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FamilyLightsm is breaking new ground by providing an on-line support service for people who are considering use of a special school or behavioral change program  and choosing which one by researching the Internet.  For parents who are not experts on this, getting it right is a formidable task.  Some have said it is impossible for parents to get it right from the Internet without professional guidance.  Whether or not it is possible to get it right, it is happening that way, and we want to make sure that parents doing that have a better chance of getting it right.

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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.

Our first goal, therefore, is to provide the tools to get it right, for those who are willing to take on a very complex task.  A second goal is to help parents to understand just how complex the task is, and to make an informed decision as to whether or not to ask for professional help. A third is to give parents an opportunity to become acquainted with us and others who contribute to this website so you can make a better informed choice about where to go for help with this task. 

To accomplish those goals the first thing to recognize is that characterizing the task as a "search" can be misleading.  We use that term because people expect that, but we want to re-direct that the thinking behind that expectation.  A residential school or treatment center will never resolve an emotional or behavioral problem by itself.  At best, it might introduce tools that the person while in a sheltered environment that must later be mastered in the "real world.'  The important part of getting life on track occurs after leaving the specialized environment as the person applies what was learned to life in the real world. 

The effective way to perform the task at hand is to look at the big picture from when the first signs of need for special resources appear.  This means through all of the steps of making change, considering not just a residential environment to foster change in one person, but what needs to happen in a total system of people, places, and things, so that this person and those close to him or her can have happy productive lives.  One of the most certain ways to be sure that does not happen is to put all of your energy into picking out a residential resource and expecting that one resource to fix one person while everything else stays the same.  That simply does not work, but it is the assumption behind the "school search" approach that the inexperienced often expect. 

With that caveat, we dare to provide insight into the sub-task of searching for the right resources, be they residential or otherwise.  But beware the websites, admission people, marketers, and referring professionals who approach that sub-task of a search for a residential facility as if it stands alone as a solution to the over-all problem that causes you to think about residential services.  The investment in time, dollars, and emotional energy required to make residential service happen will probably be wasted and unproductive if not set in a larger plan that also includes preparing the family system for the return of the person going to residential and making sure the resources are in place for the most critical part of any therapeutic or other process of change:  Adjusting to a healthy, happy, productive lifestyle once away from the artificial residential environment.  There will probably be other elements to a productive plan as well.  But investing only in careful selection of a residential facility, is wasteful and a set-up for failure.

We will gradually expand this resource indefinitely.  We currently offer significant guidance for families doing their own research, but we acknowledge that there are many gaps.  By the end of 2009, we hope to have expanded to the point that inexperienced people can, with sufficient effort, do a very competent school or program search organized according to the guidance only on this website and on websites our links guide you to. 

A quality job of selecting a school or treatment center involves these steps:

  1. Determining the needs of the person who might attend the school or treatment center ("person of concern").

  2. Formulating a plan of what is the best way to intervene in the presenting problem. This plan needs to take into account the fact that a school or treatment center is never a solution by itself, but with good planning it can contribute to a solution.  See our Guidelines on Case Management and Continuity of Care.

  3. Determining criteria for what would be a good school or treatment center for that person, based upon the needs of that person and basic criteria for quality services. (see our Guidelines)

  4. Locating the school or treatment center that most closely meets the criteria.

Here are some additional considerations:

  • Make sure you consider our guidelines.  No school or program will meet all guidelines. But think carefully about whether or not the program you are considering meets each guideline and how important that you consider each guideline to be.

  • When schools or programs make a promise to you that is important to your decision to use that facility (whether or not it involves our guidelines) make sure that promise is incorporated into your written contract with that facility. 

  • Don't assume a specific school or program is right for you just because it did a good job with someone else.  The best programs do not try to be all things to all people and do an excellent job with a specifically targeted group.

  • Be alert to web sites and paid marketers which/who masquerade as neutral information and referral sources.

    • Know the website(s) that guide(s) you.  Most (not all) of the websites that appear to be  "impartial" directories and recommendations are actually marketing fronts for specific programs.  Find out why a website recommending programs is on the the web and making those recommendations.  (In our case, this website is a promotional device to attract paid clients to our individual service -- and we anticipate making access to parts of the website subject to user payment at a later date. We also hope to leave a legacy of making schools and programs more accountable) 

    • Most parents searching for programs on the web ultimately reach people paid "per admission" who deny that is the situation, but they guide people only to programs who pay them.

