A recovering alcoholic named Diedrich started The Synanon Foundation in Santa Monica, California in 1958. Unlike other "addict-helping-addict" programs of the time, Synanon employed peer counseling that consisted of authoritarian doctrine which included extreme pressure, harsh confrontation and coercion to illicit a "confession, surrender and service to others" process.
Though the term "Therapeutic Community" was coined in the late 1930's, Synanon's model in the late 1950's was the first of it's kind. Treatment at Synanon involved the concept of reverse or positive peer pressure as a primary strategy for recovery. This coercive peer-pressure based re-education consisted of elements such as staff also in recovery, global lifestyle changes and complete long-term segregation from society. The Synanon Foundation later declared itself as the Synanon Church, a Utopian society consisting of 'Synanites.' Considered a cult by many, Synanites were rumored to have practiced ritualized sterilization, forced abortion and polygamy. Synanon later developed an armed militia called the Imperial Marines that stockpiled weapons.
Other treatment facilities would soon adopt Synanon's methods and use Synanon's therapeutic community as a model for group therapy based treatment of substance abuse disorders.
KIDS of El Paso used the Therapeutic Community model as developed by Synanon. KIDS of El Paso also practiced many of the same rituals and rules present in this 1950's era cult to include abstinence from eating sugar and bleached flour, teens cussing harshly at each other in group during confrontation, love ya's, open meetings, owning wrongs, rigidity of conscience and group songs.
THE SEEDwas started by a man named Barker in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
THE SEED has been called a "government funded Synanon clone" reported to have had up to 700 'seedlings' in group at any one time.
THE SEED embraced the Synanon Therapeutic Community model and implemented routines such as host homes and fostering teens with host families as practiced in KIDS of El Paso.
THE SEED also implemented the use of hard backed plastic chairs, sitting on the front row of group for the first three days in the program, competitively waiving of hands to be noticed and called in raps by staff, placing a mattress in front of the host home bedroom door and the phases of treatment and associated privileges as practiced in KIDS of El Paso.
A report was submitted to congress titled "Individual Rights and the Federal Role in Behavior Modification" which cited THE SEED as "a program that begins by subjecting the individual to isolation and humiliation in a conscious effort to break down his psychological defenses"..."similar to the highly refined brainwashing techniques employed by the North Koreans in the early 1950's." This report convinced congress to cut off all government funding.
Two men named Sembler and Zappala started STRAIGHT in St. Petersburg, Florida. STRAIGHT was virtually identical to THE SEED and was initially staffed by former SEED staff and parents.
Sembler and Zappala were soon were backed by very influential members of the republican party and STRAIGHT gained national recognition with facilities all over the country.
Sembler and Zappala were later appointed Ambassadorships abroad after contributing significant financial resources to the Bush presidential campaign in 1988.
STRAIGHT was endorsed by the Presidential Office of the United States and First Lady Nancy Reagan spoke of STRAIGHT in a public service announcement.
She also kicked off the "Just Say No" campaign from the first STRAIGHT facility along side STRAIGHT National Clinical Director Newton and his wife. This started the historical Reagan Administration "war on drugs."
STRAIGHT expanded on THE SEED's hand waving during raps and created "motivating" a violent flapping of the arms and body to get attention from staff in an effort to be called on in order to relate in group rap therapy.
Miller Newton, Executive Director of the Florida Association of Alcohol Treatment Programs, admitteded his son Mark Newton to STRAIGHT St. Petersburg, Florida
Four months after enrolling his son, Newton joined staff as Assistant Director
Miller Newton was promoted to Director of STRAIGHT in St. Petersburg, Florida
Miller Newton was promoted to National Clinical Director of STRAIGHT
At this time Miller Newton's wife, Ruth Ann Newton, was Associate Director of STRAIGHT
Miller and Ruth Ann Newton left STRAIGHT after they developed a relationship with a parent who had a child in the STRAIGHT St. Petersburg, Florida program. The parent was a billionaire business mogul who would later become the chief executive officer of the most visited employment related website in the United States and one of the largest in the world. This parent saw Miller Newton as a savior of sorts and contributed $2 million in seed money to open a facility close to New York City
Miller Newton opened KIDS of Bergen County in Hackensack, New Jersey
West Side El Paso families organized and teenagers were sent to the New Jersey KIDS program to form the pilot group that would later relocate to El Paso, Texas.
