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Outside magazine, October 1995
A user’s guide to a very iffy marketplace
Aaron Bacon’s death has prompted new demands for oversight of the wilderness-therapy industry, but for now, parents seeking reliable information won’t find a one-stop source. Instead, various public and private organizations monitor camps in ways that at best provide visible signposts.
Largely in response to Bacon’s death, Archie Buie, a former wilderness camp director, has launched the National Association of Therapeutic Wilderness Camps (404-508-1036). Composed of 50 outfits that claim to disdain confrontational methods, the group is voluntary, which means camps that reject its regulations simply won’t join. As Buie acknowledges, NATWC has limited watchdog
Two additional sources, says Buie, are the Council on Accreditation of Services for Families and Children (212-714-9399) and the Association for Experiential Education (303-440-8844). Both are public-interest nonprofits, and they’ve devised rigid standards for wilderness therapy. To date, only about a dozen camps have either’s seal of approval, but the standards are useful
A handful of western states have licensing requirements for wilderness-therapy programs, but as Martha Matthews of the National Center for Youth Law points out, “There simply isn’t enough money to ensure proper enforcement.” In Utah, the state attorney general’s office has convened a panel that, in part, will focus on the pressing issue of oversight. One possibility is upping
Finally, the Michelle Sutton Foundation for Camp Safety (209-599-7728)–founded in 1993 by Cathy Sutton, whose daughter Michelle died in a tough-love camp in 1990–is positioning itself as an aggressive advocacy group. Working on a scant budget of $10,000 a year, Sutton and a growing network of parents monitor controversial camps and lobby for tighter industry control.