Teen Challenge USA

This item includes opinion from FamilyLight and straddles the borderline between an "explanation" and a "review."  We prefer to list it as an " Index Explanation." We also link it from the Individual Program Review section. 

For a listing of all Teen Challenge residential programs, click here.  

Teen Challenge USA is a loosely affiliated group of programs for teens and adults with substance abuse issues. It is inspired by events depicted in the book and movie, The Cross and the Switchblade, and at its inception was at least loosely affiliated with the Assemblies of God Church.

Although all of us involved with FamilyLight are part of religious traditions that differ from that of Teen Challenge, we nevertheless respect that tradition in general, and in particular respect that a sincere transformation by faith as advocated by Teen Challenge is an appropriate and effective means removing oneself from addiction (using common language and acknowledging that Teen Challenge does not support use of the word "addiction").

Note this language taken from the Alabama Teen Challenge website on July 2, 2014:

Addiction is a term of convenience and is a common reference dealing with habitual or repeated behaviour but does not serve our definition of process or underlying cause.  We do not serve addictions per se, we serve spiritual strongholds, we understand them within the context of sin, and we deal with strongholds exclusively through evangelism and discipleship as defined by Scripture – there is nothing else in our model.  We don’t do treatment, we disciple.  We don’t focus on behaviour as much as we focus on identity in Christ. In short – we are an expression of the church. None of the above statements should be construed as critical of clinical approaches, but their purpose is to accurately understand the historical evangelistic and discipleship identity of Teen Challenge that has been unequivocal for over fifty years.

Alabama Teen Challenge does not offer or provide clinical treatment or care for individuals who have substance-related disorders and is, therefore, not subject to regulation or oversight by the Alabama Department of Mental Health through its Certification Standards. However, ATC is required to attain a regimented accreditation process, via Teen Challenge USA, to remain part of one of the oldest, largest, and most successful programs of its kind in the world.   . . .

We appreciate the candor of Teen Challenge of Alabama in stating so clearly what they do and do not do. But we have concerns. In contrast to this statement, we strongly affirm well established medical fact that addiction is a brain disorder. We acknowledge that successful approaches to overcoming a genuine addiction with which we are familiar involve spiritual transformation in some form (think of Alcoholics Anonymous' references to "higher power").   Whether they call what they do addiction treatment or something else, we observe that what Teen Challenge's focus on spiritual transformation, at the very least, makes a positive contribution to addiction recovery for many. That is the good news.

Having affirmed that, we are not confident that these principles are well applied in all Teen Challenge programming. We have absolutely no confidence in the "accreditation process, via Teen Challenge USA" cited in the above quotation.  For example, on one occasion, quite a number of years ago, people from a nearby Teen Challenge local program came to the home of our consultant, Tom Croke, fraudulently claiming to be collecting money for the substance abuse program Tom directed at the time. That was a long time ago, but since then we have been aware of much less blatant but still concerning actions at Teen Challenge affiliates.  We do not have any reason to believe that the leadership of Teen Challenge USA would condone such activity, but we just as surely have no reason to believe they maintain the accountability standards necessary to prevent it. In that instance, staff members of that Teen Challenge affiliate were participants in the fraudulent activity. We think the late David Wilkerson would be disappointed by some of what is happening.

Among other things, we think Teen Challenge would do better if they were to hold programs to a higher standard of requiring newly hired staff members  to show evidence of more complete and stable recovery from their own addictions before putting them in positions of responsibility and leadership. To the extent that the intention of Teen Challenge is to lead people to become true disciples of Jesus Christ, we think Teen Challenge would do well to be sure the people put forward to set an example of Christian discipleship have more depth to their own faith journey than merely to know which talking points to repeat over and over again.  It does not help to have staff member examples who "talk the talk" but do not "walk the walk."

We deeply respect the statement quoted above from Alabama Teen Challenge. However we are dubious about many of the comparative and statistical claims of effectiveness we see on the web from some Teen Challenge affiliates, and also claims of "therapeutic" services, which imply clinical resources that we do not have confidence are provided in most Teen Challenge programs.  For example the Vero Beach Boys Ranch makes extensive use of the word "therapeutic" while its staff list shows no evidence of having staff usually thought of as qualified to render therapeutic services.  For another example the claim on the website for Teen Challenge of Illinois/ Audrey's Home, "Studies have shown that faith based programs like Teen Challenge have the highest success for recovery" is surprising at best. What studies?  Teen Challenge programs frequently make these claims, but we have never seen actual studies to match the claim.   While we do not suspect that the fraudulent fundraising we encountered many years ago would be a common event today, we are not confident that a culture of veracity and integrity permeates the Teen Challenge network of services in the manner we would expect of any Christian organization and of any properly operated school or program.

We are NOT saying that all Teen Challenge programming should be avoided.  We ARE saying that a good  (or bad) experience at one Teen Challenge program does not provide assurance of a similar experience at another.   We are saying make sure you know what is being offered and what is not offered before you get involved.  We are also saying that confidence in Teen Challenge's intended methodology does not assure you that will be applied with quality in every Teen Challenge location.   We strongly caution readers to assess local quality in any Teen Challenge program under consideration.

Teen Challenge programs are within the range of our Search, Review and Rate system, and at some point you will find additional information on this website about some Teen Challenge programming.

We would like to be able to give a strong endorsement to the concept of  faith based programming.  We regret that we cannot endorse all Teen Challenge USA and all of its affiliates. To us the transparency of Alabama Teen Challenge is most refreshing and assuring.  We wish that were the standard at all Teen Challenge affiliates.  We would like to see faith based programs go a step farther by incorporating some of the clinical expertise that has been effective with substance abuse treatment, while keeping the program they now advocate.  We believe that not to include some true clinical expertise  with the faith based interventions is like treating cancer through prayer services and not utilizing modern medicine.  We do not believe that most people of the religious transition that drives Teen Challenge would make that choice in the face of cancer. We understand substance abuse to be as often fatal as cancer.

As of this writing  (July 5, 2014), we have not listed all local Teen Challenge programs individually in our index, but we are actively working on that at least those offering residential services addressing needs of Americans.   The Teen Challenge organization (as of that same date) provides a directory of all of its programs on its website.

In addition to including individual Teen Challenge residential programs alphabetically in our Index, we are providing  our own listing of all Teen Challenge residential programs.

Website of Teen Challenge USA

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Last Update July 6, 2014; minor edits September 29, 2015;  Web references are based  on web access in July 2014 unless  otherwise noted.

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