Advice about Residential Treatment Programs

Resources that have been frequently recommended:

Parent Q&A

Select any title to view the full question and replies.

  • Considering residential placement for 14YO

    (4 replies)


    I am currently researching residential facilities for my fourteen  year old daughter who has experienced mental illness/psychosis since the age of nine.  She is approaching her 15th birthday and I believe she  is going through more challenges than we can address.  Her father and I have tried for  years to get her the help she needs.  I would say we made some progress with local agencies , however, I am concerned that we don't have enough diagnostic clarity to make our next move.  We have requested an IEE from the school district, which has been approved but we are having a very difficult time finding an assessor who can answer our questions. 

    In considering residential,  I'd like to know if anyone has any experience with Victor treatment Centers in Santa Rosa.  Also,  if you know of any dedicated, skilled, professional, out-of the box-thinking professionals for further evaluation, I would appreciate your recommendations. The center has a school, North Valley, and a "group home" nearby. 

    Thank you

    I'm really sorry to hear you are going through this.  My kid is in residential and I talk to a lot of parents whose stories sound like yours.  Many kids go through multiple diagnoses on the way to placement.  I don't know about Victor Treatment Ctrs but I do know that the age of consent in CA is 12. That is, over the age of 12, they can check themselves out.  Twelve.  Yes, I know but that's the law.  Check with the RTC and confirm this, but it was why we had to send him out of state.  If you can spring for it, I'd recommend a good educational consultant.  Not cheap but they know many programs and can help you figure out which one would be best for your kid.   I can also recommend Willows in the Wind, a support group for parents with kids like ours.  There's a lot of specific information and guidance in that community.  And no judgement.

    Some of the residential programs in Utah are very good. We didn't find anything in CA. PM me if you have any questions.

    I can highly recommend an educational consultant (he's also a therapist) who is very knowledgeable about residential options for teens.  We have worked with a lot of professionals and he is outstanding in his thoughtfulness and compassion and ability to connect with teens/young adults.  His name David Heckenlively    I think it would be worth talking to him.   He's in Walnut Creek and we are in Oakland but worth the drive. Good luck.


    this is a tough road for any parent. I suggest contacting Willows in the Wind a local group for parents whose kids are needing, in or have graduated RTC. There is also a Facebook group WTRSS ( wilderness therapy and Residential Support). These groups provide support and a huge wealth of knowledge. I do also recommend an Educational Consultant if you can afford it. The good ones find the right fit for your child along with the best therapist there and help facilitate the process with the District and placement. Someone above mentioned David Hickenlively and we had a very unpleasant experience with him. There are many ECs and those groups I mentioned above are great resources

  • Hi BPN Community - My 22 year old kind, sensitive niece has been dealing with depression, OCD, anxiety and childhood traumas (really bad parent divorce, unreliable parents) for most of her life. Since graduating from college during the pandemic, she has become extremely depressed, especially as the people she's close to start to move on with new jobs in new cities or college/grad school. She says she doesn't want to commit suicide, but she also can't find anything in life to get her out of bed each day. She feels untethered and no hope for any positive progress. Her therapist (with my niece's permission) told me that her once/week therapy sessions are not enough and that she needs an intensive outpatient program, a partial hospitalization program or a residential program. She recommended the Rogers Behaviorial Health Center. Does anyone have experience with this program? I would love to hear from others who themselves or have teens/adult children who have faced similar mental health issues. What programs, therapists, etc. did you find helpful to you? Residential programs scare me, because I don't know how to find a really reputable and helpful one, but there must be some good ones out there. Thanks for any advice. 

    What a challenging situation. How fortunate you are there to provide a safe support for your niece.

    I cannot speak to Rogers directly. Consider reaching out to the folks at Willows in the Wind. They have deep knowledge of various programs and can lend you support while you support your niece.

    Take care and I wish you both calm, safety, and relief.

    My daughter has the same diagnoses, as well as ADHD. She's done a Partial Hospitalization Program through Seneca (specifically Priya STEP in Petaluma but they have programs through out the Bay Area.) It's a good program and they have a psychiatrist that will also review medications, etc.  We were referred to the program by Kaiser. 

    A program like this alone will not be enough. You don't mention if she's on medication but if not I can't recommend enough going that route as well. While not a "fix," medication for depression, anxiety, OCD, etc. has definitely alleviated symptoms. One part of my daughter's issues was insufficient sleep, which made everything worse and is common part of ADHD as the an ADHD brain has a hard time turning off to rest. Within a week of starting a sleep medication (Trazadone) we saw improvements, or at least more stamina to cope with therapy, life, etc. 

    Also, per the recommendation of her Kaiser therapist and psychiatrist we've switched from the CBT therapy that Kaiser offers to a private DBT therapist which is supposed to be better for her conditions. Apparently DBT is most effective in a group setting, so we hope to start that soon. Lastly, if the trauma isn't addressed recovery will be difficult. My daughter has started doing EMDR therapy with her DBT therapist who also specializes in that type of trauma work. My daughter also tried OCD therapy but it was right before the pandemic so doing exposure therapy over the phone was not effective. We plan to do that again at some point when she's improved from the depression and anxiety. It's only about 10 sessions so not a long term treatment. 

    Good luck and best wishes

    My adult son with OCD went to Rogers Hospital in WI for residential Tx 7 years ago. It was not scary for him or me. They do understand OCD which many providers claim they do, but don’t. He was there for 6 weeks when private insurance pulled the plug despite filing appeals. I would recommend it though it wasn’t perfect. I don’t know about their programs in the Bay Area but they are an experienced, reputable provider. 

    I'm sorry to hear that your niece is dealing with all of this, it's hard for her and for the whole family. My daughter tried Rogers residential and their PHP and had a terrible experience there though most people do well. There are also IOPs, which stand for Intensive Outpatient Programs. It's based on ERP treatment, which works for many people - however my daughter was not one of them. There are also IOPs, which stand for Intensive Outpatient Programs. There are multiple paths to try ERP, ACT, DBT, TMS, medication management, so it takes some exploring to figure out which is the best next step for your family member. There are wonderful family support groups out there for OCD and you may get some info there. I wish you the best.

  • My teenage daughter is going through severe depression, agoraphobia and social anxiety. She has been through the partial hospitalization program and is on meds but some bad days are still very, very bad with suicidal ideation. After crying together and riding the wave together, she said that she would consider a residential treatment program even though she is terrified of being with people outside of her immediate family. Looking briefly online is a bit terrifying as the range of experience at various sites seem to differ so much. Can anyone share with me personal experience with residential treatment centers for teenage girls? Ideally near the Bay Area as she would feel more comfortable being close to home. Thank you.

