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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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.
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:
Determining the needs of the person
who might attend the
school or treatment center ("person of concern").
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.
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
Locating the school or treatment center that most
closely meets the criteria.
Here are some additional
Make sure you
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
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
"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)
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
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
Look at the
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.
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.
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.
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.
one credible is suggesting that residential intervention is for
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.
other helpful resources
on the web include
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
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
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.
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.
is invited. We will publish feedback in good taste, consistent with
our standards. Email
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
Last revised July 10, 2009