For Juvenile Sex Offenders, Intensive Program Offers Chance to Change

Jolene Altman leads a Counterpoint session. Credit: Portland Business Journal.
Linda Baker
January 17, 2012
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For two months, David Carr, a 16-year-old resident of the Counterpoint center for juvenile sex offenders, worked on a "clarification" letter to his sister.

"It's a really hard process," said David, whose sister was one of seven victims, ages 7 to 16, he sexually offended. "I've written two drafts, and get a lot of feedback from my peers."

Clarification is a term therapists use to describe the point at which the offender tells the victim, directly or indirectly, that the offender was responsible for what happened and clarifies that it was not the victim's fault. It is one of many stages most Counterpoint residents go through before graduating from the intensive residential program, which is administered by the Morrison Center for Children and Family Services in Portland, OR and serves 20 boys between the ages of 12 and 18.

An Intense Program for Troubled Boys

Counterpoint residents complete daily therapy sessions and attend a year-round, on-site academic program. The boys, who stay an average of 18 months, are either referred by the juvenile justice system or come to the program on the recommendation of family, school or social service agency.

Boys who are deemed prone to violent behavior, and those who don't demonstrate a motivation to change, are screened out of the program.

Data collected for a 2003 Counterpoint program assessment show that 62 percent of all the boys were sexually abused themselves, 42 percent were physically abused, 79 percent experienced some form of abuse or neglect, and 40 percent were victims of multiple forms of abuse.

"These kids have such horrendous histories themselves, yet they are so resilient, it makes me step back," said Jodie Teitelbaum, Counterpoint program manager. "The amount of work they have to do here most people won't do in a lifetime."

Unlike kids in juvenile detention centers, Counterpoint boys are not locked up, although they are under 24-hour sight and sound supervision, with audio monitors in their rooms. Located in a rural area outside Portland, Counterpoint is housed in a single complex where counselors, teachers and residential staff all work on-site. At lunch, staff and teachers sit at the same tables with the boys, where the conversation covers everything from sports to the importance of respecting racial differences. The kids go on field trips, including the occasional outing to a Trail Blazer basketball game. And six of the boys live off-site with foster parents, which gives them an opportunity to participate in family life

A Cognitive Therapy Model

Like many contemporary juvenile offender treatment programs, Counterpoint is based on a cognitive behavioral and relapse prevention therapy model. The key is for offenders to take responsibility for their abusive actions and reject the "thinking errors" they used to justify their abuse of another child.

David, who will graduate from Counterpoint soon, said the program forced him to confront his problems. "I used to sexualize a lot of things," said David, who is an avid basketball player and has earned admiration from his Counterpoint peers for his drawing ability. "I don't do that now." He passed a series of polygraphs as part of his evaluation and graduation requirements and will join his brother in a foster home when he is released. "I am a safe person," he said. The sister he victimized lives in another state with their mother.

Because juveniles are still learning and developing, it is easier for therapists to help them modify their thinking patterns. One therapeutic technique involves identifying triggers for disruptive behavior and making the link between emotion and behavior.

Steve, an 18-year-old recent Counterpoint graduate who next lived in a Portland independent living group home, gives an example. "What helped me was learning to express my feelings and learning to recognize the warning signs. Like isolation is one of my warning signs, or looking at certain materials." What does Steve do after he recognizes one of his warning signs? "I check my thinking to see where I'm at," he says. Steve also said calling Counterpoint staff or talking to other people in his group home helps him combat isolation.

Adolescents: Better Prospects for Change

Because of the nature and gravity of sex offenses, the public is often skeptical that sex offenders can be successfully treated. Public attitudes are also influenced by high-profile media coverage of extreme cases, such as a California man thought to have molested thousands of boys. Experts who provide treatment for offenders agree that the first priority is community safety.

But they also point to the potential for successful treatment, especially in the juvenile population. "Adolescence is a time when you're figuring out who you're going to be," said Teitelbaum. "These boys exhibited offending behavior, but that's not necessarily who they are going to be."

National statistics support Teitelbaum's claim. Although 25 to 50 percent of adult sex offenders re-offend after treatment, only 10 percent of all juvenile sex offenders who receive treatment do so. "Adults seem to specialize," said Cindy Smith, now retired a program director at the University of Baltimore Criminal Justice Graduate Program and author of several national studies on juvenile sex offenders. "They find what they like and repeat it. Juveniles have not yet found their niche. They are testing."

