The New Yorker torches Teen Problem residential packages in vivid, one-sided report — GetReligion


This have to be the season for exposés on Christian youth ministries.

Enterprise Insider simply got here out with a big piece on Younger Life and a variety of of us are speaking about the New Yorker’s current exposé on the Christian drug rehab group, Teen Problem. Based mostly on 60-plus interviews, it’s about one teen-aged woman’s story of being taken from her adopted dad and mom’ house in the midst of the evening and compelled right into a hellish residential program in central Florida.

The story has been framed as Teen Problem attacking homosexual teenagers, though Emma, the central character, arrives on the college pregnant and finally ends up marrying a person 4 years later. A lot of the story is about how she was pressured to surrender her little one whereas sequestered at Teen Problem.

It’s necessary, when studying this vivid story, to maintain asking: The place are the voices on the opposite aspect of this drama?

Most of the occasions reported by The New Yorker passed off a decade in the past. Right here’s the way it began:

Within the spring of her freshman 12 months of highschool, in 2011, Emma Burris was woken at three within the morning. Somebody had turned on the lights in her room. She was dealing with the wall and noticed a person’s shadow. She reached for her cellphone, which she saved underneath her pillow at evening, nevertheless it wasn’t there. The person, Shane Thompson, who’s six and a half ft tall, wore a shirt with “Juvenile Transport Agent” printed on the again. He and a colleague instructed Emma to placed on her garments and observe them to their automobile. “She was very verbal, resisting,” Thompson instructed me. Her dad and mom, who had adopted her when she was seven, stood by the doorway, watching silently.

Thompson drove Emma away from her home, in Royal Palm Seashore, Florida, and merged onto the freeway. Emma, who was fifteen, tried to recollect each exit signal she handed, in order that she may discover her means house, however she was crying too arduous to recollect the names. …

Half Scottish and half Puerto Rican, Emma was slight, with lengthy, wavy blond hair. Her dad and mom, whose lives revolved round their church, admonished her for being aggressive towards them and for expressing her sexuality too freely. She watched lesbian pornography and had misplaced her virginity to an older boy.

“Being aggressive towards them?” I do know slightly one thing about such locations; my very own daughter has lived in such services the place the age of consent for medical therapy is 13, after which youngsters select whether or not or to not stay in therapy. The age of medical consent in Florida is eighteen.

The vast majority of instances contain violent youngsters; the types the place you must lock your knives away due to what the kid could do with them.

How violent was Emma? The story doesn’t say. Did she bounce from one foster house to a different due to her conduct? The story doesn’t say.

After a three-hour drive, Thompson pulled as much as a ranch home in Lakeland, a small metropolis in central Florida. About thirty yards behind the home was a a lot bigger one, with white shutters and a brick fence. Emma was escorted contained in the second home and instructed to strip bare and bend over whereas she coughed, to show she wasn’t hiding any medicine. She was knowledgeable that this might be her new college. It was known as Teen Problem, and she or he would stay there for no less than fifteen months. 

Upon studying it, I used to be fairly confused. What I (and most different folks) knew about Teen Problem got here from studying “The Cross and the Switchblade” in our teenagers; watching the 1970 film starring Pat Boone as David Wilkerson, the founder, and getting accustomed to the group’s experience at serving to folks get out of drug dependancy.

Taking a look at their nationwide web site, there’s no trace on their web site of a gulag of establishments that imprison youngsters; actually this can be a aspect of Teen Problem I’m guessing few folks find out about.

Nevertheless, a easy Google search reveals that Teen Problem has been a large number for a while. This 2012 Time journal article tells how the issues linked to Teen Problem and comparable teams have been so unhealthy in Florida that the Tampa Bay Instances did a three-part investigation. The Every day Kos did an eight-part sequence in 2008. The Wartburg Watch weblog sounded the alarm in 2015.

Teen Problem, a community of nonprofits that has obtained tens of thousands and thousands of {dollars} in state and federal grants, has greater than a thousand facilities in america and overseas.

Additionally, the Teen Problem web site says there are greater than 200 residential facilities. The story says there are 1,000 within the USA and overseas. So, the place are the opposite 800? Confused, right here.

 George W. Bush has praised it as “one of many actually profitable packages in America.” The group, which is affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God church, is made up of facilities for adolescents and adults searching for to beat “life-controlling points,” reminiscent of drug use, melancholy, or sexual promiscuity. Many individuals are despatched there by courts, as a substitute for juvenile detention or jail.

The varsity adopted a Bible-based curriculum emphasizing character improvement, and a counselor gave Emma a thick handbook. Touching was forbidden, she realized. 

All through its 60-plus years of existence, Teen Problem has provide you with some very excessive success charges amongst its graduates. I’m attempting to sq. these figures with what the journal article tells us about what goes on behind closed doorways.

Once more, I’ve met sufficient youngsters in comparable services and been in sufficient lessons and conferences with their dad and mom to know that you just’re not simply thrown in there since you’re studying lesbian literature. You’re there since you’re suicidal, violent, drug-addicted, mentally ailing or some comparable drawback.

