Biblical Reform School Discipline: Tough Love or Abuse?


The federal government, however, has shown concern about teen residential programs -- not all of them faith based -- and has pushed for more regulation.

In 2008, an investigation by the federal Government Accountability Office revealed thousands of cases and allegations of child abuse and neglect since the early 1990s at teen residential programs throughout the country. The report also found major gaps in licensing and oversight.

The report found untrained staff, ineffective management and operating practices in these facilities.

"In the most egregious cases of death and abuse, the cases exposed problems with the entire operation of the program," according to the report.

Congressman George Miller, D-California, introduced the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2009 to establish minimum health and safety standards, but although the bill twice passed the House, both times it failed in the Senate.

"You can't deprive kids of food and water," one Democratic aide to Miller told "You have to treat them humanely."

Just last year in Hiland Park, Fla., police removed 17 children from Heritage Boys Academy, a military school that taught fundamental Christian doctrine, arresting three, including the pastor, and shut down the facility.

Child welfare authorities said the children were often hit with sticks that were "nine fists long," and were sometimes choked or held down and beaten with fists.

The school officials plead not guilty to one charge of aggravated assault and five charges of child abuse, but the case has not yet gone to trial. A motion by the defense to dismiss is being heard on Friday, according to the clerk for the Bay County Courts..

Well-Dressed Girls Testified They Were 'Saved'

Anne's mother said she first heard a New Beginnings presentation at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Churchville, Md. There, according to Jeannie Marie, neatly dressed girls confessed to bad behaviors and cried that they had been "saved."

"They told us it was a place that helps girls grow in their Christianity in a new life with Christ," she said.

She handed Anne over to school authorities while New Beginnings was on a fundraising tour in Virginia. "It really took me by surprise," said Anne, who thought she was going on vacation. "I freaked out and balled my eyes out."

The first night Anne said she slept on a church pew and was punished for cussing when she fell off and hit her head on a hymnal.

But when the group returned to their Missouri campus, Anne said the house was frigidly cold and girls were given only skirts and light sweatshirts.

The food -- often bologna on white bread, watered-down milk and canned eggs -- was either rationed or loaded on the plate, depending on the whim of the staff, she said.

Girls were told to keep monotone voices and never to talk to each other. Phone calls and letters were monitored, she said.

"They said I am bad and God doesn't love me," said Anne. "I was taught the exact opposite of that in the home. It was hard to believe that these people actually cared about me. You had to fend for yourself."

Two months later, after a dispute with school officials about the costs, Jeannie Marie said she withdrew Anne. When she arrived at New Beginnings, she said she was horrified by what she saw.

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