aka Birdseye Boys Ranch
FamilyLight sm:Successor to "Bridge to Understanding sm"
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Birdseye RTC is a program FamilyLight sm highly respects. Consultant David Altshuler has provided a guest review which is posted just below the box. Mr. Altshuler has evaluated this program very recently. We defer to his judgment, subject to some comments that follow his review.
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This review is based in part on David Altshuler's March 16, 2010, visit to Birdseye. Here are the words of Mr. Altshuler:
“These kids don’t get better,” “The abuse is passed down from one generation of offender to the next,” “They are hard wired to be offenders,” “Punitive, behavioral models are the only ones that have a chance of containing these kids,” “Don’t expect much.” “Putting these criminals in prison is the best way to keep our children safe.”
The average person will agree with the above statements. So will TV newscasters. Even consultants who are knowledgeable, sensitive and insightful regarding addiction treatment might agree. Even trained clinicians working in related fields might throw up their hands when it comes to working with boys whom they term “ juvenile sexual offenders: “They just don’t change.
Lynn Lofton at Birdseye in Spanish Fork, Utah, knows better. He argues, based on years of experience and study of current research, that mild to moderate offenders can and do get better and go on to lead healthy, productive lives. Indeed, Lynn doesn’t even speak of “juvenile sex offenders.” His clients are “adolescents with sexual behavioral problems.” He points out that his clients seldom have a history with the legal system and that labeling them as “offenders,” “deviants” or “criminals” is the last thing that will be helpful for their treatment.
Therefore Birdseye uses a relationship rather than a containment or corrections model. The emphasis is on relationships rather than on punishments. Rather than telling the kids “Don’t do that!” the children are told, “It hurts me when you do that.” Rather than simply containing the acting out behavior with a structured environment, Birdseye goes to the next level by using relationships with program staff to influence change and increase accountability. The kids are eager to change in a structured but supportive environment. Of course, there is room for confrontation and the boys do confront one another, but in a supportive way. “We don’t want the behavior to define who the children are,” Lynn says. “Once they identify as being an offender or deviant, they lose hope of living a healthy life.”
Instead of defining students by their behaviors, kids are given a way out. Punitive never works. If these kids go to jail rather than getting help, they come out depressed with PTSD. Once identified as offenders or a deviant they are lost.
Which is not to say that treatment is easy. Students are given eight hours of group therapy each week, including two hours of social skills training. A holistic approach is used to include both strengths and weaknesses taking into account the underlying root cause of inappropriate sexual behavior, pornography usage, substance abuse, and other co-occurring issues. The goal is to get the boys on track sexually and get them to a healthy place. Students therefore are given a series of assignments the first of which is an autobiography where they do not define themselves by their sexual behaviors. This narrative of their lives gives the therapists a context with which they can treat the kids.
In this autobiography phase, the past starts to come out. One boy disclosed that between the ages of seven and ten, he had been given pornography by his father. So the autobiography leads to a sexual history time line. All students are given a polygraph. The therapeutic polygraph is used to increase personal accountability by uncovering the secrets associated with sexual behavioral problems. Once the students are accountable for their behavior then they have the ability to choose a better path. Having the students understanding they are responsible for their choices is a fundamental concept of recovery.
Of course, some students fail the polygraph and stick to their story about what they did and didn’t do. It is harder, but not impossible, to move forward with students in denial. Even with students who haven’t yet come to terms with their past, by using the polygraph as a therapeutic tool, the therapist can focus on the areas in question.
After the autobiography, the next step is the recovery group in which the components of specific problems are dissected in depth. The context of the situation is considered. An example would be if a child was acting out sexually at the age of eight. The context of the situation would be that the child could be imitating some prior sexual behavior. This child should be treated differently than a 15 years-old who is more accountable for his behavior.
Because many of the boys are socially awkward, it can take some time to examine the emotional components of their actions. The pattern of sexual behavioral problems can be broken down into different components call “factors.” Although each students’ factor vary, some examples related to sexual problems are: pornography, poor relationships, grooming or manipulation, entitlement, emotions, impulsivity, poor time management (boredom). The next stage is about coping, developing skills, making plans to stay safe, identifying triggers for addictions both sexual and substances. Because sexual acting out can be a manifestation of other problems, safeguards have to be in place.
