Benchmark Young Adult School
Redlands / Loma Linda California
Successor to "Bridge to Understanding tm"
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Benchmark Young Adult School is probably the oldest emotional growth school for young adults currently operating. If we are wrong about that, we would welcome correction via an email to FamilyLightResponse@yahoo.com, indicating who is older. Its owner and head of the operation, Jayne Longnecker is, so far as we know, the person who has had the longest tenure and the most experience with this kind of programming.
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Benchmark exemplifies the emotional growth tradition. It works with a curriculum focused on the emotional development of its residents (more about this later). It does not have clinicians on staff -- although those who need clinical services while resident at Benchmark get those services from very competent clinicians who are very familiar with Benchmark and integrate their work with what is happening at Benchmark. It is near the famous Loma Linda Medical Center. Benchmark's students get their medical care there. The only person associated with Benchmark with whom FamilyLightsm has clashed is the consulting psychiatrist. Like so many of his profession, he could use a dose of humility, but unlike so many of his profession, he is competent as a psychiatrist. We also understand a second psychiatrist is being added.
Benchmark requires that all staff members (including Jayne) be people who have experienced a major change process in their own lives to address a behavior or other life process in which they were hurting themselves. As a result, most of the staff are active in twelve step fellowships of one kind or another. Benchmark is not itself exclusively a twelve step program. It is very supportive of twelve step work for its students who need that -- which is many Benchmark students but not all.
For reasons we do not completely understand, Benchmark is sometimes a very much misunderstood program. Benchmark accepts a very broad range of students. We suppose it is because Benchmark will accept some people who are in need of a great deal of help, that Benchmark inaccurately is perceived by some to be only a program for rather low functioning people. Fortunately that view is not widespread, but we want to affirm a history of great success with people who are anything but low functioning. I recall one young lady who was one of the brightest individuals I have ever dealt with -- who was also heavily addicted to legal drugs -- who was one of their major success stories. Another was a young man who has since gone on to law school and is always happy to speak of the value of his experience at Benchmark. We could give many other examples.
It is true that Benchmark will accept some students who are quite difficult as they arrive. Because Benchmark is more structured at the entry point than some other young adult programs, it will accept some students another program might refuse. A few months in the program tends to mellow that out. However, it usually the newer people without the rough edges removed that visitors see. Because Jayne Longnecker is a very honest person who does not stack the deck for visitors, the relative newcomers who are not out for jobs or school who become the face of the program. They are not coached by the program and what they say is not overheard. These meetings do not show the magic that Benchmark can deliver.
Benchmark will also accept a very small number of people who are outside the usual limits of their stated criteria. This has included several of our clients. They usually have differed from the usual Benchmark client by intellectual capacity. We recall two such highly successful clients. One had been a top student and star athlete until his junior year in high school when he sustained a debilitating head injury in an accident. Another was a young man in his early twenties who was dually diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder and bipolar disorder. In both cases the rest of the population looked out for and mentored these people. Both were outstanding successes. However Benchmark will not permit people with similar handicaps to enroll in sufficiently large numbers to allow them to define the population of the school.
Recently, Benchmark has been attacked by a former student who is making common cause with the folks who are trying to shut down all such schools and programs, but this gentleman is being particularly vitriolic with regard to Benchmark. Benchmark is taking that matter to court. We leave it to the court papers to describe the specifics. Among the more outrageous claims is the suggestion that there has been some kind of collusion between Benchmark's management and local police to cover up for an allegedly large number of completed and attempted suicides. With a large number of referrals to Benchmark we have had some experience with our clients threatening suicide while at Benchmark, and we have been positively impressed by the way Benchmark handled these situations.
We will not do a detailed point by point refutation of the attacks on Benchmark. We will highlight four points that have been raised. They are the practice of isolating students in a motel when not in compliance with the program, the practice of asking parents to withhold support when young people leave the program, and the influence of the emotional growth movement, Synanon and Cedu on procedures at Benchmark, and finally the allegation of psychological intervention by unqualified people.
On the topic of residents out of compliance being isolated in a motel, we offer a link to a parent account of her experience with that procedure. In understanding this procedure, it is important to consider that the people being left in the motel are adults, who are free to come and go. They are provided with a minimum of food and shelter. They are not restricted. They get an opportunity to reflect on whether this is really what they want. If Benchmark did not do this, the alternative would be to put non-compliant young adults "out on the street." This process provides for basic needs and has a staff member checking on them periodically. Safety and survival needs are covered as is the means to get back into the Benchmark program.
The notion of parents applying "tough love" and not providing support to young people not cooperating is another consideration. We will provide a future discussion of the term "tough love" in the future on our Topical Commentary page. That will include the history of the term, the misuse of the term to justify totally inappropriate parent behaviors, as well as the benefits of a true tough love approach if we use the words correctly.
