As you may know, The Family Foundation School is under attack by a small group of alumni who have partnered with a radical youth rights organization (CAFETY). Their web-site is a sensational collection of quotes and commentary that preys on the fears of parents who are faced with one of the most difficult decisions – that of placing their child in a residential program. They also are pursuing alumni of the school (and other programs) to convince them that they have been brainwashed. Their slanderous allegations are either false or distortions of fact meant to serve their own agenda.
I have worked for The Family Foundation School for six years. After visiting the school, I was attracted by the quality of the staff, their love for the students and their unwavering commitment to help those in need. The level of commitment, honesty and genuineness was quite evident in their dealings with me as a clinician, and later I saw with students and parents. I accepted a job there not out of need but out of a desire to be part of something special and wonderful. I have not regretted that decision.
For those of you who know me, and/or have worked with me, you know that I have (and value) personal and professional integrity. I would not survive a day working at the school described on the negative web-site. The school they describe is not The Family Foundation School I know and experience every day.
We have had the privilege of serving close to 3,000 students in the past 30 years. We are saddened, and frankly upset, that a small group of alumni, who have banded together with others having a radical agenda, have remained so resentful and unwilling to recognize change – and will twist and present information to meet their own agenda. In so doing, they are hurting themselves, the vulnerable students we serve and the families that are looking for help and hope. Just as we listen to countless alumni share their gratitude and success, we also listen to alumni who are struggling or who have constructive criticism based on their experience at the school. In fact, the school is what it is in a large part based on the input of current students, parents and alumni. Those hosting the smear web-site are not willing to be part of any productive dialogue or process.
It is important to note that this attack is not just a Family School problem. The issues raised by this group of radical, angry young people has already impacted several programs nationally and will eventually impact all programs serving youth. The Family School has always been a leader in this field, and we once again are pioneering how to respond carefully, effectively and honestly to a world of free and unregulated free speech that the social media now provides. There is no oversight, accreditation, independent monitoring or policing of such web-sites and their content. CAFETY has presented their ideas to IECA and other groups – they are targeting any and all residential programs who serve youth who are placed by parents. We know that our experience addressing these concerns will be sought out by our colleagues who in the future face the same vicious assault. Our colleagues on the west coast, Benchmark, encountered this some time ago (and still is fighting for their good reputation) – and we have learned and listened to their advice. Many other respected programs have come under attack by the media, or their own disgruntled alumni.
I recognize that as a professional, the existence of such websites creates a challenge for you. Although you believe in our mission and can trust us to adhere not only to the best practices in the field, and those defined and recognized by such respected organizations as The Joint Commission, the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools and the New York State Department of Education, it is difficult for you to represent to your clients that what they may read on the internet is just not true. We face the same challenge – we know who we are, what we do and how much we care for every child (and family) in our care. Yet, the anxiety that a smear campaign like this creates is sometimes more than parents can bear. This became obvious to me recently as I went on-line to Sears’ website to shop for a washing machine when mine finally died. I found several that I was interested in but as is now very common, everything has a “review” or “comment” section. On every single washer I looked at, random people commented that it was the best machine they ever owned, while others warned against purchasing it and waxed eloquently and vehemently about its faults and flaws. I found that I was persuaded much more by the negative comments than I was by the positive – and this is for a mechanical piece of equipment. How much more meaningful and challenging this must be for parents when looking for a therapeutic school, program or wilderness intervention. I hope that this letter and the resources below will help you in addressing these concerns with your clients.
It is impossible here to address each and every slanderous and untrue allegation made on the familyschooltruth website but I will speak to a number of themes so that you can be assured of the real truth. A quick lesson on the dangers of the internet – “don’t believe everything you read”. Anyone can say anything about anyone on the internet without consequence. An adult can identify themselves as a child or a student, anyone can say that they were a student at the school and a teenager or troubled young person can present themselves as a parent or a professional. Although the content is emotionally powerful, one can never be confident of the source. As you know, we serve students with a variety of emotional and behavioral issues, including oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, depression, bi-polar, substance abuse, dependence and addiction. When you read thefamilyschooltruth site, one also does not know the current or historical mental health or substance abuse status (or the agenda) of any of the individuals that are hosting or posting – or how treatment compliant they were or currently are. Although we know it comes with the territory, it is troubling to know that students that were loved and cared for, and staff made real sacrifices for, will still at times leave and bite the hand that fed them – including their own parents’. Despite all of this, we have continued to extend a helping hand, a willing ear and an invitation to visit. Some of these alumni and even the head of CAFETY still refuse to visit FFS.
One of the primary tactics they use is to create doubt – so even something as open and transparent as providing parents with a 9 page parent reference and support list (which we provide to anyone who asks and the truthsite has now posted on their website), they will twist it to make it sound as if we have committed a crime by having such a reference list. This site does not allow for rebuttal nor is it a balanced forum for discussion. It is with confidence that we refer to most of their content as slanderous – for example, they allege imply that we have (or have had) a sex offender on staff – not true. They claim we have been sited for child abuse and are under federal investigation for child abuse – not true. They say that when parents visit the school, they cannot meet with students alone – not true. The list goes on and on.
There is some factual information on their site as well – most of which is distorted, grossly taken out of context or presented as true today although it has not occurred at the school for many, many years. As is true in many fields, standards change and evolve over time. What was done in medicine, psychology and the like many years ago is now seen as antiquated, inappropriate or even shocking. When I graduated from graduate school, homosexuality was a diagnosable mental illness by the DSM at that time (and now several states have approved gay marriage). We are appalled when we hear what medications were used in mental hospitals, the treatments for various medical illnesses and the way the elderly and the physically handicapped were treated, institutionalized and restrained. In like fashion, the practices employed by The Family Foundation School have grown, evolved and developed over time.
