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New York Times: The Family Foundation School

A group of kids from the Family School go paintballing one Saturday

Not long ago, I was interviewed by Michael Wilson for an article for the New York Times. He was investigating the Family Foundation School, the therapeutic boarding school where Charles attended in 2012. A teacher in New York had died from overdose in the bathroom who had attended the school which left bread crumbs back to the Family School.

In 2015, Charles was one of three deaths of alumni from the school that happened consecutively. Liz was first on May 31, 2015 and hers was an overdose. Followed by Charles which was a suicide on June 5, 2015 and then another teen who died in an alcohol related accident was mere weeks after Charles. The kids who went there were devastated by these back to back losses. Most of these kids had drug and alcohol. mental health and behavioral problems or all of the above prior to being accepted in the school. It pains me to read what may have happened at the school in the early 2000s. Heartbreaking. Shocking

As a desperate parent, it’s hard to know what to do and had I known any of this was true, I’d not have sent him there. I do think some, if not all, of this happened in the early 2000s well before Charles ever got there in 2012. Had this been going on when Charles was there, or had happened to him, I would have heard about it. Nobody complained about this school more than Charles. He was exceptionally angry with us for sending him away.

He and his counselor Rochelle were close and I mean that in a healthy, positive way. He trusted her and I did, too. I still do. She also respected his talent and encouraged him to keep writing.

When he took a turn for the worse and started backsliding, she was the first to call and tell us she thought the placement was no longer working for him which was a risk for her.

I don’t think it was the right placement for Charles and I talk about why in a lot more detail in my book so I’m not going to go into it all here.  But policemen and people in power did abuse Charles along the way so I know abuse of vulnerable populations by people in power happens. A teen with an addiction is just not considered a viable witness and that is an opportunity to take advantage. And ask any mother raising a black male in this culture how fair things are.

The article is as follows and I’m quoted about midway.

Charles wrote this song that includes a lot about how he felt about the Family School, I Don’t Wanna Be a Patient.

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‘It’s Like, Who’s Next?’: A Troubled School’s Alarming Death Rate

When four former students from the same school died within months of one another in 2015, it seemed random, a morbid coincidence. Then the number kept growing. At least seven more died the next year…… Read more

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AnneMoss Rogers

AnneMoss Rogers is a mental health and suicide education expert, mental health speaker, suicide prevention trainer and consultant. She is author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW. She raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost her younger son, Charles to addiction and suicide on June 5, 2015. She is a motivational speaker who empowers by educating and provides life saving strategies and emotionally healthy coping skills. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now that's the legacy she carries forward in her son's memory. Mental Health Speakers Website.

21 thoughts on “New York Times: The Family Foundation School”

  1. It is really sad to read about what people have gone through. I have never heard of this place before but I presume that it was some sort of reformatory school. These places were rife with abuse and they were (and most likely still are) breeding grounds for sick bastards who use their position of authority as a way of having a ready made batch of emotionally and mentally challenged people to use and abuse as takes their fancy. I take it that most were either children or teenagers.

    Some people will always hurt others and they seemingly just don’t care. As long as they can get what they want and can get away with whatever abuses they mete out. I have experienced child sexual abuse myself when my mother was away in a mental institution. Had she been around, such would never have occurred. Indeed, I remember not a thing from between the ages of 5 to 9 years old and my therapist now believes we should just not probe any deeper. So though I never went to such an institution as described here, I can appreciate, by reading between the lines, what others are saying.

    And my heart goes out to the innocent and yet misled parents who were only trying to help their child. Of course, I can understand how some people are so very angry about their experiences.

    1. It’s funny. Today I’m getting all kinds of private messages that the TBS their child attended saved that child’s life. While there was early abuse happening at Charles’s school, by the time he went and there was a new director, that past had all but been erased. Some still abused their power but in small ways. Yet it did get worse and at that point his therapist called and told us and we got him out within 48 hours. So it’s hit or miss I guess. It was worst in the late 90s and early 2000s.

