Religious exemption allows some children’s homes to shield abuse verging on torture

Religious exemption at some Florida children’s homes shields prying eyes

In Florida unlicensed religious homes can abuse children and go on operating for years.

In part two, the Tampa Bay Times takes a close look at Southeastern Military Academy — a military-style children’s home that is still open despite troubling complaints.

Times staff writer Alexandra Zayas points out the problem:

The Department of Children and Families can storm into licensed homes, order changes and remove children. But the department’s ultimate weapon — revoking a home’s license — is virtually meaningless.

Lose your state license and you can apply for a religious exemption. Lose that and you can register as a “boarding school.”

Each time, the process starts over. New regulators with different rules come to visit.

Each step down the regulatory ladder relaxes the standards required of a children’s home.

Or you can start out as a “boarding school” and skip the hassles of licensing and government oversight altogether. […]

When a group home that calls itself Christian can’t or won’t get a license, when it is chased out of another state for refusing oversight, or, like Weierman’s, when it fails to meet government standards, Florida provides a fallback:

FACCCA accreditation.

Florida is among a handful of states that legally recognize a religious exemption when it comes to licensing children’s homes.

By law, exempted facilities must register with the Florida Association of Christian Child Caring Agencies, a nonprofit group that accredits homes. The association has long allowed homes to strike children with paddles, so long as they justify it with the Bible and pray with the child afterward.

Weierman surrendered his home’s state license on Feb. 12, 2001. The following month, DCF got a letter saying FACCCA had accredited his home.

Under FACCCA, Weierman was able to shut down direct access to the state’s child abuse hotline, which was created to dispatch authorities any time allegations are reported.

For three years, complaints kept coming, and in June 2004 FACCCA cut ties with Weierman. According to the Times FACCCA’s executive director later told police it was because the religious home had become a boot camp.

Alan Weierman, LinkeInd

Alan Weierman, LinkeInd

See Also

The Cult That Spawned the Tough-Love Teen Industry. That’s a sidebar to School of Shock, a Mother Jones exposé:

Eight states are sending autistic, mentally retarded, and emotionally troubled kids to a facility that punishes them with painful electric shocks. How many times do you have to zap a child before it’s torture?

The author, Jennifer Gonnerman, recently updated that story in New York Magazine: 31 Shocks Later:

Andre McCollins’s mother thought she’d finally found the right school for her son—one equipped to treat his behavioral and developmental problems. Then she took a closer look at that treatment.

More reports about Juvenile Boot Camps

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