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From: Texas Faith-Based Initiative at Five Years: TFNEF Report (2002)

Teen Challenge: Lowering Health, Safety and Quality of Care Standards

Teen Challenge is a national faith-based residential drug treatment program that had nine branches in Texas in 2004. The programs have no medical component and center instead of around prayer, Bible study and religious conversion.

Teen Challenge currently operates five drug treatment centers in Texas – none of which have a state license, but only two of which have formally registered their status as a faith-based facility exempt from state licensing. As exempt faith-based drug treatment centers, Teen Challenge facilities are not required to have licensed chemical dependency counselors, conduct staff training or criminal background checks, protect client confidentiality rights, adhere to state health and safety standards, or report abuse, neglect, emergencies and medication errors.

Even prior to seeking an exemption from state licensing, a 1995 state inspection revealed that Teen Challenge was not compliant with numerous state health, safety and quality of care standards.

Rather than force Teen Challenge to meet the basic health and safety standards to which their secular counterparts must adhere, then-Governor George Bush pushed through legislation that would exempt Teen Challenge and other faith-based drug treatment centers from state licensing – and the health, safety and quality of care standards that accompany that licensure. “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. I’d like to make recommendations to the legislature…But Teen Challenge is going to exist…and licensing standards have to be different from what they are today,” then-Governor Bush said. (World Magazine, 7/29-8/5/1995)

There is no question that eliminating basic health and safety standards made operations easier for a few faith-based programs in Texas, however the lack of minimum standards has threatened the safety of those participating in the program. In 1998, a boy filed suit against Dallas Teen Challenge Boys Ranch and Assemblies of God, alleging that a counselor, who was a convicted drug trafficker, sexually molested him and two other boys. The lawsuit also claimed that the ranch’s Executive Director, the church and the ranch’s board knowingly hired people with criminal histories to serve as counselors. (Austin American-Statesman, 5/13/1998)

Without state inspections or high publicity cases like the Boys Ranch incident to shed light on Teen Challenge practices, it is impossible to know how many other health code infractions and dangerous policies are being implemented at these facilities.

Teen Challenge and over a hundred other exempted faith-based drug treatment programs in Texas are now operating completely free of any state oversight or standards of care.


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