Life After Counterpoint

After leaving the program, Steve worked as a highway litter crew member for the Oregon Department of Transportation. He is now looking for another job. "I am not a sex offender," says Steve, who was convicted of 1st degree sodomy in connection with a 7- and 4-year old. "I am currently recovering from sex offender disorder."

Although sex offender disorder is not a clinical term, Counterpoint staff said there are several reasons the boys don't refer to themselves as sex offenders. Perhaps most important is that the term implies the boys can't change. For his part, Steve says he wants to offer some advice to current residents. "If I was to say something to the other guys, I'd say put your heart into it because you will learn things about yourself."

Art, Biology...and Therapy

During the first week of the Counterpoint summer school program, about 10 boys in a human development and biology class look up textbook information on health and fitness for a research paper. In an art class, students work on the color wheel. And in a drug and alcohol class, they design a poster about the myths and realities of marijuana.

"All adolescents go through crazy times," says Saskia Berberich, a Counterpoint art teacher who previously taught in a public high school. The behavioral problems in the two settings aren't so different, she said. "You see boys acting out as a result of neglectful and abusive behavior."

After a year of 24/7 therapy, many of the boys are startlingly upfront about their offenses and the impact on the kids they abused. Therapy terminology like "victim stance," "cycle work" and "accountability" comes easily to them.

Michael Lopez, a 16-year-old who offended six people, all family members, says he thinks Counterpoint's accountability groups are "the most serious." "That's where we have to take ownership for the people we've hurt," said Michael, who cites history and creative writing as two of his favorite subjects. He ticks off other Counterpoint therapy groups he attends on a daily or weekly basis: anger management, healthy relationships, thinking errors, and personal history.

"The boys have to be willing to own something by the time they leave here," said Teitelbaum. There is also a certain scared straight aspect to Counterpoint. Boys who re-offend know they will likely end up in jail, with limited future prospects. "We're always having them think about what will make them safe," Teitelbaum said.

Community, Family Safety

Are these kids safe to let back in the community? Follow up research at Counterpoint shows a recidivism rate of only 4 percent after one year.  Further research is necessary to evaluate the kids at 3- and 5-year intervals.

Of course, not all the kids do graduate, and Counterpoint staff said that is part of their job: to determine which boys will be safe in the community. 

In a presentation to a Portland community college family violence class in the winter of 2004, Counterpoint executive director Dixie Stevens noted that there were an estimated 1500 juvenile sex offenders in Oregon at the time. "They are not all in jail," she said. "And very few of them are in treatment. The most important thing we can do is get more of them into treatment when they are young and can be helped. Because they will be out there in the community."

About 1000 treatment programs such as Counterpoint exist around the country, and can serve only a fraction of those eligible. According to a 2009 study, juveniles account for more one third of  those known to police for committing sex crimes against minors. But funding for research and treatment programs is scarce, and many juvenile offenders wind up in correctional facilities without specialized therapeutic programs.

David, who spent two years at an Oregon youth correctional facility before coming to Counterpoint, has experienced both and is clear on the difference. "When I was at Hillcrest, I was not handling my anger. When I do get angry I hit people. The kids (at Hillcrest) thought it was cool." Since coming to Counterpoint, said David, he hasn't hit anyone (hitting can lead to expulsion.) "I had more to lose here," he said. "It's hard to get a chance to get into these programs."

Resources:

*This article was originally published on SparkAction (then Connect for Kids) on August 8, 2005. It was reviewed and updated in 2012.*


Linda Baker is a journalist based in Portland, Oregon.

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Hello Ally, I work for a mental health agency in North Carolina that offers a similar residential treatment program as described in this article. Please email me to find out what services we may be able to provide your brother. Work email is wramirez@focusbhs.com

October 2 at 09:35am

I just wanted to suggest that if it's at all possible to please try to get your son into a facility that does polygraphing it can be incredibly helpful and it can't be used against him because it's a part of the treatment/therapeutic environment. My son swore up and down that he had only hurt this one little girl~which was already beyond bad enough. I couldn't imagine that he'd done anything else but we were told by the probation office, as well as counselors once all this happened, that often by the time they are completely caught that there's often multiple offences~sometimes a teen will tell, but generally not unless it's practically pried out of them. By them knowing they can only continue to be deemed as "progressing" by passing a polygraph, it encourages them to be more forth coming, and often unburdening themselves with what they have done can really release a attitude of receptiveness towards the treatment and counsel. I am not sure if they do that at this counterpoint facility or not. Some places don't need this and not every teen who has offended does, but if there are multiple people making similar statements, to me it's worth it.