    • One "foundation" that recommends programs to parents makes a few free referrals to a program it wants to work with, then solicits as "contribution."  They then refer to programs that make regular "contributions."  They claim to be a not for profit foundation but court documents in a lawsuit allege that it is a for profit corporation. The programs that rely on this system (not all) tend to be inferior programs.  (See below for some other web resources that are helpful)

    • One chain of programs gives a parent a free month of tuition for each new enrollment brought in by that parent.  They are rumored to provide a web site to parents who are attempting to do that kind of recruiting. Normally the fact that the parent recommending the program has a financial incentive is concealed.

    • One very large corporation that operates facilities is lavish in entertaining referral sources as an explicit "thank you" for referrals.  A surprising number of clinicians speak of this company as the "only" reliable company offering treatment.  We wonder what incentives have been provided to these people. We don't think this corporation makes actual cash payments to referral sources, but they do put on lavish entertainment at "educational" programming at posh resorts and describe these junkets as a "thank you" for referral. 

    • Look at the publicly available legal papers in a lawsuit to see how this works.  We do not affirm that the allegations of the lawsuit are true as applied to the people and facilities named. Our concern here is only to point out that this sort of thing is common when parents search on the web. We have no personal  or direct knowledge of this particular case. 

    • When schools, programs, and conglomerates rely on this kind of marketing, we assume they lack the confidence that they can succeed in business on the strength of the quality of their facilities. 

  • Make sure you understand the biases of the people advising you. All of us have biases.  We have tried to make ours transparent.  (In our case, this website is in part a promotional device to attract paid clients to our individual service -- and we anticipate making access to parts of the website subject to user payment at some future time. Our Guidelines tell you what characteristics we favor. We are also more likely to favor programs where we know well the people who operate those programs) 

  • Unless you are working with a highly trusted and highly competent professional, get input from multiple sources  -- and even then second opinions have a value.  The best professionals respect the choice of clients to seek second opinions.  So far as web searches are concerned, we hope you will take our input seriously but not rely on it alone.  See what others also have to say. 

  • Be careful of websites and other information sources that simply attack any program or school they can.  Frankly, there are people who appear to be attempting to get the entire industry shut down by frightening people away and imposing regulation that would make quality programs for kids not viable.  Some of the attack purports to be research based. But in general these attacks mislead by taking the worst examples and making them seem like across the board problems. 

    • In fairness, this attack has prompted attention to higher standards for everyone.  

    • However, the research studies that we are aware of that purport to show that residential intervention is less effective than home treatment focus on neither the best quality programs nor residential services well matched to the needs of the client. 

    • No one credible is suggesting that residential intervention is for everyone. 

    • These attacks appear to focus on programming in the private sector, implying that public sector schools and programs are OK.  But actually most of the real problems (not all) occur in the publicly funded programs. 

Some of the criticisms from some of these sources is appropriate and has led to improvements. Some is not. You need to discriminate.

Some other helpful resources on the web include

  1. Struggling Teens is  a website and array publications offered by an educational consultant of high integrity, Lon Woodbury. This website includes a wealth of information.  The website is supported by advertising, and does not include a great deal of information that is highly critical of schools and programs.  It does include some information that we don't particularly agree with -- and I am sure Lon Woodbury would not agree with all that I have on this website.  But it is a conscientious source. 

  2. The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP)  is an organization special schools and treatment and intervention programs. Most of the students that we refer to are members of this organization.  FamilyLightsm does not recommend or endorse all members of NATSAP and does recommend some that are not members of NATSAP.  But this is information from a credible organization.

  3. The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), of which Tom Croke is a member, is the professional association of Educational Consultants.  This includes a directory that lists Tom and most of his competitors.  It also includes the ethical standards binding on its members.  We have explained elsewhere on this website why we believe our methods are better than others, but we also want to say that members of IECA are worthy competitors. 

  4. The National Association of Wilderness Camps is the professional association of Outdoor programs.  Again, we do not endorse all of these, but believe this website is a credible resource.

Happy hunting!  We hope what we offer here on the web will be of value to you. 

Feedback is invited. We will publish feedback in good taste, consistent with our standards.  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 revised July 10, 2009

                                    "Solutions, Not Just Referrals"

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