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Reformatory CP - October 2002

St Petersburg Times, Florida, 18 October 2002

A house of hope

From the worst of circumstances, kids come to Hope Children's Home to learn and be nurtured in a Christian, family environment.

By Tim Grant
Times Staff Writer


CARROLLWOOD -- At the end of their evening Bible study, the girls at Hope Children's Home spoke of prayers that had been answered, and prayed for things they wanted.

A 16-year-old girl asked the group to pray for her broken family. A 14-year-old thanked God for a chance to go shopping. An 11-year-old prayed someone would donate spinach, pizza and grits to their home.

"It's pretty cool because if we pray for something and it comes in, it's ours," said Amy, 15.

Administrators at this 34-year-old children's home off Mushinski Drive say they never have to shop at a grocery store. The home is totally sustained by donations. Each night the children -- identified here only by first name, because some are in protective custody -- ask God to provide food items they enjoy.


"I think one of the things that leads these kids to Christ is, they see all these miracles," said Ray Boltz, 37, a house parent at this Christian home for abused and unwanted children. "They see the way God provides for us here."

Gov. Jeb Bush's naming of conservative Christian Jerry Rieger to head the Department of Children and Families has revived a long-running debate about the role of religion in the social services. Much of what the Hope home does -- including corporal punishment and a strong emphasis on prayer -- would not be allowed if the home were part of the state child welfare network.

Realizing that fact, Hope chooses not to accept state money, relying instead on private donations from businesses, religious organizations and private donors.

"We insist on independence because of our desire to raise our children in church and in prayer," said Bryan "Buddy" Morrow, the home's executive director. "We find that it's Christ who makes a difference in our children's lives."

The campus, a former Boy Scout camp south of Gunn Highway and west of Henderson Road, is home to 76 children, ages 2 to 18. They come here from juvenile courts, churches, social service agencies and broken homes. They're often victims of abuse, neglect and exploitation.

What Hope provides them is a home. It's neither a rehabilitation center nor a reform school. It's a place where the children live and are nurtured in a family environment with a Christian foundation.

Biblical connections

Christianity and prayer are woven into the fabric of every day at Hope Children's Home.

After rising at 6:30 a.m., the children pray and meditate until breakfast. They pray and read a Bible Scripture before each meal. They pray before going on field trips or leaving the property.


The children in each dormitory share one kitchen and a great room with a television, a pool table, sofas and games.

"Our main challenge is making them do right and being consistent," said Harold Groves, a house parent.

Teens can stay up until 11 on Saturday nights. Children can make two 15-minute telephone calls a month. For their own protection, they cannot receive telephone calls from anyone who is not on a calling list.

The children visit their families for three days each month. They go home for 11 days around Christmas and 11 days each summer.


A bulletin board for each Hope family also lists children who break rules and what punishment they received. One child, caught sneaking food from the kitchen, could have no sweets for a month. Another, who talked back to a house parent, had work duty for two weeks.

While they are disciplined in a variety of ways, some are punished as a last resort according to the biblical verse: spare the rod, spoil the child.

Five staff members are authorized to paddle students according to a strict set of guidelines, Morrow said. They can use only a paddle, never hands or a belt. Three swats are the most they can give, there must be an adult witness, and a child is never swatted by a staffer of the opposite sex.

"It's about a 30-minute process because we sit down with them and explain why they are being paddled," Morrow said. "We tell them it's in love and not anger. Then after they're paddled we give them a hug and pray with them."


Douglas, 14, was abandoned by his parents at age 2 and bounced around to various relatives for years before his grandmother won custody. Along the way, he said he suffered physical and mental abuse.

"Douglas has had some problems. And where I live, they would not allow him to attend public schools," said his grandmother, Narvell Potts, 63, of Inverness. "Hope has really helped Douglas and I thank the Lord."

Though he still gets in trouble occasionally, administrators at Hope said Douglas has improved. But they have had to take the paddle to him -- 12 times in three months, Douglas said.

"Some hurt, some don't," he said. "It's all right here, but there are still times I want to be home with my grandmother."

He considers himself a Christian now.

"Now, me and my grandmother talk to each other kinder," he said. "I don't fuss and I'm not rude to her no more."

Operating without state help

The Hope home could receive state financial aid, like many other social service programs, said Bob Brooks, director of communications at the Department of Children and Families in Tallahassee.

"The funding is there, but they chose not to accept the funding because there are certain guidelines they don't want to adhere to," Brooks said.

While unable to speak specifically about Hope's merits or weaknesses, Brooks said that "the state is not likely to permit corporal punishment" and would take a close look at the religious content as well.

That's fine with the people at Hope.

"Our desire to be free of state license was because of the state agency formerly known as HRS (Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services) telling us that we couldn't have our children pray," Morrow said. "Their feeling was prayer would be the equivalent of teaching children to beg."

