The World Wide Association Of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS or WWASP) is an organization based in Utah, in the United States. WWASPS was founded by Robert Lichfield and was incorporated in 1998. WWASPS states that it is an umbrella organization of independent institutions for education and treatment of troubled teenagers, all operating in accordance with WWASP guidelines. Many outside observers believe, however, that the WWASPS-affiliated institutions are actually owned (through limited partnerships, many of which have used the same street address) by WWASPS or its principal officials or their close relatives. WWASPS is connected to several affiliated for-profit companies. These include Teen Help LLC, the marketing arm of WWASPS and the entity that processes admissions paperwork; Teen Escort Service, a teen escort company that transports teenagers to WWASPS facilities; R&B Billing, which does tuition billing and payment processing; and Premier Educational Systems, LLC (also called Premier Educational Seminars), which conducts orientation and training workshops for parents whose children are in WWASPS facilities. WWASPS claims to have helped over 10,000 students with issues related to personal behavior. Some participants and parents give positive reports of their experiences, but others say that WWASPS programs were abusive. WWASPS has faced widespread allegations of physical and psychological abuse of the teenagers sent into its programs, resulting in a lawsuit filed against the organization in 2006.
- 1 Facilities
- 2 Related and spinoff programs and projects
- 3 Controversy
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
- 7 External links
WWASPS operates, formerly operated, or is associated with, several facilities in the United States and in other countries. In 2003 there were 2,300 students enrolled in its facilities and programs.
In July 2007 World Wide's president, Ken Kay, told the Salt Lake Tribune that only two schools remained in the WWASPS network, including Majestic Ranch Academy in Utah, which he said was likely to sever its ties with the organization. Schools and programs currently or formerly associated with the organization include the following:
- Cross Creek Programs in Utah
- Gulf Coast Academy in Lucedale, Mississippi (formerly Bethel Girls' Academy, Bethel Boys' Academy, and Eagle Point Christian Academy)
- Old West Academy (formerly Majestic Ranch Academy) in Utah
- Midwest Academy in Keokuk, Iowa
- Horizon Academy in Amargosa Valley, Nevada
- Red River Academy in Lecompte, Louisiana.
- Woodland Hills Maternity Home in Utah
- Pillars of Hope, (previously the site of closed school Academy at Dundee Ranch) in Costa Rica
- Mentor School, located in the former Hotel Carara near Tárcoles in Costa Rica.
- Academy at Ivy Ridge in Ogdensburg, New York (closed in early 2009; property has been sold)
- Bell Academy in California (shut down in 2003 after issues with state Social Services)
- Bethel Girls Academy in Mississippi (shut down in Feb. 2005 after state officials investigate reports of abuse)
- Brightway Hospital in St. George, Utah (closed in 1998 by authorities for providing inadequate care and abuse)
- Carolina Springs Academy (license revoked, name illegally changed to Magnolia Hills Christian Academy, website changed) in South Carolina. Campus abandoned as of September 2010 
- Darrington Academy in Georgia. Closed in March 2009; 90 students were enrolled at the time of closure. School director Richard Darrington was arrested in May 2009 and charged with battery of two students at the school.
- Royal Gorge Academy in Canon City, Colorado, closed in October 2008. Youth sent to Red River Academy.
- Sky View Christian Academy, for boys, in Hawthorne, Nevada. Enrolled about 120 students and employed about 63 staff and teachers, with a total annual payroll of $1.57 million. Closed abruptly in 2007 after a hazing incident.
- Spring Creek Lodge Academy, Sanders County, Montana; operated from the late 1970s until January 9, 2009.
- Academy at Dundee Ranch, Costa Rica (raided by authorities on May 22, 2003 after an investigation into child abuse)
- Casa By The Sea, Ensenada, Mexico (investigated and shut down by the Mexican government after allegations of abuse; raided by Mexican authorities on Sept. 10, 2004)
- High Impact in Tecate, Mexico (investigated and shut down by the Mexican government after allegations of abuse)
- Morava Academy, Brno, Czech Republic. Opened in 1998 and closed later that year when Czech police arrested its managers (Glenda and Steven Roach, former police officers from Utah) and charged them with child torture.
