LAVERKIN, Utah. – Some schools sprouting up around the United States that are designed to practice tough-love with troubled teens are causing some communities to think twice about bringing one to their town.
The tough-love facilites, which aim to straighten out kids by teaching them how to be more responsible and make better decisions, can be a big help to parents.
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The schools try to "decrease the desirability of unhealthy choices" and "increase the desirability of healthy choices," said Norm Thibault, a therapist at Cross Creek Academy (search), a tough-love facility in Utah.
"Here's a program where there's no swearing, no smoking, no alcohol, no drugs, no boy-and-girl interaction, go to school every day," said Cross Creek owner Karr Farnsworth.
At about $50,000, they're not cheap — although Ken Kay, director of Utah-based Worldwide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (search), or WWASPS, which maintains six tough-love facilities including Cross Creek, says the cost is well worth it.
It's "barely the cost of a G35 Infinity — the cost of a new car," Kay says.
But the controversial buzz among parents isn't over the price tag. The schools are strict, and students are not allowed outside the facility. They actually have to earn the privilege to see their parents.
When Julia Burton's daughter was spiraling out of control with alcohol, drugs and promiscuity, she felt the only way to rescue her daughter was to commit her to Cross Creek Academy (search), a WWASPS residential treatment center in Utah.
"I felt my only recourse was to give up my parental rights," Burton told FOX News.
Although Burton, who had to wait five months to see her daughter, said the center has helped her daughter, not every parent is happy.
Terry Cameron said her son, Layne, was abused at Tranquility Bay, a WWASPS center in Jamaica.
Layne says he was duct-taped and forced to sleep with his hands behind his back and says he was abused for minor infractions; pepper spray was often used on him.
”They had both of my ankles and ... they dragged me across the floor and it split my chin and knocked my tooth," Layne said.
The Camerons are among dozens of families planning a direct action lawsuit against WWASPS that includes allegations of fraud, assault and battery and false imprisonment. Kay said to be wary of abuse allegations, since they often come from troubled teens with a history of lying.
Although Layne's experience with the facility was a nightmare, his mother believes the WWASPS programs may be a way for some teens to turn their lives around but she wants parents to think carefully before placing their children in a residential treatment center.
"I totally blame myself," Cameron said.
Experts agree that parents should weigh all their options for helping their troubled teens and not rush into a program in desperation.
Many tough-love facilities appear to be the solution to all the problems the teens are facing. In fact, the schools sound so appealing, parents rarely realize that some programs may be trying to "take advantage of them when they're at their weakest moment," said Dr. Robert Johnson, a psychiatry and pediatrics professor at New Jersey Medical School.
The mixed reviews of the tough-love programs have the attention of New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer (search), who is investigating whether a WWASPS school in his state obtained the necessary academic accreditation legally.
"I think it's more about being sure that the academic program is accredited properly and operating properly, and we are a hundred percent in favor of that," said WWASPS president Kay.
But Spitzer is not the only person looking into WWASPS. Rep. George Miller (search), D-Calif., introduced federal legislation regarding oversight of residential treatment programs and wants the U.S. Justice Department to make unscheduled visits to WWASPS facilities.
Despite the prospect of economic benefits, the town of Boonville, Mo., took note of the questions surrounding WWASPS schools and rejected a proposal by the organization's founder to open a school there.
Families, politicians, doctors and government agencies are divided on whether WWASPS programs are successful and safe. But Johnson said the schools aren't even necessary.
"The best place for your children to get better is at home, and that's always the case," he said.