How to Learn About Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Searching for therapeutic boarding schools can be tedious and confusing. If this is your first time searching for schools for troubled teens, you will need these tips before making this major decision.

5 Things Parents Need to Know Before Searching for Therapeutic Boarding Schools

  1. My teen needs a Military school to teach them a lesson!” WRONG.

Military schools are a privilege and honor to attend, they are not for defiant, drug-using, depressed, or other behavioral issues students.

They do not provide mental health services – and if your teen is using drugs, drinking, or vaping now – by attending an open campus, it is likely s/he will consider the use again.

However, this time when he is caught (typically three strike you are out) and the parents will forfeit their tuition. This is the same for any of the behavioral issues they are asked to leave or expelled for – you will be risking your tuition as well as setting your child up for failure.

2. “My teen needs a wilderness program to appreciate what they have at home.” WRONG.

Wilderness programs are short-term programs will typically short-term results. It usually did not take 4-6 weeks to get to where you are right now, it will not take 4-6 (or 9 for that matter) to turn it around or have long-lasting behavioral results. Parents are usually guided (or misguided) into wilderness therapy by educational consultants that understand these programs come with step two.

Step two is moving on to a therapeutic boarding school (which you could have started with). We educate parents to find step one initially so your teen has consistency without program hopping. This not only helps your teenager from bouncing to therapists, staff, and environments – it can be most cost effective to the family.

Since 2001 we have consistently heard many misconceptions about wilderness programs – and parents need to separate fact from the myths.

Myths and Facts of Wilderness Therapy:

Myth: Many parents are led to believe that most quality residential programs will not accept a teen that has not completed a wilderness program. That simply is not true. 

Myth: Any teen that is using drugs needs to do a wilderness first. This is not true.

Myth: All teens do wilderness first, if not they will not succeed. Again, not true.

Fact: Wilderness programs are not necessary to enter a many therapeutic boarding schools and residential treatment centers.

Fact: Wilderness programs are an expensive band-aid. They will cost a family from $450-700+ per day and the duration is about 4-9 weeks. The fact is — long lasting behavioral changes cannot take place in short-term programs. Therefore, most students that attend wilderness programs transition on to a residential boarding school.

There is likely a need for wilderness therapy for some students, but to state that all teens need wilderness prior to treatment or will not be successful without it — is simply untrue.

You will stumble on programs that will tell you they won’t accept a student unless they have attended a wilderness program first — in our opinion, it likely not the program for you. Most therapeutic boarding schools or residential treatment facilities (schools for troubled teens) are trained to care for behavioral issues — it is likely they are either a transitional program or part of a bigger concern in this industry — politics (number 5).

Some programs use wilderness as a last resort, if after 90 days in a therapeutic boarding school your teen is not settling down or has become extremely defiant and aggressive – they may then refer you to this type of program. It does not need to be your first step.

3. What is the difference between a therapeutic boarding school (TBS) and residential treatment center (RTC) and what does my teen need?

The short answer is it depends on the state and how the state licenses residential programming.  There is no national standard and each of our fifty states have the responsibility to set their own licensure requirements for private-pay residential programming; many states divide up the enforcement between numerous governmental departments and some states do not even regulate private-pay residential care. The scope and specifics of state regulations vary greatly, and some states do not require independent licensure at all.  Therefore, parents must do their diligence when researching residential placement – knowing that the program does have state licensing is important.

What these programs all have in common is that they are all addressing physical, emotional, behavioral, familial, social, and intellectual/academic development; it is how that is addressed which differentiates between the TBS or RTC.

RTC’s typically have more clinical care than a TBS, however we have also seen emotional growth programs that have a strong clinical foundation. We suggest you interview the program/school that you believe best fits your teen’s emotional needs, which includes their enrichment therapies such as animalart, music therapy and more. It is important to find a setting that will stimulate your child in a positive direction.

4. What is CARF and JCAHO accreditations? Are they necessary in choosing residential treatment?

CARF is Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities is an organization that oversees programs for behavioral health. If a program/school is CARF accredited, in some cases you may have a more insurance coverage. CARF accreditation can be considered a quality standard of care.

JCAHO is The Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations which is the seal of approval for hospitals, and some residential treatment centers have acquired this accreditation. JCAHO is a higher level of care, although many residential treatment centers are not JCAHO accredited, they will adhere by their standards. Being JCAHO accredited will help your insurance coverage.

More and more therapeutic programs are becoming CARF accredited not only to provide more safety and oversight for their staff and students, but to offer more reimbursement for insurance claims.

JCAHO is typically found in higher level of care facilities, although some residential treatment centers have that extra level of accreditation.

Both these accreditations are important; however, they are not necessary. For years residential treatment has been operating without them and have been successful. These are voluntary accreditations.

5. What is NATSAP and IECA seals of approval that are some programs sites? 

NATSAP is the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs. This is a self-made organization that was reprimanded in a congressional hearing in 2007 for their lack of oversight of their members. Participating programs and schools pay a fee to be members to have their seal of approval on their sites.

More concerning is some parents are under the illusion that unless a program is NATSAP approved, it is not a quality program. That is simply not true. Not all schools and programs feel the need to be a member of this club, nor do they have to. Unlike CARF or JCAHO, it (NATSAP) does not offer much in benefits.

IECA are the Independent Educational Consultants of America, and their members are known as Educational Consultants that pay the fees to belong to this self-made organization. Like with NATSAP, they have their own circle of schools and programs they support and unlikely to consider those that do not want to participate (pay) to belong to private clubs.

There are many excellent schools and programs in our country today that have been around for decades that have never been involved in private organizations (clubs) and have succeeded on their reputation. It is important for parents not to be dissuaded by the politics of the troubled teen industry.

Also read:

Sucess in Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Finding Safe Therapeutic Schools

Goals of Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Media & Press

What Parents Say...

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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.

Contact us today for a free consultation.

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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