Congress: Boot Camps Woo Parents With Deceptive Marketing

New evidence suggests some so-called "tough-love" boot camps may have duped well-intentioned parents about the nature of the facilities where they were sending their troubled teens for treatment.

A congressional investigation that looked into 10 deaths and thousands of boot camp abuse allegations dating back to the early 1990s discovered some camp representatives using deceptive marketing practices to lure parents.

One representative tried to convince a father, who actually was an undercover investigator, to hide information about the facility from his wife, according to the investigators.

"I want you to tell her it's a college prep boarding school that focuses on the emotional needs of a teenager," the camp representative said.

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During another pitch, a caller is told the boot camp actually focuses on diet and exercise.

"Getting the exercise and with getting plenty of rest, we find that these kind of issues go away. The bipolar, the depression -- those kinds of things. They just go away after a while," another camp representative told an investigator posing as a parent.

The revelations about misrepresentation come on top of allegations that some boot and wilderness camps have brutal conditions. Boot camp graduates and lawmakers said the teens often are forced to exercise to the point of exhaustion.

"I had to rock pick for a week, eight to 10 hours a day. At one point [I was] dropped off 25 miles from school and forced to hike back. This was all done in the name of therapy," former Mission Mountain School student Kathryn Whitehead said in her testimony before Congress.

Other teens said their experiences bordered on torture.

"Typical restraint procedures were wrapping kids up in duct tape and blankets. Kids were not let out of this wrap, even to use the bathroom," former Family Foundation School student Jon Martin-Crawford said.

Government officials said just because the teens are troubled doesn't mean the camps should take advantage of them or their families.

"Although the youth we are talking about today are troubled, that shouldn't be an excuse for anybody to torture and abuse them," said Government Accountability Office investigator Greg Kutz.

Earlier in the week Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House education committee, introduced legislation to prevent abuses and boost oversight of boot camps, which commonly are referred to as residential treatment facilities, behavior modification programs or therapeutic boarding schools, according to The Associated Press.

The programs typically are loosely regulated by states and no federal laws define or regulate them.

"Some of these so-called boot camps have issues where they don't have people who are trained ... and it's pretty much a free-for-all where a group who is running this privately can basically do what they want to do and for the most part get away with it," clinical psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere said.

A representative of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs said many kids have been helped by the treatment programs, but added, "Clearly we still have a very long way to go."

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