Is There Abuse in Teen Help Programs?
As a parent that has experienced raising a good teen — that went through a challenging time, I was once in your shoes. Does bad things happen in teen help programs? It did to us – however, I’m here to tell you there are more good programs than bad ones, and your child’s mental and emotional wellness is counting on you to find the best fit for your family.
Learn from my mistakes, gain from my knowledge. – Sue Scheff
Deception, Misrepresentation & Fraud
A Parent’s True Story
By Sue Scheff, FL
After experiencing my good teen make some bad choices, I found myself surfing the internet for help to the point where I was so confused and stressed that I simply couldn’t make a decision.
One group of specialty schools and behavior modification programs kept popping up wherever I clicked, so I figured they must be good. I received their beautiful glossy literature with a video that could make any parent weep. Once the program’s initial sticker shock wore off, the cost began to seem reasonable in comparison with other programs, or so I believed until I enrolled my child. Suddenly, the hidden costs began adding up like a grocery bill. I was totally misled by the sales rep and made a rash decision.
Mistake number one: being clueless as to whom you are speaking with when reaching out to these toll-free numbers. This is a common mistake for parents in a desperate situation. A swift sales rep is there waiting for you, meeting every question with the answer you want to hear and making promises that convince you they can help your child.
In the midst of my frantic search, I attempted to use the so-called Independent Educational Consultant (IEC) that immediately asked for a $350 check just to speak to me. They readily claimed they could help me (without even knowing my daughter) for about another $3,000 or more. I now know the frightening truth that even Independent Educational Consultants (who are supposed to be professionals) have no state or government regulations.
My true nightmare was just beginning
Impressed by the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs’ fancy words and glossy brochures, I enrolled my child with the assumption that they were qualified to help. I am ashamed to say that I never did a background check on these programs. I had called the parent references that they gave me (and later found out they were paid to talk to me, some actually receiving a free month’s tuition to do so).
I know many of you are thinking that I must have been nuts, and you are right. While in this stage of my life, I was in a total frenzy—I was at my wit’s end. I truthfully just wanted help for my child and thought for the price that they were charging, the program must be good.
My frenzy and desperation led to my biggest mistake. I was looking for therapy and internalization through the help of professionals, but what I inadvertently ended up with was more of a teen warehousing program. This was not what they had sold me.
In retrospect, red flags went up shortly after I dropped my child off and I asked who the psychologist would be. Guess what? There was none, unless I wanted to pay extra! So who led the group therapy they raved about? There was no group therapy, there was a person, usually another student, who sat in a circle with them as they reflected.
I could have hired their psychologist for another $100 per visit. Their sales reps had told me that there was a licensed therapist “on staff and on site.” I should have pulled my child out of the program then, but I thought I was over-reacting since I was in such a state of confusion. The staff were very good at convincing me to “trust the program” instead of addressing my concerns.
During her time there, my child wrote me letters: some good, some bad. According to the program, the good ones were considered manipulation, the bad ones were considered proof that she needed to stay longer.
I couldn’t win and neither could my child
During my child’s entire stay of almost six months, I was never allowed to speak with her. I was only able to speak with an employee once a week for about 15 minutes. In further research, these employees had no credentials and many were not educated beyond high school, including the president of the organization.
I later found out it usually takes up to six months to speak with your child, and in most cases up to a year to see them. Although they sell you another story, let the truth be known: most teens take two to three years to graduate (I understand a law was recently passed that mandates that you can see your child after three months. I am not sure if the WWASP group of programs is abiding by this new regulation; however, it is in place).
After attending a parent support meeting and listening to some of the other families, I realized that it was all very strange. Some of these kids had been there for well over a year and the families were so deep into this program that it was both sickening and sad.
It took me months to realize that I had made a big mistake. In order to visit my child, it was mandatory to attend some very bizarre seminars; I wrote my withdrawal letter immediately after the second seminar.
