In 2021, a groundbreaking investigation by the Asheville Citizen-Times uncovered horrific allegations of abuse and neglect at Trails Carolina, a wilderness therapy program for troubled adolescents. The investigation found that staff members at Trails Carolina had engaged in a wide range of misconduct, including physical restraints, verbal abuse, and emotional manipulation.
The investigation also found that Trails Carolina had failed to provide adequate medical care to its participants and that it had kept participants in isolation for extended periods of time. In some cases, participants were even forced to sleep outside in the cold without adequate shelter.
The investigation’s findings were shocking, and they raised serious questions about the safety and efficacy of wilderness therapy programs. The investigation also led to a number of changes at Trails Carolina, including the termination of several staff members and the implementation of new safety protocols.
Trails Carolina: A History of Abuse
The Trails Carolina investigation was not the first time that the program had been accused of abuse. In 2019, a group of former participants filed a lawsuit against Trails Carolina, alleging that they had been subjected to physical and emotional abuse while at the program. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court, but it raised further concerns about the safety of Trails Carolina.
The Investigation’s Findings
The Asheville Citizen-Times investigation found that Trails Carolina staff members had engaged in a wide range of misconduct, including:
- Physical restraints: Staff members used physical restraints to control participants, even when it was not necessary. In some cases, staff members used restraints to punish participants for bad behavior.
- Verbal abuse: Staff members verbally abused participants, calling them names and making them feel worthless.
- Emotional manipulation: Staff members manipulated participants emotionally, threatening them with expulsion from the program or with other negative consequences if they did not comply with their demands.
The investigation also found that Trails Carolina had failed to provide adequate medical care to its participants. In some cases, participants were denied medical care even when they were sick or injured. The investigation also found that Trails Carolina had kept participants in isolation for extended periods of time, sometimes for days or even weeks.
Trails Carolina’s Response
In response to the investigation’s findings, Trails Carolina issued a statement acknowledging that there had been problems at the program. The program also announced that it had implemented a number of changes, including:
- Terminating several staff members
- Implementing new safety protocols
- Hiring an independent consultant to review the program’s policies and procedures
The Trails Carolina investigation was a groundbreaking piece of journalism that uncovered horrific allegations of abuse and neglect at a wilderness therapy program for troubled adolescents. The investigation’s findings raised serious questions about the safety and efficacy of wilderness therapy programs, and they led to a number of changes at Trails Carolina.
The investigation also served as a reminder that even the most well-intentioned programs can be susceptible to abuse. It is important to be aware of the risks associated with wilderness therapy programs, and to do your research before choosing a program for your child.
How to Choose a Safe Wilderness Therapy Program
If you are considering sending your child to a wilderness therapy program, there are a few things you can do to choose a safe and reputable program:
- Do your research: Read reviews of different programs and talk to other parents who have sent their children to wilderness therapy programs.
- Ask questions: Ask the program about its safety protocols and its policies on discipline and isolation.
- Visit the program: If possible, visit the program in person before enrolling your child. This will give you a chance to see the facility and meet the staff.
If you have any concerns about the safety of a wilderness therapy program, do not hesitate to report them to the appropriate authorities.