January 2 at 12:06am

Little over 2 & 1/2 yrs ago my oldest son molested a 3 yr old girl, he was 16 & 1/2 at the time. We live in AZ. It broke my heart but I took him immediately to the police & he was arrested. I had to fight through the court like C R A Z Y to get him into this type of a program. Even with the court initally approving it, and the forensic psycologist for the court stating on the record that my son was a risk to the community & self~ the behavioral health providers~were the ones who would not put him into the facility.I litterally had to file a complaint with the CPSA (here in AZ) and request a different behavioral health provier be assigned to him, and fight w/ them before they would then approve him to a level 1. Once thankfully at that facility he was polygraphed for his offence, then masabatory, and sexual history~ it was during that test that we learned that he had 2 other victims, and a dog that he'd sexually abused. I was so thankful that he was in that program~but even there~he still made some poor choices and continued behaviors that showed signs of re-offending behaviors, and cruel attitude. He was then re-arrested and taken out of that facilty and back to the detention center. It was at that time I begged the prosecution and probation departments request the registry, which they had earlier said there was no way to put him on it. Once this all happened though, and they could see clear patterns that were terribly distructive they aggreed he did fit the profile of someone who needed it and asked the judge to put him onto the sex offender registry. I wrote a letter to the judge myself which about killed me to do~ I love my son more than I could ever ever express. It was again, like pulling teeth but then he was put onto it. We have HUNDREDS of these kids out there and majority are not even able to get into programs like yours~ even when they are avilable. How come it's so hard when the help is avilable? Also how as a parent are we supposed to know about the programs if we don't know catch phrases like "mal adaptive sexual behavior" and things like that? Prior to all this happening, he'd been in counseling majority of his life. The schools were always aware of it and he was always supposed to be able to also check in with the school counselors if problems arose. I took him for a psyciatric evaluation when he was 11 yrs old at a major University's Medical Center and even there they had suggested that he continue with a phycologist~ WHICH HE DID~ yet all this time, no one ever mentioned that there were specific treatment centers avialable. If he needed a counselor, or even when trying to get referals for doctors/counselors through the insurance company to see who accepted our insurances I would say that I needed a counselor who was specificially specializing in sexual abuse, trama etc, possible pretatory tendancies. The insurance companies would give me bits and peiaces of info but nothign specific like findiing out about programs like yours, or the ones in our state. I want to know how to get more info about this out to he public. This should be osmehting that is being discussed on constnat basis, but I rarely hear about it ever. Is there a "bulk' website with helpful info like this that I am missing that give state by state help for juvenile's? Please help me find this info. We are already through the process, and my son is now 19. When he's off the registry he'll be 25 (as long as he doesn't re-offend.) He isn't living w/ me. Going through this though has been life altering...I feel horrible for the victims, and also for many of the ones in these programs because I know that many have been abuse victims themselves. Also~ are there specificially Christian ministries at all who reach out to these kids? Anywhere? Thank you for your time. My son was at YDI in Phoenix. We live in Tucson.

July 12 at 04:36pm

hi, my name is Ally and I have a 14 year old brother who is being charged with a sexual offence. i had a roommate who had a 3 year old son, and my brother did horrible things to this little boy. its not the first time we have caught him doing sexual related things.. for example he searches child porn and has done sexual acts to animals. we have tried like hell to find him help, but where we adopted him the only way we can get help is to sign our rights over, and of course that is the last thing we want to do, we have had him since he was 3 months old. he has no remorse for anything he has done and he doesnt show any sympathy for anything. I'm 4 months pregnant and at this point I can say that I dont trust him to be around my child, or any other child in our family.. he shows all characteristics of a sexual delinquent. we live in north carolina, and can not find help anywhere. we are ready to pull our hair out from frustration.. i just want to get him help, before he does this again or lands himself in jail. PLEASE!!! if anyone can help, we need it... fast before my baby comes or something else happens :/

May 1 at 03:06pm

is there a facility like counterpoint anywhere in northern california?
concerned for a juvenile offender who has not been charged or convicted but has come forward himself and asked for help!

