The recipe for finding consumers for this business is simple.
"A critical aspect of the whole operation is gaining parental permission through an affidavit or power of attorney agreement. These agreements temporarily transfer parental rights to the youth transport company, giving workers permissions that include authorizing medical attention or restraining the young person.
"In general, parents have enormously wide discretion with respect to decisions regarding their children. They can decide to leave their children with people and give them parental rights and no one can interfere," Philip Elberg, an attorney who has worked on cases involving the troubled teen industry, told me.
So what happens to the teenager when their parents sign over parental rights?Elberg added that the large number of abuse complaints triggered by the troubled teen industry isn't matched by the small number of lawsuits because, among other reasons, unless there is a serious physical incident such as injury, sexual abuse, or death of a young person, there isn't much legal ground to stand on after authority has been handed over by the parent."Parents are often the victim," said Bush. "They are desperate to help their child and someone who is supposed to be a professional tells them that this is what they are supposed to do.""
The troubled teen or "tough love" industry is made up mostly of for-profit companies that promise to fix drug addiction, mental illness, and attitude problems. At the center of this industry are the behavioral programs, some accused of abusive practices and even causing the death of teen clients. If the behavioral program is the entrée, then the transportation service is the appetizer, often setting the tone for the treatment the young person will endure for the months or years to come.
As far as I can see, "tough love" sure looks a lot more like "rough love" than anyone cares to admit."They can be abducted against their will and this meets all the criteria of trauma," Dr. Nicole Bush, an associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, told me. Bush helped found the Alliance for the Safe, Therapeutic, and Appropriate Use of Residential Treatment (A START) to help protect young people from negligent residential programs and youth transport services.Several of her teen clients who attended residential programs attribute their post-traumatic stress disorder to the youth transport services that picked them up. One client said she was taken when an SUV pulled up next to the family car. Another described two large men escorting her from a restaurant where she was eating with friends."They talk about nightmares, not being able to sleep alone, or needing a night light," Bush told me. "These are people are in their 20s and 30s, more than a decade after the event."
Bush is quick to point out that not all youth transport services are equal. A 2015 article in the Child and Youth Care Forum found after surveying 350 young people who attended a wilderness program (where nature expeditions are used as a type of therapy) that whether young people were transported or dropped off by a parent had little impact on the treatment outcome.