The Dangers of Abuse at Camps for Troubled Teens

By Eli Crofoot

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For many parents of children struggling with behavioral issues, the prospect of camps for troubled teens can be alluring, and for understandable reasons. These camps market themselves as the only way to truly “fix” your child’s problems, and for parents sometimes pushed to the breaking point, this can go from a suggestion to something that feels like a necessity – but extreme care and caution must be taken when considering bringing your child to a place with no oversight from you or anyone you trust, especially when these troubled teen camps have a long and disturbing history of abusive conduct.

Celebrities Come Forward About Abuse at Camp for Troubled Teens

Controversial media personality and rapper Danielle Bregoli, also known as Bhad Bhabie, is one of the latest celebrities of troubled backgrounds to speak publicly about the abuse she suffered at one of these camps, specifically Turn-About Ranch in Utah. Utah has become the American capitol of these live-in programs for teenagers with behavioral problems – perhaps because of the limited oversight given towards these organizations by Utah state government until recently.

Bregoli alleged that the camp forced her to remain upright for several days without sleep, among many other horrific examples of verbal and physical abuse by staff. “You have to sit there for three days,” Bregoli stated. “They wouldn’t let me lay down for nothing. Like, I was falling asleep and they’re like, ‘Oh, get up, get up.’ So I’m just sitting here like, ‘This is gonna be really bad,’ when I see these people have no sympathy.” There is also a worrying, and perhaps even reprehensible, lack of accountability with any staff members or institutions involved with abuse at these camps. As Bregoli detailed, “That’s the thing in these places, you have no evidence, you don’t have a phone there. They don’t have cameras there. There’s no evidence of any of this and obviously all the staff is in on it so they’re not gonna snitch on each other. All you really have is the kids that are there.”

Hannah Archeluda, another teenager sent to Turn-About Ranch on the advice of daytime TV institution Dr. Phil, like Bregoli, filed a lawsuit against the “youth residential treatment center” in 2021, alleging that after Archeluda reported suffering abuse from staff, the ranch did not do anything about said conduct, and instead, according to the lawsuit, “retaliated against Ms. Archuleta by subjecting her to both physical and emotional abuse to silence her.”

Bregoli and Archeluda are only the latest to publicly speak out about the abuse they endured while at troubled-teen camps; in 2020, media personality Paris Hilton revealed the traumatic abuse she suffered while at Utah residential center Provo Canyon School, and has since become a vocal advocate for increased regulation and governmental oversight of camps for troubled teens. As Hilton detailed at a hearing at the Utah State Capitol in early 2021, “I was forced to consume medication that made me feel numb and exhausted. I didn’t breathe fresh air or see the sunlight for 11 months. There was zero privacy. Every time I would use the bathroom or take a shower, it was monitored. At 16 years old, as a child, I felt their piercing eyes staring at my naked body. I was just a kid and felt violated ​every single day.​” 

What Can Be Done to Stop Troubled Teen Camp Abuse?

Fortunately, over the past several months, real progress has been made to stop this abuse – the state of Utah, the state where all the alleged abuse mentioned so far has occurred, has introduced new regulations on teen residential centers – the first in fifteen years. As reported in The Salt Lake Tribune, new legislation signed by Utah Governor Spencer Cox requires treatment centers to “to document any instance in which staff used physical restraints and seclusion and to submit reports to the Utah Office of Licensing,” prohibits these programs from “sedating residents or using mechanical restraints, like a straitjacket, without the office’s prior authorization,” and subjects these residential camps for troubled teens to “four inspections each year — both announced and unannounced,” when there had previously been only one inspection of these facilities per year, if that. Hopefully, this regulation will expand past Utah to further states, and eventually to the federal level.

Is it Safe to Send Your Child to a Camp for Troubled Teens?

None of this information is meant to scare anyone from sending their child to a residential treatment facility if that is what their situation requires (and there certainly are many cases where it does) – but it is incredibly important to be careful and diligent in selecting where to send your child. Always look past marketing materials, consult other parents who have sent their children to your treatment center of choice, and ask for professional advice and guidance on what would truly be best for your child’s unique needs. Because, if these steps aren’t taken – there is a real possibility that the scars from treatment can end up even worse and longer lasting than what you are trying to treat.

If your child is struggling with a behavioral, mental health or substance abuse issue, our caring team is ready to help find the appropriate course of treatment, facilities and practitioners for your needs. Our treatment placement specialists work with you and your family to custom-tailor a solution that will work for you. Contact us today for a consultation.

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