- Paradise Cove, Samoa (shutdown by Samoan authorities because an investigation determined credible allegations of abuse)
- Sunrise Beach, Cancún, Mexico (raided and closed by Mexican authorities in 1996 over abuse)
- Tranquility Bay in Jamaica (subject of several documentaries detailing severe abuse; closed in Jan. 2009)
Related and spinoff programs and projects
Some personnel formerly associated with WWASP schools and programs have gone on to establish or work at other similar institutions.
In 2005 Robert Lichfield and the Utah-based holding company, Golden Pond Investments Ltd., made an offer to buy the campus of the Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri, to open a new school for adolescents needing help with discipline, responsibility and leadership skills. It was announced that the school would be directed by former WWASP staff member Randall Hinton and his brother Russell Hinton. The Hintons told Boonville officials that the proposed school would not be a part of WWASP. The Boonville City Council rejected the proposal.
WWASPS and its associated institutions have been the target of criticism over their treatment methods, including allegations of severe abuse and torture by staff at programs supported by WWASPS. The programs have been the subject of legal investigations by several U.S. states. In 2003, a reporter for The New York Times interviewed 60 current and former program participants and parents; some gave positive reports of their experiences, while other participants and parents said that WWASPS programs were abusive.
Numerous former students or their parents have filed lawsuits against WWASPS, its personnel, or individual schools. Most have been settled out of court or dismissed for procedural reasons. For example, a 2005 lawsuit filed in California on behalf of more than 20 plaintiffs was dismissed because the judge found that California lacked jurisdiction. In June 2007, Utah attorney Thomas M. Burton told a reporter that six suits he had filed against WWASPS on behalf of his clients had been dismissed on procedural grounds. WWASPS president Ken Kay told an interviewer that lawsuits against WWASPS are ploys to get money, brought by people who "are never going to be happy." A lawsuit filed in 2007 against WWASPS and its founder, Robert Lichfield, on behalf of 133 plaintiffs alleging physical and sexual abuse and fraudulent concealment of abuse brought negative publicity to Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, because Lichfield was one of six co-chairs of the Utah state fundraising committee for Romney's campaign.
On several occasions, WWASPS and its principals have responded to criticism by suing their critics. Robert Lichfield sued two individual people associated with the International Survivors Action Committee (ISAC) for defamation, invasion of his privacy, and causing "intentional interference with 'prospective economic advantage'." That suit was pending as of April 2005. In May 2005 a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed (on jurisdictional grounds) a defamation lawsuit brought by WWASPS against a United Press International reporter who had done research for a news story about alleged abuse at several WWASPS schools. The reporter was accused of having made defamatory statements about WWASPS to "potential students, former students, parents of potential and former students, an employee of a state agency responsible for licensing a member school, and a Utah attorney who had filed numerous suits against [WWASPS]." 
On August 31, 2007, Randall Hinton was convicted of one count each of third degree assault and false imprisonment, for mistreating students at the WWASP-affiliated Royal Gorge Academy, of which he was manager and co-founder. However, the jury returned verdicts of "not guilty" on four other counts of third-degree assault and one other count of false imprisonment. Hinton was sentenced to jail followed by probation.
- See Investigation shows troubled school may be buying interest with lawmakers (Associated Press, September 20, 2004), Utah-based school owner banned (Deseret News, July 6, 2003), and Former student alleges months of abuse (John Sullivan, Columbia Daily Tribune, April 15, 2005.)
