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Helpful Tips for Finding the Right Teen Help Program
When searching for a therapeutic boarding school (TBS) or residential treatment centers (RTC), keep these tips in mind:
- Be cautious of the internet: Today we turn to the internet for almost everything we do, but how do we know what is internet fact, fiction, or somewhere in between? This is why doing your due diligence, especially in this big business of teen help programs, is imperative.
- You will find some websites and forums that will criticize families for seeking outside help for their teens. They may lead you to believe that all programs and schools are bad or abusive. In reality, not all schools and programs are who they say they are– which is why are you here, doing your research! You are taking your time to investigate what will be best for your individual child’s needs and learning from the mistakes I made so you don’t have to.
- Parents’ Universal Resource Experts is about helping educate parents about residential therapeutic schools and programs. We offer free consultations.
- Are you talking to a placement specialist? What exactly is this? Today these are people that are paid to place your troubled teen in a program. This is not always in the best interest of your child. What exactly qualifies them to select the program for you? They are paid by the programs to give out their information. In some cases these are programs that have less than desirable reputations – however the placement specialist is making a commission. If you’re a parent at your wit’s end, be sure you’re always speaking to an owner or director of a program. Someone that has a vested interest in your child’s recovery. These marketing arms aka placement specialists, can be deceptive. Read “A Parent’s True Story.”
- Be very cautious if sending your child out of the country. Laws are different and cannot protect your child out of the country. Many parents are misled by the lower tuition–don’t be one of them. We recommend keeping your child in the United States. If you are a resident outside of the United States, this may not affect you.
- Don’t allow fancy websites, emotional online videos/DVDs, and glossy brochures determine your decision for your child. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. If a program is advertising a very high success rate, please ask them what third party organization did their statistical studies. In-house surveys are prejudiced and not always a good source of reliability. Keep in mind, this a major emotional and financial decision you will be making.
- Your teen does not need to complete a wilderness program before they attend a residential treatment program (RTC or TBS). In many cases families today cannot afford that extra step of a wilderness program; however we hear over and over that parents are talked into breaking a child down before sending them to a therapeutic boarding program. Isn’t your teen already broken down? Isn’t that why you are reaching out for help? This is why you are looking for programs that will help stimulate your teen back on to a positive road– making good choices and creating a bright future that you had planned for them.
- You are not choosing a program to “teach your child a lesson.” This is a common mistake many parents make. Many times, these are good children making bad choices. Harsh treatment and environment can enhance their anger as well as build resentment.
- Don’t accept a program that is not accredited to educate your child, provides scant food and/or clothing, and has unsanitary living conditions. A visit to the program prior enrollment, if possible, is recommended. It is understandable that not every family has the finances or the time for the extra trip. With this, please be sure your research is thorough.
- It is normal for parents to want their child to appreciate what they have at home; however deprivation of food, sanitation, and clothing should not be accepted. These are basic human rights. Many of these teens are suffering from low self-esteem, depression, peer pressure, etc. Taking away their basic needs may escalate these negative feelings.
- Don’t enroll any child in a program that refuses to allow parents to speak with their child within a reasonable amount of time, usually no longer than 30 days. Visitation in many programs begins at three months. This is your child, and family counseling is just as important as your child’s recovery.
- If you feel you have valid concerns and do not understand something, do not allow the program director to overlook your questions. Keep asking until you receive an appropriate response. This is your right as a parent. You are your child’s advocate.
- Ask for the staff’s education, training, and experience. Credentials of those working with your child are vital. Ask if they have background checks for all employees.
- Know what the age of majority is in the state of the program. Be sure children cannot sign themselves out of the program at their current age. You will see that many programs are located in the western part of the U.S. (especially Utah ) due to the age of majority of 18. This ensures your child cannot leave without your consent.
