 and
 3. I was the oldest of 11 and did not feel that this was something that
 we could not handle. What I was not ready for was the insidious split
 down the middle of our family between the parents. RD's father began to
 pick at him and dote on AD and it helped to create a division between mom
 and son and dad and daughter.

 Yes, here comes the "Dysfunctional Family" My son longed for the old
 relationship with his father and my daughter reveled in all of this
 attention by her father. Some of the attention became inappropiate and as
 our marital relationship was falling apart we started up a divorce
 proceeding.

 My ex wanted a divorce and custody of the children and I then had to
 fight him as I was never going to allow him to take the children as I
 knew very personal reasons(not for this site) why he should not have
 custody.  I did receive custody.

 As my son is dealing with school problems(1999) and family court the
 school social worker who was always trying to get in our business and I
 would have to stand up to her, declared that my daughter said to her at
 school that she had seen her brother's penis.She then made a report to
 CPS after interviewing her alone in a room 3 times (to get the story
 right) and our lives spiraled out of control.

 As a member of AA for many years I had heard of the FFS and called the
 Supt of School District to appeal to her that my son needed a residential
 placement and we needed the CSE to help pay for the placement. It was an
 emergency as I did not want a state placement and I did not believe that
 RD should have to be sent away on an accusation of WHAT? As he had other
 issues at school and the court system I saw this as a way the school
 would try to move him out of their jurisdiction and into the state's. I
 then took him to the Craig House for an evaluation and it clearly showed
 the emotional pain he was in and ADHD and ODD. They ordered meds right
 away and therapy.The Supt. of the school said that if he did go
 residential then they would pay the educational piece of the school bill.
 I thought, Thank God.

 Now Probation wanted access to all of his therapy records and medication
 records. The case of sexual abuse remained opened while they investigated
 "What Abuse". I took my daughter to the dr and nothing in the form of any
 abuse had taken place.He was 12/13 at the time and had shot the moon at
 her and she screamed and came right to me and I dealt with it with both
 children. She also violated the closed door rule on one instance and
 entered his room and caught him masturbating.

 As the case was being investigated, my ex filed for custody of my
 daughter using my son as the reason. He won in Sept 99 and in Oct of 99
 the case was dropped against my son and a letter came to me from CPS
 reporting the case "unfounded"! The damage was done tho as now I lost my
 daughter and was about to place my son at FFS if the court would allow it
 as it was not used by the court for residential. Armed with the
 committment from school supt.Judge Bivona of Orange County Family Court
 of NYS allowed the placement with follow up by DSS for one year. So under
 the heading of Foster Care, RD went to FFS in Dec 1999.

 Of course I visited the school by myself and witnessed many wonderful
 staff members and students and had a great tour of the facility. I
 thought the grounds were beautiful and was very moved when I saw the
 chapel and felt that my son would be very safe there. I had lunch there
 and sat at a table with Terry Mc. and liked him very much and he told me
 how the school had just instituted a "no smoking" rule for all staff
 members and he did not like it and had considered quitting over it as he
 did not want to quit smoking. But he realized that he would be crazy for
 giving up a job that he loved over cigarettes.So he quit. I actually
 secretly thought that no job should order people to quit smoking. But who
 am I? He also told me his wife used to work there but no longer is. And
 it occurred to me that so many family members work there. (Could it be
 more dysfunction)

 Upon enrollment, Bob Runge and Mary Musgrove took care of all the
 paperwork and made me sign papers making me responsible for all of the
 financial issues even tho my ex was there and refused to sign and I
 brought court papers showing the "foster care" clause. Runge said "You
 must sign these documents making you totally responsible or your son will
 not be admitted and we have never received a check from DSS for any child
 placed here." So I signed.

 It was Christmas time also and that made the pain even more intense as I
 could not see him until the first parent gathering in Jan 2000. I was
 glad to be with other parents and that a support group was being started
 online by one of the parents very shortly and I gave out my email
 address. I got to see my son for about 30 minutes and we both cried the
 whole time and he barely said anything to me about how it was going. I
 knew we were being watched and I was told later by staff that I was very
 co dependent and guilty and that I would only display that weakness to my
 son if I didn't let go. I had better join a group (FA) to get stronger.

 As months passed, we realized that the court system was not going to pay
 even tho it was under the heading of foster care and my ex and I
 dismantled our 401K's to pay the bill as the school district did not pay
 the educational piece as we had thought they paid a tutoring fee of $895
 monthly.So I believe the bill was tripple that at the time and we were
 back in court fighting over who pays what. Where was DSS? No where. We
 managed for about 17 months then we ran out of money and the bills piled
 up. We did manage with a wonderful attorney to get it cleared up but not
 before the FFS tried to lean against my house even tho they had documents
 on file showing the DSS involvement. It was the document that Bob Runge
 made me sign that almost cost me my home tho lawyer went after DSS and
 they finally cut a check to the school.

 Pedaling backwards,I went to all of the meetings and events at the school
 and went through ones that were cancelled for things as small as missed
 homework assignments.He was scheduled for receiving the sacraments of
 Holy communion and Confirmation but was suddenly denied as he was not
 doing his program work.

 We were so happy for him and even contacted his uncle to be his sponsor
 then all was out the window. I was shocked that anyone could deny someone
 the sacraments and I called Father Stephen. Finally got to speak to him
 and he stated that he did not make those rules, the school did and he had
 to abide by them. I thought it strange that a priest was controlled by
 the school. Even my aunt, a Sister of Notre Dame, thought it outrageous
 to deny someone the state of grace. That would never happen on the
 outside in a real parish.