When appropriate, clarification sessions are used for the boys to clarify their personal responsibility related to their sexual behavior. Clarification is more than an apology. It’s done in the context of empowering the victim(s) to provide closure to prior events. The emphasis of these clarification letters is not on ‘apology’ because apology, by definition, has asking for forgiveness as part of it. Instead, the letter makes clear to the victim that the victim was not at fault. The clarification letter also allows the treatment team to gauge how the student is doing.
Birdseye uses a series of graduated home visits. For the first visit, the parents come to Spanish Fork and stay in a nearby hotel for a day and spend time with their son. Subsequently, the parents stay for an overnight. Then the boy comes back home for a weekend followed, a few months later, by a visit that lasts a whole week. This visit is important in that the parents are expected to go to work and the student has to respond to the boredom of everyday life.
Birdseye requires no upfront payments and charges $275/day. There is no severe economic penalty for removing a boy from treatment. In other words, in a family pays for nine months of treatment and a boy leaves after six months, the family is not penalized and their unused balance is refunded. This is as it should be. Students go to local schools allowing Birdseye to keep costs down and to focus on treatment. A typical length of stay is from eight to eleven months, longer if there are co-occurring mental health issues to complicate recovery.
This is a tough population for families. It’s hard to imagine how difficult it is for parents to deal with the shame, guilt, and concern for their son with sexual problems. My parents say they would prefer to have a boy who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. At least if a son has drug and alcohol issues, there is a meeting in town for other families who are having the same struggles. For families who have sons who are sexual offenders, there is often secrecy to go with the shame. There is unlikely to be a local support group of the equivalent of an Al-Anon meeting. But there is hope in recovery. The latest statistic are that 90% to 95% adolescent males who complete a sex specific treatment program go on to live a life free from sexual abuse.
Birdseye argues that adolescent boys with sexual behavioral problems can and do get better, that acting out is a symptom of the dysfunction, not the whole story. Birdseye argues that healing is contagious and that talking about problems in a supportive group setting is more helpful than children being labeled and punished. From chatting with the boys there, I am convinced that Birdseye has got it right.
David Altshuler, M.S., Educational Consultant
We at FamilyLight sm agree strongly with David Altshuler. We have a few comments. (Imagine that!) Actually, our consultant Tom Croke had visited Birdseye in September 2009 and loved the program. Along with several other programs visited on that trip, we failed to get our review posted. We are pleased that Mr. Altshuler brought us his review, which we enthusiastically support.
Now that Mr. Altshuler has done the heavy lifting with such excellence, we mention a few details that we think warrant attention. First, Birdseye is part of Heritage Youth Services. This "Heritage" has no connection with Heritage School or Heritage RTC in Provo, Utah. Despite the name, these organizations are not affiliated with each other. The other facilities of Heritage Youth Services primarily serve publicly funded kids. We are not ruling out reviews of other Heritage Youth service facilities in the future, to introduce them to the privately referred clients.
Mr. Altshuler makes a valid point when he points out that there is not a support group specifically for the parents of these kids, turning up in every city. However we believe that support groups for families of sex addicts (COSA and S-Anon) as well as groups like Families Anonymous and even Al-Anon might be helpful to some of these families. We would be interested in a comment for publication from Lynn Lofton regarding this paragraph.
We were surprised and impressed by the fact that not all of the boys are sleeping in single rooms. When boys arrive they are assigned to single rooms. At some stage in the program the boys move to a larger room with several boys -- never doubles. All are well supervised at night. Boys are not moved out of the single room until it is clear they can handle it, and even then they remain very closely supervised (open door to sleeping room, awake staff, etc.)
We had made the mistake (prior to Tom's visit) of thinking of Birdseye as a place for very tough kids. That was totally wrong. It is primarily for very soft kids. Sexually reactive kids ("sexually reactive" is the term we prefer) tend to be soft kids. Boys at Birdseye are soft kids.
When Mr. Altshuler mentions that Lynn Lofton does not call these boys "juvenile sex offenders" there is a good reason for that beyond what he states. In many -- perhaps most situations -- they are not that. These are not boys placed by criminal justice agencies. Many, perhaps most, have had no contact with law enforcement.
Birdseye RTC is our referral point of choice for sexually reactive boys. It is well established with highly responsive management and staff.
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
Last updated 4-13-2010
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.
Last updated 4-13-2010
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