    I would recommend hiring an EC - Educational Consultant. They will help you navigate your options. Also look in to Wilderness Therapy. This might help stabilize before putting her in a therapeutic Boarding School or Residential Treatment Center.  

    The best thing to do is to get an Educational Consultant. They help you identify appropriate placements and navigate the system. One place to get help is through a Facebook group Wilderness and Residential Therapy Search. There are lots of very knowledgeable parents on there as well as Units at the top of the page with information. It’s a lot to do on your own but these resources make it possible. 

    Hello--please feel free to email me. I have experience with this. I believe you can reach me through my username, or the moderators. 

    I'm surprised no one has recommended contacting Willows in the Wind, an organization formed by parents whose children needed residential placement.  

    I totally agree Willows in the Wind is a great place to find families struggling with the same issues and getting advice and support. On Facebook there is a page called Wilderness Therapy and Residential Treatment Search Support. There are a lot of folks on there who have been down this road and others who are on it now. I would also make sure your child has a therapist and you have a family therapist as well. Its a hard road but there are more Warrior Parents out there than you would imagine! Take care

  • We are seeking a short term residential treatment program for our 16 year old daughter who has been struggling with depression, anxiety and, more recently trauma from a sexual assault. We feel completely lost on how to find the best place for her for a 30-45 day treatment. I have a free consultation appoitnment with an educational consultant, but I'm not sure if I really need a consultant if I can find recommendations for a good residential program in the Bay Area. Is anyone familiar with Paradigm residential program in San Rafael? Can anyone recommend an educational consultant in the area to help me figure out where to place my daughter? If you have other recommendations of programs, I would love to hear about them. We are less concerned with substance abuse issues than the trauma, depression and anxiety our daughter is dealing with. I'm a little wary of a mixed gender group given her assault experience, but I don't know if there are single gender programs in the area. We feel desperate- any help or advice is welcome.

    I’m sorry that you and your daughter are in this situation. It’s incredibly hard. We had a good experience with Evolve Treatment Centers. They have several locations in CA, including in the Bay Area. Our daughter went in Augora Hills (near LA). Her therapist and the other staff were excellent. They now have more programs in the Bay Area, including outpatient programs that she could transition to after residential. 
    Evolve took our insurance, but we had to fight for them to continue to cover it after about 3 weeks. 

    Our child went to Paradigm in San rafael and later in Malibu. We were very satisfied with the programs and the staff. We were able both times to get a single case agreement to get insurance to pay out of network. We use Jennifer Taylor of JetEdConsulting.  She is based in Marin. She has been effective and supportive for us. The only single gender place I am familiar with is Center for Discovery and I would not recommend them at all. They are Behavioral based, meaning EVERYTHING is based on behavior and they do not address underlying issues. 

    Have you tried going through your medical insurance?  Medical insurance will provide short-term residential treatment (30 - 90 days) for various mental health issues.  You do have to push hard for it.  A new law took effect this year; the California Mental Health Parity Act.  Where most medical insurance has to provide equal access to any mental health treatment as they would for any physical ailment.  Sometimes they already have contracts with the residential treatment program, and sometimes you would have to go out of network to get it.  By following your medical insurance's appeal process, you can get this covered.   One of the things that will help, is getting a written statement from one of your daughter's care team, stating the need for treatment.

    I Have heard good things about Paradigm.  I do think it's worth using an ed consultant  because they should know many of the prgrams directly. I used Jennifer Taylor at Jeted consulting and found her to be knowledgable and helpful.

    I'm so sorry that your daughter is going through such personal trauma.

    Is it an option for her and your family to have her stay at home + get treatment from a local therapist several times a week, similar to an RTC in intensity?

    A therapist well-versed in the latest methodologies for treating trauma and do EMDR, IFS therapy, Somatic Experiencing Therapy is key for processing and clearing it from the body and mind.

    Sending our child out of state to an RTC to get help ended up causing additional trauma, though there was no way for us to have predict that at the time. The consequent trauma of abandonment as she experienced it, had to be addressed prior to treating the initial trauma, lol. We see now that being sent far away + removed from the comforts of home and friends was a double-trauma.

    Your situation is unique of course and IDK the particulars.


    Hello.  I am sorry to hear that your daughter is struggling.  We are checking my daughter into Paradigm in Malibu tomorrow.  We live in the East Bay and would have taken a spot at San Rafael or Malibu, just wanted first available. I have heard mostly positive feedback about Paradigm.  

    This will be our daughter's second residential treatment program. My daughter suffered from suicidal ideation and was placed on 5150 holds multiple times in 2020.  My husband and I became so desperate that we took advice from our daughter's therapist and psychiatrist at the time, and decided to send her to residential treatment. Evolve in Gilroy and Danville had immediate openings and we decided to move forward with Gilroy.  She was miserable the entire time. It was a punitive program and the director and therapist led us to believe that our daughter was the problem and was not cooperating. We eventually brought her home and she was really no better. Our daughter reported that several staff members were mean to her. For example; one told her she would go to hell if she was not a vegetarian and ate animal protein.  She claims a staff member threw food on the floor in the kitchen and then told her to clean it up.  Last week, a social worker from the state of California called me.  Another family has filed a complaint regarding Evolve in Gilroy.  I participated in the interview and shared what my daughter had told us over the past year.  I feel incredibly guilty that we sent my daughter to Evolve. I am hoping by posting our story here, this will help at least one family make a more informed decision than we did.

    As far as consultants, my understanding is that they are more useful for therapeutic boarding school or wilderness program placement.

    These are difficult decisions.  Best of luck to your family.

  • Father won’t allow treatment program

    (3 replies)

    My ex-husband refuses to follow 2 separate physiatrist recommendations that our son go to either an in-patient treatment center or a therapeutic boarding school and I don’t know what my rights are. Who do I go to to get legal permission for this? CPS? 
    If background is needed, our son just finished 9th grade, was hospitalized after suicide threat, is doing drugs, has admitted to buying drugs ‘for friends’ (which my ex believes that is all he did with them despite my son testing positive for pot in the past), and has had narrow brushes with the law (which my ex thinks are no big deal).  

    This is not a CPS issue at all. This is a family law/child custody issue. You need to request that you be given full legal custody so that you can enroll him in a program without dad's consent. You will have to have the psychiatrists submit declarations or testify if a hearing is necessary, but usually they require you to go to mediation first before you get to that point. Consult with a family law lawyer.