  2. I’m the sibling of a [anonymous] they destroyed here. I’m also a mental health professional in my late 30s now. My sibling was there in the late 90s – early 00s and I recognize some of the names in comments. Quite frankly, it’s amazing they are alive.

    I know that the parents probably thought they were doing the right thing, but the hole in the hearts of the kids that were out of control in the first place was widened with the same outsourcing of parental responsibility that led to this.

    I know that might be a tough pill to swallow but it’s the one thing I DONT hear from parents all these years. Excuses…my kid was there at “x” date and it was fine…no: outsourcing your parental duties happened long before addictive, behavioral and social/mental health issues. A stable, securely attached child would have no need or tolerance for gangs, bad influences, drugs, self harm etc, in the first place. There’s never a good year or right time to allow (encourage or authorize) the barely legal kidnapping of a minor and restrictions in such a way. That belief is a cognitive fault in the parent to begin with—perhaps one you should sit with in the corner or carry water over your head for weeks about while squatting to shit in front of others. Gain accountability for the way you tended the garden rather than yelling at the crop.

    FFS and many others like it abused not only individuals but family systems. I was forbidden to speak to my sibling in any meaningful, unmonitored way for years. Not because of his behavior, because of their policy. Our very brief interactions were strained due to the alienation of those incompetent, ill-trained abusive staff members only further exacerbated by the parents who could finally exhale because they ‘knew’ their kids were safe and made to believe that their children deserved prison-like settings and regulations to keep them safe. Children need love, guidance, stability, modeling, and a compassionate ear.

    As a parent and well-developed Ivy League graduate professional now, I can’t imagine that a *stable* parent/adult would do this to their children. Desperate dysregulated parents, yes. Accountability needs to be taken not because they “thought they were sending them to a good place” — accountability for their inability to be a grounded, stable, present lead for little ones.

    While I’m genuinely sorry you lost your child, it’s concerning that you’d be leading others. Repetition of a pattern in a prettier package doesn’t negate the root of the problem. I sincerely hope that your continued healing is inward and that the gift your son left you is the invitation to go deeper than trying to save others without getting into the reasons it led out of control desperation for the to school to take over your parenting in the first place.

    1. At every presentation I give, I talk about my regrets as it relates to sending my son to FFS. I regret listening to the counselor who told us it was the only way to save him. I don’t know if he would have survived had he stayed home. Honestly heroin would have found charles one way or another. It was an impossible situation with few answers. There are things I did right and things we did wrong. Bad advice we took, bad advice we didn’t take, good advice? Well there wasn’t much of that. I wrote about it all honestly in my first book and spent a year with that. And I do hear from people who point their finger and say it was my fault. That’s the risk I took when I spoke out.

      A parent goes over every last detail of an upbringing when this happens. I put this out there. I had the guts to do that, right or wrong.

      I am sorry you were cut off from your sibling. Breaking connections is the last thing to do. And I am overjoyed you gave the whole parenting thing all figured out.

  3. Anne there is a book that may help that I am reading now called “Help at Any Cost, How the Troubled Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids” by Maia Szalavitz… all of us as prisoners at the family school were just collateral damage and the money makers… we were the pawns and seen as objects and disposable. The ones being conned and tricked were the parents. They had every single one of you fooled and believing a complete fairy tale of a life we were living and that we couldn’t be trusted anywhere else. It was the perfect pitch. Like you said, preying on the most vulnerable people they could find willing to do anything for their kids. May they all get what is coming to them…

  4. I was there from 1996 to 1997. I stayed 10 months. I tried to run away several times. Finally I got my family to take me on a home visit. I ran away and refused to go back. I was so terrified i left all my belongings there. Scared if I went to get them. Id be tricked and dragged back by students. I didnt trust my family as they lied to get me there. I went there voluntarily to get help and I experienced verbal. Mental. Emotional abuse by the staff. Got no help. What sticks with me more than my own trauma, pain, fear and misery. Is how much trauma, abuse and suffering I saw all around me. How much abuse was everywhere and as a child as children… with parents who believed the staff. We were helpless. I could do nothing. We were pitted against eachother. As an empath witnessing others pain has been troubling to say the least. It’s been over 2 decades since my time in that place and the emotions, feelings and memories I have are still painful, they evoke strong emotions of sadness 😔 glad they shut down. Glad awareness has been brought. Glad no other children will suffer.