February 26 at 10:15pm

State Workers Ignored Pleas For Help From Youth In Foster Care
 
            CHICAGO - In a newly released memoir, Betrayed By The State, by Illinois-based author John Bernadyn claims that his pleas for help were ignored by state welfare workers.  “My goal is to get the word out that these things are happening to those that are not able to protect themselves,” says Bernadyn.  Bernadyn begins with details about growing up in a dysfunctional home with graphic and heart-wrenching details of the physical, emotional and sexual abuse he endured.  Then, after being taken away from his home by state welfare workers he notes that he felt a ‘safe’ feeling for the first time.  This feeling was short-lived.
            The first stop was a foster home and, when this didn’t work out, he was transported to a children’s homeless shelter.  After bouncing around for some time, and written with a swift hand, Bernadyn was ultimately transferred to a ‘last resort’ placement where he was forced to live with inmates from the department of corrections in a treatment facility.
            While proceeding through the book, the reader can feel the immense pain and anger breathe through the pages.  When the reader least expects things to get worse, the ultimate betrayal happens.  “I continuously complained, cried, and begged for help from the staff members at the facilities and placed calls continuously to my welfare worker.  All of these cries for help went unanswered,” Bernadyn stated.  “In fact, the state welfare worker stopped taking my telephone calls all together.”
            Bernadyn ultimately filed a request for emancipation from the state welfare system.  The scene in the courtroom, described in great detail by Bernadyn, displays anger and resentment and joy and sadness – and, justice.  While one may think this book is about mere anger and retaliation, the author clearly shows a need to communicate the issues that youth wards of the state manage on a daily basis. 
            In a positive turn from a heart-wrenching story Bernadyn concludes, “I have forgiven the state for what they did to me but I will never forget.”
            John Bernadyn is the managing partner for United Advocacy Group, Inc., lectures widely throughout the country, and manages training and strategic planning for healthcare organizations.  He may be reached at JBernadyn@UnitedAdvocacy.com.

October 20 at 06:16pm

I am a clinical psychologist and am working with a 14 year old boy who has been convicted of several counts of molestation. In my opinion based on very weak evidence I believe he is innocent. However we are awaiting disposition of the case. Unless we can find an alternative he probably will go to youth detention center. Would counterpoint be a good alternative? If so who can I contact?

January 8 at 12:02pm

I am a clinical psychologist and am working with a 14 year old boy who has been convicted of several counts of molestation. In my opinion based on very weak evidence I believe he is innocent. However we are awaiting disposition of the case. Unless we can find an alternative he probably will go to youth detention center. Would counterpoint be a good alternative? If so who can I contact?

January 8 at 12:02pm

Levi - I am seeking some answers for a family in our community and your post leads me to believe that you might be able to give me some guidance. Please email me ASAP.

November 16 at 09:32am

Hi for the last 2 years have been working with CYPS and Youth Justice.Our concerns as a Support System is my 14 year old Son.He has been dealing with a demon of bad karma within himself.He has offended enough times to land himself in so much trouble.Enough for him to say else where and not here with us his Parents.I am trying to find him a safe programme closer too me,so that we can help him through these Issues of his,after all we are his parents.if you can help us in any way to see fit,that would be great.We live in New Zealand by the way.

October 17 at 07:10pm

I care less about anecdotal evidence for the success of the program and more about numbers.  What percentage of clients successfully complete the program? It says it screens out those with violent tendencies or seem uncommitted to change. What percentage does group represent.  Of those who are not screened out in this way, how many are successful.  At the web site for the Morrison Center, one sampling showed only 39% of participants successfully completed the program.  Of these, only about half were able to return to the community.  Either it means that most of the participants are cannot be redeemed, which I do not believe, or that the program is not particularly effective.  Hard facts instead of feel-good stories would be helpful in sorting this out.