Instead, Hope is licensed by the Florida Association of Christian Child Caring Agencies and its school is accredited through the Florida Counsel of Private Schools. Hope staff are all certified Christian counselors and therapists, Morrow said.


Copyright 2001 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved

Lexington Herald-Leader, Kentucky, 19 October 2002

Educators not guilty of abuse

Two Officials At Private McCreary County School Are Acquitted

By Bill Estep
South-Central Kentucky Bureau


Two officials are not guilty of physically abusing children at a McCreary County religious academy for rebellious young people, a jury ruled yesterday.

Jurors deliberated about 45 minutes before acquitting Blaine Shaw and his son Jeff on a single felony charge each of criminal abuse involving four children. Blaine Shaw, 61, is executive director of Beulah Mountain Christian Academy; his son, 33, is a dormitory supervisor and teacher.

In February, the state Cabinet for Families and Children removed 27 children from the academy, a private residential school, and got an emergency court order to shut it down.

The cabinet said social workers had found multiple incidents of abuse at Beulah Mountain, including cases in which staff members banged children's heads together, punched a student, kicked children and hit them with a paddle 10 times or more. A grand jury indicted the Shaws.

At their trial this week, Jeff Shaw acknowledged using paddling and light kicks to correct behavior among the troubled students at the academy. But there was no intent to harm kids and the punishment was never harsh enough to be cruel, which is what the law prohibits, the defense argued.

"It was fit for the conduct and was meant as a deterrent and was proper discipline," said the Shaws' attorney, William Gary Crabtree of London.

Commonwealth's Attorney Allen Trimble argued that children had faced excessive punishment at Beulah Mountain. For instance, there was testimony that one boy was hit 45 times with a paddle in a group spanking meted out by fellow students, Trimble said.

However, there was also testimony from a former student who said he was kicked but didn't suffer pain or impairment. Another former student testified that the Shaws cared about the children at the academy and helped them.

Trimble said two victims were out of state and could not be located to testify.

The academy has long been a fixture in the community, first as an orphanage and later in its current mission. Its history, and conservative local attitudes in support of corporal punishment, likely played a role in the jury's decision. "I think that was very much a part of the jury's opinion," Trimble said.

Blaine Shaw said he was pleased with yesterday's verdict.

"It's never been my battle. It's been God's battle, and he took it through for us today," Shaw said.

Beulah Mountain is supported by the national Bible Missionary Church, which Shaw said has about 225 congregations. The church supplies most of the academy's budget and most of the children at the academy are referred through the church, Shaw said.

None of the 27 students removed from Beulah Mountain in February was from Kentucky; they ranged in age from 9 to 18. The school has had in-state students at times, however.

Yesterday's verdict does not end the academy's legal fight. The state still wants a permanent injunction barring Beulah Mountain from operating as a child-caring facility without a license, said Michael Jennings, spokesman for the Cabinet for Families and Children.

A child-caring facility is defined as one that provides care on a continuous basis for children younger than 18.

Jennings said it would be a leap to conclude that because the Shaws were acquitted in the criminal trial they are presumed not to have committed abuse as defined by the state juvenile code.


2001 heraldleader and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, 19 October 2002

2 school officials acquitted of abuse

Jury's quick verdict pleases supporters, angers boy's parent

By Alan Maimon
The Courier-Journal

WHITLEY CITY, Ky. -- A jury took just 45 minutes yesterday to acquit two officials of a religious boarding school of criminal abuse charges in a trial that focused on how corporal punishment was used.

The verdict set off a celebration by supporters of the men, and anger from the parent of a child who testified that he was kicked and injured. It did not affect a court order that shut down the school in February amid a state review of abuse allegations.

Blaine Shaw, 61, executive director of the Beulah Mountain Christian Academy for troubled children, and his son Jeff, 33, a dormitory supervisor, each had been charged with one felony count of criminal abuse.

In a trial that began Tuesday, two students testified they had their heads banged together, were kicked or were excessively paddled. But the jury acquitted the Shaws.

"Hallelujah!" Blaine Shaw said as he left the McCreary County courthouse surrounded by about 70 supporters. He and his son had faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

"I'm as innocent today as I was eight months ago," Blaine Shaw said.

"I was confident in the people of McCreary County," Jeff Shaw said.

Despite the verdict, Mike Jennings, a spokesman for the state Cabinet for Families and Children, said yesterday that the agency will seek to prevent the school from reopening under its current leadership.

Jennings said the proof of abuse required in the civil complaint is "a whole lot less" than that required in a criminal case.

Blaine Shaw said he was confident the academy would be allowed to reopen. "They have nothing on us. We are going to continue helping children," he said.

A few students 18 or older remain at the academy.

Tim Carr, a Rock Island, Ill., pastor who was one of the Shaws' supporters at their trial, said he was thrilled by the outcome. "I never had any doubt about their innocence," Carr said. "I've seen them around children and know how good they are with them."