KIDS of El Paso Inc. broke ground at 6500-K Boeing Drive in El Paso, Texas.
Princess Di and Nancy Reagan visited a STRAIGHT facility in Springfield, Virginia.
KIDS of El Paso opened with 19 teens flown to El Paso on a chartered plane from the New Jersey KIDS program.
KIDS was licensed (#285) as a treatment facility by the Texas Commission of Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
New Jersey prosecutors investigate KIDS of Bergen County in New Jersey for "possible mistreatment of participants, people being held against their will, intimidation and possible physical abuse."
40 male and 30 female teens were enrolled in the KIDS of El Paso program at this time and only one person had been pulled by their parents to date.
106 teens were reportedly enrolled in the program at this time, 4 had left.
The first formal complaint against KIDS of El Paso is filed with the Texas Department of Human Services alleging an eighteen year-old and his sister being held in the program against their will for over three months despite several attempts to use the official procedure for "signing out" of the program. The complainants sister was seventeen years of age the time.
The Commission received the complaint referred from the Texas Department of Human Services in El Paso which alleged physical and emotional abuse of an 18 year old male and 17 year female. Specific allegations included holding the adult “against his will”, “physical abuse” of clients in the Quiet Room by adults, “emotional abuse by screaming interrogations,” having “to make false statements to get privileges,” staying in residences where the windows are nailed shut and nutritional problems with low protein and high carbohydrate diet. The complaint was forwarded to KIDS of El Paso for a response which was received on April 8, 1987.
The El Paso Police Department obtained a search warrant and escorted the eighteen year old from the building and the allegations were further investigated by the El Paso Police Department Crimes Against Persons and Intelligence Divisions.
KIDS of El Paso was inspected for annual license renewal.
Relicensure was delayed pending the results of the investigation.
The eighteen year-old released from KIDS requested all charges against the program be dropped out of fear that the charges would prohibit his sister from being permitted to leave the program.
A second report was filed by a teens great-grandmother alleging clients were screamed at, called names, pushed and shoved and were taken into the Quiet Room where they were beaten and “bounced off the walls” by higher phase clients. She also alleged that her great grandson was not drug dependent, was forced to sign papers admitting to crimes and drug use that were not true, was forced to sleep in locked rooms on the floor in his underwear without blankets in host homes, was never out in daylight, could only use the bathroom and have a drink of water four times a day, and could not go to the bathroom or shower alone. She also stated that she had personally seen marks on one client’s throat that looked as if he had been scraped or choked. This complaint was not referred to KIDS of El Paso for a response due to the fact the complainant did not reflect a subjective report.
An El Paso attorney and Texas DHS filed two complaints against KIDS of El Paso with the TCADA.
The commission received a third complaint referred from the Texas department of Human Services based on a report by the El Paso Police Department. The police report alleged physical abuse of a 15 year old who reported that higher level clients had told clients to hurt other clients at KIDS of El Paso. He gave the officer the following example: “At times several of the kids in the program grab him, stretch him by the arms and legs, raise him about 3 or 4 feet and then drop him to the ground.” He then stated “that the torture that is done in the program is done so as to not leave any visible bruises or marks on subjects so they have no proof of the incidents.” He stated to the police officer “that his reason for running away from the program was due to the fact he could no longer tolerate the torture he was receiving by the program.” Because of the severity of the allegations by a minor client, TCADA had the Department of Human Services send a child protective case worker on May 13, 1987 to interview the client. The worker determined that the client was not in immediate physical danger and did not need to be removed. In addition, on May 13, 1987, this complaint was forwarded to KIDS of El Paso by TCADA for a response which was due by May 21, 1987.
TCADA initiated a formal investigation on KIDS of El Paso to include the first visits to the program by state investigators which coincided with an inspection for relicensure.
Relicensure was delayed pending the reults of the investigation of complaints, due to their nature and severity and to compliance by the program with license standards.
