KIDS Centers of America (1984-1990)
KIDS Centers of America were a chain of confirmedly abusive drug treatment centers founded by anthropologist Miller Newton, who was the former National Clinical Director for Straight Inc., and whose son had previously been enrolled in Straight. He left Florida in 1982 amidst a flurry of criminal and civil allegations for abusing teenagers at Straight Inc. He moved to New Jersey and setup his own Straight-spinoff program. Newton originally planned to have KIDS Centers of America supervise a national chain of 10 to 25 local organizations. He went on to open four affiliated KIDS centers; KIDS of Bergan County (New Jersey), KIDS of El Paso (Texas), KIDS of Southern California, and KIDS of Greater Salt Lake (Utah). A fifth, KIDS of the Canadian West, was also opened in Canada.
KIDS Center of America enrolled teenagers and young adults between the ages of 12 and 24. Miller Newton is reported to have employed many graduates and staff members of The Seed and Straight Inc. at KIDS. The program used at KIDS Centers was nearly identical to that used by Straight Inc., even down to the specific terminology used.
For a more in-depth history of KIDS Centers of America, survivors of the programs have created a timeline of KIDS’ existence which can be viewed here.
Founders and Notable Figures
Dr. Virgil Miller Newton was the Founder of the KIDS Centers of America. He resigned from his position as Clinical Director of Straight in 1983. He called himself Dr. Miller Newton but the “doctor” part is still up for debate. He had a degree in Anthropology and later received another degree in Psychology from an alternative school in Boston without attending any classes. He was asked to resign from Straight amid allegations of abuse and insurance fraud.
- Kimball DeLaMare was the Director of KIDS of Greater Salt Lake. He had previously worked for about 6 months at the KIDS of Bergen County program prior to working at KIDS in Utah. After KIDS in Utah was closed, he went on to help co-found the notoriously abusive Island View RTC, an Aspen Education Group program. DeLaMare also helped co-found two other AEG programs, the Aspen Institute For Behavioral Assessment and the Oakley School. In 2004, he was the recipient of the NATSAP Leadership Award.
KIDS of Bergen County: (1984-1998)
- KIDS of Bergen County (later called KIDS of North Jersey) was a KIDS Centers of America program located in New Jersey. This was first KIDS program to open, and was the headquarters of the organization. It was located at 80 Commerce Way, Hackensack, NJ 07601.
- At the height of its operation, there were reportedly over 175 kids attending this program at one time.
- In 1985, teens from El Paso, Texas started to be admitted to the KIDS of Bergen County program to form the “pilot group”, which would later be relocated to Texas to form KIDS of El Paso.
- In August of 1986, New Jersey prosecutors investigate KIDS of Bergen County in New Jersey for “possible mistreatment of participants, people being held against their will, intimidation, and possible physical abuse”.
- In 1989, multiple children were escorted out of KIDS of Bergen County by prosecutors on two different occasions.
- In 1990, 20 Bergen County officials descended on KIDS of Bergen County to investigate abuse. KIDS of Bergen County relocated to 200 Seaview Avenue, Secaucus, New Jersey 07094 and began marketing itself as “KIDS of North Jersey”.
- In 1998, KIDS of North Jersey closed its doors.
- Additional Information: KIDS of Bergen County – Survivor Website (archived)
KIDS of El Paso: (1986-1989)
- KIDS of El Paso was a KIDS Centers of America program located in Texas. It opened in February of 1986 when Miller flew a group of 19 teenagers and staff from the New Jersey program to El Paso on a chartered plane. It was located at 6500 Boeing Drive, El Paso, TX 79925.
- In January of 1987, it was reported that roughly 106 teens were enrolled in KIDS of El Paso.