But Rhonda Campbell of Prestonsburg, the mother of 9-year-old Jordan Ward, one of the boys who testified he had been abused, said she was angered by the verdict.

"I know what happened there, and I can't believe they can get away with it," Campbell said. "They're saying it's OK for people to hurt children."

The case included four alleged victims, but only two testified against the Shaws. Jordan Ward said he had been kicked while running around a track last year and was left with a deep bruise.

Shane Waggener, 16, of Jasper, Ark., said that 15 other students paddled him three times each on one occasion, and that Jeff Shaw struck him 10 times with a paddle until he bled.

Commonwealth's Attorney Allen Trimble said the issue was whether the jury believed the punishment inflicted on the children was cruel. "The unfortunate message is that a jury didn't believe that 10 or 45 whacks with a paddle was cruel punishment," Trimble said.

In his closing arguments, defense attorney William Gary Crabtree argued that the punishments levied by the Shaws weren't cruel and in some cases were exaggerated by the children.

"The mere fact that the (corporal punishment) policy was exceeded doesn't make it a criminal act," Crabtree said. "Cruelty is supposed to inflict pain and suffering while being devoid of human feelings."

Beulah Mountain accepted at-risk students whose recommendations came from among the 230 pastors of the Bible Missionary Church. Parents and guardians were required to sign a waiver that allowed staff members to use corporal punishment. The waiver stipulated that school officials could not paddle a child more than twice at any given time.

In February, at the request of the Cabinet for Families and Children, Circuit Judge Paul Braden -- who presided at the Shaws' trial -- temporarily shut down the school after social workers said children were being physically and emotionally abused there.

Braden's order allowed the state to remove the academy's 30 students, from 12 states and Canada and ranging in age from 9 to 18. The students were sent home after being taken to a Louisville crisis-care center.

Copyright 2002 The Courier-Journal.

blob Follow-up: 23 April 2003 - School closed amid abuse allegations will reopen

Seattle Times, Washington State, 20 October 2002

Former residents of boys ranch gather to thank Father Joe

By The Associated Press

SPOKANE - He was legendary in his use of the discipline paddle, but former residents of Morning Star Boys Ranch choose to remember the Rev. Joe Weitensteiner for his compassion.

Weitensteiner's one-time power with the paddle never overshadowed the compassion he's shown as the ranch's organizational leader for 45 years.

Since 1957, about 1,200 boys have lived at the ranch in a pine grove on the Glenrose Prairie south of here. Morning Star is home to about 20 at-risk youths who are usually referred by officials from Spokane County Juvenile Detention.

Private donations have kept the boys ranch alive in recent years.

On Tuesday, many of those one-time troubled boys paid tribute to "Father Joe," who still directs the ranch.

About 40 people gathered in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Sam Cozza at the Spokane County Juvenile Detention Center.

Spokane attorney Ray Clary said he's known Weitensteiner since he was 11 and went to live at the ranch.

As a boy, Clary said, there was one thing ranch residents didn't want to hear: "Father Joe wants to speak to you."

"You see, Father Joe was a legendary hacker," Clary said of the priest's use of a paddle. "But I benefited greatly by Father Joe's efforts; it's an honor to be here and honor him."

Terry Neal, a Washington Trust Bank vice president, said he lived at the ranch for a year at age 11.

"Structure and responsibility combined with nurturing and confidence are all attributes that exist at the Morning Star Boys Ranch," Neal said.

And James Young, a real-estate agent for Tomlinson Black, said he didn't know where his life would be today had he not gotten one more chance.

In 1971, in the fifth grade, Young said he was in frequent trouble at school and with the law. He lived at the ranch, then got released and got into more trouble. The cycle repeated itself until high school.

"I didn't have the strength to stay away," Young said. "But I was fortunate. Father Joe gave me one last try, and I never looked down that road again."

Rick Fleck, now the owner of Wild Moose Productions in Spokane, lived at the boys ranch for eight years because his parents died and his grandmother was unable to take care of him.

"I went in there with the anticipation of having a permanent home," Fleck said. "And I got it."

Fleck said it was nothing for the priest to put gas in the bus, load up the boys and "see where the road takes us."

"It was an adventure, every day was different," Fleck said. "It taught me spontaneity and to appreciate just the fun in the effort. If it weren't for Morning Star, who knows where I would be or what I'd be doing."

Finally, with his turn to speak, Weitensteiner wasted no words.

"Speaking about hacks, our philosophy then was that kids were like canoes, when you paddled from the back you could get them on course."

But in the early 1970s, with pressure mounting to end the practice, he changed with the times.

"I remember the staff telling me that we'd lose (control)," he said. "But we found other ways to discipline which were just as effective."

Then he added: "You all have influenced me greatly. Watching you all stand here today is a great reward for me."

Copyright 2002 The Seattle Times Company

blob Follow-up: 30 June 2005 - Ex-boys' ranch staffers urged end to beatings

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