    If you connect with Willows in the Wind you will meet and be able to speak with other parents who have been in a similar situation. Willows in the Wind is a non-profit parent support group for parents who have had teens or young adults in residential treatment, or who are considering it. In my experience, it is a group of very caring, thoughtful, smart, and dedicated parents I who have all dealt with extraordinarily difficult/ risky parenting challenges. It is so helpful to meet other parents who have been in the same boat and to share information and support with them.  Google Willows in the Wind and you will find lots of information and ways to connect. I wish you the best of luck.

    A grateful Willows-in-the-Wind Parent of a child who flunked out of 2 high schools, was in residential treatment for over a year, and who now earns a 4.0 GPA in college.

    Hi - I heartily endorse your efforts to get help for you son. Do you need your ex to help pay for the treatment? If you pay alimony you might be able to deduct half the cost of his treatment from alimony payments. Best of luck

  • My child was in a short-term residential treatment facility.   I paid the company first, as it was an urgent situation, but was told I’d be reimbursed when the insurance company paid the bill.  The insurance company paid the full amount and I have proof.  The company has not reimbursed me and it’s a substantial amount of money.  They have stopped returning my calls and have not answered my emails. 

    What state entity regulates this type of facility and what’s the best way to file a complaint so I can get reimbursed as soon was possible?  Any advice welcomed.

    It seems odd to me that insurance paid them rather than reimbursing you. I have not heard of this. I would contact your insurance bc that should not have happened. As for who to complain to I am not sure. I would contact DREDF and perhaps consult a lawyer. They will often give a free advice session. 

    Don't know if a complaint will get you your money refunded.  You will have to sue.  Hopefully you can do that in small claims court.  Cap is $15,000. 
    I would also post 1 star reviews in social media.  This can be more effective and more expedient than going to court.

    Good luck

    Try contacting “Seven on Your Side” or any similar TV consumer advocacy show-this is exactly the kind of case they handle.  Good luck!

    Try reaching out to your insurance company first. Since you had already paid, they should have reimbursed you, not paid the provider a second time. They should hopefully be able to untangle it and ensure that you are made whole (and may have more weight with the provider). If your insurance company can't sort it out and you paid by credit card, you can try a chargeback. If not and your insurance company is not responsive, you may unfortunately have to sue.

  • Our family is considering a Residential Treatment Program for our teen daughter. We are searching for information about Discovery Ranch for Girls in Utah. Please let us know if you have any experience with or information about Discovery Ranch For Girls in Utah. Thanks!

    I suggest you check out an extremely helpful private Facebook group called Wilderness Therapy and Residential Treatment Search Support.  You can either ask your question there and/or search on the name of the  RTC to see previous posts and responses. It is an a great group of carrying parents who have gone, or are going through this process with their children. It's an incredible resource!

    You should check out Willows in the Wind parent support group that meets monthly on this topic. They can also do phone coaching to help connect you to other parents and feedback. 

  • Information on Alpine Academy in Utah

    (2 replies)

    Our family is considering a Residential Treatment Program for our teen daughter. We are searching for information about Alpine Academy in Utah. Please let us know if you have any experience with or information about Alpine Academy in Utah. Thanks!

    We have had parents with their daughters at Alpine and have had good feedback but with that said you always want a current assessment of any program. I suggest you contact a therapeutic educational consultant to get their opinion.  I know Jennifer Taylor of JetED consulting would be happy to give you a summary of the program.  

    Dear Dnenz,

    I don't have direct experience with Alpine Academy--but I have heard an Ed Consultant that I co-lead a parent support group with, Jennifer Taylor, mention the program several times. I'm sorry I can't remember what specific aspects of Alpine Academy she was referring to, but I believe if you get in touch with her, she'd be happy to speak with you. She seems to know the program well and the type of teenager that would do well there. Her contact info is: Jennifer Taylor, JET ED Consulting, Jennifer [at]  415.887.8998   Good luck with your journey, Sarah

  • Our 16 year old son is currently in wilderness therapy in Utah.  Our Ed Consultant has recommended both Catalyst in Brigham City and The Heritage Community Elevate Program in Provo as our next step.  I am looking for families that have experience with either of these programs and whether you would recommend them.  Were you happy with the therapists and the academics? Was the facility well maintained? We are planning to visit both next week.

    I appreciate previous posts about how difficult this is and all the words of encouragement.  As a new BPN member, I feel the information posted here is sooo much more useful than scary internet searches.  Thank you!

    We're a Heritage family and I would say a RTC success. Steve Sommers was our therapist and he was excellent. I very highly recommend Heritage.
    One thing to keep in mind is that even the Ca-accredited RTC's do not meet A-G requirements, so if you're thinking what happens after RTC in terms of education and presidential potential college, there's some more advocating to be done.
    My son attended Heritage as a step down from a level 14 in southern Utah. I think that coming from a Wilderness program you have the best chances of a solid success at RTC. One staff member intimated that the students that arrive at heritage directly from home or hospital don't do as well as the students that step down at Heritage.
    If you child is a runner, this may not be the best fit.
    There seem to be a lot of bay area heritage families.
    Have you worked with Willows in the Wind?
    And a visit is worth a thousand words. Best wishes and feel free to contact me directly.
    Best wishes. This is a really difficult situation and I want you to know that it can get better.

    I hope you receive some good responses to your question. I want to let you know about a Facebook group called Wilderness Therapy and Residential Treatment Search Support which has been invaluable to me in this process. There is a related group called Parents with Kids in Residential Treatment that is also extremely helpful. Just search for the group on FB and ask to join. They are both private groups. Best of luck, I can relate to how hard this is and how scary internet reviews can be.

  • Hello - my almost 18-year-old son may be returning to Berkeley after a year of wilderness then residential treatment. I have heard of people in other cities engaging life coaches to help their kids stay sober, keep in shape, and engage productively in their lives. We parents will do our part of course, but I would love to find a young man that my son could connect to in this way, someone who fills the slot between therapist and mentor. Does anyone have ideas, references, etc? Thanks

    My friend is using Coyote Coast in Orinda. They help the returning teens and their families have a smooth transition home and a successful life after. They have mentoring program too. My friend says it has been a great resource for them.


    This was a really scary and challenging time for us one year ago. I hope your RTC is heavily involved with the transition planning with a home treatment plan you have worked on together with agreements for expectations, responsibilities and privelidges. The best part of our home treatment plan was agreements we made about scenarios, behaviors and situations that we should be worried about and consider a warning sign for help.  I had been involved with Willows in the Wind, a support group for families contemplating or with children in wilderness/RTC while my son was in RTC and as we worked towards his transition home, they were able to assist me with a grant for  mentor Conor Powell through Eastgate Mentoring. Willows also recommends Coyote Coast. 

