LifeLine for Youth (1990-present) North Salt Lake, UT

Residential Treatment Center

History and Background Information

LifeLine for Youth (also called “Life-Line, Inc.” and “LifeLine RTC”) is a behavior-modification program which was founded in 1990. This program is confirmed to be the re-brand of the confirmedly abusive KIDS Centers of America program, “KIDS of Greater Salt Lake”, which was a direct spin-off of Straight Inc. KIDS of Greater Salt Lake’s license was revoked amid allegations of abuse, negligence, and fraud, and the program closed in 1990. However, it was immediately reopened on the same day as Life-line, Inc. By reviewing LifeLine’s business license and LifeLine’s 1990 Annual Report, it is confirmed that LifeLine is, in fact, the re-branding of the notoriously abusive KIDS.

LifeLine for Youth is marketed as a Residential Treatment Center for troubled teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18. The program states that it enrolls teens with a wide variety of challenges, including Substance Abuse, Addictions, Depression or Dysthymia, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD, Pornography (??), Bi-Polar Disorder, Suicidal, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Family Conflict, Legal Involvement, Anxiety Disorders, Victims of Sexual Abuse and Trauma, Grief and Bereavement, Declining School, Low Self-Esteem, Body Image Issues, Manipulation, Hopelessness, Compulsive Lying, Peer Problems, and Adoption Issues. The average length of stay is reported to be between 12 and 18 months, and the program has a maximum enrollment of about 95.

The program is located at 1130 W Center St, North Salt Lake, UT 84054. This is only 11 miles away from the former location of KIDS of Greater Salt Lake. LineLine was a NATSAP member from 2003 until about 2009.

LifeLine for Youth operates a number of different program options. There is a residential program in which the residents receive 24-hour supervision. There is also a day program, and an after-school program.

Founders and Notable Staff

Shane Petersen is one of the Founders of LifeLine. He worked as works as the Program Manager and Director of Operations of LifeLine, Inc. He is currently the President, CEO, and Executive Director of LifeLine for Youth.

Vern C. Utley is one of the Founders of LifeLine, and he worked as LifeLine’s Executive Director from 1990 until 2009. He had previously worked at the Utah Boys Ranch from 1986 until 1990, when he left to co-found LifeLine. He currently works in private practice at Utley Counselling & Consulting.

Dan Scholz currently works as the Clinical Director of LifeLine for Youth.

James K. Smith worked as the Clinical Director of LifeLine. He began working at LifeLine when it opened in 1990.

Jamie Palmer worked as a Family Clinician at LifeLine from 2005 until 2008. She then went on to work as a Therapist at Cottonwood Treatment Center from 2010 until 2013. She then began working as a Therapist at Solstice RTC, where she currently still works as Solstice’s Clinical Director.

Kami Black worked as Staff Supervisor at LifeLine from 1998 until 2007. She then began working as a Therapist at LifeLine from 2007 until 2009. She left LifeLine in 2009 to begin working as a Therapist at Solstice RTC. She was later promoted to Executive Clinical Director of Solstice. She continued to work at Solstice until April of 2020, when she left to create her own program called ROOTs Transitions, which is set to open in Park City, UT sometime in early 2021.

Jordan Larsen spent five years working at LifeLine. He then went on to work at Gateway Academy in Salt Lake City for five years, where he served as a member of the Clinical Team. He then helped to establish the Academy at Canyon Creek, and assisted in the development of the program’s additional site in Draper, Utah. In 2007, he founded Catalyst RTC, and continues to work there as a Therapist and the program’s Admissions Director and Owner.

Robert B. Hansen was the Registered Agent and board member for Life-Line, inc. from 1990-1999. It appears that Hansen then had a falling out with LifeLine, and he sued them over some kind of pay dispute, but he appears to have lost. Robert B. Hansen was also the former Attorney General of Utah, which comes with all sorts of deep political ties, connections, and friendships. After all, it is certainly quite hard for any sort of law enforcement or attorney to go after something the Former Attorney General of the State is involved in.

