Residential Treatment Center (RTC)

How Residential Treatment Helps Troubled Teens


Residential treatment programs provide intensive help for youth with emotional and behavior problems. While receiving residential treatment, children temporarily live outside of their homes and in a facility where they can be supervised and monitored by trained staff.



Help Your Teens BigGroupTherapy-300x236 Residential Treatment Centers for Teens

Residential treatment can help children and adolescents whose health is at risk while living in their community. For example, the programs are helpful for those who have not responded to outpatient treatments, who have education needs that cannot be met in less restrictive settings at their local schools, or who are in need of further intensive treatment following inpatient psychiatric care.


Effective residential treatment programs provide:


  • A comprehensive evaluation to assess emotional, behavioral, medical, educational, and social needs, and support these needs safely.
  • An Individualized Treatment Plan that puts into place interventions that help the child or adolescent attain these goals.
  • Individual and group therapy.
  • Psychiatric care coordinated by a child and adolescent psychiatrist or psychiatric prescriber.
  • Involvement of the child’s family or support system. Model residential programs encourage and provide opportunities for family therapy and contact through on-site visits, home passes, telephone calls and other modes of communication.
  • Nonviolent and predictable ways to help youth with emotional and behavioral issues. The use of physical punishment, manipulation or intimidation should not occur in any residential treatment program.


Figuring out which residential treatment program is the best fit for your child and for your family can be challenging.


The following are tips for evaluating residential treatment programs:


  • Find and research the programs that are licensed to provide care. States differ in how they license programs, and some programs are accredited by national agencies.
  • Check online and with the program to hear about families’ and youths’ experiences with the program and if possible, speak to a family whose child completed the program. If the program has been reported to state authorities, find out why, and ask about the outcomes of any investigations.
  • Be sure that the residential program has a method of maintaining safe behaviors, promoting positive behaviors, and preventing aggression. Make sure that punishments and verbal intimidation are prohibited.
  • Look for programs experienced in helping youth with similar issues. Also make sure that their treatments are based on therapies that have proven helpful for those with similar issues to those of your child.
  • Ask questions of the staff at the program. If staff is unable to answer your questions, they should refer you to someone at the program who can. In addition, be sure to ask how you can monitor your child’s progress. You should be able to find out about how your child is doing at any time.
  • Ask the therapist or psychiatrist who works with your child in your community for his or her view on potential programs, and to help you obtain more information.
(Courtesy of American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry)


At Parents Universal Resources we help educate families on the daunting task of researching schools and programs. We have been educating parents since 2001 on the teen-help industry since it can be extremely confusing. The expansion of the internet and websites claiming to be “placement specialists” we all need to take the time to know more about what is be for your individual child.


What is the difference between a TBS and an RTC?


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.


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 (as well as what you can financially afford).


We also remind parents not to limit their search by proximity to their home. What’s most important is the best program for their emotional wellness, with the reminder that this is only a small part of their entire life. Also note that parents will be visiting usually bi-monthly – it’s not like a traditional boarding school where you are there every weekend or he/she is coming home regularly. It’s important to allow the program to do their work.


If you are determined to keep them close to home, keep in mind, this can also increase their flight plan in that program since they are familiar with that area.


We always remind parents to search for the following:


  • Accredited academics
  • Credentialed clinical support
  • Enrichment programs (such as animal assisted therapy, music, arts, sports – something your child is passionate about).


What is best for your teen? Some questions to ask yourself.


Does your teen need residential treatment? Learn more about parent choices for teen help.


Also read: Why Residential Treatment Works When Home Therapy Fails.


Contact us for more information on residential therapy as well as ways to research schools and programs.