    Conor was a great match for my son and did a wonderful job, though there are some pitfalls with foisting a mentor on someone who doesn't want one, which was our situation. For us we needed to bridge the gap between a summer with no planned structure until school started and Conor did exactly what we needed to give some structure to some of his days.  If your son wants a life coach, that's wonderful he is asking for what he needs

    We are now a little more than 1 year post-RTC and things are "good enough".

    Good luck to you.


    Coyote Coast specializes in helping people in your exact situation, and they are very good at it. I highly recommend giving them a call ASAP. They are often all booked up, but it's worth calling. They have "mentors" who are actually licensed therapists and provide a variety of levels of support. Our family has benefited from their services.

    I also cannot say enough good things about AA. They do have "young persons" meetings, and your son could find a sponsor. They encourage not only sobriety, but "clean living" in general, which includes being honest, taking responsibility, and other traits that everyone could benefit from.My understanding is that recovering addicts of all kinds are welcome at AA meetings (even for recovery from non-alcohol substance abuse).

    We had a fantastic experience working with Coyote Coast after our kid came home from wilderness.  They have an intensive wraparound program with family therapy and a mentor plus groups if you want it. 

  • Residential program for gentle teen?

    (2 replies)

    I am looking for residential treatment program recommendations for my 14 yr old son who has a mild eating disorder, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and incredibly low self-esteem. He's a gentle kid and does not use any drugs or alcohol. Does anyone have experience with a residential program (nearby) that would be a good fit for someone like him? He is very impressionable, which makes me a little apprehensive about placing him somewhere with teens who have their own demons, as he tends to take on other people's struggles. Any suggestions? 

    I am sorry you are going through this. I have a teen son with similar issues with mellow personality. We hired an Ed consultant and discussed various times whether placing my son in a therapeutic boarding school where there are kids with drug/alcohol or brushing with the law issues was a good fit for my child. Ed consultant reassured me that yes he would be a good fit because all the behavioral issues stem from emotional problems (mostly low self-esteem). They way they manifest their behavior is just different. The Ed consultant was right, he is now in a therapeutic boarding school out of state fitting in well and making great progress. Bonding well with his peers. One thing I have noticed while visiting there is that as soon as the kids are placed in the program they start behaving nicely. So there is not going to be a lot of wild uncontrollable behaviors that your child is going to be exposed to.

    You were looking for somewhere in the area but CA law does allow to have those kind of program in the state. You would have to go out of state.

    As for your child you would want to discuss with your Ed consultant whether a residential treatment center or a therapeutic boarding school would be a fit for your son.

    Good Luck!

    I have had a teen in residential treatment for the past year.  What we did and what a lot, but not all, parents do is hire an educational consultant.  Educational consultants are very knowledgeable about many different programs and are best qualified to match a teen with a program and to ensure that the selected program has current availability.  Many of these programs will only deal with educational consultants.  We are very fortunate in the Bay Area that there is a support group for parents with kids in treatment or just thinking about treatment.  The name of the organization is Willows in the Wind. Their website has lists of recommended educational consultants and other professionals whom you may need at some point.  There are monthly meetings in three different locations each month: San Rafael, Oakland, and Los Altos.  Los Altos is meeting on May 5, Oakland on May 18, and San Rafael on May 19.

  • Residential programs for depressed teen?

    (2 replies)

    I am wondering about a few different programs for my daughter who is having difficulties with depression. We currently have her in an IOP but are thinking that maybe she needs something more intensive to help her turn the corner.  I would like to hear from parents about what helped most. I would also like to know if any one has had their teen in Paradigm in San Rafael or another RTC in the area? Also, has anyone tried Polaris in SoCal? Please let me know of any resources you found to be helpful.

    Sorry about your daughter. You need an educational consultant; these are professionals that know the various programs, visit them, know the therapists, etc. It really stinks that they cost several thousand dollars, but you are about to make a huge investment in residential treatment and there is no way that with websites and phone calls and even visits that you will have the knowledge and insight on all these programs. There are recommendations on BPN for ed consultants. We waited too long to get an ed consultant and spent 3 months and a lot of money on a program that was not really the right starting point, so I have experience in this unhappy area.

    I have a close friends that put their daughter in Paradigm in San Rafael. Their daughter started to improve after about six weeks there. I have heard only great things about Paradigm. It is expensive but worth it.    If your daughter stays at home, then I would highly recommend her having sessions with a counselor at Discovery Counseling Center  Discovery Counseling Center is not a Crisis center but they have specialists that work with teen depression.  I would recommend them before going to Paradigm if money is an issue.

  • Hello:

    We are in the unfortunate situation of exploring residential treatment centers for our teenage daughter for mental health. Do any of you have any experience with or knowledge of Evolve Treatment Centers (multiple locations, including Gilroy and Southern California) or Center for Discovery (their Brentwood location is called Resilience East Bay)? Any information you have would be very much appreciated.

    I have been to a Willows in the Wind meeting, which was incredibly valuable. I've also contacted an educational consultant, but am hoping to avoid paying their astronomical fees on top of everything else.

    My daughter spent a month at Center for Discovery in Whittier in 2014.  It was a terrible experience and set back her recovery. She was 14, and in 9th grade. The therapists were bad, the care was lax, and the whole thing felt like a money-making scam.

    Aside from several stints in Herrick, she also spent 2 weeks at Edgewater in SF.  The place that worked for her was Willow Springs in Reno. Also key to her success was intensive therapy/classes at Clearwater Clinic in Oakland after she came home. (It was a horrible, horrible time, but she is now a successful college student at an out-of-state school.  Don't lose hope!)

    I am sorry you are going through this. 

    Mary is an educational consultant in Washington and I used her services (I live in East Bay) and she gave me tons of emotional support and placement guidance. I would recommend using an Ed consultant because they know the ins and outs of the treatment centers. The good thing is she charges half the price of local consultants. Mary even called me right after I dropped my kid off at the therapeutic boarding school because she sensed I was emotionally overwhelmed. She helped me find a good school for my kid. You don’t want to play roulette with this kind of decision.

    I have heard that the CA law does allow to have good treatment centers so many good ones are out of state. 

    Good luck on your journey! Keep breathing!

  • Hi:

    My 13 year old is at Newport Academy in Orange, Ca. She has generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder and suicidal ideation. The program is giving her respite from our dysfunction while we try and learn how to be more emotionally supportive and calm and she learns skills for coping. We are making lots of progress but when she seems better I start to worry that insurance will want a discharge rather than see stabilization all the way through. A parent mentioned on a previous thread that she knew some ways to get insurance to pay and prevent going through the outpatient to inpatient to RTC cycle again and again. I’m hoping I can find that knowledable parent and get some advice. Having a suicidal teen is scary. I just want her to be safe and happy.