I brought my child home suffering from depression and nightmares from her time in this WWASP program, and fear of being sent back had created suicidal thoughts. My child went immediately into real counseling where, after almost two years, an excellent psychologist helped us recover from this horrible, traumatic WWASP experience. When my child felt confident that I wouldn’t send her back, I heard some unspeakable stories.
I have heard similar stories from many of the other post-WWASP aka WWASPS students and families, who suffered from the same post-traumatic symptoms. Many parents and professionals believe that this cult-like program is enough to destroy both families and children, as we have many testimonials which came forth in my jury trial with them. I am one of the few parents who have been able to take them all the way to a jury trial. Many have settled out of court with confidentiality agreements.
So, who am I? I am a parent who refused to be silenced. In 2001, I posted my story of what we endured. How my child was abused, how I was duped, and how they (in my opinion) continue to dupe others. WWASPS decided to sue me to have my story removed from the internet. It went to a jury trial, and I won with truth as my defense.
My story is published in Wit’s End! Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out-of-Control Teen (Health Communications, Inc.) in more detail. I believe in sharing my knowledge of this industry with as many parents as possible, and I have continued to help families through my organization founded because our experiences, Parents’ Universal Resource Experts, Inc. (P.U.R.E.™).
Our experiences occurred with Carolina Springs Academy, one of many of the programs that are part of the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs (WWASP, aka WWASPS, aka Premier Educational Systems). I feel all of their programs are simply boot camps that claim internalization, however lack it tremendously.
Their real business is cash cropping children; marketing and using troubled teens is part of their strategy. They are, in my opinion, a children’s warehouse and an escape for parents from their desperate situation. Their deluxe marketing seems to be what they specialize in, and I am speaking from experience: I used to sell their program and market their schools to gain free tuition.
Yes, whenever you referred a family, you would get a month free! What a concept, and I fell for it! Being involved in selling the program reinforces their message of how great they are when in reality you have not even spoken to your child. I had no idea how the program was working; I was just trained to sell.
There are many followers of this program who have become indoctrinated into the program. There are also many, like me, who woke up daily to the reality of their child’s plight. Dateline, Primetime, 48 Hours, and Inside Edition have done segments on this organization that paint the same picture of negative experiences.
Many newspapers and magazines (including People, Forbes, New York Times, LA Times, News Day, Miami Herald, Sun Sentinel, Guardian, Jamaican Observer, YM Magazine, Salon, Time Magazine, and Spin) have printed articles regarding the program and lawsuits pending against WWASP that the group is struggling to keep silent.
With all this bad publicity, why take a chance with your child? Where there is smoke, isn’t there usually fire? Many have asked why they were allowed to continue. The answer is simple: money, and plenty of it. Money is usually the root of evil, as seems obvious in this case.
I truly believed that one day WWASP would be held accountable for their actions. That day came when I won my lawsuit in August of 2004, and again in 2006, in the Federal Supreme Court of Appeals—since they refused to believe that people would condone child abuse, neglect, and the fraud they perpetuated among parents.
Since then, my story has helped educate parents on how to become more diligent when searching for teen help.
First Lawsuit won Against WWASP
P.U.R.E. ™ is proud to have defeated WWASP as they attempted to silence P.U.R.E. ™ and myself. I believe this is only the first of many wins.
Additionally, in June of 2006, P.U.R.E.™ went on to defeat WWASP in the Federal Supreme Court of Appeals.
I hope my experiences have saved other parents from making the same mistake I made in desperation. I am sharing my personal experiences to create awareness about the misrepresentation and fraud that I endured.
This story was not written out of malice against WWASP, it was written because of the principles and morals that they lacked. I think they call it “accountability;” I am accountable for what I have written as being the truth as I experienced it.
I firmly believe that true hopelessness is found by walking in the shoes of a parent with a troubled teen. I have been there, and I have survived and learned from it. I believe that if you take a negative child, and put them in a negative environment, it only builds resentment and anger. Literally, this is what I had done, but I had no idea until it was too late. Through this experience I have developed the opinion that fraud and misrepresentation, combined with a vulnerable parent, can lead to danger for a child.