    1. It was really bad in the 90s according to most of the students I have talked with. Unbearable and the staff thought humiliating everyone was the way to rehabilitate. But there was also the element of power trips by the staff.

      I’m so sorry you went through this. And I am more than happy you are still alive.

  5. This school tore me down and never built me back up. My parents still think it saved my life but it only mad it worse. I was tortured emotionally mentally and physically. They cut my hair, they took me out of school and made me work til my nails fell off. They called my names and humiliated me. How anyone could work there and allow these things to happen is disgusting. I was in family 4 and 3. The mud groves were horrible, everyone was. They tried to get me to believe things about myself and I constantly gave them the finger. They punished me all the time. Parents need to take a king good hard look at themselves and take serious responsibility about how their kids lives turned out.

    1. Lorraine you were there before my son. And I hadn’t heard about all the horrible torture that went on until after. I can’t say I am drowning in pride over having sent Charles there. But I can say he did not endure what the group before hi. Did which an abomination. I am so sorry. They took advantage of desperate parents and delivered something else entirely. I am so sorry for your trauma. Because that’s what those people delivered. Thank you for posting your story and telling your truth. I hate hate hate that you went through that. The level of cruelty in the name of power makes me shudder and it makes me cry.

  6. To
    Anne student 2005-2007

    Mike Argerios Knew everything. This place is the only reason I got into heroin. I met other heroin addicts. I was drinking and what not, today I am 33 years old and I have lost so many friends. Just another one a couple days ago RIP Max.Rip Prescott RIP Brandon RIP-Katie -RIP Jackson RIP JAY. The list goes on. So many names now I cant recall of the top of my head. The Agerio’s sold the american dream get rid of your kid you do not have to worry. Well except when you have a place that torments you daily. Standing in the Corner ISO- A padded room with aircondition and no blankets. They taught you how to be tough for sure by making you wish you were fucking dead. Only years later did I grow to hate this place. The more I got off drugs the more angry I got at my parents for choosing the easy way out.

    1. I am so sorry. Charles wasn’t there long but long enough. Specialists recommended it for my son whom we lost to suicide in 2015. We were desperate and we went up every other weekend. I HATED sending I’m away. Thank god you are in recovery and alive but I know the grief has to be overwhelming for you. That’s a lot of loss and each one has to feel like a dagger to your heart. You were definitely there when it was worse from what I can gather from speaking to other kids. My son went a lot later. The trauma that you endured.

      1. Fuck this place my name is David zalk I ran away and was one of the few to never be caught and brought back. My shitty mom sent me here after it broke my brother who was there before me. Terry McCarthy I was in family 3 this abusive old man, a pedophile priest and forced standing in corners eating maypo. Niko. This Asian guy who worked there deserves to die. Anybody working there deserves to die or go to prison. Planting a tree there? They should light the whole place on fire. Paul, a tall skinny guy with black curly hair and a short guy with slicked back grey hair used to shove my friends head into a sink full of sanitizer and what could we do. Nothing. Fuck this place I hope everyone that worked there dies horrific deaths and their kids as well. This place destroyed any chance I had to lead a normal life. Thankfully my mom died horrible stomach cancer. I was adopted. My brother too. He went their first and he is fucked up. I went after him. Wish my dad had a spine. But when you are bought by a baby seller named Stanley Michaelman or some shit, fuck this place. Abusive, rapist, beatings by other kids on higher levels. I will never forget this horrible place.