    Hi and so sorry you are going through this. We sadly cycled through 14 consecutive admissions over 3 months through our health insurance and our son had no education piece included at all, nor was any of the treatment effective in reducing his very serious symptoms. Through an education attorney, we used the school district route to place in a RTC in Utah and had a side-agreement with our insurance to cover "mental health services" while he was at the RTC. 

    In terms of getting insurance to step in and step up, you need to read through the details of your benefits plan, document all denials for service, and formally file a grievance while notifying the California Dept of Managed Health Care. For our insurance, mental health services were pretty well disguised in our benefits plan and took some clever searching. One detail that helped us was having the various providers (contractors of our insurance that ran the various in-patient programs he was transferred to non-stop), write letters recommending RTC.

    Advice for while you are in-paitent, be sure to make every meeting and respond to every request from the service providers so that they don't document that you are not open to the treatment plan, unfortunately this includes the 3am phone calls from service staff. As soon as possible, get copies of admission, treatment plan, and discharge summary documents for each admission, including the 5150's. Stay calm (yeah right!) and take care of yourself. Be aware that a DCFS (CPS) investigation may be initiated and be sure to warn any other family members, including siblings, that there may be an investigation and what that means, and that they have rights to not be questioned by authorities without someone else being present (or if a minor can politely decline and say that parents don't allow it). Call all schools and places of work and be sure to get in writing that you require a trusted adult to be present when there is questioning done by authorities.

    Willows in the Wind is a great local support group that has experience helping families with kids in RTC's or considering other placements and services. I was quite lost in the emotional and financial devastation of trying to work my way through my son's mental health crisis before I found out about Willows in the Wind. 

    Hang in there and know you are saving your child's life. Best wishes and kind thoughts.  

    Ask for the Treatment Plan that the program has formulated for your daughter.  Insist that the facility adds goals that you would like to be on it, in order to be assured that your daughter is on the road to recovery. They cannot discharge her until she has completed her treatment goals.  So give your input to make the goals realistic enough to allow her to live safely at home with support.  

    If they decide that she is healthy enough to come home, but you don't agree, you can write a letter describing why you believe that she needs further treatment (be specific, especially emphasizing safety).  That has to go to a treatment review panel and they often err on the side of patient safety and continue treatment.  Treatment has to continue until the review panel is able to give you a decision.


    I'm wondering, since she is at Newport, if substance abuse is part of the problem?  If so, I wanted to let you know that there is a very intensive IOP in Pt Richmond that would be a good "step down" back into the community.  It is full day and includes on site academics, psychiatry, substance abuse counseling, individual, family and multi family therapy, adventure therapy, linkage to Young Peoples AA.  It's Contra Costa County (no cost for any/ no insurance). It's called CORE (Center for Recovery & Empowerment).  It's for Contra Costa adolescents w/ SUD & associated mental health disorders. 

  • Hi All,

    I am at the rope’s end.

    My 13 year old Asperger son has become extremely defiant, aggravated and acted like he has regressed back to 3 years old possibly due to puberty since few months ago.

    We had to call sheriff due to safety and he had to be hospitalized for 5150 a month ago.  After coming home with some medication adjustment, outbursts and meltdowns are still occuring frequently.  Trigger of these problems are always controlled computer time (2/3 hrs weekday/weekend.)  I also felt like he was agitated by a certain war game that he is playing all the time.

    He has high IQ (144).  Used to love reading, designing but it’s all gone now.  He seems to have regressed and cared only about that computer.  When he is not on computer, he is on his phone with Instagram or TV on crime series.

    I am truly desperate and feeling like my child is slipping away from me turning into someone totally unrecognizable.  Medication didn’t help.  He wouldn’t talk to therapist.  He didn’t care how people perceive him or school rules.  I am losing him.

    Would a RTC be helpful for a teen like him?  There seems to be underlying medical issues that we don’t understand.  Meanwhile, home has turned into some place pathetic and we felt like we are being terrorized all the time.

    God (and every one) please help me!

    My son had a similar situation. Research PANDAS/PANS. This is when an infection (virus, strep, Lyme, mold, or other issue) cause major behavioral regression. You may need to find a doctor knowledgeable about PANS/PANDAS to help you. My son is doing much better since getting a diagnosis! 

    There’s a book called “A Regular Guy” that I think you  should read.    It’s written by a woman who  raised three boys in the bay area with an older son with similar issueIt talks about the process you went through and finding a therapeutic school,  among her other challenges.  I know there are consultants who help with this process,  I don’t know the names of the consultants but  hopefully someone else will. I think you would find this book very helpful and I believe you can order it on Amazon the author  is Laura Shumaker.  I’m  i’m sure this time is incredibly difficult, good luck!

    I'm so sorry you are going through this, I too lost my son to ASD and related illnesses when he was 13. He has been in residential treatment for almost 3 years and is returning home to live this week.

    There is a support group called Willows in the Wind that is very helpful for parents considering or have children in residential treatment.

    My son has been most recently in treatment at Heritage in Provo, Utah, which specializes in ASD and mood disorders. It's an excellent program and facility, although students tend to have more success at Heritage when it's used as a step-down and not a first treatment facility.

    I've been able to get through this (barely) with having my husband on-board and seeing the same things I do, an excellent education attorney, cooperation after grievance with Kaiser, a free course at DREDF to learn my rights, the Wilows in the Wind support group, supportive friends and family members, huge sums of available money while working through services with our school district, tons of organized documentation, and never-ending tenacity. It's very hard. Very very hard. Yet do-able.

    Best wishes, hang in there, and never ever stop fighting for your child.

    I feel for you deeply. My best friend just went through a huge ordeal with her son, and found out something incredible: if the public school system cannot educate your special needs child they are obligated to pay for a place that can. (They really don't want you to know this, and will throw up every obstacle in the world before they capitulate, but it is, in fact, their legal duty.) My friend's  son is now at a therapeutic boarding school in Utah, where they address meds as well as behavior. It's actually a nice facility, not one of those wilderness tough love  places. There are probably residential schools that deal specifially with Aspergers. If you PM me I'll get you the name of the advocate she hired, worth every penny, to bring this about.

    Like you, my friend was terrorized by her son and had to call 911 a couple of times. There is still a loving little boy inside there somewhere, but he needs help to recover that person.