 At around the 13 month mark of rd's stay, I started to question the
 staff's judgment and started to worry about whether my son was really in
 the right place.He ran away right before Christmas 2000 in the middle of
 the night when the temp was about 20 degrees.So of course there would no
 visit home which I had dreamed of and I drove up for a conference with
 Robin Ducey and Bill Musgrove. I demanded to know what had happened to
 make a basically lazy boy who would not stay up and wait to run away in
 winter weather. Something had upset him to make him do this after 12
 months.They did not answer my question.

 They ganged up on me in a room and told me my son was very sick and was
 a sexual predator and that "thank God he is in here I would hate to think
 of him out there in the community" I had the papers with me that stated
 charges against him had been dropped and the case unfounded. She refused
 to read the papers and I was told I was in denial about how sick he was.
 Then Bill proceeded to tell me things rd had told him in his 5th
 step.(very ridiculous and over the top things)

 That grated against me big time as anyone who knows about real 5th step
 work knows it is confidential and never to be repeated let alone used to
 further intimidate someone. He also said he was obsessed with
 masturbation. Duh he is 14!!!They let me see rd for about 10 minutes and
 I had better be on the same page as them or I could take him home. Well,
 how could I do that as I had to abide by a court order.Which they also
 refused to read.

 I went to my counselor with this after I drove home crying and felt
 completely violated and trampled on. She stated that she was having
 concerns about him staying there and that masturbation at his age was
 NORMAL not sick and that he was probably using it as a self soothing tool
 as he was so uncomfortable.

 My heart was broken as I began to realize the 12 Steps were not being
 used as intended by Dr. Bob or Bill Wilson and that this is a program of
 attraction not promotion. That AA is a fellowship not a cult. No one who
 is in AA or NA or whatever would stay one minute on the outside if
 meetings ran this way. I felt betrayed big time and I started to feel
 guilty that I had picked the wrong school and that he was being more
 abused there than the state facility I had feared so much. Of course, who
 knows there are many ways people can be abused in facilites. Just because
 the state oversees a facility does not mean much to me as they drop the
 ball big time too. But FFS has no oversight.

 The kids are afraid to tell the truth and in my opinion so is the staff.
 I believe that the staff are also as controlled as the kids. I know
 first hand that Susan Runge will not stand up against Robin Ducey.
 Neither does anyone else including her husband (who ran my son's sex
 addicts group and stated he was a sex addict) Maybe because everyone who
 works there is in recovery and probably some have past legal issues, they
 would not have a job. Do you know of any entity that works with children
 that is allowed to hire people with sex issues or possible felonies???

 It took 18 months to get our entire family into one of their family
 counseling sessions both kids and both parents. Susan Runge handled it
 (as she is the only social worker on staff) and determined that the kids
 had been totally mishandled by CPS and that nothing more than childhood
 curiosity had gone on.She said she felt shamed by the social work field
 and that she was an incest survivor herself and that was her finding. My
 ex was also present and it was a great healing session for all of us. RD
 then had a 4day visit home after 18 months and he was so excited but
 stiff as a board in my opinion.

 Then after Susan Runge's findings, WHY WHY did Robin Ducey continue to
 call him a sexual predator and make him stand up at table topic and call
 himself that??????? It is also the reason why he ran previously.Why is
 any 14/15 yr old in a sex addicts group with a book Sexaholics Anonymous
 to read. How much sex could they all have had to be labeled an
 addict???????

 At some point in Sept.2001, I went up against the district again and
 demanded a CSE meeting and a transitional plan for my son as he was to
 leave in 3 months as court order was ending at the 24 month mark. We
 needed an eval and Robin Ducey set one up with the dr. they use and I
 mean that literally---the dr they use. I forget his name but he wrote a 2
 paragraph letter that stated "RD is a danger to himself and society in
 general and that his use of inhalants and other drugs is a problem and
 his "other problems" require residential. At that point he had not had
 any drugs for 2yrs!  What does other problems mean? Sex?? Rd did not say
 anything about any sex issues so dr had to have been coached by Robin
 Ducey.

 WHOA!!! So after 22months he still is deemed a danger to himself and
 society in general. I called him up and got him and said how long did you
 see my son and when is his next appt and what meds did you prescribe as
 he is so dangerous???? And if he is still so sick then what has the FFS
 done for him thus far???

 Well his reply was "Sometimes we write letters like this for the school
 so that they continue to receive funding and the child remains there." I
 said that my son was due to leave and that you just made him sound like
 the next Columbine Shooter!!!!!

 Robin called me at work and laid in to me that I had no right to contact
 the dr at home and that I upset him and his sick wife. She sent rd there
 for the eval that I requested and she was helping me so what was my
 problem? Well the dr was upset as he lied about my son and admitted it to
 me and was worried about his license.

 About 1wk later Robin again called me at work to tell me rd had been sent
 to watch a boy in the bathroom (you already know that you can not go to
 the bathroom without being shadowed) and that the boy accused him of
 trying to touch him. Since my son would not admit to this at table topic
 in front of everyone (as usual) he was put on exile. That is where they
 can only look down and not up and not talk with anyone.He denies the
 accusation to this day.He knows the boy was put up to it. I also know
 that rd was punished for my standing up to Robin. That was it for me and
 also 9/11 had just happened and I felt that life was short enough and I
 could not live like this anymore-court order or not-working my program or
 not. I was done with the head games and with the longing for a better
 life and to put people in our lives who really cared and saw the good in
 my son.

 I then got an advocate to help me and she and another mother got me over
 to Tim Baker's office who advised me to pull my son out and he knew of
 the abusive techniques first hand and that I should do an extensive evaluation
 at Four Winds Hospital which I did.

