From Publishers Weekly
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From Scientific American
In Help at Any Cost, Maia Szalavitz, a senior fellow of the Statistical Assessment Service at George Mason University, shows how "abusive, dehumanizing practices that reformers of mental hospitals and prisons have attempted to stamp out for centuries" have been repackaged and sold to desperate parents. "Thousands of well-meaning, caring, and intelligent parents have been taken in by a business that uses exaggerated claims of risk to teens to sell its services." All of this has amounted to a multibilliondollar industry. This is a story, she says, "of splintered families; of parents convinced by program operators that extreme, even traumatically stressful treatments are their childrens only hope." Homing in on several leading programs, Szalavitz carefully documents cases of reckless punishment that physically and psychologically hurts youths. Military-style boot camps and wilderness programs that pursue extreme "rehabilitation" measures have left teens dead of illnesses and dehydration, spawnin numerous lawsuits. Such "professional" programs operate nationally and charge college-equivalent tuitions. Yet there is no regulatory oversight or medical or legal evaluation of the quality, competency or effectiveness of such programs, even though they assume responsibility for the lives of minors.
Citing a draft consensus report by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, among other studies, Szalavitz says such programs simply do not work. The evidence that exists "offers no reason to believe that group detention centers, boot camps, and other get tough programs do anything more than provide an opportunity for delinquent youth to amplify negative effects on each other."
Szalavitz concludes her book gently with practical guidance for parents of troubled teens, including ways to get more sophisticated help. Ultimately, she urges parents not to yield to desperation and to recall the leading principle of medical ethics: "First, do no harm."