    Meanwhile, for the time being, he is gone. She has a life. She can breathe. And sleep at night knowing he's getting the help he needs.

    If you PM me I'll find out advocate's contact information.

    Hello, so sorry to hear what your family is going through!  My first thought is to get the media addiction under control.  Remove phone, tv, game console, & computer.  I am sure that this will cause a major blowout, so be prepared.  Maybe another 911 call will be necessary and even hospitalization.

    Then create an agreement where he initially gets one tech item back for an hour a day, as long as he does not blow out and turns it back in to parent after one hour.  In return, for example, he has to read 2 books a week, volunteer 3 times a week, and join some daily outdoor activity (you make up a structure that makes sense for your family).  In addition, he must attend therapy weekly in order to use the tech item at all that week

    My thought is that he is not parent - able right now, because he thinks he has no restrictions.  If you put the restrictions on him, and let him operate in a structure where you set the rules, he may go back to being parent - able.  I would definitely not allow as much access to all of his tech as he has had up to now.  

    Best of luck!

    Hi- I don't know anything about residential treatment, but I can completely relate to your situation.  My Aspergers son is 14, and the super challenging behaviors started right about puberty ( well, he's always been a bit challenging, but, things really amped up around 12 1/2 or 13).  My son, too, used to have interests like drawing (cartooning) and reading, but has become increasingly fixated on video games. We try to exert a lot of control in the house on his access to screens and games and internet, but it is increasingly challenging (and a part-time job for me) to stay ahead of him-- screens are everywhere and the internet is a basic tool for .   He too was hospitalized for suicidal ideation about a year ago.  He too is very defiant and angry when we have to enforce the limits (or just make any requests of him)-- it has never gotten any easier, despite the fact that the rules and expectations have always been in place.   He also has a lot of anxiety and gets very "stuck" on things-- like, perceived (and real) slights, harassing us about whether he's earned his next screen time allotment. Last night he went on a very loud 30-40 tirade (with really foul language) about how awful we all are and how much he hates his disability ( he thinks we clamp down on him hard because of the autism), how everyone else's lives are perfect compared to his -- I think everyone in the neighborhood heard.  And I so worry about his younger brother who has to endure all this, too.  Anyway, all that is to say that I don't have the answers, but I can completely relate. Feel free to reach out to me directly if you need someone to talk to.  It is really hard.  

    This is in follow-up to the anonymous poster who addressed the media and parenting issue.  I'd like you to know this is not your fault and you likely cannot effectively set up structures and restrictions to control your son's behavior at all, or if so until significant therapeutic work is done. Yours is not a "normal" situation (although there is a large community of us dealing with similar situations - build your support network).  

    I empathize as my situation is also not normal, with significant underlaying physical and mental health issues that are very complex, difficult to understand, and even more difficult to treat and manage.  Whatever path lead to the current situation, it sounds very difficult and my heart goes out to you.  Your child may need significant support that you cannot provide, and it sounds like you and the family could use a break - time to heal and fortify.

    I second the recommendation to reach out to Willows in the Wind.  I've found the leader, Jan Rao, and the group to be invaluable.  There you can get recommendations for educational consultants who can help assess whether, and if so which, treatment options are appropriate, as well as amazing support and community through this very difficult time.

    Know that you are not alone, resources are out there, and do one thing to be kind to yourself today.

  • It's becoming clear that my 17-year-old (very soon to be 18-year-old) son can no longer live safely at home, if we continue on the path we're on.  I'm searching for a program to address cannabis addiction and an eating disorder (ARFID), both underlain by anxiety.  I'm open to intensive options while living at home, or a residential facility.  I would be grateful for any recommendations for programs, facilities, or interventionists / consultants who can help find a good fit program or facility.

    With gratitude.

    I'm sorry for this challenge with your young adult. It's not uncommon and there are several places that help with mental health issues coupled with substance abuse. One that we used and really liked is in St. George, UT called At The Crossroads. They have a residential therapeutic program for youth in high school through ~24 years of age. They have mental health staff for individual and group therapy and medication management, as well as advocates who work with each person on life skills. They help with school, work, whatever the goals are for the individual. They live in same sex housing in the community and have a central office to support everyone. It's very expensive, but you can see what might be covered through your health insurance. Their business office wasn't very good at helping with health insurance issues at the time, but I think they are getting better. 

  • Hi There, I have a 14 yr old daughter who is dealing with anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.  I would like to get any recommendation on IEP plan and placement by the school district into a residential program.  Also, need some help in shortlisting few therapeutic schools for her education needs.  

    Hi--I am a retired school social worker and can tell you it is very hard to get kids into residential treatment and there are few good treatment centers still open. Have you heard of and explored The Phillip's Academy in Alameda. They treat kids with some of your daughter's issues. You need to get them referred in an IEP and then it does not cost you anything. It would help to have the school psychologist on your side. Have they tested your daughter?

    My son has been at 2 RTC's in Utah and I recommend Heritage in Provo. He was suffering from anxiety, depression, homicidal and suicidal ideation. There is a xl document with all of the NPS's in the US that are certified for California, that's the best document to use to short-list a school that would be more likely for district funding. We needed an education attorney for an IEP placement and had to unilaterally place and self-pay at first. Good luck and best wishes for the safety of your daughter. Willows in the Wind support group meeting is an excellent resource for support and understanding.

    Willows in the Wind is an amazing local resource to help with questions like this. They have monthly parent support groups where you can talk to and get insights from parents in all stages of their journey with struggling teens. Their website also has a lot of useful information.

  • My son is a very bright high-school sophomore who has been suffering from anxiety and depression for some time. His father (my husband) died 20 months ago after a long illness, and I also had a major illness when my son was very young. He is in outpatient treatment, but he is not thriving in general. In particular, Berkeley High does not seem like the right place for him to be. Not the school's fault, so much (though they offer few services due to budget problems), but it's just not a good fit right now. I seek recommendations for academically excellent boarding schools that include a therapeutic component: i.e., substantial counseling services and a "whole-person" approach to education. I also want a place that offers good arts and language classes and gives the kids job responsibilities. Preferred regions are California or New England. Reviews of the Hyde School in Maine and any other similar institutions would be welcome. Thank you.

    I understand that this must be a very hard place to be in, but I couldn't help but think while reading, that your son has been through the trauma of your illness as a young child, and then the loss of his father at such a young age - so much loss! Sending him away, especially far away from you, who are likely his only constant, at this tender point in his life seems like a choice you may want to reconsider. I'm not judging you, I understand how hard parenting is, but I would urge you to seek compassion for his losses (as well as your own) and perhaps find a therapist and school environment where he might be able to be home with you - studies are showing more and more that our teens need us more than they did as toddlers, and sooner than you think he'll be away at college and in the world. Sending you prayers of hope and peace!