 I told Robin that I was picking rd up for testing that the district
 required and went up to get him. I walked into the office with my friend
 who rd cared for very much and found him sitting there looking down at
 his shoes. When he saw us his eyes filled with tears.I should have packed
 his things that day myself as we knew then he would not be returning. As
 I did not take him back, all of his things were thrown into boxes and
 sent home and they told everyone that he was in a psychiatric unit.He
 then had a hard time transitioning home and leaving some friends behind
 that he could not contact. He loved Bill Musgrove but not once did Bill
 call and ask how rd was nor did Audra. We were suddenly the black sheep
 and outcasts from a setting that was our lifeline for almost 2yrs. I also
 realized that in the 22 months not one nice thing was ever said about rd.
 Bill showed me the most compassion but later I learned that he had used
 physical restraint on rd and I was very sad that yet another of the staff
 that I trusted was not to be trusted. He also gave rd a suit to wear but
 took it back because he left before completing his program work. rd was
 crushed as he thought Bill cared about him.

 Painfully the evaluation showed that rd was hurt by the tactics of the school
 and was feeling a lot of shame and confusion and actually survivor's guilt
 as was I and further testing proved that nothing was wrong with my son of
 a sexual nature AT ALL and that he definitely was traumatized by the
 humiliation he went through there and that he was not to return. We now
 spent another yr in counseling and rd was put on meds and then went to a
 day treatment school until he graduated.

 The dr and social worker there worked with us for almost 2wks and helped
 rd and myself with the shame and guilt and loss. They were also there for
 us awhile afterward. They also felt that no child should be sent to FFS
 unless they had a very deep addiction to drugs and are dealing and have
 heavy legal issues and no remorse. Otherwise, many of their tactics are
 over the top and the student and also the parent end up having no rights.

 It is over the top to use the family as a reward and or punishment. To
 hold diplomas from students because they are not doing their program
 work. To withhold the sacraments. To place children in sex addicts groups
 without their parents knowledge or permission with no adequate reason but
 possibly masturbation. Even if a child has the word rape attached to
 their file then the FFS is definitely not the right placement anyhow.

 My son did way better in school there but out of fear not out of a love
 for learning and he was definitely picked on and made to feel dirty and
 was constantly being punished just like always being punished in his home
 school but with a much more insidious consequences.

 I also would like to know the credentials of the staff members. Why are
 there no listings on their web site of staff and why are so many family
 members working there? Self professed sex addicts in recovery should not
 be working with kids. Making kids tell on each other and force them to be
 involved in hammering away at others at table is so intimidating and how
 do these poor kids eat with all of this drama???

 As a long time ago parent of the FFS I will admit to long term trauma and
 guilt about choosing this school based on my love and belief of 12 step
 recovery programs. Little did I know that the steps got jammed down one's
 throat and that I would be manipulated and blown off with program words
 to keep my opinions down and made to feel in denial and defiant when I
 questioned them. Even the 12 and 12 yahoo group will silence you if you
 become too angry or negative.Every time I had a question or disagreed
 then I was not working my own program.

 Yes, we all need to work our own programs and be parents at the same time
 and determine the fine line between controlling another human being and
 supporting them. So difficult but when I realized that R.D. was not getting
 what I thought would be a beautiful opening to a life filled with self
 esteem and inner strength, that all was not done on a loving basis and
 that some staff seemed to be as cloned as the kids, then I felt very
 betrayed and guilty about the decision.

 I am very grateful that the FFS has helped some families and I was always
 so impressed with the events and plays there and wished that experience
 had been ours but it was not. It still breaks my heart but what I have
 today with my son is very amazing as he could have punished me with it
 and not spoken with me or cut me out of his life.

 He is someone that I am proud of even tho he has made mistakes since he
 left there. He did not give up and graduated HS and went to college and
 struggled but graduated with an AS degree in automotive technology. He
 still struggles with self esteem and goals but he is a father now and
 works towards being a good DAD and holding down a job and a relationship.
 I know he has pain as do I about this part of his life.

 I can not end without stating what the FFS could do to on the issue of
 accountability and that is to staff the school with certified teachers
 and therapists with an MSW and staff members who are in recovery should
 at least have gotten their CASAC certification and cut loose of the whole
 "family members as employees thing"

 If MSW's were on-board then the mandated reporting issues would be
 enforced. Stop using the family as reward/punishment and stop sanctions
 that are abusive and the academics should not be interrupted for
 sanctions.

 Stop discounting the learning disabilities in some of the children and
 hire a specialist and stop punishing kids who have diagnosed LD's Some
 are not capable of regents diplomas. It is not their fault Actually
 Regents diplomas are overrated and NY is the only state that has it if I
 am not mistaken. My daughter went to residential in Vermont and she has a
 regular diploma and so what? Certainly wasn't hard to decide that she
 would not attend the FFS.

 Stop diagnosing sex issues with no qualified sex therapist on duty ever.
 You folks evidently have some serious sex issues of your own that need
 addressing.

 Also standing up at table admitting to things publicly is humiliating and
 serves no purpose but to abuse.  And it forces the kids to admit things
 that are not true just to get you off their backs.
 Synanon and Straight Inc. were found to be abusive and were shut down and
 suits were filed.

 You are not being overseen by any state entity as you do not want to jump
 through their hoops and you would be cited on many issues and would not
 have been open as long as you have.

 This smear campaign as you call is long overdue as the teachings of the
 school and the sanctions and groups and lack of accountability has gone
 on for too long.The attitude that you have had is that "If you could take
 care of your child at home, you would not have brought them here" is
 intimidation and manipulation at its best.

 Unfortunately, the therapeutic boarding school and wilderness programs
 are a huge business as this generation of children seem to need to be
 reeled in somehow but a child nor his family should be taken advantage of
 based on fear and grief nor should a child loose his REAL voice.

