Transition and Aftercare Guidelines
FamilyLightsm: Successor to Bridge to Understandingsm
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The point at which clients needing a therapeutic or specially structured school transition to a less structured environment or one with less therapeutic support is always a high risk time and frequently the very highest risk time. Unfortunately, until recently this transition got little attention in most programs. FamilyLightsm welcomes the trend toward remedying this problem through very sophisticated and highly structured support systems being created for students after leaving a residential environment and returning home, transitioning to a conventional boarding school or college, or transitioning to independent living. This offering needs to provide seamless transition from the residential environment. It might involve an in-house service such as that provided by Carlbrook School, or an independent company such as PRN for Families, Homeward Bound, Vive, or Sheepgate Services.   (Neither endorsement nor non-endorsement of these services is implied a this time)

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FamilyLightsm is an educational consulting firm specializing in work with families with a young person with behavioral, emotional or psychological difficulties.  We offer in-depth personal guidance to families on a fee basis and free guidance on the internet. FamilyLightsm attempts to be fully objective and accepts no advertising nor referral fees. The only revenue at FamilyLightsm comes from client fees. 

We have no reason to doubt that the independent providers listed above are providing quality services consistent with what they claim to offer. We believe that Carlbrook School meets criteria in all aspects except the related FamilyLightsm Guidelines for Substance Abuse Treatment, and we are uncertain regarding Carlbrook students having trial visits to anticipated post-discharge location as suggested below. We know of no other school or facility that comes as close to fully meeting our transition guidelines, however. 

In addition, we welcome the development of residential schools and the expansion of receptivity of conventional boarding schools to working with students in transition.  It is critically important that these schools work with such students with a deep understanding of what is needed for success.

In general, we believe that most of the schools that specialize in working with this population are reasonably aware of what is needed and provide it. We have seen schools intending to appeal to this population get started and then discover that the students enrolling were in need of greater structure and support than they had planned.  We believe that these schools offer a highly variable combination of attributes of therapeutic and emotional growth schools.  These schools need to be quite explicit about what they do and do not offer. The term "transitional school" does not adequately delineate what to expect from them.

While we welcome the entry of more traditional boarding schools into serving students in transition, we see many mistakes being made.  The first mistake is that schools struggling for enrollment do not see the potential for transitional students to be a source of high quality students and a good revenue source.  It is important that these schools approach this population deliberately and carefully, understanding the needs of each student as they admit them.  We see four needs of these schools when they take on these students:

  1. The school must be prepared to adapt to the student needs, not demanding that the student do all of the adapting.  Schools should not admit students to whose needs they cannot fully adjust. Recommendations of previous school or treatment venue must be taken literally or don't accept the student.

  2. The school must have some internal leadership fully conversant with the needs of the transitional students accepted.  As a converntional school, it is not important for all faculty to have special training but the expertise needs to be in house with faculty prepared to adjust to direction offered.

  3. The school must have a healthy group dynamic, especially at the faculty and administration level.  In particular it must be free of the "Drama Triangle," a major contributor to relapse.

  4. Clarity about the actual role of the school with the student and the family.  Is the school providing a transtional year in expectation of the student returning home after that, or is it expected that the student will live at the school until graduation, followed by college or independent living?  There needs to be a clear understanding about that at the time of admission and goal directed support of the student toward reaching the intended outcome.

We urge our readers to consider our Transition  and Aftercare Guidelines in the context of our Case Management Guidelines

We suggest the following guidelines.  Keep in mind that these are guideline that are not commonly met, but we believe they should become goals for improvement for all programs and service.  We urge that schools and programs that comply with these guidelines should be given priority.

  • Conventional boarding schools working with transitional students should act consistently with the four "needs" described above.
  • Transitional Schools need to be explicit about what they provide and do not provide and rigorous about making sure they can meet the needs of students they accept.
  • Direct providers of transition support should become acquainted with the client and family members at least two months prior to discharge. Face to face interaction with the young person at the residential location should continue from that time. This does not apply to short term  programs, including short term wilderness programs.
  • Clients being discharged home from a highly structured environment should experience at least two successful extended visits home (or other location similar to the anticipated less structured post-discharge environment) prior to discharge.
  • Between the discharging facility and the transition service, meet Guidelines for Family Participation.
  • If the client has any history or suspected history of substance abuse, the services together meet FamilyLightsm Guidelines for Substance Abuse Treatment.
  • If the program is a short-term (less than three months) wilderness program or other high impact program of similar length, does it meet FamilyLightsm Guidelines for Wilderness Programs or FamilyLightsm Guidelines for Short Term Programs.

Feedback is invited. We will publish selected feedback.  Email

Disclaimer: No  program review, no matter how positive, is a blanket endorsement. No criticism is a blanket condemnation.  When we express our level of confidence in a school or program, that is our subjective opinion with which others might reasonably disagree.  When we assert something as fact, we have done our best to be accurate, but we cannot guarantee that all of our information is accurate and up to date. When we address compliance with our guidelines, you need to remember that these are only OUR guidelines -- not guidelines from an official source.  We have also set the bar very high, and do not expect any school or program to be in total compliance.  It is not appropriate to draw a conclusion of impropriety (or even failure to live up to conventional wisdom) from our lack of confidence in a school or program or from less than perfect conformity to our guidelines.  Some will say we expect too much. Readers are responsible for verifying accuracy of information supplied here prior to acting upon it. We are not responsible for inaccuracies.

Last updated March 26, 2009

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