There are over 250 Teen Challenge Chapters throughout America. Headquartered in Columbus, Georgia, Teen Challenge offers services to both teens and adults. Self reported to be the most successful drug rehab program in existence, no clinical and reproducible studies have been done to support these claims. In light, of the scandals and allegations of abuse that Teen Challenge has been facing internationally, many have begun to question the credibility of this special interest organization.
Teen Challenge was established in 1958 by David Wilkerson, an Assemblies of God pastor who left a rural church in Pennsylvania, to work among teenage gang members and socially marginalized people in New York City and who, perhaps, is best known for his character played by Pat Boone in the 1970 Film, "The Cross and the Switchblade". Teen Challenge was launched from a small office on Staten Island. In 1960, the Teen Challenge headquarters was relocated to a large historical house in Brooklyn, New York. By late 2008, Teen Challenge USA had grown to include 231 locations, including residential programs and evangelical outreach centers, in the United States. Teen Challenge, has internationally struggled with a large number of allegations of scandal, abuse, sexual assault, and child molestation, paying millions in efforts to suppress these claims and protect their reputation in the Christian Community.
According to a 2001 New York Times article, "It is the opinion of some social scientists that the 86 percent success rate of Teen Challenge is misleading, as it does not count the people who dropped out during the program, and that, like many voluntary NGO's, Teen Challenge picks its clients." The item quotes the Rev. John D. Castellani, then president of Teen Challenge International U.S.A., as saying that most of the addicts have already been through detoxification programs, before they are admitted. In the program's first four-month phase, Mr. Castellani said, 25 to 30 percent drop out, and in the next eight months, 10 percent more leave. In their testimony before the United States House Committee on Ways and Means, the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, have similarly testified that the much quoted success rates "dramatically distort the truth", due to the lack of reference to the high drop out rate.
ABUSE and SEXUAL ABUSE
When multiple allegations of sexual abuse within the Teen Challenge Centers came to light in 1998, an 18-year-old man and his parents sued the Assemblies of God and the church's ranch for troubled youths, claiming that he was molested by a counselor at the center two years ago. The alleged victim was 16 when he went to Dallas Teen Challenge Boys Ranch in Winnsboro in January 1996. According to his lawsuit, a convicted drug trafficker working as a ranch counselor sexually molested him and two other boys, one of whom also was 16 or younger. "(The counselor) sexually molested (the plaintiff) on at least six different occasions at the ranch," the lawsuit stated. The lawsuit further alleges that the church, ranch executive director Paul Ecker and the ranch's board knowingly employed men with criminal histories as counselors despite being informed by state regulators the practice was illegal. "Clearly the government has given sanction to these religious organizations to do whatever they please, with no regard to civil rights or the law.", said the man in a later interview. After this and multiple other allegations of sexual abuse were made, the media publicized the story of a known multi-offense sexual assaulter and child molester running one of the Teen Challenge homes in Winthrop, ME--namely, Shondi Fabiano, listed officially as a co-head of Teen Challenge New England by the website of the Northern New England District of the Assemblies of God, and who is officially listed as a lifetime-registered sex offender for second-degree child molestation and sexual assault in the third degree. An online check of sex offender registries, including the Florida sex-offender registry run by Florida Department of Law Enforcement, also shows Shondi Fabiano also has a history of 2nd degree sexual assault conviction in Kent, RI. To date, Fabiano is still head of Teen Challenge New England despite not only state laws that prohibit sex offenders and persons convicted of crimes against children from working in children's homes but despite media publicity as well.
At the time of writing this report her residence listed in Maine's sex offender registry as the very same Teen Challenge Center. All despite Maines staunch laws against sexual offender contact with minors.
Many have spoken out against the cover-up attempts of real sexual abuse in Teen Challenge Centers Worldwide--in fact, there are indications that sexual abuse is (sadly) not unknown at Teen Challenge facilities--including the very facility that George W. Bush defended publicly from legal sanction.
Most reports that have surfaced show that victims of abuse within Teen Challenge Centers have no way to get to an outside source of help as they are restricted from phone or any communication with the outside world, including family and friends.
Church and State Separation Issues
In 1995, auditors from the Texas Commission for Alcohol and Drug Abuse (TCADA) demanded that Teen Challenge obtain state licensing and employ state-licensed counselors. As a result, (then) Governor George W. Bush publicly defended Teen Challenge and pursued alternative licensing procedures for faith-based organizations. ''“Teen Challenge should view itself as a pioneer in how Texas approaches faith-based programs. I’ll call together people, ask them to make recommendations... licensing standards have to be different from what they are today,”'' then-Governor Bush said. Bush then created a state Task Force on Faith-Based Programs, to identify and lift regulatory barriers for faith-based social service providers.
The task force included J. Herbert Meppelink, the Executive Director of South Texas Teen Challenge.[http://www.twc.state.tx.us/svcs/charchoice/faithful.pdf.]
The resultant 1997 and 1999 Texas legislation exempted Faith-Based Programs, such as Teen Challenge, from state licensing and the health, safety and quality of care standards that accompany that licensing.
Later, when Bush became US president, Teen Challenge was cited in public policy debates as an example of why such programs merit the federal funding of faith-based organizations. Its documented success rates played a role in the establishment of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in 2001.
Conversely, such funding has come under attack through comments by John Castellani, the former President of Teen Challenge USA, during a House Government Reform subcommittee, examining the efficacy of religious social service providers. During the hearing, Castellani said Teen Challenge does not hire non-Christians as employees and, when asked if the group takes non-Christians as clients, he said yes, and boasted that some Jews who finish his Teen Challenge program become "completed Jews." This phrase was considered offensive to many Jewish groups because it suggests Jews are "incomplete" without the Teen Challenge training.
Later a press release was issued citing the statement, with an explanation, that the statement rather referred to the Jewish non-belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ.
If you have been a victim of abuse in association with the Teen Challenge program, please know that you are not alone. We are many. Speak out so that others might be spared. To have your story told to thousands, email firstname.lastname@example.org. You may even save a life!