It will never be more important to be right and safe, rather than wrong and sorry when choosing a mental health residential treatment center for your troubled teen. Just because they say they offer the best drug and alcohol treatment or the top psychological counseling, don’t take their word for it. Make them back those words up with proof. The alternatives (incarceration or hospitalization) are not the better ways to go.
“You owe it to your child to get it right from the first time.”
a parent who learned the hard way
If the cases of serious abuse and neglect didn’t already tell you to proceed with caution, please know the really good programs out there that work are worth the time it takes to find them (and there are many). You just have to do your due diligence and then some. Here’s what the experts at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) strongly recommend.1
#1 Check it out online.
Read everything available about the center or program. Review the website itself. Click on all its links. Leave no stone unturned. Ask your family doctor for his or her opinion. Even check with the school counselor. If there is already a therapist involved with the family, ask him or her as well. Talk to other families who have had their teen in the program if you can.
#2 Ask lots of questions.
- Are you licensed?
- Do You offer an approved curriculum?
- Are you accredited?
- What are your clinical director’s credentials?
- What are the credentials and experience of your staff?
- Do you do background checks on employees??
- What is your admission process and criteria?
- Do you provide a detailed explanation of each child’s treatment plan?
- How do you handle medical issues when they arise?
- How do you define and measure success?
- How is program participant discipline handled?
- What is your family contact policy and practice?
- What does the cost of the program cover?
- What relationships do you have with companies and individuals you contract with?
#3 Ask for proof.
Ask for all pertinent documentation. Ask for all written endorsement and formal complaints. Ask how the complaints were legally resolved. Get copies of all policies and regulations. Leave no doubt. Leave nothing to the imagination. Get everything in writing.
#4 Do a site visit.
Make an appointment. Ask to meet with the director and his or her staff in person. Ask for a tour of the facility. Take your teen with you if they will go.
#5 Get all promises in writing.
Whatever the plan is, whatever the objectives are, whatever is promised, get it all in writing too. Ask how they measure success. Ask for the data collected for those measures over time. You want to see their track record with other teens, so you can have some modicum of confidence that your teen will succeed likewise.
There are several independent organizations who accredit mental health residential treatment centers. They are Joint Accreditation Commission for HealthCare Organizations (JACHO), Council on Accreditation (COA), and the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).
Other agencies to contact include: the Government Accountability Office (GAO), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), U.S. Department of State (DOS) and the Alliance for the Safe, Therapeutic and Appropriate use of Residential Treatment (A START).
The criteria for effective residential treatment programs must include the following:2
- a comprehensive evaluation at the onset in order to assess all emotional, behavioral medical, and social needs
- an individualized treatment plan that put interventions into place to best help your teen
- makes use of both individual and group therapy
- all psychiatric care is coordinated by a licensed psychiatric prescriber
- involves the teen’s entire immediate family and makes room for regular and frequent communication
- uses nonviolent ways to help troubled teens curb their misbehavior
1 “Residential Treatment Programs for Teens,” Consumer Information, Federal Trade Commission.
2 “Residential Treatment Programs,” American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2016.