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Parents are the people who know their own child best, but when placement in a special school or program becomes an issue, they are usually in unfamiliar territory and are prone to error.  We do encourage parents to assert themselves and insist that they are the most knowledgeable and to insist that schools and programs explain what is happening in a manner they (the parents) can understand.

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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. 

Principal problems we encounter are these (we invite suggestions of other problems from our readers): 

 1. Providing inaccurate information to the child/teen/young adult.

 2. Providing too much information to the child/teen/young adult.

 3. Considering a therapeutic placement a punishment.

 4. Confusing parent wants and needs with the young person's wants and needs.

 5. Falling for glib marketing and/or a "headhunter" service.

 6. Placing on the basis of what was good for a different person.

 7. Expecting your son or daughter to change successfully in residential treatment while home does not change.

 8. Expecting results on the basis of referral to one residential program rather than making that part of a larger process of continuing treatment and growth.  See Guidelines on Case Management

 9. Bringing the person home when they first start to do well in a structured setting, believing that means they are "cured." 

10. Bringing the person home or sending them off to college or independent living prematurely or without adequate transition services. 

Honesty with your son or daughter at all times is of the highest importance. Your son or daughter will forgive your decision to intervene against his or her will.  He or she will not so likely forgive your lie to get him or her into a program. Or if they forgive the lie, will they trust in the future?  Historically, parents have said at the encouragement of schools and programs, “We are just going to see whether or not you like the school. You won’t need to stay.” Or, “Let’s go skiing in Utah.”  Or something similar.  Then when they get near the school or program the parents have been considering, they are not permitted to leave.  That kind of parental dishonesty does damage that is rarely undone. If you run into schools or programs recommending this kind of thing, you probably should consider a different school.

Make sure you really understand the program to which you are sending your son or daughter.  If you do describe a program but describe it inaccurately, your son or daughter may think you lied.  That can be fixed, but better that you not get into the position of needing to fix it. 

Recently (November, 2008) we at family light have two clients in programs who did not understand what they were getting into when they agreed to go to a program.  In one case a parent had intentionally deceived her son; in the other case the parents had described the program (which was not our recommendation) as they understood it but inaccurately.  At this writing neither young person is cooperating with the program where they have gone.

Similarly, if you will need to use a professional transport service, we recommend,  under most circumstances, giving a final warning that cooperation is needed or effective intervention will occur (you need not be very specific) is helpful.  This takes the starch out of complaints that parents gave no warning and were unfair. They will say those things, of course, but following that warning, there is a basis for fixing the reaction. However, safety comes first.  If you must have your son or daughter transported to a secure place to save his or her life, without having given a final warning, do so.  Later they will appreciate that you acted to save a life. 

Honesty does not require full disclosure, however.  Safety comes first.  In order to keep your son or daughter safe it is usually best to say nothing specific about when and how they will be going or (usually) even that they will be going away.  Running away, being prepared with a weapon to attack a transport person, going out to celebrate the night before departure are all dangerous possibilities.

If your son or daughter does know the day they will be leaving, we recommend that you have an open house in your home the night before.  Or part of the evening might be some special time with a boyfriend or girlfriend with the degree of privacy both sets of parents have generally been willing to endorse – no more, no less.

Don’t lie. Don’t make promises you might not be able to keep, keep the promises you make.  Don’t tell them they will be coming home at any specific time.  You don’t know how long it will take.  If your son or daughter is working toward the goal of getting ready to come home rather than being in place for a specific period of time, they will use the time (and your money) more productively. 

Don’t present the school or a program as a punishment.  The change of environment and imposition of structure will be a serious adjustment. Hopefully you are using the school or program to achieve a positive result.

Stay aware of the difference between your wants and needs as a parent as compared to those of your son or daughter.  We are not saying your needs are unimportant, but it is very important to know whose needs we're talking about.  Parents often miss their son or daughter while in residential treatment, and bring their son or daughter home prematurely for that reason, but attribute their reason to the supposed need of the son or daughter for their parents.  We agree with making sending your son or daughter away a last resort.  But when you do that, you need to stay with it for as long as it takes for transition home or to less structure to be safe. 

Keep aware that there is a huge amount of money moving around in the business of residential schools and treatment programs. Admission people in  schools and programs are primarily sales people, not necessarily professionals dedicated to the best interest of your son or daughter.  Some who call themselves "educational consultants" are in fact recruiting agents for schools and programs (although those who are members of the Independent Educational Consultants Association are prohibited from accepting referral fees).   Even within that organization there may be those who accept entertainment, paid educational opportunities and other perks, and therefore are not totally neutral.  Most websites with directories are marketing fronts for the programs that emerge.  Parents promoting the program their son or daughter is in may be getting a month of free tuition if you enroll your son or daughter.  Know as much as you can learn about the neutrality and integrity of your sources of information. 

To clarify, we no more object to the fact that some people get paid for referrals on a per admission basis than we would object to a school or program having admission or marketing staff. Our objection is to people being in that position and not being transparent about that or their actual  role. When paid headhunters represent themselves as "Director of Admission"  that is not being transparent.  When you know that someone has an incentive to convince you to choose their program you need to consider their information in that context. 

Don't ever place your son or daughter in a program just because someone else's son or daughter did well there. Their needs may be entirely different.

Expect to make changes of your own while your son or daughter is away. Note these comments in our guidelines on length of stay:

Parents who have not made some changes are not ready to bring their son or daughter home after an extended stay.  See FamilyLightsm Guidelines for Family Participation.  Parents need to change, too?   Yes.  Does that mean we think it is all the parents’ fault?  No.  Think of it like this.  Imagine a jigsaw puzzle with pieces with a Jell-O-like consistency.  They have a shape but if there is not a piece next to them, they have a tendency change shape gradually.   So you take a piece out of the puzzle and leave it out for a while.  Then if you try to put it back, it won’t fit.  The piece taken out would have changed shape a bit and so would the pieces that bordered on it.

Families are like that.  If you remove one person out for a while for any reason, then bring that person back a long time after, the return will have some rough spots.  If the person gone has been to an experience designed to promote change, the changes become even more profound and the return become even more challenging.  If we add to that family dynamics that supported the behavior we hope will change, that is even more of a challenge. 

Sometimes necessary length of stay becomes greater because the family has not done its part.

Remember, as explained in our Guidelines on Case Management, your son or daughter's placement in a residential program is part of a system of interventions.  That one placement, if successful, will be one part of a larger system of services and events that bring about success.  Most parents underestimate the time needed on residential service, the care needed in the transition to home, college or independent living, and the need for family change.  By taking all of these seriously, your chances of success are greatly enhanced. 

==>  Our relevant guideline for schools and programs is that they support these suggestions for parents. 

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 11-15-08;minor edit  2-6-09

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