For all the screaming caps, State Senator Paul Gazelka didn't quite stay on topic in his "Capitol Commentary" LEGISLATURE ADJOURNS –EVERYONE PAYS MORE FOR WASTEFUL GOVERNMENT SPENDING UNDER DEMOCRATS’ TAX & SPENDING PLAN, but moved on to object to the state of Minnesota not spending more money on Teen Challenge.
Gazelka wants you to pay for a program that's based in the Assemblies of God and cites dubious statistics to support his claim:
In mid-April a significant debate took place in the senate regarding funding for Teen Challenge. An amendment was offered to SF 1607 to add $1.5 million in funding for housing for Minnesota Teen Challenge. Senator Dibble, (D-Minneapolis) strongly opposed this amendment on the grounds that Minnesota Teen Challenge is a faith based recovery program. Senator Gazelka commented that “with Teen Challenge’s recovery and success rates of up to 75%, this is clearly one of the few, if not the only recovery program that has gotten the job done and helped many thousands of young people and even some adults to break free from the chains of addiction, live a life free from these chains, and become productive members of society. This is clearly a program that has significant return on investment.” Teen Challenge relies heavily on private donations, the proposal to add $1.5 million would not go toward religious instruction, but to help them with their building foundation and maintenance of their facility. Gazelka went on to say, “I believe that the spirit in which opposition to this amendment was intended was misguided, it is imperative that we support programs that support Minnesotans.”
Not quite. It's possible that Gazelka is taking that statistic from a January 2011 study of Teen Challenge's 12-month Life Care program by Wilder Research. Teen Challenge is a client of Wilder Research.
The study is cited on the program's website. Digging into that survey, Bluestem learned that few teens graduated from the program between 2007 and 2009:
Between 2007 and 2009, 315 men, women, and youth graduated from the Minnesota Teen Challenge 12-month Life Care program. Nearly two-thirds of program participants (66%) were adult men, 23 percent were adult women, and 11 percent were teenagers at the time of treatment.
That's about about 29 teens for three years. Moreover, the number of teens who took part in the survey is even lower:
Wilder Research, an independent evaluator, sampled and conducted one-year follow-up telephone interviews with graduates who completed treatment between August 2007 and May 2009. In total, 154 graduates, 59 percent of the sample selected for follow-up, were interviewed by Wilder Research staff. . . .
Over half (55%) of respondents were adult men, 34 percent were adult women, and 10 percent were teenagers (6% boys and 4% girls).
That takes it down to 15 or 16 teens interviewed for the survey. Within that sample, sobriety rates were lower:
Among youth graduates, abstinence rates are lower with 64 percent of youth reporting no use in the prior six months and 47 percent reporting no relapses since graduating Teen Challenge.
No wonder the program changes its name to Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. Note how Gazelka tells his constituents that the program primarily serves teens (thousands of them): ": many thousands of young people and even some adults (emphasis added).
between 2001 and 2005, 512 men, women, and youth graduated from the Minnesota Teen Challenge 12-month Life Care program. Nearly two-thirds of program participants (65%) were adult men, 20 percent were adult women, and 15 percent were teenagers at the time of treatment.
Among youth graduates, abstinence rates are lower with 37 percent of youth reporting no use in the prior six months and 29 percent reporting no relapses since graduating Teen Challenge.
If anything, the percentage of teens among those serves by Teen Challenge is declining since the beginning of the century, though the small cohort of young people who do finish the program seem to be doing better even if it's not the "thousands" Gazelka imagines finishing the program.
There's been additional substantive criticism of those "recovery and success rates." Wikipedia's entry notes several:
According to a 2001 New York Times item, it is the opinion of some social scientists that the 86 percent success rate of Teen Challenge is misleading, as it does not count the people who dropped out during the program, and that, like many voluntary NGO's, Teen Challenge picks its clients. The item quotes the Rev. John D. Castellani, then president of Teen Challenge International U.S.A., as saying that most of the addicts have already been through detoxification programs, before they are admitted. In the program's first four-month phase, Mr. Castellani said, 25 to 30 percent drop out, and in the next eight months, 10 percent more leave. In their testimony before the United States House Committee on Ways and Means, the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, have similarly testified that the much quoted success rates "dramatically distort the truth", due to the lack of reference to the high drop out rate.