The eighteen-year-old that filed the original complaint requested that the investigation be continued. The El Paso County District Attorney took a special interest in the case at this time because of the teens indecisiveness. The attorney was quoted as saying "I'm not going to pursue those charges unless I am absolutely certain. If I charge them with false imprisonment, they are through." The attorney later decided not to prosecute saying that the teen gave a different version of his story and he found nothing to corroborate the allegations.
KIDS of El Paso elected new board officers and members.
TCADA sent a follow up letter to KIDS requesting a response.
KIDS of El Paso responded in writing to the May 11, 1987 complaint concerning the minor client. The response denied the allegation and stated the program would not condone any form of corporal punishment and included an “amends” from the client dated August 13, 1987 stating he made misstatements about the program to the police, TCADA, and DHS investigators.
TCADA investigators made their second visit to KIDS of El Paso.
TCADA Executive Director notified KIDS of El Paso of action on variance requests to licensure standards which had been made by KIDS of El Paso.
A response was received from KIDS of El Paso on the variance issues.
TCADA Executive Director promised to revoke the intensive outpatient license on April 12, 1988 for noncompliance with standards unless 56 cited licensure violations are cured and the program comes into compliance with all standards within the next 60 days. TCADA assured one or more unannounced visits and closed the documents with the words “Compliance is the responsibility of the program.”
A group of parents united to hire a private investigator to gather evidence to disbar a local attorney that had a special interest in the KIDS case. The investigator was also hired to find a teen that ran from the program. The investigator later filed a lawsuit against KIDS of El Paso for breach of contract because the group of parents did not pay the investigator a $1,500 retainer or provide him with promised information. The investigator reportedly sought $50,000 in damages.
A KIDS of El Paso teen was arrested after running away from the program and stealing her mother's car. The teen reportedly rammed police, ran an eighteen-wheeler off the road, and drove at speeds over 100 mph in a station wagon to avoid returning to the program. The teen lost the police in the pursuit but was later arrested after locking herself in the vehicle.
A site inspection visit was made under the authorization of the Executive Director of the Commission and under the direction of the Director of the program compliance Division, with the assistance of three employees of TCADA. During the visit clients, staff and a board member were interviewed and clinical records were viewed in some cases. During March and April 1988, former clients who had been in the program since January 21, 1988 were also interviewed.
KIDS submitted their clinical manual to TCADA for review. After investigating, TCADA found that the clinical manual was merely a copy of the manual for KIDS of Bergen County.
KIDS made the first public statement about the allegations stating that they were "from disgruntled patients making false statements."
KIDS attempted to file an appeal to the allegations, but was informed that they would have to await the findings of a follow-up unannounced inspection. This was because an administrative appeal could only be made after the license was actually revoked.
KIDS of Southern California opened in Yorba Linda, California. 21 teens and staff left the El Paso program on a chartered plane to start the new program.
An attorney involved with the effort to close KIDS of El Paso was charged with harboring a runaway teen that escaped from the program. The attorney denied the charges and filed a police report against the teen for stealing a gun from his home. The teen stated that he felt he needed the gun for protection from people in the program that were looking for him. The gun was later returned and charges were dropped.
TCADA issued its license inspection report.
The TCADA Executive Director agreed to defer his decision on the revocation of KIDS of the license of KIDS of El Paso County, Inc. until after May 12, 1988 in order to consider any written responses to the staff inspection report received by 5:00pm that day.
Investigators reported that the program failed to correct the 56 deficiencies and that the program could be closed in the following week.
The program had 100 teens enrolled at this time and 25 graduates according to a 222-page report filed the Commission.
KIDS called the investigation "unfair, partial and biased." KIDS added teens were intimidated by investigators that were "only looking for the negatives."
KIDS of Southern California was notified by the State of California Health and Welfare Agency that they were in violation of California law by operating without a license.
Public praise of KIDS was published in newspaper testimonials by parents and graduates of the program. KIDS of El Paso ran anti-drug advertisements in the same local papers that contained editorials calling the program a cult.
A letter was composed to television talk show host Geraldo Rivera about the abuse at KIDS of El Paso. Several ex-KIDS of El Paso teens were guests on the episode which was recorded but reportedly never aired due to pending program litigation.