 The 12 steps are for those who WANT it and were written for and by people
 who knew the struggle of the disease. They were not written to be used by
 others as a punishment and tho the steps would be a help to many if they
 could work them, they were not designed to force people into working
 them. I never felt humiliated when I went to treatment even though group
 got on my last nerve, I had to face the pain and the denial and I was
 built back up immediately. Also it was pointed out that we are not bad
 people trying to get good, we are sick people trying to get well.

 Lastly, belittling young impressionistic kids and their worn out over
 wrought parents does not achieve a healthy view of one's self. You have
 been playing with people's heads for a long time and everyone involved
 deserves kindness and respect. AND THE KIDS DESERVE THEIR VOICE TO BE
 HEARD

 To this site and the young people involved I give you my prayers and hope
 that this forum serves to hear your own voice and be heard and know that
 you are not crazy and you are not liars.(I was there too)This is a move
 towards healing- you have the right!



 Marlena R's Story - Mother of Family School Survivor, Ben

 

My son Ben was at the FFS 2003 at age 14. He was out of control, always in trouble at school and failing all subjects. He was also abusing drugs and alcohol and running away. It was suggested by our therapist that we look at the FFS. We went to the school and few times and liked what we saw. We met a young man in a nearby town who was working at a health food restaurant. He saw our FFS literature and told us his story. He was grateful for the FFS and felt that it saved his life. We were then convinced. We had our son escorted to the school. He has been abusive and beligerant to us and we knew that he would never willing go to the FFS. He ran many times but was found. My fondest memories are of visiting my son at the FFs.

He was clean, sober, safer than he was in the communities we lived in, and clear headed. He was respectful and polite to us. I understood that he and the others were brainwashed and I worried about that, however was he not being brainwashed by his negative peers. My son still suffers from ADHD and the has never experienced the successes that he had at the FFS. He always believed that he was dumb and so would refuse to do class work. At the FFS he excelled and finally felt successful. Perhaps the FFS broke his spirit but what was that spirit. He was mean spirited, angry and defiant. No school could contain him. Ben ran away after 18 months and lived on the streets of Callicoon. I took him back after a month. It was a big mistake. He went back to the same school and the same behaviors occurred. He was placed on probation, violated probation and was sent by the county to a residential school that did not have the sanctions or rules of the FFS. He did poorly there and came home after a year. The old behaviors began again. He got his GED. He is now 20, has been in jail and may go back, is a heroin addict and has recently been in a 28 day rehab. He is still looking to get over and do only what he needs to do to satisfy the court and the judge. At this time he is seeking a Dr. that will give him prescriptions for drugs so that he does not have to go back to buying and dealing. He has told me some disturbing things that occurred at the FFS and that hurts me, but keeping him at home was not an option. He was destroying himself and us, his parents. Perhaps some of the sanctions were harsh and standing in the corner was demeaning and table topic during lunch hard to swallow but what had my son done to us as a family. What he had done was just as demeaning, harsh and cruel.

when I told staff at the FFS that I believed my son had a learning disability, they worked with him and proved that if he focused and got extra help he could do it and he did. He was in the time out room a number of times and told me that it smelled of urine and he was scared. I had to let the FFS do what they do because we had not been successful and neither was he. What was the alternative? The other school that he was sent to by the county was permissive and he was caught using there. They complained to us about his behavior and placed him on heavy duty meds that made him feel like a vegetable. I did what I could to not allow them to put him on drugs that I knew were harmful to teens. Much of the drugs seemed to be a trial run for teens, in other words experimental. Is this not abuse? Is this school better because there are no sanctions only a token system? I think not.

At the FFS my son was clear, had many successes, has tools to overcome his addictions if he chooses to use them and was not reliant on meds. Perhaps the success rate at the FFS is not great but as we all know relapse will occur over and over again until they finally get it. Through the FFS I discovered FA. I got alot of it and continue to be grateful to the program. I too relapse and continue at times to enable my son and be do-dependent. It is a process. I am presently in Alanon and am grateful for this program. My son like I stated before is an addict that contiunes to be manipulative, lies and gets nasty when he does not get his own way. I love him with all my heart, pray for him and yes, release him with love and detach with love. He needs to be on his own and to find his own way. I want to rescue him from himslef but that is wrong. He needs to grow up and make his own mistakes even if it means jail. He lost his license recently due to a DUI. He refused to take the test and was probably on drugs. His license was revoked for 18 months.

No program is perfect, nor is any human being. My hope is that the FFS finds some truth in what people are saying and then strive to make it a better school. There is always room for improvement.

- Marlena


Diana S' Story - Parent of a Family School Survivor, Katelyn


When asked to write a testimonial, where do you begin, at the beginning, where the pain started, or at the end, where the pain is still there, just hidden and comes out when reminded because of something that happens in your daily life.  Today I was talking with my daughter, Katelyn W, who was a prisoner (sick) of the Family Foundation, against my will, against my knowledge, against my being, and I were having a Skype conversation about her testimonial.  She said I should write one and made a comment out of the blue that they did a nice thing allowing me to come visit.  Whoa! Wait a minute, nice thing, that is my RIGHT sweetie, I am your mother.  Let’s go back to the beginning for a minute.  Your father did all this behind my back.  He had custody because he had money, no need to drag out the details or bitterness about him.  He hired an escort service to abduct Katelyn from her sleep and take her across state line to The Family Foundation without my knowledge or consent.  It took approximately 8 weeks for me to find out where she was.  He, although the court papers stated he was not to make any decisions about our children without discussing it with me, told The Family Foundation that I HAD NO RIGHTS to my daughter, and they did not even question him because his money was GOOD. 

My first meeting with The Family Foundation was in a room with other parents who stated they put their children there to save their lives and I would not speak a word.  When I first entered the building, my daughter was standing in the hall, and I walked right past her.  I did not recognize my own child, she had gain in a short period of time 30+ lbs, her hair was greasy, her face was all broken out, and when I went into the office and introduced myself and asked for my daughter, they said she is in the hall waiting for you.  Kate and I spend some time together and they allowed me and my friend that drove me there to attend dinner and we experienced ‘table topics’.  This was the most humiliating experience as an adult I ever saw. 

