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Teen Challenge Won't Welcome Everyone to Meander Rehab Centre

Andrea Dawkins

Andrea Dawkins  -  Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Tags: Family Violence, Drug Policy, Discrimination, LGBTI, Children and Young People, Women, Working with Vulnerable People

Ms DAWKINS (Bass) - Madam Speaker, I rise to speak about the future of the old Meander Valley School under the management of an organisation named Teen Challenge.  When the state decided to sell the site, Teen Challenge saw an opportunity and orchestrated the outcome which has now been presented.  The Meander Valley Council has approved Teen Challenge as the new tenants of the site.  They are an organisation which claims to take in young women who have issues of dependence or difficulty without the assistance of any health professionals and turn their life around with only the support of religion to rely on.

They came to our attention when we were asked to attend a public meeting on the issue in the Meander community in March.  I was extremely concerned about what I heard at that meeting and could not see a way that the Meander Valley Council would approve their tenancy, but last week they did.  The proponents of Teen Challenge presented a very shiny and very attractive picture of the future of the old school site but there are many questions left unanswered.

Firstly, I am going to give you some testimonials from people who have been through the program in other parts of Australia or the world.  Family members who have loved ones in Teen Challenge programs across the country have many unanswered questions.  Many seem to be crying out for help because they are not able to find out how their loved ones are really doing.  The Teen Challenge staff are not returning phone calls to concerned family members.  they closely monitor conversations in visits so as not to allow the person who is in treatment to be able to tell their family members exactly what is happening to them.  Teen Challenge staff will disconnect telephone conversations when either party mentions something they do not think is appropriate.  Teen Challenge staff reprimand your loved using various forms of punishment and discipline that you may not approve of.  Teen Challenge severely limits contact with the outside world during the entire one-year stay. 

Teen Challenge staff have also been accused of physical, mental and spiritual abuse.  There are very high drop-out rates that will completely change the public's perception of those incredibly high success rates that Teen Challenge continually boasts of.  Some of the things that have been said include, and this was something that was told to a young woman who was attempting to turn her life around by seeking help at Teen Challenge:

Don't listen; commonsense and logic are tools of the devil.  They will keep you from getting into heaven is what we were taught at Teen Challenge.  Take authority over you in the name of Jesus, is what they attempt to do.  Jesus is not a caring and forgiving saviour to them, Jesus is a pit bull on a leash. 

What they say is, if you do not turn your life around and submit to the will of God, then Jesus is going to come after you.  You have no future without the love, very forceful love, of Jesus is what proponents of Teen Challenge will tell you.

There are so many similar reports from all over the world.  Our biggest concern is that we believe the proponents of Teen Challenge have specifically chosen drug rehabilitation because there are no rules or regulations about who can run a rehab program.  We wrote to the Minister for Health back in March with those concerns:

I have received much contact to my office requesting information about drug and substance addiction rehabilitation service in Tasmania.  I would be pleased if you could advise me what, if any, rules or regulations rehabilitation centres in Tasmania are required to adhered to or work under. 

We received no communication back from the minister at all and we believe that is because there are no rules and regulations.  The Australian therapeutic communities seem to be the best place for some benchmarking around the appropriate way to regulate a drug rehab and Missiondale is the only place in Tasmania that has signed up to those voluntary regulations.  There is nothing to suggest that Teen Challenge have any rules or regulations.  They have no health care professions, no security guards, no psychologists, no social workers and they set themselves up as somewhere people who have been abused in family violence situation could seek help.  We all know that women's refuges are places that are hidden in the community for very good reasons.  Once someone is removed from a situation of disadvantage of threat, they need to be protected.  They do not need to be put in a place that has been widely proclaimed to be that very thing. 

I donate food regularly to the women's shelter in Launceston.  I meet a third party in a different place every time I donate food, so I cannot ever know where that space is, to protect those women.  This is not what Teen Challenge is doing. 

The concerns are what security will there be for the people in the community who remain living there, while Teen Challenge is ensconced at the school?  Who will be employed?  Will staff have to have police checks for working with children and vulnerable people?  Will there be any up to date or relevant accreditation?  Will the organisation come under the scrutiny of health, eduction and child welfare ministers and their agencies to ensure no unfair, discriminatory or coercive behaviour modification is used because in the past, Teen Challenge has said they can cure homosexuality. 

Ms O'Connor - That is disgraceful. 

Ms DAWKINS - What I heard that night in the Meander Town Hall was that a woman stood up and said, 'What if a young lesbian, bi or transperson came to you for help?'.  The proponent of Teen Challenge said, 'We will turn them away because this is not the facility for them'.

Time expired.