I cannot imagine how tough it would be to send my child to an organization for a long period of time and trust that they have yours, and your child's, best interest at heart. Shelterwood is an organization that truly does love and care for their clients. There are many, many examples, all over the country of people that have had life changing experiences through Shelterwood. The organization, from top to bottom, has the parents and adolescents growth and well being as their most important goal.
I worked at Shelterwood in Denver from December, 2001 until May, 2005. My time there cannot be understated. I grew as a person in every area of life. And this can be attributed to the love and care of the staff as a whole, from Richard Beach to the teens that were there during my time.
The growth of the relationship between parents and child was behind every decision that was made. I understand that due to the number of families that come through the program not every client will be completely 100% satisfied. There will be mistakes and people learn from them. We all experience growth and change through mistakes that we make in life. This is an important part of the Shelterwood philosophy. God uses these decisions we have made and turns them into good. Shelterwood is no different.
In my experience, the staff is completely dedicated to growth of the parents, teens, and the big brothers and sisters. I would not hesitate, if the situation ever arose, to send my own child to this caring organization.
It is a difficult thing to leave your struggling teenager at a facility for treatment for 7-12 months. As a professional that has referred families to Shelterwood, I have seen them time and time again guide the teen and parents through this difficult transition and help all members of the family change. Parents struggle oftentimes with letting go of their vision of how their son or daughter should move forward and the Shelterwood staff does an excellent job of helping them see that their vision may not be what is best for the teen or God's plan. Some parents struggle with this more than others and the staff have repeatedly modeled boundaries with love for these struggling parents.
Knowing the counseling staff personally and professionally has shown me that they are committed to care of the teens that have been entrusted to their program. Treatment plans are tailored to their individual needs and they are paired with post college aged mentors that have an equally committed heart to service of these teens and families. Treatment includes "family weekends" where family members join therapy sessions and have to confront their own contributions to the family struggles. These conversations can be especially challenging for parents but can radically transform the family dynamic.
The staff work long hours in service for these families and are generally underpaid in comparison to industry rates of private practice, agency work, and administrative capacities. They continue their hard work because they believe that what they do has rewards beyond monetary compensation.
Shelterwood is an example of a Christian nonprofit agency that had a genuine desire to help troubled teens when it was founded over thirty years ago, but has lost its integrity with a change of leadership in the past three years when they moved operations to Missouri. The system of Big Brothers and Sisters continues to be the heart and soul of the program, and the school is staffed by well-qualified and compassionate teachers, but the leadership and clinical teams are totally lacking in authenticity and transparency. Initially, I chose to believe that the CEO and Director were well-intentioned but lacking in ability, but I have come to believe that they are driven by greed, putting the desire to make money above the best interests of the teens and parents who have put their trust in them. Many good things are done at Shelterwood and some hearts are changed because of the relationships established with the devoted “Bigs” and teachers. But these efforts are hindered by arrogant and unresponsive leaders and counselors. Examples of the lack of authenticity on the part of the leadership and clinical teams include:
• According to IRS Form 990 for 2013 (available at guidestar.org), Shelterwood had a SURPLUS of revenue over expenses of $1,290,726 in 2012! (Revenue was $5,534,345 and expenses were $4,243,619). I have worked in nonprofit management for over 30 years, and have never seen an agency with anywhere close to almost a 25% annual surplus. Parents are so desperate to get help for their struggling teens that many take out second mortgages or drain their retirement funds to afford the $4500/month expense. An agency truly committed to helping families would use this profit to reduce the high cost of services.
• While Shelterwood leadership talk a lot about how much they help families who can’t afford this costly service, they only gave scholarships to 15 families in 2012 at a total amount of $87,468 ($5,831 per family).
• The devoted Big Brothers and Sisters who are with the teens 24/7 make $12,000/year, while the CEO’s total compensation in 2012 was $170,901 and the Shelterwood Director’s compensation was $99,927. This salary is way out of line for someone running a $5.5 million nonprofit in the Midwest. (As a point of reference, according to IRS 990 forms, the Executive Director of a similar program in Texas, Heartlight, made $46,550 in 2011, and Heartlight had a surplus of revenue over expenses of $180,000).
• One of the expense line items for Shelterwood in 2012 was a $100,000 payment for “settlement of a claim.”
• Some of the Shelterwood counselors are young and inexperienced. It is not uncommon for 17 and 18 years old males to be paired with a female counselor in her twenties who has no experience or competence in working with adolescent male issues such as addiction and defiance. In essence, many teens are used as guinea pigs to help counselors new to the field gain experience.
• Rather than embrace and appreciate the great work of the Bigs, the counselors look down on them. The Director of Counseling made several derogatory comments directly to me about one of Shelterwood’s most loved and effective Bigs.
• Many promises are made at intake about the level and types of care that will be provided that are ignored as soon as the teen is placed. When questioned, the typical response by the counselors and leaders is to just “trust the process.” Despite the fact that the leadership espouses a philosophy of family healing and parental involvement, parents who have concerns are basically told that their choice is to follow everything the counselors want to do without question, or pull your teen. This poses an unnecessary dilemma when the teen has already invested time in the program and doesn’t want to start over at a new program.
• Leadership sometimes resorts to unethical scare tactics to get you to keep your teen at Shelterwood.
• Less than a third of teens actually graduate from the Shelterwood program, with an average time to graduate of about eleven months. I pointed out to the CEO that this graduation rate was really low (I was originally recruited by the CEO to do pro bono fundraising). Rather than invest the time in making critical program changes to enhance the graduation rate, the CEO instead developed a new classification in which he now claims that 65% of teens complete the program. So now, any teen that leaves after making any type of progress is considered by the CEO to have “completed” the program. Considering that five stages have to be completed before a teen can graduate, it is misleading to tell prospective parents or funders that the program completion rate is 65%.
• While many teens who graduate from the program truly have worked hard and have made critical “heart” changes, other graduation decisions are too subjective, based on who the counselors like and who is best at “playing the game.”
• The Board of Directors appears to be part of the “good old boy” network, and have no interest in helping Shelterwood return to its days of authenticity and transparency. I sent a certified letter to every Board member asking them to address these concerns. My intent, according to Biblical directive (Matthew 18:15-17), was to deal with these grievances through the proper channels internally. The Board provided no response to my letter, even though I explained that I was willing to take my concerns public if I didn’t hear back from them.
This is just a sampling of the ethical and clinical problems running rampant at Shelterwood. The bottom line is that too many people treat Shelterwood as a sacred cow, choosing to blindly trust the leadership’s authority. We need to always remember that God – not Shelterwood – is the true authority. I do not believe there is any way that the practices outlined above are part of God’s will. Unless new, authentic leaders are brought in, I would NOT recommend sending your troubled teen to Shelterwood.
Review from Guidestar