If you are one of the many parents struggling with their teenagers—who are good kids making bad choices—you are not alone. If you are in need of teen help, residential therapy is an excellent resource.
In reality, there are many more good programs out there than there are not so good ones; the key is to do your homework. I created a list of tips and questions to ask schools and programs before enrolling your child, as well as other valuable information.
Be an educated parent and you will have safer and healthier teens.
Your child deserves a chance at a bright future
*A footnote on their Marketing: When I was searching for options for my child, I was recruited by a Miami-based parent that made it a mission (in many peoples’ opinions) to build this pyramid for WWASP. Although she claimed she had no financial gain from this, we have since learned that she collected large sums of money for her involvement with WWASP.
Although she stated that she made her income from her Title Company, it was discovered that she was arrested in February 2002 on charges of illegally diverting nearly $6 million in trust money through a variety of schemes. Lynn Pretzfeld, of Miami Florida, was charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering and grand theft.
According to the Florida Department of Insurance, the now closed Title Examiners Inc. diverted money into personal accounts from escrow accounts. According to public record, on June 3, 2003, Lynn Pretzfeld is a Convicted Felon and on 10 years’ probation as well as paying restitution. Case #F02003735B
** Please note that WWASP seems to make a habit of changing their name. When I was involved, it was WWASP. Shortly after it became WWASPS (with an “s”), and presently we understand they are operating under the name Premier Educational Systems. I assume when parents do Search Engine research, it eliminates any bad press that may be associated with previous names. This is just an opinion. If you have nothing to hide, why the constant name changes?
Keep in mind: other programs may use this same practice of name-changing, this can be a red flag
There are other organizations today, similar to this one, that will tell you they are non-profit, or only placement specialists (see the list below). Their main expertise is SEO and marketing for parents that are desperate, like I was.
Please—take your time in your research and be cautious of these “heads-in-beds” salespeople. People that will take your email and simply sell your name to programs so you are bombarded with emails from schools and programs that may not be a fit for your teen.
As of February 2021, the following programs may have been associated with WWASP at one point or another, or have reopened under different names, with the same employees using the same marketing arms to sell to parents.
Some argue they are not associated or affiliated—and if they’re not, they should be able to prove that to you. Have them give you their full names of owners and compare it to the names of the owners on these programs and the sales reps of these programs. It’s really that simple.
With this list, parents can make their own decision. Research the owners, operators, staff, who’s selling you the program, etc. We accept no liability in what program you decide to place your child in.
Be advised, although WWASP claims to have disbanded, their former employees are continuing to reopen under different names as this latest article shares.
It’s why we continue to educate parents on doing their due diligence when researching schools and programs.
We don’t tell parents or families what to do, we only share information
Academy of Ivy Ridge, NY (CLOSED)
Bell Academy, CA (CLOSED)
Camas Ranch, MT
Canyon View Park, MT
Carolina Springs Academy, SC (CLOSED)
Casa By the Sea, Mexico (CLOSED)
Cross Creek Programs, UT (Cross Creek Center for Boys and Cross Creek Manor for Girls)
Darrington Academy, GA (CLOSED)
Discovery – Mexico
Dundee Ranch Academy – Costa Rica (CLOSED), there have been reports it has re-opened.
El Dorado, Costa Rica – 90 Day Boot Camp
Gulf Coast Academy, MS (CLOSED)
Help My Teen, UT (Adolescent Services Adolescent Placement) Promotes and markets these programs.
Horizon Academy, UT
Jade Robinson – Director of WWASPS programs (Floats to different ones)
Jane Hawley – Lifelines Family Services
Kathy Allred – Lifelines Sales Representative
Ken Kay – President of WWASPS
Lifelines Family Services, UT (Promotes and markets these programs) Jane Hawley
Lisa Irvin – Helpmyteen, HelpYourTeenNow and Teens in Crisis (She will use Lisa Irvine at times too) – these sites will link off of us. Please use caution. She has sales reps working for her too.
