Despite the tragedy at Trails Carolina, families like mine want it to reopen | Opinion

In 2022, my wife and I enrolled our daughter at Trails Carolina, the same therapeutic wilderness program where a boy recently died. What happened to that boy on his first night at Trails Carolina is a tragedy. It is rightfully being investigated. It is also a tragedy that the other children and their families are being forced to abandon their treatment.

If you cannot imagine sending your kid to a wilderness therapy program like Trails Carolina, consider yourself lucky. It means you haven’t dealt with the complex, severe mental health issues of Trails families: suicide attempts, violence, arrests, running away, drugs, self-harm, school refusal and more.

According to the National Institutes of Health, almost a third of all kids ages 13-18 suffers from anxiety. And 14% of 12-17 year olds suffer from depression (more than any other age group). Suicide of children ages 10-14 jumped 67% from 2000 to 2017. For kids 15-19 it climbed 48%.

Whatever we are doing to protect our children, it is not enough. Less than half of young people with major depressive episodes get treatment. We need more options, including programs like Trails Carolina.

Wilderness therapy is never a parent’s first choice for a struggling kid. Trust me, even with years of the scariest behaviors, every parent tries many, many alternatives. Today there are dozens of families who tried the alternatives and guided by their parental love and judgment decided Trails was the best option.

Now, however, the Transylvania County Department of Social Services took temporary custody of campers after the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services ordered they be removed from the western N.C. camp while it conducts an investigation. These children, with their complex and severe psychiatric issues, were expelled from their treatment with zero warning.

Like all mental health programs in North Carolina, Trails Carolina is already regulated and licensed by the state. In April, the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, of which Trails’ parent company is a member, will host their annual advocacy day on Capitol Hill in Washington, continuing to push for comprehensive federal regulation of wilderness therapy programs. This industry is trying to be regulated, to have enforced standards of safety, care and training. I am eager to participate so I can share my family’s success story.

My daughter spent 82 days at Trails. She was loved, challenged and supported. She was isolated away from social media, school shooter drills, easy access to drugs, and other stressors that prey on children with acute anxiety and other emotional challenges. Today, she is a high school student with excellent grades and much healthier habits. She wants to return to Trails as a therapist.

I pray Trails Carolina is allowed to reopen, and that the expelled children are allowed to return. Trails is a critical option for families in crisis. Don’t take that away.

David Bloom lives in New York.