Faith Under Fire, Part 2

News 8 WISH-TV/February 27, 2002
By Karen Hensel

See Part 1 of this article

New information about alleged abuse at a faith-based juvenile center. The News 8 I-Team first reported the state has now stepped in and taken over the investigation as a case of alleged institutional abuse. The center has also changed it's policy and no longer spanks the children.

When the News 8 I-Team went undercover into the Indianapolis Training Center, one of the center's administrators admitted to spanking. Mark Cavanaugh: "there are even times that a spanking is given but that's done in a very special way." These are allegations of what state child protective services is is now investigating. Former ITC residents say spanking is common.

The I-Team has learned the Indianapolis Training Center is not licensed by the state. It doesn't have to be because it's a religious institution and doesn't take public funds. It does not have to follow state guidelines for staff or discipline. The center does have to follow state law on child abuse.

The training center opened in 1993, part of then Mayor Stephen Goldsmith's faith-based initiative. Standing in the training center Goldsmith said in 1996: "This is a remarkable organization, not very well known yet".

Not very well known then, but more and more of the former residents are speaking out to the I-Team about what they say is abuse. One child in trouble at school was given the choice between girl's school or ITC. Her family chose ITC. They shared her journal while there with the I-Team. She draws pictures of herself crying being spanked, her leaders document the spankings, the young girl accuses them of child abuse.

A former leader talks about an eight year old put into the solitary confinement of the prayer room, where they say a day is added each time you open the door. Former ITC leader Blair Aldridge says, "so when I saw him...I said Alex (the 8 year old) quit opening the door because the more you don't the sooner you'll get out. That's when he said to me I just want to see someone's face Blair and that's when I decided I need to do something to get the kids out"

Former residents stories of alleged abuse fill the internet. They also fill a new book to be released next month by Don Veinot. He works with Midwest Christian Outreach...a counter cult ministry. Karen: "we have had parents and kids tell us this is a it?" Don Veinot: "I have to define that in two ways. In the christian faith, there is a theological definition for a cult...a group that claims to be christian but denies one or more basic doctrines of the faith. That is not the case with Bill Gothard (the ministry over ITC). So, theologically he could not be considered a cult, however sociologically they do act in cultic ways with extreme authoritarianism and the idea that someone else always knows what's better for you than you do."

The girls at the center wear long skirts. They are not allowed to talk to each other without permission.

Justin Estes was 13 when he and his brother were court ordered from Jacksonville, FL. He says, "I was told to have limited contact with my brother because we were not allowed to associate with each other."

The ten year old from Marion County who shared her journal also shared letters home with us. They sound the same...telling her mother to read the bible. The kids say they have to learn bible verses daily.

Sheila Kennedy, former Executive Director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union says back in the early 1990's "we had tremendous concerns about it." Kennedy was with the ICLU when the center first opened in Indianapolis. She tells the I-Team the ICLU tried to sound the alarm on the center even then. Kennedy says, "there were referrals from a court to what was clearly a religious institution and we had constitutional concerns about that."

But Marion County Juvenile Court Judge James Payne has sent kids there for years. He says it's one of many faith-based groups receiving referrals. Judge Payne says, "we've used institutions like this forever---the United Methodist Children's Home, Father Gibbaults Catholic school for boys, Lutherwood."

Don Veinot says, "if this were happening in a non-faith based program and Christians had kids in there by order of court it would be scandalous...the church would be up in arms over it."

Karen: "should the court be sending kids there?" Sheila Kennedy: "it is my opinion the court has no business sending kids there even if not faith-based, because of lack of certification, lack of accreditation."

Judge Payne says even with allegations of child abuse, he is still offering the center as an option for trouble kids. Judge Payne tells the I-Team, "if the public defender convinces the parent to say no then the child's not going's just that simple. If parents don't agree they don't go"

ITC is still denying any wrongdoing and all inquiries now go to their attorney.

See Part 1 of this article

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