Schools for Troubled Teens | Beneath the Thin Veneer

What should you look for when reviewing schools for troubled teens? There is so much marketing and hype in the troubled teens arena that you need to look beyond the thin veneer of web sites, brochures, and even pyramid schemes.

Consider this - if you are in the throws of crisis with a struggling teen, you are typically not thinking straight for starters. Add the fact that you have probably never considered options of this nature and you have a recipe for high risk in your decision-making.

Fear not. The following is a starter's guide to reviewing schools for troubled teens, including therapeutic boarding schools, residential treatment centers, and even therapeutic wilderness programs. Asking the right questions ensures lower risk and better chance for success:

  • Who owns the school or program and how is it funded? Before anything, you need to assess the health of the business and the reputation of the leadership behind it. In a way, it's not so different from performing due diligence before buying a stock; only, the stakes are higher. If there is a parent company, what is it and how does it operate? What are the backgrounds and goals of the management team? Are they transparent about their business practices and financial health? Are the founders still in the picture? What is the vision moving forward and how has it changed since its foundation? Both your research and your gut need to steer you with this, the most important piece of your investigation.
  • Is the school or program accredited? By whom? For what? Remember that therapeutic schools and programs have a clinical, educational, and residential component, each with different prerequisites and standards. For example, while a residential treatment center may be JCAHO-accredited, it may not be credentialed as a diploma-granting educational institution in its state of operation. Don't make assumptions.
  • How is the student population comprised? Do the students all present with similar issues or do they span a myriad of diagnoses? Are most state-referred or paying privately? Are most referred by educational consultants? Are the families those to whom you can best relate? You want to feel like you have a peer group yourself when going through this difficult phase.
  • How is treatment administered? Individual therapy? Group therapy? Both? How often? What methods? Who are the clinicians and what are their credentials? Are there specialists on staff? How is medication managed? Make sure you understand and support their methods of care.
  • Are the physical characteristics of the school or program reflective of the level of care proposed? Look for the risk points. One time I couldn't help but notice the omnipresent drawstrings [on window shades, laundry bags, etc.] at an RTC that specialized in treating suicidal teens. Hmmm.
  • What is the method and frequency of communication between you and the school or program? Do you have a weekly call? Is email used? Video conferencing? How are you updated? How are emergencies communicated? How should your educational consultant figure into the mix if you have one? Communication or lack thereof seems to be the biggest point of contention for parents post-enrollment.
  • How are tuition and fees structured? Per diem? Per month? Annual? What might insurance cover? Any incidental charges for supplies, equipment, etc.? Any opportunities for scholarships or discounts?

As you can see, there is a lot to consider. While this questionnaire is not exhaustive, it is at least a guide to get you started in the midst of your frustration, confusion, and angst. Chances are very good that you will make much better informed decisions if you ask these questions when venturing out into the wild world of schools for troubled teens.

Tags: therapeutic wilderness programs, educational consultants, schools for troubled teens, communication, therapeutic boarding schools, residential treatment centers, accreditation, scholarships

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