Program Structure

Like other behavior-modification programs, LifeLine uses a level-system consisting of 5 levels. These levels are almost identical to the level systems used by both Straight Inc. and KIDS Centers of America. The levels are reported to be:

  • Level One – Honesty and Spirituality: When a teenager arrives at LifeLine, they are placed on Level One. They are removed from their home and placed into the home of another teenager who has been in the program longer, which is the same as what happened on the first phase of KIDS Centers and Straight Inc. The focus of this level is reportedly on honesty, accountability, personal responsibility, and increasing personal insight and awareness of the issues that created unhealthy behaviors. During this phase, the teens are subjected to total isolation from the outside world. They are watched at all times, except when using the bathroom and shower.
  • Level Two – Family Relationships and Service: On level two, the youth spend 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week at the LifeLine center and are able to go home each night.
  • Level Three – Relapse Prevention Planning: While on level three, the youth prepare their plan to cope with the challenges of returning to school and reentering society. Each youth prepares and presents to their parents a personal relapse prevention plan that identifies “red flags” that may trigger past acting-out behaviors. On this level, the teens are given additional privileges of being allowed to wear make-up, jewelry, etc.
  • Level Four – Re-Entry, Application, and Lifestyle Change: On level four, the youth begin the re-entry process by returning to public school. However, they are sstill required to return to the center for Group each day.
  • Level Five – Leadership And Giving Back: In preparation to complete treatment, youth prepare a detailed “graduation proposal” that describes their past, outlines their progress, and sets goals for their future. This proposal is presented to the entire treatment team as the culminating event to conclude treatment and begin aftercare.

“Setbacks” are a punishment where the resident is downgraded on their level/phase. It is also reported that many punishments used by LifeLine are bizarre and seldom make sense.

It is reported by survivors that throughout the years, LifeLine introduced a number of experimental groups. One such example is what was called SRG or ‘Sexually Reactive Group’, which LifeLine implemented for about 6-12 months. SRG was reportedly a group of half a dozen or so boys who would be routinely taken off-campus to another facility to be shown ‘deviant’ pornography. They would then be exposed to disgusting stimuli (such as being forced to smell a jar of moose brains, reportedly), the goal of which was to make the boys physically ill. They were also reportedly given a small vile that contained a type of bitter root, and they were expected to take it throughout the day whenever they had a ‘deviant’ thought in order to condition themselves to feel ill while experiencing sexual thoughts. It is reported that boys were placed into this group for simply being homosexual or for being sexually active with their girlfriend. Although this particular version of SRG was discontinued after about a year, it is reported that LifeLine still operates an SRG group, but today it is more focused on discussing sexual behaviors.

Abuse Allegations

LifeLine has been reported by many survivors to be an abusive program. Allegations of abuse and neglect that have been reported by survivors include medical neglect, emotional abuse, brainwashing techniques, and food deprivation. In addition, the program structure used by LifeLine is a direct copy of the program used by the confirmedly abusive Straight Inc. and KIDS Centers of America.

Survivor/Parent Testimonials

11/6/2020: (SURVIVOR) “I get the sense that the program has changed a lot over the years. I was there around 2001, but it sounds pretty different now. While I was there I think they were kind of phasing out some of the more extreme ‘treatments’….but I look back and recognize some pretty abuse stuff, like the firing squad groups where whoever the problem was at the time would have to sit in front of the group and the staff and old comers were expected to break them down…call them names and tell them how worthless they were, etc. Also, during that time there was some experimental treatments that Jim Smith was doing with another doctor outside the facility. I forget his name though. This was a group specific to only about a half dozen or so boys, and I was personally not a part of it. It was the SRG group (sexually reactive group). Straight up clockwork orange type stuff happening there. They would go off site to another facility where they were shown ‘deviant’ pornography and then would have a jar of something repulsive (moose brain I was told) stuck under their nose….the goal was to make them physically sick. the kids in that group were also given a small vile that contained a type of bitter root, and they were expected to take it throughout the day whenever they had a ‘deviant’ thought…to condition themselves to feel ill while experiencing sexual thoughts. we all knew it was incredible messed up at the time. I don’t think these particular groups this lasted very long though tbh…i think it was just an experimental thing that maybe lasted 6-12 months with a small handful of kids.” – u/justAnAccount5432 (Reddit)

October 2020: (SURVIVOR) “I still have nightmares about this place. Dehumanizing and sleep depriving tactics to break the spirit. Methodology aside, they allowed my oral infection to fester for months until I “earned the privilege” of going to the doctor. The blinding pain had to be tolerated and I was treated like I was a drug addict even though I had no history of drug use. For 2 months I endured the pain until my jaw got swollen to the size of a softball before they allowed me to see a doctor. Even after having 4 wisdom teeth pulled, I was not allowed pain killers.” – Caitlin (Google Reviews)