Magnolia Christian School, SC – (CLOSED)
Majestic Ranch, UT
Mark Peterson – Teen Help Sales Representative
MENTOR School, Costa Rica (CLOSED)
Midwest Academy, IA – 2/13/16 News Alert on Midwest Academy (CLOSED-Alleged torture and abuse)
Update 9/9/17: Iowa boarding school owner forced student into sex, felony complaint says (aka Midwest Academy)
News Alert: Midwest Academy Founder Confirmed WWASPS 4/16/16
Parent Teen Guide – Promotes and markets these programs
Pillars of Hope, Costa Rica
Pine View Christian Academy, (Borders FL, AL, MS)
Reality Trek, UT
Red Hawk Academy, AZ
Red River Academy, LA (Borders TX) ALERT NAME CHANGE: US Youth Services, Lecompte, LA
River View, La Verkin UT
Royal Gorge Academy, CO (CLOSED)
Second Chances in Southern Utah, LaVerkin UT
Seneca Boarding School for Troubled Teens, SC and Costa Rica
Seneca Ranch Second Chance Youth Ranch, SC and Costa Rica
Sherri Schwartzman – Lifelines Sales Representative
Sky View Academy, NV (closed)
Southern Oaks, Due West SC (previously Carolina Springs Academy) now open.
Spring Creek Lodge, MT (CLOSED)
Sunset Bay Academy, CA
Sunset Bay Academy, Oceanside, CA
Teen Help, UT (Promotes and markets these programs)
Teens In Crisis – Lisa Irvin – Teen Help Sales Rep
Three Points Center, LaVerkin (Hurricane), UT (formerly Cross Creek Manor and Cross Creek Center)
Tranquility Bay, Jamaica (CLOSED)
Utah River View, La Verkin, UT
WakeUpCallForTeens.com, Due West SC (Formerly Carolina Springs Academy) Director Nate Browning (now open)
White River Academy, UT
Wood Creek Academy, MT -This program said they’re not affiliated with WWASPS according to a letter from their lawyer dated 8/17/17. So did Midwest Academy for years.
Youth Foundation, LaVerkin UT
Do your due diligence
DISCLOSURE: I received a CEASE & Desist Letter from Wood Creek Academy. Read it in full. I’m not saying they are WWASP (or even affiliated), and according to the letter they claim not to be affiliated – but since we can’t see who the people are (names) it’s hard to tell. Remember, WWASP is disbanded now so it’s impossible to be part of them; the question is, is it the same people with names changed? I don’t know. I do know that WWASP no longer exists. Find out the owners, the marketing arms, the staff – and see if they are the same.
Parents have their own free will to do what they want: to try to find out the owners, the names, the people that work there, the marketing arms, and compare it to what I have listed. Make up your own mind.
When another program was accidentally listed on this page (as its name was closely related to another) the owner called me personally and asked me to remove it, as I had included it as a typo error: they had nothing to hide. They didn’t send me a lawyer letter, they called me up. Like most would do. But to send lawyer letters? Really? If you have nothing to hide why hire lawyers.
That’s what WWASP did to me years ago when I defeated them in a lawsuit for defamation. Yes, I know this for a fact since I’ve been in litigation with them successfully. Even the lawyer letter won’t list the owners’ names… which is questionable in my opinion.
In addition to defeating WWASPS in a jury trial in Utah, P.U.R.E.™ and founder I won an unprecedented $11.3 million jury verdict for Internet defamation. Despite being vindicated at a jury trial for damages in September 2006, many of the attacks on myself and P.U.R.E.™ continue out of malice and spite. It seems when you can’t defeat someone legally, many are taking their revenge online.
WWASPS continues to consider me a disgruntled parent, and I’m is the first one to agree. However, I have also decided to move forward from it by helping others avoid making the same mistake.
Read more about how I struggled with my own teenager.
Learn from my mistakes, gain from my knowledge….
– Sue Scheff
Latest news article on WWASPS (2/7/16)
Latest news articles on WWASPS (1/19/2019) – The Tangled Web of Owners
My latest book Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate (Sourcebooks) with a featured foreword by Monica Lewinsky was released in October 2017.