Parents can really struggle when their local schools aren't meeting the behavioral or emotional needs of their child. Sometimes the only choice is to consider sending teens to a boarding school, a Residential Treatment program or a transitional program. It's not easy to find just the right fit, and it can be a heart breaking decision for parents. That's why I was so pleased to meet Jeanne Hughes, R.N., an Educational consultant and Member of the IECA, Independent Educational Consultant Association. Jeanne works with parents throughout the entire school placement process, to ensure the students get into the right programs, and the family’s needs are supported.
Patricia Robinson: Jeanne, how do you typically help parents in the process of finding a school or program?
Jeanne Hughes: The first step in helping parents find a school or treatment program is to meet with them and learn about their child's strengths and interests as well as what issues are of concern to the parents. I ask parents to describe "the perfect" school for their child. I want to know what short term and long term goals the parents have for their student. With the parents' consent, I speak with the child's therapist, teacher(s), pediatrician, and other pertinent professionals who have worked with the student. And then, separately, I meet with the student to learn about their interests and answer their questions. All of this lays the groundwork for me to begin a school search. I try to match as many of the parents' "perfect school criteria" as possible. I speak directly with prospective schools about this student. Finally, I present the parents with several viable school options for their student.
My job is to streamline the school search process for parents during this very difficult time when they are likely feeling overwhelmed. By eliminating schools which would not be appropriate for their student, I can save parents time, money, energy, and exasperation by leading them to a couple of good fits, versus striking out on their own to explore schools. I have visited hundreds of schools and programs, and share first hand knowledge of schools with parents. I want to take them by the hand and lead them through this process in a mindful, sensitive, effective manner.
PR: What are the different types of programs available?
JH: The world of therapeutic schools and programs has changed dramatically over the last 15 years. The best programs continue to evolve, implementing new curriculum based upon the latest research and best practices. The continuum of therapeutic programs ranges from short term wilderness programs, therapeutic boarding schools, residential treatment programs, substance abuse treatment programs, programs specializing in eating disorders, attachment issues. Some schools are "hybrid," - -- combining elements of an RTC / therapeutic boarding school . There are programs for elementary school children, teens, young adults, and adults. There are also many boarding schools which can accommodate a student with LD issues, severe dyslexia, ADHD, poor organizational skills, or who simply feels uncomfortable in his large, local day school. Some boarding schools even offer summer programs, where a student can take a few academic classes in the am, and enjoy extracurricular, fun activities in the afternoon.
PR: What about transitional programs?
JH: The word "transition" has two meanings in the educational consulting world. One type of transition school option is for the student who has successfully completed a therapeutic boarding school or residential treatment program, and is now ready to "transition" to a new setting. Because the shift from a totally structured program to a traditional, mainstream school is quite dramatic, often a transitional school is recommended. It is effectively a "step-down" school where there is still a lot of structure (at least initially), yet it can help the student continue to practice managing his unstructured time effectively without falling back into his old patterns of behavior.
Another type of transition program refers to those programs for young adults, ages 18-25. These are programs which help students with a variety of issues, such as ADHD, immaturity, Asperger's, or recovering substance abuse students, learn how to function as an adult. Life Skills, including getting and keeping a job, living with a roommate in an apartment., planning and shopping for meals, food preparation, managing their finances, attending college, healthy relationships, etc. are done under various levels of supervision. Students meets several times a week with counselors. Vocational skills are taught at some programs.
PR: How should parents get started?
JH: First, be aware that therapeutic schools cost approximately $7000 per month, with RTC's often costing $10,000 per month. On average, plan to have your child enrolled 12-18 months. Most insurance companies do not cover these costs, except to reimburse parents for the direct cost of the child's therapist or psychiatrist. If your child has an IEP, he or she may be eligible for some funding through their school district and/ or AB3632 (County Mental Health). If both parents are ready and able to make a commitment to an out-of-home placement, then we can meet and get started. My contract placement fee is $5000, all inclusive.
PR: Jeanne, thank you so much for talking with me about this topic. I know it can be really overwhelming for parents faced with such a tough choice, and your knowledge can be so useful for them.
Patricia Robinson MFT
I'm a licensed therapist in Danville, California and a coach for Asperger's and ADHD nationwide. I work with individuals of all ages who have special needs, like Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD, ADHD, and the family members and partners of special needs individuals.