- In April of 1987, a report was filed by a teen’s great-grandmother alleging clients were screamed at, called names, pushed, shoved and taken into the Quiet Room where they were beaten and bounced off walls by higher phase clients. She also alleged that her great-grandson was not drug dependent, was forced to sign papers admitting to crimes and drug use that was not true, was forced to sleep in locked rooms on the floor in his underwear without blankets in host homes, was never out in sunlight, could only use the bathroom and have a drink of water four times a day, and could not go to the bathroom or shower alone. She also stated she had personally seen marks on a teens throat. This complaint was not referred to KIDS of El Paso for a response due to the fact the complaint did not reflect a subjective report. As a result, an El Paso attorney and Texas Department of Human Services filed two complaints against KIDS of El Paso with Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
- In March of 1987, The Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse received a complaint referred from the Texas Department of Human Services based on a report by the El Paso Police Department. The police report alleged physical abuse of a fifteen-year-old that reported higher level clients had told clients to hurt others at KIDS of El Paso. He gave the officer the following example: “At times several of the kids in the program grab him, stretch him by the arms and legs, raise him about 3 or 4 feet and then drop him to the ground.” He then stated, “that the torture that is done in the program is done so as to not leave any visible bruises or marks on subjects so they have no proof of the incidents.” He stated to the police officer that his reason for running away from the program was due to the fact he could no longer tolerate the torture he received in the program.
- Because of the severity of the allegations by a minor client, Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse had the Department of Human Services send a child protective caseworker on May 13, 1987 to interview the client. The worker determined that the client was not in immediate physical danger and did not need to be removed. In addition this complaint was forwarded to KIDS of El Paso by Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse for a response which was due May 21, 1987. Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse initiated a formal investigation on KIDS of El Paso to include the first visits to the program by state investigators which coincided with an inspection for relicensure.
- In June of 1988, The Texas Attorney General filed a temporary order to close KIDS of El Paso and scheduled a hearing to determine if the closure would become a permanent order. A district judge ordered KIDS of El Paso to close its doors. KIDS initially defied the order to close. The program remained open saying that the state was being “uncooperative and unjust.” A spokesperson for the Texas Attorney General’s office said, “If they violate the court order, they could end up in jail.” The attorney for the program was later quoted as saying, “Unless I get a hearing, I may have to advise my client to close.” KIDS of El Paso staff announced to the group they would be closing. 90 were ordered sent home after a temporary injunction to close the program was filed. However, KIDS of El Paso defied these orders and remained in operation for several months following.
- In October of 1989, KIDS of El Paso announced the program would close due to financial trouble. Twenty to twenty-five teens were sent to the Salt Lake City KIDS program on a bus and the rest went to the New Jersey KIDS program.
- Additional Information: KIDS of El Paso – Survivor Website
KIDS of Southern California: (1988-1989)
- KIDS of Southern California (also called KIDS of Yorba Linda) was a KIDS Centers of America program located in Southern California. It was opened in March of 1988, shortly after the program in Texas opened. 21 teens and staff left the El Paso program on a chartered plane to start the new program. It was located at 3760 Prospect Avenue, Yorba Linda, CA 92886, which was the same building later used by Straight Inc.‘s Southern California expansion from 1989 until 1990.
- In May of 1988, KIDS of Southern California was notified by the State of California Health and Welfare Agency that they were in violation of California law by operating without a license.
- In 1989, KIDS of Southern California was forced to close by the state. However, it later reopened as “STRAIGHT Southern California”.
- In 1990, STRAIGHT Southern California, too, was forced to close its doors amidst allegations of child abuse and its teens were relocated to STRAIGHT Dallas. “Documentation on file indicates there have been incidents where children have been subjected to unusual punishment, infliction of pain, humiliation, intimidation, ridicule, coercion, threat, mental abuse or other actions of punitive nature including…interference with daily living functions such as eating, sleeping or toileting or withholding medication.
KIDS of Greater Salt Lake: (1988-1990)
- KIDS of Greater Salt Lake (also called KIDS of Salt Lake City and KIDS of the Great Salt Lake) was a KIDS Centers of America program located in Utah. It was opened in January of 1988. It was located at 462 Bearcat Drive in Salt Lake City, Utah 84115.
- The Director of this program was W. Kimball DeLaMare, who later went on to co-create the notoriously abusive Island View RTC.
- In late 1989, an 18-year-old woman filed a $6.5 million lawsuit against KIDS alleging she was held against her will at the center. She escaped once from the facility but was returned by her parents. A second attempt ended in her breaking an arm and leg while jumping from a second story roof, the suit said. A second suit, this one in state 3rd District Court, was filed in 1990 by Brett Nielsen. The suit sought damages on 10 causes of action ranging from false imprisonment to negligence.
- The program’s license was revoked and the program closed in 1990. However, KIDS of SLC immediately reopened under the name Lifeline for Youth, which is still in operation today. A website has been created detailing this further.