These children were brutally ripped to pieces by other peers , not by trained therapists, counselors, but, I repeat, other peers, and given punishments by these peers.  If it were me, I would have preferred to have stood trial in Salem and worn a big ‘A’ on my dress.  As a parent, how do not want to grab your daughter and run at that moment.  Kate and I went to the restroom, sat on the floor of the stall, with no door, and held each other and cried.   She begged and pleaded with me to take her away to Canada tonight and I feared of the law.  I was so torn. I told her I would go home and fight.  And that I did, but not as successful as I wished.  The court took reins from her father and I and gave them to The Family Foundation, which in turn made her ‘moneybags’ father angry, so he pulled her out.  So in a sense, it was a success.  But things just gravitated because he still have the custody and control over Katelyn.  He said when Katelyn could speak to me, for how long, when she could visit me (only for hours, even though we lived hours away), he had us followed, etc.
 
While Katelyn was at the FFS, she was a quick learner of their rules and figured out if you play the game, you will survive.  In the beginning, they stated she did not deserve to be there as she was not a candidate of alcohol/drug abuse, but she was a candidate of parental abuse (father/stepmother) and in order to ‘save’ her, it was the best place for her.  In hindsight, the FFS was smart, but Katelyn was smarter, unfortunately Katelyn got handed the short stick.

She physically looks great, but inside she has problems, emotionally she suffers from severe C-PTSD, something the medical field still struggles with.  As her mother, I have never been diagnosed with C-PTSD, but what my daughter suffers, I suffer.  I see this brilliant, beautiful woman who does not have one day in which she does not relive a moment from the FFS days.  I still have every letter she ever wrote me while she was at the FFS, and it was like someone I did not even know.  Again, looking back, that was Katelyn playing the survival game.  It wasn’t until she came home could she really share the horror stories of what went on, the suicide watch, the shoes being taken from you and you have to walk shoeless in the snow, the punishments, the way you were talked to in front of your peers, the way you were allowed to talk to your peers, and the list goes on and on.  We did not raise our kids to respect other like this, yes some went down the wrong paths, I don’t know the reasoning behind why they were at the FFS, but everything you taught your child was taken from them, as if they are being reborn. 

While your child was there, they are being told they won’t survive in the real world, I felt invaded, that my role as her mother was dead.  I did not exist.  I fought and fought to keep our love alive.  If you placed your child there, you had your reasons, I did not place my child there, and the school never gave me a chance to speak, and for that reason, I will always STAND AND FIGHT FOR THE RIGHT OF THESE KIDS more so my daughter.  If we don’t speak up as one voice and as the adult who is the responsible party, who do they have to turn to?  There are many parents who don’t feel they have any other choice that is their option, I was never given the choice, either by her father or the school.  The Family Foundation treated me as if I was six feet under and Katelyn had no mother.  So if I can do anything now to rectify and raise my voice, I will.   My daughter still suffers, therefore I still suffer. 

Diana S.


__________________________________________________________


A Prospective Parent of The Family School


Dear Family Foundation School TRUTH Campaign:

Recently, my daughter's doctor recommended she attend a therapeutic boarding school due to her depression and anxiety.  With much hesitation, I began my research on some of these schools and carefully reviewed their web sites.  Then I decided to look for the negative press on the Internet surrounding these schools...wasn't completely sure I would find it...but wanted to ease my mind as I couldn't seem to grasp my daughter being in another state with someone else raising her for over a year. 
 
Your site was the first I found and I want to take a moment to thank you.  I hope that every parent who considers sending their teen to a therapeutic boarding school finds your web site.  It's extremely disturbing that The Family Foundation School has abused students and they are still in business.  I'm so sorry that so many of you suffered through this program and unfortunately will never forget it...that is the hardest part to hear. I can tell you that your web site was enough to take any thoughts of sending my daughter to one of these schools completely out of my mind.  
 
Thank you again...finding your web site was a true blessing for myself and my daughter.  I'm so sorry for all the pain you all have endured...it is heartbreaking to read.  It means a lot for you all to come forward...and to inform parents who really do need to know the truth! 
 
-A...
 
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Kathryn Young's Story - Dated a Family School Survivor, Corey

I did not attend FFS- but I did date someone for over three years that went there. I CAN say that EVERY single day I would witness how this school ruined his life. Although he left the school many years a ago, EVERY single night I would witness him unable to sleep because of the nightmares he would have from the FFS. I would hear all the stories from him about all the terrible terrible things that these kids were put through every day of their lives - carrying buckets of rocks for HOURS without being able to put them down, not being about to eat anything except raw tuna on an uncooked english muffin, kids being forced to eat meat when it goes against their religion, standing in a corner for hours without being able to sit down, and the emotional and verbal abuse put upon these students. Seeing him break down NUMEROUS times- all stemming from a FFS memory or flashback- broke my heart. I'm writing this because I'm tired of hearing everyone tell him he is joking or exaggerating when he brings up what happened there. Knowing what I do about that school, I felt I needed to support your efforts in getting the truth out there about what was going on behind those doors. The Family Foundation School does not only negatively affect those who attended the school- but also those who are close to them.


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E. Levy's Story - Mother of Family School Survivor, Rachel
 

My 14-year-old daughter went into a rapid downhill spiral right before and at the start of her freshman year in high school.  She was spinning out of control at home and at school until finally her school suspended her in Dec. '01.  I invited my ex-husband to work with me to find an optimal placement for our child, but he refused to co-parent, even though he was distressed by the change in her.
 
