I suppose I should start from the beginning. I was admitted to Heartlight against my will at age 15 because I was flunking out of school due to depression because of molestation from my stepfather. The first house they put me in was called South House. The first thing I noticed is that the staff members weren't much older than the residents. They showed cruel favoritisms and even hazed us one night by blindfolding us, walking us through the property, and smashing all kinds of food (eggs, breadcrumbs, etc.) in our faces and hair. This might not sound like a significant complaint, but I was in a situation where I was being bullied by other residents and had nowhere to turn to because I was being bullied by staff. Another resident was especially targeted as well. Staff and residents alike would sabotage our chores and hide things in our belongings so that whatever privileges we had to look forward to, were taken away and we would be forced to do manual labor in orange jumpsuits as if we were prisoners.
Heartlight consists of a 6 level program. I made it to level 3 pretty rapidly, but after that my progress stood at a standstill for over a year, and I couldn't figure out why. Girls who misbehaved and made less progress were awarded with public schooling and visits home while I was not. Finally, one day, my counselor (my second counselor; the first one was fired about 4 months into my stay) set up a meeting with me outside if our arranged time. She sat me down, and explained to me that she was getting fired, but before she left, there were a few things I needed to know. She told me that my family told police detectives that I had lied about the molestation, and that's why it was never investigated. She said that my grandfather had been making large donations and extra payments to Heartlight so that they would keep me there until I turned 18 (that would be 2 1/2 years for a supposedly 9-12 month program), and she told me a few other really devastating things about my family. I was absolutely shattered, and I don't think it's a coincidence how sick I became shortly after.
About two weeks after this news I had uncontrollable thirst and urination. I begged and begged my staff to book me a doctors appointment, but instead I was punished for "skipping out on activities for bathroom visits". I even wet myself and my bed a couple of times, and the bullying got really bad because of it. After 3 weeks of this they finally got me into a clinic. They took a urine sample and sent me on my way. As we were about to enter our van in the parking lot, a nurse ran in a full sprint after us and said I needed to come back in immediately. They sat me down and told me that I'm a type 1 diabetic and that an ambulance was on it's way. In the hospital they found that I was in diabetic keto-acidosis and I was in the ICU for days. I almost died.
Every resident at Heartlight had their own binder. None of us had access to ours, but they left mine in my hospital room. It was full of lies cover to cover. From my application that my autistic mother filled out, to weekly staff updates full of excuses why I needed to be in that orange jumpsuit.
Heartlight does a great job of "preparing" families for crazy things residents might say to get sent home. I cried on every weekly phone call for 18 months, and not even being diagnosed with diabetes was a good enough reason for me to experience the comfort of home.
After I returned home, I was even contacted by a male staff member who sent me explicit pictures of himself. I seriously doubt these staff members had to go through a background check.
This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Review from Guidestar
I used to work at heartlight ministries. I was overwhelmingly disappointed by the leadership and how things are run. Kids can still be helped but only because of the staff that know the kid. Many leadership decisions are made based on the desire to make money, instead of deciding what is best for the kids. Don't bring your kids here!
Heartlight Ministries helped us immensely with the tough decision to send our son. The admissions counselors talked with us several times before we decided to enroll him. They shared so much about the heart of the program that we really felt comfortable with it and knew that we had found a good match for our son’s needs. The application and admission process went so smoothly because of their gracious attitudes and promptness in communicating with us. Heartlight Ministries is a first-rate program.
Overall this program is nothing more than an expensive behavior modification program. The psychological counseling was inexperienced. My child suffered with dysregulated thinking and an inability to establish a life narrative that spanned more than a few days. They didn't know what to do and after 11 months kicked her out , no graduation and sent us back a kid worse off than when she arrived. And all for about $60K. Make sure a program has the tools to help your child. That they even understand what's wrong. They should have been honest and turned us away at the start due to the lack of training.