TCADA Executive Director ordered license #285 for KIDS of El Paso County, Inc. revoked unless the time is shortened by issuance of an injunction, the order was reported to become effective 30 days from the June 2, 1988 signature date subject to appeal.
The Texas Attorney General filed a restraining order to close KIDS and scheduled a hearing to determine if the closure would become a permanent order.
A district judge ordered KIDS of El Paso to close its doors.
KIDS initially defied the order to close. The program remained open saying that the state was being "uncooperative and unjust." A spokesperson for the Texas Attorney General's office said, "If they violate the court order, they could end up in jail." The attorney for the program was later quoted as saying, "Unless I get a hearing, I may have to advise my client to close."
KIDS of El Paso staff announced to the group they would be closing. 90 were ordered sent home after a temporary injunction to close the program was filed. During this time there were slight modifications in the manner in which KIDS conducted business. Teens continued to go home with other teens and the rules and terminology changed slightly.
Three teens fled the program during the time the program was officially closed as rules were substantially relaxed. One teen was discovered by El Paso Police Department while restrained in the street by others from KIDS of El Paso. The teen was later taken to Thomason General Hospital's Psychiatric Unit.
KIDS of El Paso teens and staff met in an alternate facility owned by an affluent KIDS parent. The group played games, sang songs, and had loosely structured raps until they returned to the building later that afternoon.
A different judge later modified the closing order to permit KIDS to stay open pending outcome of an injunction court hearing June 23, 27 and 28, 1988.
TCADA stated the program could remain open while in the 30 day appeal process. This is the first time in the history of the state agency that they have taken such an action against a facility.
KIDS of El Paso resumed raps and business as usual at the KIDS building the day after closing.
A State Senator is hired as legal counsel to represent 60 teens and their families that desire to stay in program.
The Texas State Assistant Attorney General used the words "terrorizes and brainwashes" when referring to how KIDS treated clients.
KIDS of El Paso went on trial in Austin, Texas. Former teens and a mother testify that KIDS abused patients.
Backers stood by the program and more of those opposed testified against the practices of the program.
The District Judge in Austin canceled the injunction against KIDS.
Testimony in Austin, Texas regarding the future of the program continued.
Backers stood by the program and more of those opposed testified against the practices of the program.
A prominent psychiatrist stated that KIDS techniques "can destroy a person's ego making it difficult to rebuild, running the risk of treatment changing to a cult."
Testimony against the program included a statement by a former teen that described an incident where she was "forced to push another teens face in a bag containing feces and menstrual blood because the teen had defecated on the carpet. We all shoved her face in it and even had her take her pants off and were told to put a diaper on her."
Backers stood behind program lending financial and moral support by publishing pro-program editorials in local newspapers. Backers of the program at this time included prominent El Paso civic and business leaders including the mayor, the publisher of the local newspaper, real estate developers, physicians, pilots, county court at law justices and high profile advertising executives.
KIDS Centers of America founder testified in defense of the program stating that the problems had been identified and corrected. After 2 1/2 days of testimony, a judge ruled that KIDS could remain open until a thorough investigation was completed. The judge stated that the testimony presented was not sufficient to convince him that the program posed immediate harm or irreparable damage to anyone.
On the third and final day of the trial, an Austin judge ruled in favor of the program and denied the request of the Commission to shut the program down. The battle was not over for the program though. The Austin trial allowed KIDS of El Paso to remain open until an administrative hearing was completed to address the issue of license revocation. The hearing officer could then recommend to uphold, deny or amend the June 2, 1988 revocation recommendation. KIDS of El Paso would then have the right to appeal through the civil courts and could continue to operate until all civil and legal measures were exhausted.
Headlines in El Paso newspaper read "KIDS called harsher than prisons."
The program alleged no intakes had been admitted since April and that the program had a $28K monthly deficit.
An 18 year old former KIDS of El Paso teen requests that a judge invalidate her will that would leave KIDS $200,000 of a $1.7 million dollar trust established for her by her father. The will was reportedly notarized by a KIDS business manager and was witnessed only by KIDS staff members.
