Logan River Academy is a residential treatment facility in Utah, a state where there is comparable lack of oversight and relevant legislation to safe guard vulnerable students in residential programs (1.) We believe in the merit of scientifically tested and accepted residential treatment programs, but do not believe the program at LRA is either. LRA's residential program is not properly accredited (2,) they belong to NATSAP, a non-accrediting voluntary membership organization which gives the appearance of accreditation/licensure, but that does not enforce any professional and/or ethical standards on its member programs (3.)
Our own research into these programs has turned up very scary things. The policies in place at Logan River Academy, detailed below, are not only cruel, they are ineffective and, in our opinion, fraudulent. Their harsh discipline policies have the end effect of cheaply warehousing kids while they accept $7,500 - $8,900 per child per month from naive parents and courts. We understand they pay many of their staff, who have direct supervision of special needs kids, close to minimum wage.
Although there were meetings on Capitol Hill, and The House of Representatives even passed a bill (4,) clearly stating the problem, it remains (5):
The Government Accountability Office has done a report as well:
Many students in this program spend most of their days sitting straight forward, not allowed to move, look at another student, or make any noise; think detention but much longer and more strict. The program calls it “DEVO” (6) and they hand it out for any and all infractions; for example, one student was punished with a significant amount (hours) of “DEVO” time for returning to his room with a moist towelette from the dining area to clean his glasses, thinking it was permitted. They called it contraband and gave him excessive “DEVO,” time. This is just one example. We have first hand accounts of students receiving up to 2000 “DEVO,” hours for a single infraction and students spending over 100 consecutive days in “DEVO.”
“DEVO,” is short for “development.” A true and tragic irony given the consequences of its imposition on children.
There is another level of “DEVO,” that is much worse. It is called “Precaution.” Some students report allegations of being stripped naked for it. I fear that it is so they cannot strangle themselves with their clothing (7) (8.) If true this strategy may also mean they are improperly attempting to care for suicide risks without the proper facilities and personnel. Other students report spending every waking moment in “DEVO,” on “Precaution,” completely isolated from peers for up to 30 days on end (8.) During this time they don't attend class, they don't develop socially, they are forced to sit still and quiet. According to the American Academy of Chlid & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) (9.:)
“The potential psychiatric consequences of prolonged solitary confinement are well recognized and include depression, anxiety and psychosis. Due to their developmental vulnerability, juvenile offenders are at particular risk of such adverse reactions. Furthermore, the majority of suicides in juvenile correctional facilities occur when the individual is isolated or in solitary confinement.
Solitary confinement should be distinguished from brief interventions such as "time out," which may be used as a component of a behavioral treatment program in facilities serving children and/or adolescents, or seclusion, which is a short term emergency procedure, the use of which is governed by federal, state and local laws and subject to regulations developed by the Joint Commission, CARF and supported by the National Commission of Correctional Healthcare (NCHHC), the American Correctional Association (ACA) and other accrediting entities.
The Joint Commission states that seclusion should only be used for the least amount of time possible for the immediate physical protection of an individual, in situations where less restrictive interventions have proven ineffective. The Joint Commission specifically prohibits the use of seclusion "as a means of coercion, discipline, convenience or staff retaliation." A lack of resources should never be a rationale for solitary confinement.”
I am unable to find any scientific literature regarding the benefits and success rate of “DEVO.” In fact, I am unable to find any scientific literature or studies about it at all (10.) In my opinion, it is pseudoscience at best and torture at worst. We know that one student who was just removed from the program had been placed in solitary confinement at least twice.
The National Institutes of Health have established guidelines for effective child discipline (11.) They are:
“To be effective, discipline needs to be:
given by an adult with an affective bond to the child;
consistent, close to the behaviour needing change;
perceived as ‘fair’ by the child;
developmentally and temperamentally appropriate; and
self-enhancing, ie, ultimately leading to self-discipline.”
Also according to AACAP (12:)
“Be sure that the residential program has a method of maintaining safe behaviors, promoting positive behaviors, and preventing aggression. Make sure that punishments and verbal intimidations are prohibited.”
Hours and hours of timeout lasting long after an infraction, doled out by complete strangers who are often perceived as sadistic fails to meet a single one of these standards. Further, the Child Welfare League of America says of timeout (13,) “Sometimes children need time to calm down and collect themselves. (Adults do to!) Used sparingly, with consistency and repetition, it must be viewed as teaching the child, not punishing.”
Certainly hours and hours of what I'll call “enhanced” detention is not “sparingly,” and must be considered “punishing."
The United States Surgeon General has also weighed in on the matter (14:)
“In behavioral token programs, youths are rewarded for conforming to rules, exhibiting prosocial behavior, and not exhibiting antisocial or violent behavior. Like some other residential approaches, behavioral token programs can have positive effects on targeted behaviors while youths are institutionalized. However, when this strategy is used alone, any such effects disappear when youths leave the program.”
In addition to this, no truly independent entity is able to monitor the students' progress and wellbeing, or more importantly the lack thereof. You see, while the students are made to suffer for minor infractions, the administration of the facility do not hold themselves accountable for their own poor and dangerous results. As noted in their state accreditation report they have a very high staff turnover rate and do not provide student performance data or curriculum maps (15.)
Please tell the parents of the children at LRA that they have made the wrong choice for their children and to remove them from the program before any more emotional damage is inflicted on them. Please tell the Los Angeles Unifed School District (and all other public districts) to immediately remove any students from Logan River Academy and to cease sending students there. Please tell Logan River Academy to stop using their “DEVO” techniques, that they are dangerous, unnecessary and counterproductive to nurturing intact adults. In many cases the families of these kids have been tricked by, in my opinion, snake oil salesman to sending/keeping their children to/in these programs against their will. These kids, and please remember: they are kids - are innocent despite their behavioral problems, and have been left with no other advocates.