- Parents Divided Over Jamaica Disciplinary Academy by Tim Weiner, The New York Times, June 17, 2003
- Maia Szalavitz, The Trouble with Troubled Teen Programs, Reason, January 2007
- John-Thor Dahlburg, Key to His Schools' Success? It's God, Founder Says, Los Angeles Times, July 13, 2003
- See http://www.premier-ed.com/
- WWASPS Rebuttal website
- Troubled Teen Programs - 25 Plaintiffs Join in Lawsuit Against WWASPS, Cross Creek Manor, Robert Lichfield, and Associates – More Expected to Join In, press release by Coalition Against Institutionalized Child Abuse, Webwire, October 16, 2006
- Loophole in state law has allowed some in teen-help industry to go unlicensed, The Salt Lake Tribune, July 16, 2007
- Homepage of the school
- Ivy Ridge, home sold for $2.8m, Watertown Daily Times, April 25, 2009
- Henry Winckel, The Porterville Recorder, September 26, 2003
- Animal Bones, Carcasses Found At Closed School - Dozens Of Surviving Animals Rescued By Upstate Group, WYFF4, September 10, 2010
- Brian K. Finnicum, Darrington closes doors, The News Observer (Blue Ridge, Georgia), March 2, 2009
- Scott Neufer, Battery investigation trails Whittell dean, The Record-Courier (Gardnerville, Nevada), September 4, 2009. ("According to the Blue Ridge News Observer, Darrington was arrested in May by Fannin County sheriff's investigators for allegedly slamming a 17-year-old student on the floor, causing a tooth to fall out, and pushing a 16-year-old juvenile into a wall. Darrington paid $6,000 bail and was released from jail. He relocated to Nevada, though the charges are still pending.")
- School Shuts Down, Dozens Lose Their Jobs, By Marshall Zelinger, KRDO Radio News, october 17 2008
- Housing slump indefinitely delays Hawthorne project, Reno Gazette Journal, December 2, 2007, and Hawthorne project postponed, by David C. Henley, Lahontan Valley News, December 1, 2007.
- Spring Creek closes its doors, by Jamie Doran, Clark Fork Valley Press, January 14, 2009
- Sandra Dibble & Anna Cearley, Baja raids shut boarding schools for U.S. teens, The Union-Tribune (San Diego), September 11, 2004
- Too-tough love?, Forbes Magazine, March 22, 1999
- Adam LeBor, Czech school accused of torturing pupils, The Independent (London), November 20, 1998
- Nadya Labi, Want Your Kid to Disappear?, Legal Affairs, July–August 2004
- Lou Kilzer, Desperate Measures, Denver Rocky Mountain News, 1999
- Joanne Green, Rough Love,Miami New Times June 22, 2006
- Boonville to discuss Kemper proposal: A company involved in the plan has faced abuse allegations, Columbia Missourian, April 11, 2005, and John Sullivan, Kemper suitors plan new military school, Columbia Daily Tribune, April 5, 2005.
- Amy Joi Bryson, Utah-based group under fire, Deseret Morning News, April 21, 2005
- Joanne Green, Rough Love: Kids from South Florida and beyond are sent to Jamaica to straighten up. Or else, Miami New Times, June 22, 2006.
- Alexander Bolton, Lawsuits hit a Romney money man, The Hill, June 20, 2007
- Maia Szalavitz, Romney, Torture, and Teens: The former governor's connections to abusive "tough love" camps, Reason Magazine, June 27, 2007.
- Order and Judgment, World Wide Association of Specialty Programs ad Schools v. Thomas G. Houlahan, United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, May 10, 2005. No. 04-4181 (D.C. No. 2:04-CV-107-DAK)
- Hinton guilty on two counts: Jury finds Royal Gorge Academy official guilty of assault, false imprisonment, The Cañon City Daily Record, 9/1/2007, Page A8.
- Randall Hinton Sentenced to Jail for Bloody Assault on Child, November 20, 2007, by Tracy Harmon, and Top 10 stories of 2007, The Cañon City Daily Record, 12/31/2007, Page A1.
- Claire and Mia Fontaine, Come Back: A Mother and Daughter's Journey Through Hell and Back, HarperCollins, 2006. ISBN 978-0060792169
Web sites for WWASP facilities and affiliated institutions
- Academy at Ivy Ridge
- Cross Creek Programs
- Carolina Springs Academy
- Darrington Academy
- Gulf Coast Academy
- Midwest Academy
Marketing web sites promoting institutions associated with WWASP
- 2 Boot Camp
- Help My Teen
- Parent Support Services
- Teen Paths
- Teen Recovery
- Teen Revitalization
- Teen Soulutions
- Teens with Problems