In abbreviated form, genuine "tough love" is about love and not merely tough. However, when not providing support for a young adult acting out is an example of a parent loving his or her son or daughter enough to endure the personal pain of allowing that son or daughter to experience the consequences of their own choices without being rescued, that is tough love in its best application. "Tough love" that is about being tough on the young person just for the sake of being tough for the emotional satisfaction of an angry or frustrated parent is not tough love because it is not about love. When necessary, as it often is, Benchmark will coach a parent through a process of applying tough love at its best. Selectively, Benchmark might advise parents to withhold support of a young adult who is likely to pursue a highly destructive path if he or she is not in a supportive, structured program like Benchmark. Most young adult programs will recommend this. Few give the support to parents that this one gives and few are willing to be as selective as Benchmark on when to do this.
On the point of emotional growth, Cedu, and Synanon influencing Benchmark, we want to assert at the outset four critical facts: (1) When these influences developed in the third quarter of the twentieth century, traditional mental health methods at that time were TOTALLY ineffective with the burgeoning population of drug abusers, addicts, and out of control adolescents. (2) Some of the methods initially used would not be considered appropriate in the twenty first century. (3) The only reason that mainstream mental health services have become effective with addiction and out of control adolescent behaviors is that they have adopted some methods of the emotional growth tradition, and (4) while we agree with the principle asserted by Benchmark's detractors that only qualified people should be acting as clinicians, this principal does not entail that only clinicians should attempt to influence behavior of others. If that were true, parents should not be guiding their children's behavior and parents should not be guiding employees' behavior.
On the related point of allegedly unqualified people applying alleged psychological services, Benchmark has been assessed on a number of occasions by officials of the State of California to verify that Benchmark is not in violation of licensing laws. In so doing they have determined that the behavior change procedures that are routinely part of the Benchmark program are not clinical services that require licenses or other special credentials. At Benchmark, people in need of clinical service get clinical service in the community by properly licensed people by arrangement through Benchmark. People in need of twelve step groups get twelve step groups at Benchmark or in the community arranged by Benchmark. People in need of supportive education get supportive education at Benchmark. People in need of very high powered challenging education get very high powered challenging education at the educational institutions near Benchmark.
From its beginnings, Benchmark has connected its students with high quality community resources. Benchmark residents are not in a cult with no escape. They are not removed from proper medical and other clinical services. Among the available clinical services are therapeutic services by properly licensed clinicians.
We will be developing an article or perhaps several articles at a later date that examines the issues of the above paragraphs in greater depth and placing it in our Topical Commentary area.
In all three of these points, Benchmark has has progressed with the times and with the knowledge gained. Benchmark has made mistakes. In one case, Benchmark made what we believe in retrospect was a serious mistake with the motel isolation and asking parents not to step in -- and they acknowledged it to the parents, learned from the error so as not to repeat it, and assisted the parents in making further arrangements for their son. While the events surrounding that error were in progress, nothing was hidden from the parents or from FamilyLightsm as referral source. We are aware of several other situations where Benchmark took an opposite direction and did not encourage the young person to be denied support from parents pending return to the program. Benchmark continues to learn from its own experience and that of others and to improve. In our opinion, a program that never makes mistakes is not taking enough risks in the interest of benefitting its clients. We ask that the programs be open about mistakes, learn from them, and take responsibility for repairing any damage done. We believe Benchmark has consistently met that standard.
One of the relatively recent innovations at Benchmark has been the introduction of Next Step for Success Parent Coaching, under the auspices of Bill and Penelope Valentine, people well known in the culture of special programming for teens and young adults. Next Step for Success Parent Coaching is accredited by the International Coach Federation and updates the emotional growth tradition in a manner more consistent with the principles of Motivational Interviewing, than traditional emotional growth programming. See also our guidelines on Basic Issues and Process of Change. We think this is a very important positive step.
Has anything ever happened at Benchmark that is inappropriate by today's standards? Yes. Has Benchmark been an innovator that has set the model for other successful young adult programs? Again, yes. Does Benchmark strive to self criticize, learn, and continually update its approaches, yes, for the third time.
We do not think Benchmark is right for every young adult. But it deserves a reputation for being one of the most if not the most trusted facility in its class for excellence of service, innovation, and self-assessment. All of that adds up to quality of care.
Feedback is invited. We will publish any feedback in good taste from Benchmark Young Adult School and will publish selected feedback from other sources. Email FamilyLightResponse@yahoo.com
Disclaimer: No program review, no matter how positive, is a blanket endorsement. No criticism is a blanket condemnation. When we express our level of confidence in a school or program, that is our subjective opinion with which others might reasonably disagree. When we assert something as fact, we have done our best to be accurate, but we cannot guarantee that all of our information is accurate and up to date. When we address compliance with our guidelines, you need to remember that these are only OUR guidelines -- not guidelines from an official source. We have also set the bar very high, and do not expect any school or program to be in total compliance. It is not appropriate to draw a conclusion of impropriety (or even failure to live up to conventional wisdom) from our lack of confidence in a school or program or from less than perfect conformity to our guidelines. Some will say we expect too much. Readers are responsible for verifying accuracy of information supplied here prior to acting upon it. We are not responsible for inaccuracies.
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Last updated 8-16-08; minor edits up to 7-31-09; Counter added 6-1-2010
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