August 5 at 08:18pm

My son has had similar treatment at the Montgomery Youth Center in Montgomery City, Mo. I have a Question; Do any of these children every get the charges changed so they don't have to register as a sex offender. my son was sexually abused and then did the same as a teenager. The program you have going sounds like the one my child has been in and living there for 4 years know with i must say great success. he is grown into a responsible adult. he's not a violent person and is liked by all his peers. I really would like to know if there is a chance for him to be off the registry. He was tried as an adult and sentence like a youth at the age of 16 and i think the offense of sodomy was at the age of 15. The girl was 13 and it was corrosive, like he talked her into it. Mary

June 25 at 02:52pm

I would keep doing what you're doing. When you said the boy is constantly trying to kiss her and hold  her I would see that as warning flags. Correct what the boy is doing and tell him that is not the way to show love to another girl. Kids like this will take alot of work. There is a chance this boy was sexually abused when he was young and the only way he knows how to show love is through intercourse with another individual. It is not an easy task dealing with children like this, but there is always hope. I'll be praying for you and the boy that God sends the spirit to work in the boys life.

Jeff

April 12 at 10:45am

Wow, you call yourself a "Christ follower", but your post is full of hatred and everything else Christ taught against. You say you hope he can be healed, but "in my heart, I don't feel that he has a chance"? I understand you are angry. Your daughter was violated, horribly. Well guess what, mine was too. She was violated by my 15 year old son. So I know exactly where you are coming from. But that is where our similarity ends. I beileve that my son can be healed, that he committed a dispicable act, and my wife and I removed him from our home the moment we were made aware of what happened. But we chose to seek help for our son, not just our daughter. Don't misunderstand, our daughter was the victim, and we are making sure she is getting the help she needs. But you imply that these perpatrators, juveniles with their whole life in front of them, should be locked away and punished, as they "will never be right". Who are you to say that the person that violated you daughter will never be right? If you truly follow Christ, as you assert, then you should believe that only God can heal, and he heals through prayer. And through prayer, he sends people who care for and want to help these young men. By the way, Christ taught love, compassion, charity, non-judgement. So do me and all of the other people who really do follow Chris's teaching and STOP insunuating that you are a Christian, because the fact that you do and the garbage you wrote quite frankly sickens me.

March 6 at 05:51pm

I am caring for a 14 year old who has been accused of sexually assaulting 3 kids younger than he is.  He denies he touched them except one.  He says one of them was playing truth or dare thats when it happened.  I dont know what IT is. What I do know is this child has been lying to me about many things since he has been with me.  I find myself wondering did he do it? The state says they have a strong case against him.  I really don't know what to do.  I have him in general counsling. I myself was sexually assaulted as a child and really need to know if he is guilty. I honestly don't know if I can handle him being here. The youngest victim is 5.  He has a 2 year old sister that doesn't really want him holding her. he is constantly trying to kiss her and hold her.  At this point I have decided to not let him around her. Any thought would be appreciated.

February 15 at 11:55am

wow. your approach and belief system does not really suggest a true Christian faith. it sounds like you and your family are blessed in ways that the young man who offended your daughter is not. be thankful. i pray for you.

December 23 at 11:29pm

My six year old daughter was sexually assaulted by a distant family member-a 14 year old boy who later admitted that he tried to have intercourse with her. By the blessing of God he did not succeed. He was charged with 2nd degree rape. My daughter one year later is fine by the grace of God, a loving,stable home with both parents, and excellent therapy along with our fabulous church and their prayers. I consider myself a christ follower and I work with children because I love children. I personally feel before and after the assault on my child that sexual offenders are not "right". That even juvenile offenders have a very serious problem. Now if they've been abused or have multiple disorders that cause "Impulsive actions" I personally pray for them but I do not believe they will ever be right. I forgave the young man who assaulted my daughter in a basement at a family birthday party at which I was present but it took me til the court date which was 8 months later. I cannot seem to forget what he did and wonder what I could be doing to help anyone from this horrible crime. The fact that he only got specialized doctor/therapy appointments and probation does not comfort me in the least. I feel that they should be taken out of the comfort of their home and away from their families. Placed in a nice place with lots of doctors if you will...but someplace where their lives are disrupted. Somewhere they can wake every morning and say to themselves I am here because I hurt someone. Somewhere where they think about what they did every single day. This boy that hurt my child-he got therapy. I did nothing wrong and I got therapy too! And so did my daughter. What's the consequence? I agree if you want to help them then sure try to help them but what's the consequence? No T.V.? my daughter loses that for being rude to her parents. This boy had no real consequence. He was able to continue with his life-go to work with his father, go to school, live at home. The fact that he got no consequence to really make him understand that what he did was hugely wrong,,that's what gets me. I hope he can be healed but in my heart I don't feel that he has a chance. If I'm wrong then thank God-but if I'm right then God help us and our children.

August 12 at 08:33pm

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