    You might want to contact Willows in the Wind, which is a parent group with a lot of experience with residential treatment programs.  There are two monthly meetings, one of which is in Oakland.  Information about the monthly meetings  They are very kind and knowledgeable people. 

    I have been working in the mental health field for over 20 years, including working with adolescents and their parents with varieties of issues.  My recommendation to this kind of situation is never a boarding school/residential treatment programs.  I have almost never seen a success story by sending kids to these programs.  From my experiences, I recommend family therapy with you and your son (and any siblings, other adults involved)right here.  Adolescents never feel great when they are "sent away" from their home.  Imagined to be them.  Does it feel good to be sent away?       I know it's really hard to see your son suffer. I know you may feel incompetent or inadequate to help your son,  You may feel your son needs more than you can ever provide help with at home.  I am a mom too and I get that.  But, they need you right there with them. 

    My ultimate recommendation is to get down with your son to struggle with him.  Some time, you just need to be there. Let him know you are right there when he needs you.  Let him know you want to help but don't know how.  Ask him help you help him.  Ask him to go learn how to help him together. 

    He may reject at first. Teens are like toddlers. They will test you first. Be persistent and consistent.  

    Please know that I can be completely off. I am saying all this based on the little fact I know about your life that I learned by reading what you posted. 

    Hope you both will find a way to thrive together.

    I'm writing from the perspective of a parent who is also a therapist for over 25 years.  I had an opposite experience from some of the comments.  I sent my 14 year old to residential treatment for anxiety and depression and it was a very, very positive thing to have done for her.  Yes, it was painful and difficult and she missed the family terribly, and we missed her terribly, but it helped her tremendously.  She came home functioning so much better than she had been, so much happier and with so many positive tools to help her when she has mood issues now.  She is not on any medication whatsoever and doing as well or better than her peers.  I highly recommend considering it.  I would also recommend you get an educational consultant to help you choose the right situation for your family and child.  They can be extremely knowledgable and helpful.  It's just terrible to have a child struggling, but it definitely can get better.

    Hi - My 17 year old son is at a residential treatment center (Telos in Orem, Utah) and while sending him to wilderness and then to the RTC was the hardest decision of my life, it has turned out to be the best decision of my life too.  My son has social anxiety, anger, ADHD.  All issues that made it so we didn't function well as a family, and he had trouble functioning socially.    We had numerous years of therapy (mostly for him), but I think he wasn't mature enough for much of the therapy, and in the end he needed much more than a weekly therapy session.  We only sent him to wilderness to get him off the computer as he was isolating more and more into his video games, but the video game playing was just a coping mechanism to help him get through life since he was having trouble functioning in a healthy way and having trouble making friends.  Plus, he needed to have intervention when his behaviors, emotions, etc. were in the heat of the moment, not just meet with his therapist and tell her about it and his father and I did not have the skill set to help him with his challenges.    After 6 weeks of wilderness (which he grudgingly went to), he admitted that it was helpful.  In the end, so helpful, that he was the one who hugged me and comforted me, telling me it would be ok, when his father and I dropped him at his RTC.  He is still there, and I visit often.  I see the growth he is making every week, and he himself it the first to say, that this investment of a year of his life will help him for the rest of his life.  I am happy to share more with you.  

Parent Reviews

I've been where you are and I am so very sorry.  It is a living nightmare.  It sounds like you have tried everything you can possibly do, and it's time to consider wilderness and/or residential treatment.  I agree that Willow in the Wind is a great resource.  You may also want to join this Facebook for people in your situation.  I found the advice and support in this group to be invaluable: WTRS

Many people use an Educational Consultant to help them find a program that is a good match for their kid's needs.  There is a list of these professionals in the Facebook group I linked.  Locally, I know families who have used David Heckinlively, but they don't need to be local to work with you.

The hardest part for my husband and I to accept was that we would have to send our daughter to another state (Utah) for treatment because our daughter was very therapy resistant, and in California kids can sign themselves out of a program at age 13.  No way my daughter would stay.

We are on the other side of this now, and it was a very hard road, but things are so much better now.  After months of resistance in treatment, she engaged in therapy and learned a lot of skills.  At the same time, my husband and I had a lot of parent coaching and education, and we learned a lot of skills.  It's not perfect and things get rocky sometimes, but we have a shared language for working our way through.  I never thought I would send my child away and it remains the most gut-wrenching, awful thing I have ever done.  But I think it saved my daughter and our family.

Good luck to you and your family.


This was a really scary and challenging time for us one year ago. I hope your RTC is heavily involved with the transition planning with a home treatment plan you have worked on together with agreements for expectations, responsibilities and privelidges. The best part of our home treatment plan was agreements we made about scenarios, behaviors and situations that we should be worried about and consider a warning sign for help.  I had been involved with Willows in the Wind, a support group for families contemplating or with children in wilderness/RTC while my son was in RTC and as we worked towards his transition home, they were able to assist me with a grant for  mentor Conor Powell through Eastgate Mentoring. Willows also recommends Coyote Coast. 

Conor was a great match for my son and did a wonderful job, though there are some pitfalls with foisting a mentor on someone who doesn't want one, which was our situation. For us we needed to bridge the gap between a summer with no planned structure until school started and Conor did exactly what we needed to give some structure to some of his days.  If your son wants a life coach, that's wonderful he is asking for what he needs

We are now a little more than 1 year post-RTC and things are "good enough".

Good luck to you.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Seeking other parents with teens in Residential Treatment Centers

Jan 2016

Hi Families of BPN, I'd like to connect with other parents that have or had teens with an emotional disturbance placed in a residential treatment facility. I'm feeling very alone. Please no negative comments as calling this a nightmare would be a welcomed upgrade. Please just support from experienced members. Happy to connect privately, as I know this is a very private matter. Thank you.

beyond broken-hearted

I feel your pain... I can remember feeling so alone, overwhelmed and sad. Consider checking out NAMI support group in Albany and support group in Oakland called Willows in the Wind. Both are free, look them up online. I found them helpful and supportive. Shojo

I am literally in the process of getting my son to RT right now, fortunately with the assistance of educational/therapeutic consultant, psychologists, attorney, and insurance specialist. Email me. Karen

Dear Beyond Broken Hearted,

I would be happy to meet with you for a cup of tea. Our daughter just started at a therapeutic boarding school--and staying home was not an option in her case, either. We are hopeful and cautiously realistic; and doing a lot of hard, parallel work of our own. Hopefully responders will use ''wise mind'' and refrain from making disparaging remarks about RTCs when they don't know the details of your situation. Everyone means to be helpful, but blanket statements about any issue on BPN are generally unhelpful in my opinion, but particularly when parents are already feeling emotionally raw.