You can read CAFETY’s mission on their web-site, although it is softer and more polished there than we have found it to be in reality. Their stated position when they presented at IECA was to reduce the age of consent to age 13 – thereby diminishing and marginalizing parental rights – and preventing children from receiving medical, mental health or substance treatment unless they agree to it. See the following link for more information on this: http://www.strugglingteens.com/artman/publish/JeffreyGeorgiES_091224.shtml
What might require some additional explanation is a video that CAFETY likes to promote of Jon Martin Crawford, an alumni of FFS, testifying before Congress. Those who are not well informed about the political process of introducing and getting federal legislation passed before Congress may be misled and fooled by this testimony. Confidentiality prevents me from saying anything about Jon’s history, but he graduated high school at FFS and went onto Vassar (a testament to the academic program at FFS and his own benefit from it). He is presented in a suit and is well scripted to discuss only the negative aspects that support the bill’s passage. The testimony before congress was not about FFS, or Jon, but to support the passage of a bill that The Family Foundation School supports – the safeguarding of youth in residential programs. The bill has gone through the usual rigors of congressional and senate haggling and dissection – and is now extended to include both public as well as private residential programs. This federal legislation is still under review and will impact the operations of most residential schools and treatment centers and wilderness programs in the country if it is passed. There are still points being argued to ensure adequate implementation, but in the end, as these final variables get worked out, the bill will provide federal standards to ensure that youth are protected. We support this and have incorporated all procedures that are currently required by law and by our accrediting organizations to safeguard the well-being of children in our care.
So, what can be done? First and foremost, we will continue doing what we have done for the past 30 years. We love our work, we love the students and we are honored to have an opportunity to play a role in helping families to heal. We know we will not be successful with everyone and with the work comes risk of attack – with the advancement of the internet, the public dissemination of criticism and resentment will be a part of that experience now. We accept that and continue on.
Second, we have also compiled and will continue to collect and disseminate the positive story of our students – both current and alumni – and the feedback from our parents (see below). The smear campaign will have you disregard these voices (which is the ultimate insult) – but they deserve to be heard as they are true – and so many alumni are choosing not to get bogged down in perpetual attacks but moving on with their lives in healthy and productive ways. Psychologically, you may have to really attend to these voices over the “noise” of the negative voices (as I had to do with my washing machine) and really critically examine the source.
Please spend some time reading the following sites – and share them with your clients and families:
You may also direct families to our home page where we have a specific link that addresses these critics.
Please check out and join our Facebook Fan Page , follow our tweets on Twitter, and follow our website (www.thefamilyschool.com) and numerous blogs. Check out our parent resource page of our website which includes a comprehensive checklist for parents about questions they should ask and things to look for when examining a therapeutic boarding school – we are teaching parents how to be critical and informed consumers. Sign up for our email updates to keep up to date on the developments and changes at the school – such as the addition of Dr. Mark Vogel as our Director of Counseling. As a licensed clinical psychologist, he brings 30 years of experience in child, adolescent and family treatment.
Third, please call and ask. If you read something that is disturbing, please give us the opportunity to respond to it. Don’t feel that you have to field the question or issue alone – we can provide information to place it into context and if necessary, provide you with individuals who can provide their experience.
We will continue to fight to protect the healing and recovery that is being achieved at the school each day – on behalf of the students who are each day struggling with the issues that brought them to us, the parents and families who sacrifice so much to give their children this opportunity and the incredible team of caring and experienced staff that give of themselves each day, tirelessly and more and more risking personal attack at the hands of those who choose not to receive what we are offering – those who choose hate over love. We will protect our students from the disrespect shown to them through this negative website and not let those who attack us degrade the value of the life changing work that our students are engaged in.
God bless you in your work and we thank you for your continued prayers and support – not only for The Family Foundation School but for all our colleagues who are engaged in the same important work. And, as one of our parents recently challenged us to do – please also “pray for our enemies”.
Jeffrey Brain, MA, CTS, CEP
Vice President of External Relations and Director of Admissions
“If people wonder whether miracles still happen, they should hang around a place like FFS” – parent Dr. Tim B. – received by email the same day I am writing this open letter.
“Its been about a year and a month since I left FFS and because of that foundation–and God, obviously, higher power for you, whatever – I have stayed sober the whole time. I am so grateful for the people there who were always supporting me. As they say in AA, they loved me until I could love myself, especially Marcia and Aleta, two of my favorite people EVER. I should get back in touch with them. Thank you FFS!” - alumni Sarah K – received on The Family School saved my life campaign facebook page the same day I am writing this open letter
“My son Phillip has been at FFS for over a year and will graduate the program in June. I was surprised and saddened to read about the negativity that you have encountered. My son, while it took some time, has responded in the most positive way to the FFS philosophy. He has matured, is doing well in school and has embraced an attitude of love and respect, an ability to see into himself and more importantly how his actions impact all around him. He has changed in many ways and, in my opinion, growing up and ready to take his place as a responsible member of society. My wife and I have seen first hand the results of your work. These kids are tough and smart. They put up huge barriers, and only time and a consistent effort by those around them can have any effect. To see this first hand, to witness the love and respect that your staff gives these kids and to realize the results has been nothing short of a miracle. My heart goes out to those who criticize for they speak without any understanding of what is the truth. I have recommended your school to those whose children have spun out of control and have no where to turn. I don’t know what would have happened to my son without FFS. God bless your work, your staff, and your school.” Current Parent - Rich P. 1/23/2010
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