The Executive Director of TCADA warned the program that the battle was not over and that they would still continue the effort to revoke KIDS license.
Editorials by attorneys against KIDS published in El Paso newspapers use the word "evil" describing the program and stated that "the methods used divert a child's dependence from drugs to the program precluding the child's viability as an independent thinking and psychologically healthy adult." Other published editorials in favor of the program read "At least KIDS does things that the parents didn't have the guts enough to do, or didn't care enough to do. Anyone who thinks you can reverse a drug problem by being a weak-kneed pantywaist is a jackass."
Former KIDS of El Paso teen and her father battle in court over a 1.7 million-dollar trust fund.
A former El Paso Police Department Detective, fired for off duty involvement with troubled juveniles, was charged with harboring an underage runaway teen from the program. The ex-detective worked as a private investigator with an interest in closing the program.
An ex-KIDS of El Paso teen was frequently in the news involved with a battle to win a $1.2 million-dollar inheritance from her father who still supported the program.
An administrative hearing was held that determined the program could stay open with a suspended license and on probation for two years.
After June of 1989, KIDS of El Paso went from being the front page headline story to being virtually unheard of in the media. There were no new allegations against the program and TCADA retreated from a once aggressive quest to revoke KIDS' license to operate.
It wasn't until October 9, 1989, that KIDS announced program would be closed due to financial trouble. The program filed chapter 7 bankruptcy. 20-25 teens were bussed to Salt Lake City KIDS program and the rest went to the New Jersey KIDS program.
KIDS Centers of America National Clinical Director is quoted as saying "Kind of sad, it got nit-picked to death and the financial toll was too great" regarding the closure of the El Paso program.
The former El Paso Police Department detective charged with harboring a KIDS runaway stated that he would represent 25 former KIDS of El Paso teens in a federal class action lawsuit that alleged civil rights violations.
More than 500 companies reportedly file claims totaling over $225,000 against KIDS of El Paso which was filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy claiming only $86,000 in assets.
KIDS of Southern California was closed by the state and re-opened as STRAIGHT Southern California.
A private detective claiming to initiate a class action lawsuit against the program was arrested for "commanding a gang of young auto thieves and drug dealers; mostly former clients of KIDS of El Paso." The detective was an outspoken critic of the program and served on the El Paso Police Department from 1972-1987 before he was ultimately terminated for discipline reasons. He was also arrested in 1988 for harboring a runaway of the KIDS of El Paso program and a month later was arrested again for assaulting a 13 year-old Sunland Park boy. According to other reports, the detective was initially terminated from the El Paso Police Department in 1979 for sexual misconduct with several Juarez children before being reinstated with the Department at a later time.
A notice of proposed sale is issues by a clerk of the United States Bankruptcy Court regarding the proposed sale of KIDS of El Paso "panels, chairs, chair frames, carpet, clothes and other theater items."
KIDS of Salt Lake City in Utah closed it's doors and re-opened the same day under the name Life-Line and added the adjunct treatment modality of psychotropic medication to the therapeutic community model. Life-Line continues to operate treating adolescents with substance abuse disorders.
STRAIGHT Southern California, formerly KIDS of Southern California closed its doors amidst allegations of child abuse and its teens were relocated to STRAIGHT Dallas.
A former understudy of the founder of the KIDS programs opened a KIDS spin-off program in Calgary. The Alberta Adolescent Recovery Center (AARC) continues to operate today treating adolescents with substance abuse disorders.
KIDS of Bergen County moves to Hudson County New Jersey and changes its name to KIDS of North Jersey after an expose is broadcasted on television.
STRAIGHT Dallas which included group members of the former KIDS/STRAIGHT of Southern California closed its doors.
KIDS of North Jersey closed its doors.
The first of many lawsuits against the program was settled out of court for $4.5 million dollars. A total of over $21 million dollars since has been reportedly paid to ex-KIDS teens in settlements.
Kidsofelpaso.com and an associated web forum go online and reconnect hundreds of teens from the KIDS programs.
KIDS of El Paso is in the news again as an ex-KIDS of El Paso teen testified that his time in the El Paso program prompted a homicide in 2007.