Then there's Gazelka's characterization of his colleague's objection. It's not simply that the program is faith-based, it's that the program promotes one variety of Christianity. From the MinnPost Doug Grow column, Christian-based Teen Challenge treatment program prompts fight over state funding:
“Despite their claims,’’ Dibble said, “their approach is predicated on a very specific point of view. That’s their right. It stands to reason that to help someone in recovery, they need a strong set of internal values. But they’re asking for public dollars to further their religious beliefs. That’s not right.’’
During a floor debate over an amendment that would have put the funds back in the bill, Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, raised similar concerns, saying Jews ordered into treatment by the courts have been denigrated at Teen Challenge.
Public dollars do go into other Christian-based organizations, such as Lutheran Social Services and Catholic Charities.
But those organizations are different from Teen Challenge, Dibble says. In his view, those groups aren’t aimed at conversion; they’re reaching out to those in need but not wearing religion on their sleeves.
For all its successes, Teen Challenge’s cure can be totally destructive for gays and lesbians, Dibble said.
He noted, for example, that Janet Boynes, a former lesbian who has announced homosexuality as sinful and like an addiction, was invited to be a speaker at a Teen Challenge event.
“When a gay person is immersed in an environment like that, they can’t help but think there’s something deeply wrong with them,’’ said Dibble. “Some of those [homophobic] values are inseparable from their approach. It does not work for the GLBT person. . . .It’s fine for those at Teen Challenge to believe what they want, but should taxpayers pay for those beliefs?’’
Grow goes on to note that often teens are offered the choice to do time or do Teen Challenge. What are courts doing prescribing religion as treatment?
The Wikipedia entry for Teen Challenge notes that a national leader of Teen Challenge boasted during House committee testimony about converting Jews, so Latz's complaint isn't unfounded:
Conversely, such funding has come under attack through comments by John Castellani, the former President of Teen Challenge USA, during a House Government Reform subcommittee, examining the efficacy of religious social service providers. During the hearing, Castellani said Teen Challenge does not hire non-Christians as employees and, when asked if the group takes non-Christians as clients, he said yes, and boasted that some Jews who finish his Teen Challenge program become "completed Jews."  Critics of faith-based funding cite this as an example of how religious intolerance could be publicly funded. (The "completed Jews" phrase is often used by Christians and Messianic Jews to refer to Jewish people who become believers in Yeshua (Jesus). The phrase is considered offensive to many Jewish groups because it suggests Jews are "incomplete" unless they believe in the divinity of Jesus.)
The Star Tribune reported:
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said court-ordered participants were not free to leave if they disagreed with the evangelical content of the program. And he said the program's fervent Christian orientation has been known to denigrate Jews.
Moreover, past participants have also described such practices as casting out demons and belief in "generational curses." Exorcism, anyone? I hope they know Latin.
Image: Gazelka's not alone with his love for Teen Challenge. Lots of Minnesota leaders like former Governor Pawlenty, Senator Klobuchar and world-reknown businessmen Tom Petters and Frank Vennes deeply appreciated Teen Challenge's work. Indeed, Michele Bachmann gave her Petters campaign contribution to Teen Challenge when things didn't work out so well as City Pages noted in Bachmann donates Petters-tainted cash to Halloween haters; as the late Karl Bremer and And Birkey reported, Teen Challenge gave the tainted cash back. Bremer also noted:
Listed among Vennes’ secured creditors in his proposed work-out plan is Richard Scherber, executive director of Minnesota Teen Challenge. Documents filed with Vennes’ proposal show Scherber was owed $910,000 when the Petters scheme ended. Minus the returns he had received on his investments with Vennes, Scherber had an out-of-pocket loss of $423,759, according to court documents. Under Vennes’ proposed work-out plan, Scherber would receive only $173,741.
Last year, the legislature limited clawback lawsuits when trustees in the Petters mess tried to get some of the Petter pelf back. Seems like a lot of worship of money and power concentrated around this faith-based program. (Image via Vennes Info.)
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