 After searching for boarding schools on the internet I came across the FFS. I drove up there for a visit and I felt reassured that help for my child was on the way upon viewing the pristine, pastoral setting and how clean-cut and well-behaved the students were. The staff was warm and welcoming.   I was given a tour by two young ladies who knew their job well, and was invited to have lunch with a Family unit.  The table topic was very civil and was led by the soon-to-be graduates who told their FFS success stories. It didn't occur to me that this cheerful and hopeful topic was staged just for my benefit. I noticed that there was a big bowl of fresh fruit at the center of the table, but no one took any. I thought that at least my child would be well-nourished (unaware that the children had to prepare the low-quality Sysco institutional-grade food and had to clean their plates or be punished).
 
My daughter read the FFS Handbook prior to her enrollment, laughing at the bizarre sanctions "(therapeutic assignments") and drawing mustaches, beards and devil horns on the picture of the FFS founders, Tony and Betty Argiros.  I was in such a state of emotional crisis with my troubled child at home that I neglected to read the handbook, which appeared to be written by leaders of a Christian (and we are not Christian) fundamentalist cult that served as an addictions- treatment facility more than a school (my daughter had no addictions, and legally the FFS is a school and is not a licensed treatment center for substance abuse or mental disorder). One of my daughter's friends wrote me a lengthy letter begging me not to enroll her, and I now wonder if she knew something I didn't know.  I figured that my child would be safe, supervised and protected (from herself and from the bad influence of her new peer group) 24/7, and it seemed to me that involvement in a 12-step program and religious services wouldn't be the worst thing.  However, I had no way of knowing that their program of "behavior modification" (mind control, humiliation and intimidation, actually) and the 12-steps, as well as the attendance in 3 types of religious services was a daily, mandatory part of the school day, and actually held more significance than the academic program.
 
Her father remained opposed throughout the entire 3 and 1/2 years our child was there, but steadfastly neglected to tell me that he had investigated the FFS and found it to be a money-sucking prison (run by the Education Plus Corp.) and a concentration camp without the barbed wire.  He frequently told relatives that our daughter was being "incarcerated" and brainwashed, that he thought what I was doing to our troubled teenager was criminal--in fact, at one point he had both the FFS and me investigated by CPS for Child Abuse and Neglect.  If only he had told me what he knew about practices at the FFS!!!
 
Our daughter packed her locker herself with a week's worth of all the required types of clothing.  I didn't know that most of the incoming students' clothing was discarded if it was deemed improper, such as pants that were not hemmed or a hoodie sweatshirt, and that the students pooled and shared clothing.  Also I was not yet aware that I'd have to keep buying new wardrobes because there would be significant changes in my child's weight (the girls seemed to acquire hormone imbalances and put on 30-60 lbs on average, and the boys, who were more often given hard physical labor, tended to lose weight).   She had some friends over the night before leaving for a little farewell visit (to her surprise, one of these friends ended up at the FFS at a later date). There was no coercion or lying necessary  as she went willingly, but I was disturbed later to hear stories of children being kidnapped, restrained and woken up in the middle of the night or wee hours of the morning by a paid escort service--which the FFS sanctioned and recommended.
 
I was unemployed and partly disabled but I chose to empty my bank account and enroll my daughter (who would begin just after New Year). My mother helped me pay for the first year (it was $43,000 a year then, plus extra expenses and fees), and my sister gave me the money to hire a psychiatrist to testify in court that my daughter needed to be at the FFS.
 
When my daughter entered the FFS hall with the big religious statue and dead silence, she turned white, and we were both aghast when Mary Musgrove whisked her away into the intake locker room and showers, telling me to say a quick goodbye and then leave (although she allowed me a second goodbye hug and kiss, upon my insistence).   I had no idea my child was going to be deloused and strip-searched, as I was given back items she was forced to leave behind, like pictures of her friends, earrings and other jewelry, anything in her pockets.  As I left her in the hall I was haunted by the look she gave me, which seemed to say, "why have you forsaken me?"
 
I tried always to recollect what the staff told me, that if I did not enroll her (or I withdrew her prematurely), she would surely end up dead, insane or in jail. Little did I know the students were all told that they would surely fail in the program, no matter what they did.   In order to ensure her success at the FFS I would need to comply with attending Families Anonymous meetings in my local area.  Obediently, I complied, though my child's wily father never did.  At the numerous meetings I went to religiously, I was comforted and validated by the other parents who attended, who turned out to be predominantly FFS parents.  Big surprise.
 
The FFS recommended early on that I subscribe to the 12and12, an online support group for FFS parents.  I quickly found a niche there (and made some friends who I still have) and soon became one of the most prolific and supportive contributors for about 3 years, until the hypocritical and autocratic moderators ousted me. I apologized quickly for any misdoings, but I was not given a second chance to redeem myself, and so I felt hurt and betrayed. I was trying to be the perfect FFS parent.  At the time I did not know that one of the FFS tools of propaganda for the purpose of brainwashing parents was the 12and12 site (and subsequent grad-parents site).  On 12and12, we were programmed to sneer at those parents who showed up at the school unannounced to withdraw their child.  We called them crazy. We parotted all the slogans and expressions used by the FFS staff and FA group leaders, like "detach with love," or "fake it till you make it," or "flying under the radar."   People outside of the FFS who did not agree with residential placements were referred to as "aliens."  We had our own lingo as well as frequently using the FFS lingo: "manipulation," "dishonest," "prideful," "defiant," etc.
 
