Trails Carolina, a wilderness therapy program catering to troubled youth, has come under the spotlight recently due to a comprehensive investigation. This article aims to provide a clear and unbiased overview of the Trails Carolina investigation, its allegations, implications, and alternatives for wilderness therapy seekers.
What is Trails Carolina?
Trails Carolina is a therapeutic wilderness program that offers residential treatment for adolescents and young adults struggling with emotional and behavioral issues. The program claims to combine evidence-based clinical interventions, experiential learning, adventure activities, and academic support to help participants develop self-confidence, resilience, and coping skills.
Trails Carolina operates in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and has two campuses: one for ages 10-13 and one for ages 14-17. The program also offers a transitional living program for young adults aged 18-25. The average length of stay at Trails Carolina is 8-12 weeks.
What is the Trails Carolina Investigation?
The Trails Carolina investigation is an ongoing inquiry into the operations and practices of the program, initiated by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in collaboration with other state and federal agencies. The investigation was launched in response to a series of complaints and allegations from former participants, parents, staff, and whistleblowers.
The investigation is primarily focused on allegations of misconduct, which encompass claims of mistreatment, neglect, or abuse of program participants. Some of the allegations include:
- Physical abuse: Some former participants have reported being subjected to excessive physical restraint, corporal punishment, or forced labor by staff members.
- Emotional abuse: Some former participants have reported being verbally abused, humiliated, isolated, or threatened by staff members.
- Neglect: Some former participants have reported being deprived of basic needs such as food, water, shelter, clothing, hygiene, or medical care by staff members.
- Unsafe practices: Some former participants have reported being exposed to unsafe or unregulated practices such as improper medication administration, lack of supervision, or inadequate emergency response by staff members.
The investigation is also concerned with the safety and well-being of current and future participants enrolled in Trails Carolina. This entails a thorough evaluation of the program’s safety protocols, staff training, accreditation status, and the overall environment in which participants are placed.
The investigation aims to ensure that all aspects of the program adhere to industry standards and are transparent to stakeholders. The investigation also seeks to hold accountable any individuals or entities responsible for any wrongdoing or harm caused to participants.
What are the Implications of the Trails Carolina Investigation?
The Trails Carolina investigation has significant implications for the program itself, its participants and families, and the wilderness therapy industry at large.
For Trails Carolina, the investigation poses a serious threat to its reputation, credibility, and viability. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, the program may face legal action, regulatory sanctions, financial losses, or closure. The program may also lose the trust and confidence of its clients, partners, and referral sources.
For current and prospective participants and families, the investigation raises serious questions and concerns about the quality and safety of the services provided by Trails Carolina. Many may feel uncertain, confused, or betrayed by the program they entrusted with their well-being. Some may seek alternative options or pursue legal recourse.
For the wilderness therapy industry as a whole, the investigation highlights the need for more oversight, regulation, and accountability. The investigation may expose systemic issues or gaps in the industry that need to be addressed. The investigation may also affect the public perception and demand for wilderness therapy services.
What are the Alternatives to Trails Carolina?
While the Trails Carolina investigation progresses, many individuals and families may be looking for alternative options for wilderness therapy. Fortunately, there are numerous reputable wilderness therapy programs available that offer similar or better services than Trails Carolina.
Some of the factors to consider when choosing a wilderness therapy program include:
- Accreditation: Accreditation is a voluntary process that evaluates a program’s quality and compliance with industry standards. Accreditation agencies such as The Joint Commission (TJC), The Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), or The Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council (OBHC) provide independent verification of a program’s safety and effectiveness.
- Licensing: Licensing is a mandatory process that grants a program legal permission to operate within a state or jurisdiction. Licensing agencies such as DHHS or The Department of Social Services (DSS) ensure that a program meets minimum requirements for health and safety.
- Staff qualifications: Staff qualifications refer to the education, training, certification, and experience of the staff members who work with participants. Staff qualifications may vary depending on their role and function within a program. Staff members should have relevant credentials such as licensed therapists, certified wilderness instructors, or registered nurses.
- Program philosophy: Program philosophy refers to the underlying principles, values, and goals that guide a program’s approach and methods. Program philosophy may vary depending on the population, needs, and preferences of the participants. Program philosophy should be evidence-based, client-centered, and trauma-informed.
- Program outcomes: Program outcomes refer to the measurable results or benefits that a program produces for its participants. Program outcomes may include clinical outcomes such as symptom reduction, behavioral outcomes such as skill development, or academic outcomes such as credit recovery. Program outcomes should be evaluated by objective and reliable methods such as standardized assessments, surveys, or research studies.
Some examples of alternative wilderness therapy programs that meet these criteria are:
- BlueFire Wilderness Therapy: BlueFire Wilderness Therapy is a wilderness therapy program for adolescents aged 11-17 who struggle with emotional, behavioral, or academic issues. The program is accredited by TJC and licensed by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The program employs licensed therapists, certified wilderness instructors, and registered nurses. The program’s philosophy is based on the four elements of fire, water, air, and earth, which represent the core components of the program: adventure, therapy, family, and academics. The program’s outcomes are measured by the Youth Outcome Questionnaire (YOQ), which shows significant improvement in participants’ functioning.
- Aspiro Adventure Therapy: Aspiro Adventure Therapy is a wilderness therapy program for adolescents and young adults aged 13-28 who struggle with emotional, behavioral, or developmental issues. The program is accredited by CARF and licensed by the Utah Department of Human Services. The program employs licensed therapists, certified wilderness instructors, and registered nurses. The program’s philosophy is based on adventure therapy, which uses experiential learning, positive psychology, and neurodevelopment to facilitate change. The program’s outcomes are measured by the Outcome Questionnaire (OQ), which shows significant improvement in participants’ well-being.
- Outback Therapeutic Expeditions: Outback Therapeutic Expeditions is a wilderness therapy program for adolescents aged 13-17 who struggle with emotional, behavioral, or substance abuse issues. The program is accredited by OBHC and licensed by the Utah Department of Human Services. The program employs licensed therapists, certified wilderness instructors, and registered nurses. The program’s philosophy is based on the nomadic model, which uses natural consequences, peer feedback, and rites of passage to promote growth. The program’s outcomes are measured by the Youth Outcome Questionnaire (YOQ), which shows significant improvement in participants’ functioning.
The Trails Carolina investigation is a serious matter that deserves attention and action from all stakeholders involved. While the investigation is ongoing, it is important to stay informed, ask questions, consider alternatives, and seek support if needed. Wilderness therapy can be a powerful and transformative intervention for individuals and families in need of help, but only if it is delivered in a safe, ethical, and effective manner.