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Referral-Free Zone: Buyer Beware of Businesses Exploiting Children and Families


Victims, Moms, and Advocates Join Forces to Expose
Fraud and Child Abuse in a Booming Billion Dollar Industry

CONTACT: Shelby Earnshaw

After operating separately for years, a group of survivors, moms, authors, and advocates have joined forces against child abuse in privately operated children’s programs. The group emphasizes that parents looking for family help, especially over the Internet, have no idea that agents and programs are operating without federal oversight.

The “wolves in sheep’s clothing” begin with the self-described parent “resource experts” and referral agents. “No one is federally regulating or reigning in these businesses,” claims Shelby Earnshaw, who operates International Survivor’s Action Committee (ISAC). According to the coalition, the self-described “parent resource expert” or agent may frighten a parent looking for help for his or her child with descriptions of one bad residential program, only to lure the parent into another, from which the so-called “expert” is making big money.

ISAC is a watchdog organization that warns parents, collects evidence, and reports child abuse to authorities about privately operated children’s programs and those who refer to such programs. Ms. Earnshaw should know—she was a victim herself. Now an adult, with a family of her own, Ms. Earnshaw has dedicated her life to exposing the proliferation of fraudulent residential children’s programs. “Many times the best help for the money is near home. We are here to at least warn parents about the unethical practices of self-described resource experts and referral agents.”

Some referral organizations tout their membership with the Better Business Bureau, claiming they are “parents helping parents,” while, in fact, they are uneducated in relevant fields of child development or disorders from which children may be suffering. In reality, these Internet savvy companies are marketing experts--making their businesses traps for honest, but unwitting parents.

Thusfar, such businesses are operating with impunity because there are no federal standards by which to regulate and punish them when they go too far. Ms. Earnshaw states, “It is not uncommon for skilled agents to talk parents into moving their children across state lines and even out of the country. The parents needing help may be under severe pressure and these companies take advantage of the parents’ vulnerable state of mind.”

In starkest contrast, the Referral Free Zone is designed to provide information from researchers, authors, advocates, and parents who have no financial interest whatsoever in referring to children’s programs. “It’s not uncommon for the operators of these programs to lie about the fact they are receiving fees. There are also no federal laws requiring ‘parent resource experts’ or agents to reveal child abuse or neglect that has occurred at the programs they have just referred someone to—it’s buyer beware, at its height"

One program may refer to another, with the parent not understanding the connection between the two companies. The sites all look very different from one another, giving the appearance they are independent of one another. “This is an obvious conflict of interest,” says Ms. Earnshaw. “We know of cases where owners are up on criminal charges or in the middle of criminal investigations for child abuse, but the ‘expert or agent’ turns a blind eye because they may be friends with the owners and they have been paid. It’s very dangerous for children.”

According to the Referral-Free Zone, the latest trend is to “appear” to advocate, while referring to another company that earns money. Ms. Earnshaw explains, “Since people have gotten wind of the for-profit referral business, referrers are now teaming up with ‘child advocates.’ These ‘advocates’ will gladly tell you how awful a particular facility is, and direct you to someone who will help you find an alternative, which happens to be a business in which they have an interest in one way or another.”
The Referral-Free Zone only allows dedicated members who do not refer to children’s programs. The coalition is committed to advocating and creating true public awareness about the increasing popularity of using our children as business commodities.

ISAC said the strength of the Referral-Free Zone’s will be through the Internet, books, and films, as well as political and media campaigns. “Our power is growing and we will not stop until meaningful action is taken to regulate this dangerous private industry. The Referral-Free Zone will unify our efforts to educate and advocate.”

The Referral-Free Zone is found at ####


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