 The FFS staff told us that if our child's lips are moving they must be lying," and that the students will try to manipulate them and us at every turn. Meanwhile, they were telling the students that they were at the FFS because they abused their parents and and were all addicts and unrepentent criminals. (And that everything their parents told them is a lie, the only truthful ones are the FFS Leaders who were now to be regarded as their "parents")
 
I find it sad that some parents and alumni today remain brainwashed in their unconditional support of the FFS, and see no cause to rally to support the rights of youth who need to have a voice in their ethical and humane treatment while enrolled in residential treatment centers and "therapeutic boarding schools" (as well as teen boot camps and Wilderness programs), places which have all been cited with child abuse and neglect and children have died or committed suicide.  I see a disturbing attitude of "since it never affected me personally, I really don't care about the history of past abuses nor do I care to make the system better for kids in the future."
 
After enduring the first month "Parent Blackout" in which no contact is allowed between student and parents, I came to the first Parent (Family) Meeting. The parents had a session with a Family Leader, in which we were rehearsed in the ways of the FFS and the rules we must abide by in our homes and at the school. We were made guilty because our home environments and enabling behaviors led to our children getting enrolled at the FFS. We were allowed to meet with our children for a brief time before and after the parents-only seminar, but there were staff always close by, at times even joining into the discourse.  There was no privacy at all.  My child and I were emotional seeing each other again, and had she had the opportunity to whisper in my ear privately that she was having trouble adjusting to the emotional cruelty, confrontation therapy and Toughlove approach and could I please take her out of the school, I may have listened. She seemed strangely subdued and more than a bit frightened.  Parents were told ahead of time that our children would definitely ask us if they could be taken out before the "18-month minimum" enrollment, and sure enough, most every child asked their parents at this first meeting. The vague "we'll see how if goes" answer they invariably got from us drove every child to tears. At least when in prison, one knows from the onset how long their term will be.
 
Subsequent "Family Meetings" (the bogus family therapy) were held in a little windowless conference room and attended by the parents plus the Family Leader and the child's sponsor or "counselor." The student would read to parents a list of amends or a "dishonesty list" and vowed to stop making "negative contracts" and do what was expected at school. The parent was told only what the staff thought was relevant with regards to their child, like whether they were working their program or needed more humility and program work. True family therapy would have brought parent and child closer together with an honest sharing of feelings.
 
Having two parents not on the same page and who would not attend Family Meetings, Parent Meetings or Family Days at the same time could not have been a help to my child.  I did not know the extent to which the FFS staff controlled the students with fear and consequences, and that the students frequently volunteered to "sign Blackout" in order to have extra time to "work their program" undistracted from outside influences--so that they showed compliance to the staff (hoping to have their "sentences" shortened). The kids regarded parents as FFS co-conspirators and at the same time were told we are the enemy.  (And here I thought the "Family School" would help improve and restore the parent-child bond--when all the while they were breaking apart the bond by replacing relatives with "Family Leaders," sponsors and peers who were strangers.)   Parents were encouraged to put their children on extended blackouts of a month or longer, to accelerate their progress in "the program."  Parents were promised to get their children back "new and improved" after they complete their program.  While our kids would greet us warmly on subsequent parent visits and Family Days, inwardly they were seething with resentment.   Whenever the staff noticed this hostility, the student would be punished for being resentful or unrepentent. Crazy-making, I say.
 
 It was a rite of passage to run away from the school, and many kids (including mine) ran away several times--only to be hunted down by staff and peers in the familiar white van  and returned to the school--now losing their shoes, their beds blocked in their trailer by other beds, and they'd receive strict extended punishments (sanctions). Now Rita Argiros, the school owner, trains search and rescue dogs for the purpose of hunting down runaways more efficiently.
 
Work sanctions (forced labor) were frequently handed out to those students who seemed particularly defiant or who wanted to retain control over their own thoughts, when sitting or standing in the corner for days or weeks did not make them repentant and other sanctions didn't seem to teach them obedience or humility.  Parents had to continue to pay tuition while their child was pulled out of classes for weeks or months--yet still expected to keep up with and pass their courses. Students only had about an hour each evening to do homework anyway. Most of the time was allotted for program work. I remember that my daughter was not thrilled with having the chore of feeding the pigs and mucking the stalls, knowing that the animals were raised to be slaughtered--and then fed to the students at breakfast (even if it was against their religious beliefs or their alternative diet or if they were allergic).
 
I did not know back in the day that I was greatly contributing to my daughter's pain by seeking to keep her there till she got her Regents diploma. Concurrently, she was unaware that I was being brainwashed by the school (so was I, obviously) but she knew that her father was not not brainwashed (therefore on her side).  Again she was placed squarely in-between her parents and their opposing beliefs. I'm ashamed to say how most parents like myself were so successfully and insidiously convinced that the ridiculous (and sometimes cruel and dangerous) sanctions were okay and necessary, that they would teach their kids to straighten up and fly right.   Once we had suspicions that they were using mind control, the staff would constantly justify the brainwashing of the children by insisting, and I quote, "their dirty little brains could use a good washing."
 
The FFS' hidden platform was this: students must admit to having one of the Seven Deadly Sins at any given time, and having an addiction of any sort (drugs, alcohol, sex, food, video games, anger, porno, romance) in order to properly follow "the program," and you must lie and make false confessions so that you can work the 12-steps over and over and redeem yourself and be okay with God. If you couldn't think of any addiction to honestly label yourself with, no matter, the staff would assign you a label and give you an addiction to cure yourself of.  ("Admit to God--and the Family School--that you have sinned...") The "dishonesty lists" and lists of "amends" forced out of our children were a total joke, yet we were conned into believing them. Our children were forced to lie while being told we were lying, yet we were forced to believe that we were all being honest!  If that's not crazy-making, I don't know what is.
 