        1. Man what a horrific experience. I can say that charles didn’t have that experience but went after most of what you say happened. Tell me what years you were there. And I am so f-ing sorry. I did take charles out and I am sorry I sent him there. It was all good intentions and a lot of desperation to help him. It’s not what I would do today.

          Tell me what you are up to, what year you were there. And again, I am so sorry for the awful experience. It is unbelievable trauma. You are a survivor and I am grateful you posted here.

          1. My brother is David Zalk. Yes, I am Jonathan Zalk his older brother who went to that God Forsaken Place from 97 to 2000 when I actually Graduated. I tried to repress those fucked up memories and to this day my brain won’t relinquish some of the horrible things that I went through. I was on more than 30 “sanctions” by the end being forced to do the most humiliating things day in and day out!! I had night terrors for years and feel as if an important part of my life was stolen from me and my brother David. He got away but will never be the same after going there: NONE OF US WILL!!! I CANNOT BELIEVE MY BROTHER ISN’T ONE OF THE 100 WHOSE LIVES WERE CUT SHORT THANK TO THE HELL THEY ENDURED. I CANT BELIEVE IM STILL ALIVE. I SHOULDNT BE. I WILL NEVER FORGET OR FORGIVE THOSE WHO STOLE SO MUCH FROM MY BROTHER AND I. IM JUST GLAD ITS GONE SO NO OTHER CHILD HAS TO GO THROUGH WHAT WE ALL DID. BURN IN HELL PAUL AND FAMILY 6 STAFF!!!!

            1. I am so sorry you endured this abuse. I heard it was really bad during those years. The stories make my blood boil. How have you been able to work through the trauma if you have been? Did it help to write it out end express anger towards those who abused you?

              It wasn’t the same place when my son went but it wasn’t what I would consider a good placement.

              I am grateful and thankful you are alive. Do forgive your parents. They thought it was something else and likely they were desperate and some professional recommended it.

  7. Rochelle tipped is off when it was time to get my son out too. I agree that the abuse is much more wide spread and am so disturbed that places and people claiming to “support” desperate parents and struggling teens can be so hurtful and irresponsible.

    1. I felt the same way M.B. I was so f-ing desperate to save Charles life. And there is a part of me that feels taken advantage of in my desperation. We didn’t send kids there because we caught them with a beer and a joint. It was to save their lives. And to see in some cases that it could have been a contributing factor is hard to read. However, just the fact that this school was our last ditch effort is telling in terms of the level of risk this school was taking on. I don’t think Mike A, for example, knew about all this. I think it happened behind closed doors and it was good to read that they cleaned up their act although there were still some things that happened there I deeply regret. But Rochelle was the best part. Charles never had had that level of trust in a therapist and never did again. And for that I’m very thankful. I also think the school didn’t close due to the truth campaign.

      It was Curtis’s dismissal for sexual misconduct–charges on which he was later cleared but I think for FFS, that was the final nail in the coffin for that school. People starting leaving like rats abandoning a ship. That incident was the catalyst because it was when ours were there and I remember it vividly. The truth campaign may have pushed the ship over the edge but it all started with that incident. Charles had been taking rap therapy from him–the one and only time Charles made progress anywhere and that rug was yanked from underneath when those accusations were made. FFS had no disaster plan which is crazy given the population. A hard kind of school to open and operate because in terms of liability, you are so naked.

      1. All of them knew all of them were profiting off of children suffering and would use gas lighting and mental abuse to excuse their lack of intelligence … all staff members there couldn’t find jobs elsewhere because they had already fucked their own lives up .. I survived 38 months … im still struggling to gain consciousness after 15 years of ptsd… not one bit of compensation and im still paying for it

        1. I’m so sorry Shawn. I regret being so desperate that I sent Charles there. Some of the staff was really more into power trips and outdated methodology for helping young people. How old are you now?

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