KIDS of the Canadian West: (1990-1991)
- KIDS of the Canadian West was opened in the spring of 1990 in Calgary, Alberta after Dr. Newton realized that he was recruiting a large number (40+) of Canadian teenagers into his New Jersey KIDS program. The Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission agreed to allocate $600,000 toward setting it up. The program was originally intended to be a support center to guide teens completing Newton’s New Jersey program to integrate back into society. Dean Vause, a counselor at North Battleford High School who had referred Calgary kids to Miller Newton, decided to take a job at KIDS with the intention of directing KIDS of the Canadian West or KCW. The exact locatino of the program is presently unknown, however it was likely located at 303 Forge Rd SE, Calgary, AB T2H 0S9, Canada.
- Due to the negativity publicity and allegations of abuse and torute in other KIDS programs, the Canadian government stopped paying for the kids in the program, despite already paying them $250,000. Shortly after in 1991, KIDS of the Canadian West was rebranded as the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Center (AARC), which is still in operation today. Dean Vause still works as the AARC’s Executive Director.
Like other behavior-modification programs, KIDS used a level-system consisting of 5 levels. It was extremely remniscent of the level system used at Straight Inc..
- 1st Phase: On 1st Phase, residents had no rights, no free will, no freedom, have to ask permission to eat (and were often deprived of food). They were called “newcomers”, even though most times, residents were stuck on 1st phase for well over a year. All they were allowed to talk about were their shortcomings as a druggie. The teens spent seven days a week in the building, up to 18 or more hours per day. 1st phase children do not live at home; they stay with other clients on higher phases of the program and are only allowed to talk to their families twice a week for five minutes at a time (under strict supervision, of course). One survivor recalls, “being able to talk to your parents for 5 minutes twice a week was something you had to earn, not a given. I was maybe awarded this privilege a handful of times. And when we did speak to them it had to consist of us apologizing for awful behaviors from our druggie past.” Some residents never got past 1st phase.
- 2nd Phase: On 2nd Phase, the kids lived at home but still spent all day at the building. At this point they were called “oldcomers” and took 1st Phasers home with them. In other words, children were fully responsible for other children. A lot of abuse is reported to have occurred in the “host homes.” It is reported that the parents witnessed this abuse, but were “just as brainwashed” as the kids.
- 3rd Phase: On 3rd Phase, the kids returned to school or were allowed to get a job, but still had to spend time at the building every day. They were not allowed to have any contact with people who are not members of the program.
- 4th Phase: On 4th Phase, the participants are not required to go to the building every day. They still take 1st Phasers home with them, but they are able to start to develop friendships with other clients, but only of the same gender.
- 5th Phase: On 5th Phase, the clients were allowed to talk to other 5th phase clients of the opposite sex, and day-off excursions could be co-ed (as long as the ratio of boys to girls was uneven). After graduation, there was six months of aftercare and no dating was allowed for five months.
The program at KIDS was based heavily on the practices of Straight Inc. Like Straight, the core of KIDS’ program revoled around “Rap Sessions“, or attack therapy groups which were led by a KIDS staff member on topics such as the rules of the program, clients’ experiences with drug use (even if the child had no prior experience with drugs), their current feelings about their drug use and their personal and family problems. In order to be called on to speak at a rap session, a teenager would be required to practice “Motivating”, a Straight tradition which the Times described as “waving your hand in the air… so hard that your arm aches and you begin to perspire.” These rap sessions were strenuous and often brought the participants to tears.
Residents at KIDS had to adhere to a strict set of rules. Their showers were timed, 60 seconds (at the most), and if by the end of the time they had not rinsed off, that was just too bad. They were not allowed to speak without permission. They were not allowed to have a bowel movement without being watched, and they were limited to one square of toilet paper. They were not allowed to go to school or read. In fact, reading the back of a cereal box was punishable by severe restraint. One survivor stated, “if we read the cereal box we would mostly be screamed at and have other privileges taken away from us, which is crazy because we had virtually no privileges at all. While we were being screamed at, if we opened our mouths at all, even if we weren’t being wise, they would slam our mouths shut with their hands. If we tried to protect our mouths from being slammed, they would restrain us on the floor.” They would be wrestled to the floor by 5 men, one on their head, the other four on their arms and legs, forcing them into the floor. Many survivors described these restraints as extremely painful and demoralizing. Often, when the residents were restrained on the floor, they were rolled up tightly in a big blanket and left for long periods of time, unable to move.