It never occurred to me that the seemingly high level of order and obedience witnessed in the children by parents visiting the school was due to the insidious, rigid indoctrination and the threat of consequences (in the FFS this was a sugar-coated term for punishment). I don't know why parents seemed not to be concerned that the staff qualifications for teaching were absent and the staff was a body of recovering addicts or reformed ex-cons. The teachers had no licenses to teach, there was no full-time psychiatrist or doctor or registered nurse on staff, and the counselors and therapists administered no real private, group or family therapy to the students (as is outlined in the Handbook).   Children who came to the school on meds were taken off meds or meds were changed without parents knowing, and then were not properly monitored. Kids with ADHD were not acknowledged to have a real learning disability and had extra work forced upon them and were called stupid and slow and given sanctions and group humiliation for achieving poor grades.  I did not know then that the "peer-tutoring" was not concentrating on course material but instead on improving study skills.
 
My daughter prepared for and went through a religious confirmation ceremony, and certainly her relatives proudly attended,  but she has since abandoned organized religion. She enjoyed being on the softball team but was frequently grounded arbitrarily for minor infractions of mood or behavior. She enjoyed working on stage crew for the school's theatre productions, having her mom come to see all the plays and performances on Family Day, and learning to sing well enough to take part in chorus (though she only was allowed to go to the national competition in D.C. once--while parents were told that the whole school goes to D.C.). She enjoyed the Passover seders and the picnics and field trips, as well as becoming a shadow, an anchor and a sponsor (though I didn't realize she was just showing phony compliance with her "program").
 
My daughter admits today that the only good thing she got from the FFS was some good friendships.
 
I knew that the letters sent out and the incoming mail to students was heavily censored (later I learned the canned repentant and gratitude-filled graduation speeches were completely edited), and the 5-minute weekly phone calls were closely supervised.  I did not know, and might have removed my daughter from the FFS had I known, that the students were strip-searched after outings with parents, they were allowed no privacy in the showers or bathroom, and the table topics (when no parents were present) were abusive exercises in public humiliation and ridicule (and forced more false confessions and lies).  Parents were told that the FFS program was "peer-directed," but we didn't realize the peers were robotically acting under staff's instruction--even assisting in restraining students or performing a suicide watch. Students couldn't trust one another because they never knew when someone was going to rat them out (which was heavily praised and rewarded) or be manipulating them in order to further their own status in their program.  While having dinner with my daughter's "Family"  I've seen the "peers" at table topics decide together with staff on an appropriate sanction for another student, as a consequence of some real or imaginary (and always minor) infraction of the rules. This reminds me of the role of the Jewish Administration or the armed guards in Nazi concentration camps, the determination of a proper punishment to be carried out...and at times the armed guards got a little carried away with their power and were unneccessarily cruel--just like those FFS staff who were clearly abusive.
 
Shamefully, the townspeople of Hancock and the police acted in collusion, convinced that the FFS students were all derelicts and delinquents who deserved to be hunted down like dogs, be returned to the school, and then punished. I heard that the owners of the nearby French Woods Golf Club were working with the FFS as well, to track down and return the runaways. But the runaways were just terrified children who were invariably treated like criminals, unsure of when they would be released from bondage.
 
After the "18-month minimum" enrollment landmark had arrived or else the student turned 18 and was chomping at the bit to "walk,"  the staff convinced the parents that their kids needed more time to work the program and were far from cured. If we voluntarily withdrew our children they would immediately revert back to being liars, whores, manipulators, addicts or criminals (or all of the above). Wasn't it enough that our children were constantly being labeled by staff as whores, sluts, stupid, lazy, perverts, alcoholics, addicts etc. and told they'd never make it in the "real" world (outside of Planet Family School)?  Well, we didn't know what was really going on at that school, but we certainly didn't want to take the chance of our child not graduating and going back to their former behavior.  I myself was told at graduation that my daughter hadn't sufficiently "worked her program"--even though glowing references for college had been provided for her.
 
I never knew that all the girls were publicly humiliated from the get-go and told they were prostitutes, non-virgins, liars, whores, addicts, masturbators, exploiters, fat, disgusting, overly flirtatious (and would go to Hell for entertaining thoughts of romance before marriage), and that the boys experienced the same verbal attacks and worse.  Parents were told that the FFS didn't break our children's spirits, they built them up. Even the 12and12 group supported this declaration.   But clearly our troubled kids' self-esteem, self-image and spirits were damaged if not destroyed by the end of their FFS education. The ones who survived relatively unscathed were those whose self-esteem and family life were the most stable to begin with.
 
The school flagrantly lied to parents about having an 80% success rate among alumni. Whatever that meant (college graduation, good careers, or remaining clean and sober?). The actual statistics are nowhere near that percentage among students who left the school over 5 years ago. What most of us witnessed was new graduates (or those who left early) having babies right away, resuming past addictions, getting married right away without having stable lives and a plan for their future, and many who were in need of extensive and long-term psychotherapy and meds. They all displayed the effects of institutionalization and deprivation (food, sleep, creature comforts, news about the outside world at large, close family ties, etc) and social anxiety was common. There existed no program at the FFS to help  transition soon-to-be-graduates into the real world or prepare them for college life.  Some alumni seemed to remain in the comfort zone of strict regimentation and have enlisted in the military. Some retained long-term physical effects as a result of not being treated properly and promptly by medical personnel after illnesses or accidents at the FFS.
 
My daughter suffered anxiety and emotional distress during her 3 and 1/2 years at and following the FFS, but by the grace of God is functioning well in her life at this time.
 
To the defensive, paranoid and secular FFS staff members who have called the "disgruntled" alumni testimonials a "smear campaign," I say that as an involved, loving and dedicated parent, I believe everything my child has to say (post-FFS) about her experiences. If indeed "the truth shall set ye free," I say to the FFS leaders that our children's truth must be acknowledged and believed verbatim.  Our children must not be vilified or persecuted as stool pigeons, they must be believed, supported and offered unconditional compassion and love.
 
 
 
E. Levy
Parent of a Family Foundation School Survivor

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