9/26/2020: (SURVIVOR) “I was there 2008-2009. For a long time I didn’t consider the experience traumatic, and even believed it had helped me or saved my life or whatever. It wasn’t until I had been out of the program for almost ten years that I began to understand that the “I was a broken and terrible kid and LifeLine saved me through tough love” narrative was one that had been handed to me there, and that it didn’t reflect the messy reality of what I had actually experienced. I never witnessed or experienced physical or sexual abuse at LifeLine, but in my experience the emotional and psychological abuse was sneaky, pervasive, and had effects that I continue to grapple with. The experience for me was mixed, because home wasn’t a good place for me to be either at the time, and one good thing that LifeLine did was give me space to articulate my feelings–something that was never a part of my family culture. However, I think the way it was done was harmful and manipulative in many ways. The strict rules, “confrontation” groups (often referred to as “attack therapy” on this sub), and total lack of privacy were all ultimately harmful to me. Among other things, the experience made it difficult for me to form healthy friendships that weren’t co-dependent and reliant on oversharing for many years after. I thought that was what friendship was. I will say this for LifeLine: I think that most of the staff there had really good intentions. They were all survivors of the program, too (at least they were when I was there) and I really think that they thought they were helping. I think in a lot of ways we were all caught in the cycle of abuse. It makes sorting through these memories harder, because I don’t really know who to blame. I think the staff and my parents were all really doing the best they could. It sucks that their best happened to be deeply traumatizing to me, and I think that speaks, more than anything, as to why it is so troubling that the TTI is so unregulated. People who are doing the best they can can still do a lot of harm, if they are traumatized, or working from faulty information, or both.” – u/CakeCryptographer (Reddit)

July 2020: (SURVIVOR) “This place is a cult. The knuckle touching for talking and two hands on my shoulders and just the tactics used by this institute ruined me for a good 2 years after leaving. Family, please show you still care about them even though you’re forking over more than they realize each month. This place really messes with confidence and psyche and I’ve had somebody leave it and have control issues after it. They left and the structure setup in the establishment did more harm than good and the child because almost S&M from it. I am serious about that. Good luck there are much better places to send your child, unless psyche damaging cults that mess up your kid potentially for life are your thing. Good luck.” – Vegas (Google Reviews)

February 2020: (PARENT) “We were referred to Lifeline after our son attempted suicide. At the time he was smoking and drinking, cutting and doing drugs. We had to refinance our home in order to pay the exorbitant cost but felt it would be worth it if he could get the help he needed. When we visited I was not impressed with the program and had to wonder where all the money was going if the youth did a lot of the work (e.g. meal prep–and the meals were really not even nutritious–as well as having families take the youth). I questioned their boast of a high cure rate when they don’t keep records to verify their claims. After eight months our son signed himself out, when he turned 18, and immediately resumed his downward spiral. The only thing that changed was his resentment toward us as parents for putting him in the program. While there he made friends with other equally unaffected youth and they now continue to support each other in their self-destructive lifestyles. I have come to believe that if your child is ready for change, any program will work; if not, this program won’t make a difference. After our experience, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it.” – T (Google Reviews)

January 2020: (SURVIVOR) “This place preys on families with normal problems to extort them for money that most of them don’t have. I was in lifeline for months when I was a “troubled teenager”. The program is a farce. At no point did I ever meet with anyone with any clinical training or expertise. Jim White is a liar who blatantly lied to my parents about meetings with me (they never happened). Please take your kids to see a professional! Though Facebook I have stayed in contact with most of the kids I was with and in every case this program did much more harm then good. There are literally support groups for people to deal with the trauma from this program.” – Scott (Google Reviews)

2019: (SURVIVOR) “I went to Lifeline as a 17 year old girl. The experience traumatized me and I will never forget my months I spent there. I had nightmares where I would wake up and be back inside. The coldness and rigidity was truly horrifying. If you are a parent looking to send your child here, I beg you to reconsider.” – Stephanie (Google Reviews)

2018: (PARENT) “They let us know that our son left the facility due to lack of oversight from counselors. Have attempted to contact billing multiple time and have yet to get anyone to contact me. I do not feel that since their procedures were not followed and 3 patients were allowed to run from the program that I still should have to pay the overpriced bill. This place has poor communication practices and staff training procedures are not followed. They are quick to offer apologies but no solutions. It is hard as there are no real good choices for youth rehab in Utah. There is plenty of therapy for adults though. I wonder if that is because we are more focused on payment and not treatment.” – Daniel (Google Reviews)

Deleted Reviews: The following is a link to screenshots of reviews which have been deleted by Lifeline, but saved by an anonymous survivor on their website.

Related Media

LifeLine for Youth Website Homepage

HEAL Program Information – LifeLine Inc.

LifeLine Lies (website)