Helping Parents of Troubled Teens

Ask Sue Scheff, Founder of


Sue Scheff is a nationally recognized published author, parent advocate and family Internet safety advocate.  


Learn more about her accomplishments and many contributions to national publications about parenting and digital citizenship on her personal website.


Sue Scheff founded Parent’s Universal Resource Experts (P.U.R.E.) in 2001, shortly after her horrific experience with teen help programs. For over two decades she has been educating parents and helping them locate safe and quality residential treatment for their troubled teenager.


Frequently asked questions for Sue Scheff:


Q)  Why do you believe in schools for troubled teens, therapeutic boarding schools or residential treatment centers after you had such a terrible experience with your own teen?


Sue Scheff:  The fact is, there are many very good schools and programs in our country.  It is about doing your due diligence and understanding that this teen help business is just that – a business.  It’s a big business too.


I want parents to learn from my mistakes, gain from my knowledge.  I always tell parents I can’t tell them where to place their child, but I can give them questions to ask, tips and advice to follow and in some cases, launching points to start their search. Questions that they would have never thought about otherwise. This includes questions to ask parent references — and a warning, if a program won’t give you parent references, that should be a red flag.


In most cases, this is the first time you have been faced with a situation of a troubled teen. You don’t know who to trust.  You get online and you are chased down by these toll-free numbers, wonderful websites with the perfect buzz words (saying they offer “the best schools”) and sales-people that promise you the world.  You enter your email – the next thing you know, you receive a dozen programs telling you your child is perfect for them.  It can be so overwhelming and you are confused by who to believe. It happened to us over twenty years ago — and sadly it’s still happening today.


I often tell parents, take  your time – or if they aren’t ready yet, I encourage them to at least research programs while they are calm.  Even if they never need them, they have done their homework before a crisis happens. If you are in a crisis-mode, don’t make that rash decision (as we did), put it on pause, even if it means placing your teen in a 3-7 day local hospital stay while you do your due diligence.


Q)  Do you consider yourself an educational consultant (EC)?


Sue Scheff:  No.  I often have people say that, but I personally don’t consider myself one. I refer to myself as a Parent Advocate, since I believe I am advocating for parents — in an industry that is extremely confusing if you are not educated in the field of it.  Some of the people in this field, including EC’s call me a crusader, I guess I accept that too.


The so-called educational consultants (EC) in this field of teen help programs will charge parents up to $8000.00 or more for nearly the same advice I give.  I have had many parents tell me that I have given them more – if not better, advice than the EC’s they had paid.  It’s only my opinion, that any parent today, can do their own diligence for their own child.  An EC serves as a middle person.  I’m not convinced you need that.  However, that is only my opinion.  There are some situations that do require EC’s.


There are definitely times I do refer to myself as an Educational Consultant, since that is the job description that falls into what I do when I help parents search for safe and quality teen help. It’s important to understand, there’s no certification for this job title — and organizations like IECA or NATSAP are all man-made clubs that members pay to belong to. There is little to no oversight with them — with the exception of their fees.


Q)  Do you visit any schools or programs?


Sue Scheff:  Yes and it’s really enlightening to see how some schools for troubled teens truly engage with their students through different enrichment programs such as art therapy and animal assisted therapy.  Visiting these schools and programs renews my ability to share with parents that there is definitely quality care in our country.  Yes, there are a few bad apples — and you do still need to be aware of them, however if you do your homework, you will find the right placement for your teen.


Take a moment to read how to analyze online reviews of teen help programs and those troubling sites of the teen help industry.


Q)  Why are there so many teen help referral services now?


Sue Scheff:  Mental health is a growing concern in our country especially for youth.  As I mentioned above, the schools for troubled teens is a big business and this means the referral business is even bigger. This means the consumer needs to be more educated (especially a desperate parent)- and that’s what we aim to do at P.U.R.E.™. We help parents navigate this daunting business — taking the confusion out of cyber-fact vs cyber-fiction.


Parents need to go into this with their eyes wide open.  No one should tell you where to place your child, this is ultimately your decision.  You should be very cautious of these referral services that sell your emails, phone numbers and other confidential information to schools and programs without screening you first.  How do they even know you are an appropriate candidate for that school?


I have talked parents that have accidentally entered their emails or numbers into these sites and the next thing they know they are flooded with confirmations of “We have accepted your son” or “We have your information, your daughter will be a perfect fit” – when in fact that parent doesn’t even have a daughter – or never contacted that school!  The referral source took it upon themselves to just randomly send out emails to a variety of programs.


Does a referral source not list a phone number?  Maybe it’s a toll-free number?  In today’s age, everyone can have a direct number – where are they?  I am not a pessimist – I am realist.  This is your child we are talking about, not buying/selling a car.


You should know where you are calling and who they are.


I also cringe when I see “best” as their label.  Unless there was some third party hired to do a statistical survey, it is hard to say they are the best.  They might be really good – even great – but how do you know they are the best – and the best for who?  What’s best for some is not always best for others.  It’s marketing – and sometimes deceptive when you have parents at their wit’s end. It’s more about finding the right program for your teen and your family needs.


The biggest takeaway tip, avoid filling out forms that don’t assure you that they are not selling your information to third parties.


Q)  Slander, defamation and twisted truths: How do you overcome this online?


Sue Scheff:  Since parents or concerned family members are calling me for information about teen help programs, they may stumble on my experience of cyber-war.  When I wasn’t able to be silenced from telling my story online or in my book Wit’s End, I was faced with cyber-mobs of slander, defamation and gangs of cyber-destruction.


My name and organization (P.U.R.E.) was dragged through the mud until there was barely anything left.  After a trial in 2006, I won the landmark case in Broward County, FL for Internet defamation and invasion of privacy.


Then the next little house of horror opened with new trolls that thought I was attempting to chill the first amendment, which I wasn’t.  It was a matter that free speech doesn’t condone defamation.


Long story short, I still have some trolls out there, that don’t want to let go.  Not to mention, I understand that the programs that are still opened today associated with the program that harmed my child still tells parents today that the jury made a mistake (from 2003) and I am a disgruntled parent.  My name ‘Sue Scheff‘ is still etched into their vocabulary and they are armed and ready when potential parents mention me.


Yes, the truth prevailed. I have risen above it all and stronger because of it.


Do you have a question for Sue Scheff?  Email