How to Interview Schools for Troubled Teens

Parenting a difficult teenager is challenging, however choosing the right boarding school for your troubled teen can be stressful without the right tools and information. We help you learn how to interview schools for troubled teens.  

Since 2001 we have been educating parents about how to research and investigate places to send troubled teens — the initial online search can be daunting and confusing. We take you step-by-step to help you make the right choice for your family. This includes both talking to parents references and what questions to ask the potential Christian Boarding School, therapeutic boarding school, or other schools for troubled teens you are considering.


In our decades of experience, parents have shared with us the best advice was speaking with other families that have taken this journey before them. It gave them deeper insights to the program they were considering and at times, helped them expand their search or gave them new ideas to try at home.

Parents references are priceless, if a potential school or program does not give them to you, (in our opinion), this is a red flag.

Schools for troubled teens that will use the excuse that it violates with HIPAA policy, it is just that, an excuse. With HIPAA, you can have exception with the parent’s permission to be a reference.  Most all these programs you are interviewing operate in accordance with HIPAA — again, get parent references and if they do not want to give them, it might be best to move on.

Prior giving out personal references, programs may have you complete an application or a short version of an application before giving you parent references. This assures them that you are a fit for their school and are considering placement. It does not mean you are going to enroll in the program; however, it provides security for everyone involved when giving out personal information of families.

Informative Questions to Ask Parent References

When asking for references, ask for parents with teens of the same age and gender. If you have an adopted teenager, you may want to ask for families that also have an adopted child in the program. As a bonus, you can ask for families within your own geographical area (state) or region.

-Why did they send their teen to a program?
-How did they get their teen to the program?
-Did they use assisted transport? If so, how was that experience?
-Did their teen hate them for sending them? Were they fearful they would?
-What was their trigger moment that made their decision?
-Why did they choose this particular program?
-What was their deciding factor on this program?
-Did they choose coed or same gender and why?
-Did they visit the program prior placing their child?
-How was the communication at the program?
-How was the staff, education, clinical?
-How was the teachers? Was their teen able to complete school?
-Are they satisfied with the program?
-How was the home visits with their child?
-Did their teen graduate the program?
-How was the transitional support back home?
-Would they recommend the program to a friend or family?
-How is their teen doing today? How is their relationship now with their teen?
-Would they like to share anything more?

A key question parents should ask is, if they could change one thing about the program to improve it, what would that be? It gives you room to find out a bit of negative. Usually not enough to change your mind but helps you to go in — eyes wide open.

Parents can tell you about their challenges with their own teenager prior placing them into a behavioral boarding school. They may have some advice and resources you have not tried yet — although it didn’t work for them, it may work for you.

When making your calls be prepared to take notes, and it is always best to email or text for a convenient phone appointment so you both have time to have a relaxed conversation. Again talking to parent references will give you invaluable insights in making this major decision.

Questions for Schools for Troubled Teens

After an exhaustive search, you have decided on at least two programs to extensively interview. What are the questions to ask boarding schools for troubled teens to get more insights?



  1. Who is the owner and director?
  2. When did the program open?
  3. Are they a licensed facility through their state?
  4. What is the number of students they are licensed to enroll?
  5. What is the age range they accept?


  1. Are the staff credentialed for their positions? Does the school do background checks on all applicant’s prior employment?
  2. Does the program employ a full-time LCSW or psychologist?
  3. What is the staff to student ratio?
  4. Can you speak to the program director? (This should always be a YES answer).
  5. Are the staff positions required to participate in continuing education?


  1. Is the academics accredited and through what organization? (Always wise to get a copy).
  2. Do they have classroom teachers or online learning?
  3. Do they offer accommodations for learning differences?
  4. Do they offer ACT or SAT testing?
  5. Do they offer college or vocational classes?

Medical and Therapy:

  1. Where is the nearest hospital?
  2. Do they accept students on medication?
  3. Do they have a nurse on staff?
  4. Is therapy included in the tuition?
  5. Do they prescribe medications?

Behavioral Issues:

  1. Do they accept teens unwilling to attend? (Enrolled through assisted transportation).
  2. What are the consequences for a child that becomes out-of-control?
  3. What happens if your child runs away?
  4. What happens if your child refuses to participate in the program?
  5. Can your child get kicked out?

Communication and Visits:

  1. Can you visit the school/program prior enrolling your child?
  2. How often will you be able to speak with your child?
  3. When can you expect your first visit, and what is their schedule for family therapy?
  4. Will you have off-campus visits with your child? Can your child come home on holidays?
  5. Will they monitor their child’s mail/email? Will you be able who they receive mail from?

Financial and the Contract:

  1. What is the tuition, what does it include, what doesn’t it include?
  2. What is the termination policy (review your contract)? First if you decide to remove your child and second if your child is asked to leave.
  3. Is there is discount if you pre-pay your tuition?
  4. Do they file medical insurance, or will they give you invoices for you to file it?
  5. If your child is of legal age and walks-out, are you still financially obligated? (This can sometimes happen if you have a 17-year-old in a state that has age of consent at 17).

Many of these questions do not require right or wrong answers, it is more about what a parent’s comfort level is or how a program operates their school. For example, if the student to staff ratio is 8:1 and you believe your child needs a more supervised environment, you may want to consider a smaller program where the staff to ratio is closer to 4:1.

Another example would be if you have a younger teen and the program does not offer college courses, it would not be a concern for you. These questions are more about opening an awareness about what this particular boarding school for troubled teen offers and having a better understanding of your expectations.

In our over two decades of experience in researching, investigating and interviewing schools and programs, your best source of information is parent references. Take time to speak with parents that have taken this journey before you at the program you are considering. Our Research Tips page offers more valuable insights when searching for boarding schools.

Knowledge is power, you will be making the right decision for your child and family.

Also read:

 What Is The Cost of Therapeutic Boarding Schools?

Finding Safe Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Effective Therapeutic Boarding Schools


Do you need help researching schools for troubled teens? Contact us for a free consultation.

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Family consultants help parents find reputable residential schools and treatment programs for troubled teens when they have utilized all of their local resources and are overwhelmed by their online searches.

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Many parents are at their wit’s end with the challenges of raising teenagers. If you are considering residential therapy, contact us for a free consultation.

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