A Checklist Of Warning Signs That A Wilderness Program May Be Unsafe Or Dangerous

By: Michael Conner, Psy.D

Comprehensive Information: www.WildernessTherapy.Org
Mentor Research Institute:
E-mail: Conner@OregonCounseling.Org
Revised: 
May 21, 2014


Psychological trauma, physical injuries or death of children in programs are invariably the result of trauma, abuse, negligence and/or accidents. The following is a checklist of factors that are necessary to insure that a wilderness program is safe. 

The risk decreases as more of the following are present.

  • The program is licensed or regulated by a state agency that is empowered to monitor, inspect and investigate complaints.

  • Staff who are responsible for the health and well-being of children are screened, trained or certified as competent to provide services within the standards of practice of related intervention programs. 

  • The program's therapeutic activities were developed by or approved by a licensed psychologist who is qualified in behavioral health and safety.

  • The safety and well-being of your child is the direct responsibility of a qualified and licensed medical or mental health professional.

The following is list of risk factors. The risk of harm increases with each factor that is present.

  • The program does not tell you the names of the people who own the program or who has responsibility for the activities within the program.

  • Discipline in the program is based on punishment that includes depravation, verbal threats and aggression, physical restraint and corporal punishment.

  • There are no licensed mental health professionals directly involved and in frequent contact with children.

  • The owners and individuals responsible for program decisions are not the people who are responsible for the safety and well-being of children.

  • Screening and admission of children in the program is not supervised and the direct responsibility of a licensed and qualified mental health professional. 

  • The total cost to operate the program is less than $200 per day.

  • The program admits children on medications for psychiatric conditions without a screening and treatment plan provided by a qualified mental health professional. 

  • The program uses physical force and restraint for behavior that is not an immediate danger to self or others. 

For a more detailed description and discussion see, "Finding Safe and Effective Wilderness Therapy Treatment Programs." 

Copyright 2002, Michael G. Conner