- Do not limit your decision on geographical location. The fact is this is the most important 6-9-12 months of your child’s life to date, it has to be the best placement/program/school that fits their emotional needs — not your travel plans. In reality, family visits are never more than every 4-6 weeks (depending on the program) after your teen has completely the initial ninety days. You won’t be making daily or weekend visits. This is about your teen’s healing, recovery and what is best for him/her. If it means you need to take an extra plane ride or few hours by car, remember — it’s only several months out of their entire life. Most programs are very similar in tuition fees, using credit cards as tuition can build frequent flyer miles. (If you are able to do this – with paying it off either with your funds or a loan you have received, can be a good option). There are many excellent programs in our country, find the one that is best fitted for your child, not your airport. The other important fact is – if you have a teen that is a flight risk, they are more likely to leave a program (runaway) and call one of their new less-than-desirable friends to pick them up. Choosing a program that is in an unfamiliar area is in the best interest of your teenager. Remember this is about your teen’s emotional wellness and recovery, not about geographically convenience.
- Check with the local police or the state office of the Attorney General or Department of Social Services (DSS) or Department of Children and Families – for reports of neglect or abuse as well as their current licensing. With this, understand that there are no perfect programs. Some may have had issues which have since been rectified or are not related to the students. However, others, with constant complaints, should be crossed off you list. Investigation is your best solution in finding a good program. With licensing, you want to be sure they are licensed as a residential treatment centers and not a daycare center or foster care home. You will be paying a significant amount of tuition, be an educated parent.
- Find out what the program’s use of restraints is. If they have “isolation,” inquire about the length of time that is normally spent there and what this entails. Ask what the program does if your child runs away.
- Ask if the person who is marketing the information receives any kind of direct, or indirect referral fee or compensation (i.e. A month’s free tuition, gifts, certificates, dinners, etc.). P.U.R.E.™ discloses on our FAQ page that we do receive fees from some schools and programs.
- Call as many parent references as you have time for. Please remember to ask to speak with former students or graduates from the program as well as the parents. This should be a call for information, guidance, and support. Did their child have the same issues as yours? Parent tip: Ask for families from your own geographical area, as well as parents that have the same gender and age as your child. You want to try to talk to parents as similar to your own situation as well as possibly near where you live. Maybe you could have an opportunity to meet with them in person. Keep in mind, first hand experiences are priceless.
- When asking for parent references, always try to ask for families that have the same gender and age of your own child. It is also beneficial if you can ask for families in your geographical area to speak with. You will likely get good references. One question to ask the reference parent is if they could change one thing about the program, what would it be? Though it may not be a major concern, it may be another question you can ask the owner or director of the program.
- Look for programs that offer an ACE factor:
C=Clinical with credentialed therapists
E=Enrichment Programs such as music, sports, animal assisted therapy, horticulture, art therapy, fine arts, drama, or whatever your teen may be passionate about. It is about stimulating your teen in a positive direction by encouraging them to build self-confidence and want to be their best.
- Most Importantly, placement needs to be a family decision. Trust your gut and your heart. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Keep searching. It is time to bring the family back together. If possible – do this research before you’re in crisis. Many parents call us with the gut feeling, than things go well for awhile and they don’t do anything. Suddenly they’re in crisis-mode and have 24-hours to select a program. Don’t be that parent.
- Whatever town the program is in that you are considering, contact the local sheriff’s office. Ask them about the school/program. How many times a month are they called out there? Do they have frequent runaways? If this was their child, would they place them there?
This is not to frighten anyone, it is to make parents aware of an industry that has little to no guidelines or regulations to follow. It is a fact, some of our kids need help. Let’s get them the right help with an educated and researched decision.
Many parents contact us about the fear-mongering websites that are up. These sites are usually created by former students and they have listed just about every program in the country. Sadly, what they are doing is preventing families from getting the potential help they may need for their child. There is always good and bad in every field/industry — this is why it is imperative you do your due diligence when researching programs.
We have personally visited, researched and spoken with many parents, students and former employees of programs. Feel free to contact us if you are considering a program and you find it on one of those fear-based websites. One of their issues is that they don’t believe in level systems. Keep in mind – in life, we all work our way up. Whether you start as a clerk and work your way to judge, or start in the mail room and work your way up to an executive. It’s part of the way life is. As long as it is not done in a degrading way.
Be an educated parent, this is a major financial and emotional decision for your family.
P.U.R.E.™ is part of bringing families back together…