 When Emma noticed that there was no means for her to get an abortion, she started whispering to the opposite women that she needed to maintain her child. Emma had been born when her organic mom, who used medicine, was in jail. Emma had instantly been put in foster care, and she or he didn’t need her little one to develop up with the identical sense of abandonment.

 I’ve met women who’re like Emma; I’ve met their households too and know a variety of their tales. The latter offers up such youngsters normally as a result of the child has both bodily threatened different members of the family or refuses to go to highschool or do something the household asks them to do.

 These households don’t surrender such youngsters after one unhealthy day. They’re at their wits’ finish, they’re determined and sometimes there’s a years’-long ready checklist to get right into a state psychological well being facility; therefore the dad and mom flip to a personal group like Teen Problem. As for the Twitter mob going calling for the closure of all these facilities, what if all of them shut down tomorrow? The place would you ship these youngsters? Their households received’t take them again, so … options, anybody?

Lastly, did the reporter attempt contacting the household?

If that’s the case, I can’t discover any reference to that within the piece. I’m not excusing the weird means through which this woman seems to have been handled, however her adopted household sounds utterly heartless. And did Emma have additional contact with them post-discharge? Is there a narrative there?

Like all of the residents’ dad and mom, that they had signed a contract unconditionally giving Teen Problem management of their little one. In response to a 2020 model of the shape, dad and mom agreed “to not intervene with the custody or administration of mentioned minor in any means.” At a current household orientation for the Lakeland Teen Problem, which was recorded, the director, a younger man who along with his spouse changed the Del Valles after they retired, instructed dad and mom to not consider their daughters after they complained about this system. “Know that, No. 1, that’s a lie,” he mentioned. “It’s all a ploy,” he went on. “It’s all a tactic to put on you down, to get you to drag them out of this system.”


Annually, some fifty thousand adolescents within the U.S. are despatched to a constellation of residential facilities—wilderness packages, boot camps, behavior-modification services, and non secular therapy programs—that promise to fight a broad array of undesirable behaviors. There are not any federal legal guidelines or companies regulating these facilities. 

 The identical holds true for adoption companies. We have now a psychological well being disaster on this nation and the state establishments are overwhelmed. These residential facilities aren’t low-cost, both; I do know one household that spent an excellent portion of their retirement on one to assist their suicidal daughter.

 The story goes on to document how Emma was pressured to surrender her son, was not given sufficient authorized illustration, then pressured to begin her Teen Problem program another time.

One would possibly surprise if this can be a psychological well being story or a faith story, however the latter does make its means into the piece finally.

 Within the mornings and evenings, the workers typically dimmed the lights in the lounge and performed Christian music. Emma discovered herself letting go of her inhibitions. “I’d be on my knees, bawling, after which the opposite women would begin doing it,” she mentioned. “It was introduced as if we have been changing into weak to God — I used to be instructed I had a present for worship — however I feel it was really all of us feeling overwhelmed and oppressed and caught. It was a collective cry session.” Generally Emma would converse in tongues, a observe inspired by the Assemblies of God. “It made me be at liberty and highly effective, however I additionally knew that I used to be being watched,” she mentioned. “It was, like, ‘Please see this. Please validate that I’m experiencing God, and He’s actual.’ ”

Each week, at totally different church buildings, Emma was requested to offer her testimony, the story of her son’s adoption, within the type of a poem. She instructed the story so many occasions that the plot factors now not appeared related to her. “To present him the very best life, adoption is the one means,” she recited. “I used to be the one who was the prodigal daughter / However I turned proper round and went straight to my Father.” After her efficiency, a set plate was handed, the proceeds of which went to Teen Problem. Different college students chosen to share their tales usually had private histories involving rape, homicide, or dramatic abandonment. 

 Properly, it’s a haunting piece and definitely worth the learn regardless that I’ve questions on why the state of Florida has completed apparently nothing about these locations regardless of multiple media investigation. Close to the top, Emma does say that one thing occurred spiritually to her (in a great way) inside this program that she will’t clarify or categorize.

However, she added, “at Teen Problem, I had very vivid experiences the place I felt I encountered God, and that’s been essentially the most difficult half — untangling what I really consider.”

It wouldn’t have weakened this text to have included no less than one contrarian perspective.

I’d have preferred one thing, something, from an individual who’d benefited from this program or, was there really no such individual to be discovered? Are all of the optimistic testimonies on Teen Problem’s web site false? Most of the occasions described on this story occurred 10-20 years in the past. Has Teen Problem modified in any respect since then?

I don’t consider such issues are utterly black or white and regardless of the villainy of many characters concerned, there needs to be one other aspect to this story as a lot as we could disagree with it. However we’ll not discover it on this piece.

FIRST IMAGE: Illustration posted with a media bias report on the web site of the Columbia College College of Skilled Research.