Abuse, Lawsuits, and Closure
Abuse at KIDS Centers ranged from verbal to physical to sexual. Clients were frequently restrained for hours at a time on the hard floor by up to five other teens. The staff members were just children themselves and completely unqualified to be responsible for such a large group of kids. The only qualification to be on staff was to be a graduate of the program. Most had not even finished high school. There were no degrees in counseling. Humiliation and bullying were accepted treatment tactics. Many instances of sexual abuse were reported to have taken place in the “host homes”.
Over the years TV shows and investigators looked in to the program. Some were permitted to enter the building, ask questions, and film. Nobody was permitted to speak with the reporters except the graduates. Eventually, the states began investigating reports of abuse and false imprisonment in California, Utah, and Texas.
Kids of El Paso and Kids of Southern California shut their doors in 1989 due bankruptcy. The legal battles to fight claims of physical abuse, false imprisonment, and mind control proved to be too much.
A few months after that, KIDS of Salt Lake closed it’s doors. However, KIDS of Salt Lake was then immediately reopened as Lifeline for Youth, as can be seen in the company’s business license here. Lifeline for Youth continues to operate today.
In spite of all the investigations and inquiries, the New Jersey program stayed open. About a year after an airing of “West 57th St.” Bergen County Prosecutors went in and pulled people out who were over 18 and asked them if they wanted to leave. Some did, some did not. The prosecutors repeated this action a few months later. Shortly after this investigation Newton shut down the building at 80 Commerce Way in Hackensack and began looking for another building. The clients were sent to what they called “Satellite Homes” where 7-20 or more kids and staff would meet and have group sessions at family’s homes. He was also seen by a former parent to be holding open meetings in a church in River Edge, NJ.
He eventually relocated to an empty warehouse in Secaucus, New Jersey. He changed the name from Kids of Bergen County to Kids of North Jersey. Secaucus is an industrial town with mostly minorities, and he knew he could get Medicaid funding there. The State of New Jersey gave Newton a special certificate to operate from the Commissioner of Health and Human Services.
New Jersey knew that Kids was a controversial program and proceeded to have state officials check it out. They found numerous counts of insurance fraud and many major insurance companies had already stopped funding. Families desperate to keep their children in Kids were putting third mortgages on their homes. New Jersey launched a Medicaid fraud investigation in 1999, which was Newton’s demise. During this time, Rbcca Ehrl*ch was in the process of suing Newton and his team of psychologists for $4.5 million. She won that suit in 2001. Her attorney was Phil Elberg. Elberg took on Newton again in 2003, winning a $6.5 million settlement for a former client who spent 13 years in Kids of Bergen County and Kids of North Jersey.
- Proctor Advocate and Yes Families: two programs founded by Layne R. Meacham and based off of Straight Inc. and KIDS. Meacham is reported to have trained with Dr. Newton at KIDS of Bergen County.
- Lifeline for Youth: this program is the re-branding of KIDS of Greater Salt Lake. By researching Lifeline’s business license, it is obvious that this program KIDS operating under a different name. It continues to operate to this day.
- Island View RTC: this program was co-founded by W. Kimball DeLaMare, former Director of KIDS of Greater Salt Lake. It was owned by the notoriously abusive Aspen Education Group until 2014, when it was sold to Family Help & Wellness and rebranded as Elevations RTC. Elevations RTC is still in operation today.
KIDS of North Jersey (Fornits)
Miller Newton Timeline
Nick Gaglia – The Cult – KIDS of North Jersey (Patch, 7/26/2013)
CBS West 57th KIDS and Straight Inc. – part 1 (CBS, late 1980’s)
CBS West 57th KIDS and Straight Inc. – part 2 (CBS, late 1980’s)
KIDS OF GREATER SALT LAKE LOSES ITS LICENSE, WILL LEAVE THE AREA, STATE OFFICIALS SAY (Deseret News, 6/18/1990)
ROUGH GOING FOR KIDS CLINIC (NewsBreak, 8/16/1990)
Lingering Torment From Rough Therapy (Cult Education Institute, 4/9/2000)
KIDS PROGRAM FACES NEW CHARGES IN UTAH (Lexis Nexis, 10/24/1989)
Tough Treatment For Problem Juveniles Under Investigation (11/7/1989)
KIDS of Greater Salt Lake Annual Report (1990)
The Legal Case of the Kids of Bergen County – Bill Goldberg, LCSW, PsyA (8/11/2020)