At any rate, I imagine many other responders will tell you about a great organization called Willows in the Wind that is a support group for parents with kids at various stages of this process (wilderness, RTCs, transition home etc). I've been going for a few months and it's such a relief to be with the only other people in the world who understand what you're going through. Next meeting is this coming Saturday, January 16th--1:00pm to 3:00pm at the Kaiser Oakland SMOB Medical Building 3600 Broadway, Lower Level, Conference Room C. The meetings are free, though a small donation helps keep this parent-initiated group going. You can park in the Kaiser parking lot next to the Medical Building or up the street. If you decide to go, contact one of the founders, I will get in touch with Janet and let her know you can contact me through her. Take a deep breath and take good care of yourself. We're there too.

Hello, I would like to invite you to our support group, Willows in the Wind. Willows is a nonprofit organization dedicated to working with parents with children in residential care or who are considering placement. Our monthly meetings provide parents with an opportunity to learn about treatment options in order to make informed decisions regarding their child's care. This includes in-home intervention, hospitalization, wilderness, residential treatment, or transition/after-care programs. By providing hope and guidance through each stage of treatment, Willows works with parents to provide the resources they need to move forward. Meetings are structured for the concerns of the participants and recognizes the need for family healing. It's a wonderful opportunity to connect with a group of parents on a similar journey.

Oakland Parent

Residential treatment program for teen with depression

Feb 2014

My 14 year-old is struggling with anxiety and depression. After several hospital stays and now a suicide attempt, I am looking for a residential treatment program. Any recommendations in CA? Seeking help

There is help and information available from the Family Education and Resource Center. See this page: There are also support groups and classes available through the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The East Bay chapter's page is here: This is too much to deal with on your own. Reach out for help! RM

Willows in the Wind is a support group for parents who currently have their teens in wilderness, therapeutic boarding school or residential treatment center programs. Each of these settings can be appropriate for a teen needing treatment for depression. It is also a place to learn about these programs if you are seriously considering placing a child. We can share resources with you for educational consultants, appropriate websites and books as well as our personal experiences with programs. Upcoming meetings will be Sunday March 9 in Los Altos and Saturday March 15 in Oakland. Please see our website more more information. I would really like to talk with you before that. Please call me at 650-996-0897 or contact me via email. Robin Sacks

Your experience with residential treatment centers?

Oct 2011

I would like to hear from parents who have had to resort to used residential treatment centers for their teenagers. Hope to get names of the better ones, ones to avoid, and what your experience was an how it helped your troubled teen. Need info soon. Thanks anonymous

I agree with the advice to avoid sending the child away without trying family and individual therapy (sometime just for the parent). You might check on the ones Dr. Phil uses. Avoid Teen Help (or whatever they call themselves today), Cross Creek Manor. Really check out the program that are not in CA. anon

We are in the same place you are and just consulted with David Heckenlively, an MFT/Educational Consultant. 3 different therapists recommended him. We just had our first session and his specialty is matching teens with residential treatment facilities. He also runs a support group for parents when their kids are in residential. His website is 925.681.1700. We felt relieved to meet him. I feel we are in good hands and we will be able to get our son to the right place and the right help. m.

I will concur with another poster. Please, do not send your child to a residential treatment center. I did this with my daughter, with a psychiatrist and educational consultant adamantly saying I should place her immediately. She was in the program for 17 months and the effect was traumatic. My daughter was damaged further at the treatment center, which was very behaviorally based and which blamed her repeatedly. The result? My daughter was not only filled with guilt, she left the center with PTSD and she is now reluctant to seek any mental health treatment. Please, there are therapists who are gifted and who can save your family much agony. I recommend highly Terry Trotter in Albany. Oh that I would have known Terry when my daughter was spiraling out of control. anonymous

Residential therapy for adopted (RAD) daughter

Sept 2011

We would appreciate any shared experiences with Residential Therapy Centers. Our 16 year old daughter is in a wilderness program currently. I went to Utah to visit a few schools, one was nice, one didn't have the ''right'' feel about it and the last was creepy. We would like to compare a couple more before making the commitment.

Our daughter is struggling with adoption related issues that have affected her ability to properly manage relationships, set appropriate boundaries and have caused very low self esteem. No substance use.

We had an Ed. Consultant for the wilderness placement but felt under supported so are managing this next step on our own. If you have had good or bad experiences at an RTC we would really appreciate if you would share your experiences. Mom of adopted teen daughter

First I offer you my compassion. I adopted two girls, one domestically and one from China. Both are now young adults. My oldest also had a lot of difficulty in her teen years. RAD was discussed by one therapist, PTSD by another, Severe Clinical Depression always, and Bipolar Disorder as well. It turns out all of the above were wrong. She has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder- not the full syndrome as she does not have the facial characteristics. Gotta tell you that RAD is one of the diagnoses that is used in error for young people who were exposed inutero to alcohol. I mention this to you, as the diagnosis is crucial and the treatment is very, very different. The behavioral programs of residential treatment centers and therapeutic boarding school are contraindicated ! for children with FASD- won't work and your kid will only get blamed for what is brain based behavior.

I used Molly Baron. It turned out that she was on the board of the therapeutic boarding school my daughter went to. Molly had a conflict of interest because she represented the school that my daughter went to and when it came down to it, Molly represented the school, not my daughter. I was not the only parent who ended up in this situation. She never disclosed her dual relationship to me. And, I spoke with more than one consultant; they all recommended the same group of programs.

A lot of programs do not have well thought out transition programs. Kids go from the tight structure of program back to home and many fall apart. I have kept touch with graduates of my daughter's program. The number of girls who become pregnant, into drugs again, .... is astounding post graduation.

If I had it to do all over again, I would send my daughter to Second Nature for a wilderness program and then home to a therapist in Albany, Terry Trotter. Terry is skilled beyond what I have seen in any other clinician and I have had experience both professionally over 30 years and with my daughter. If you can keep your daughter at home via Terry's help, do so! My daughter was hurt greatly by the therapeutic program she was in- filled with guilt, traumatized, her disability left untreated, and unprepared for life after program. Issues of abandonment were only exacerbated as well. Caveat Emptor. anonymous

are you sure you need a residential therapy center and not a therapeutic boarding school? they are very different and i did not know that until i found myself in a similar situation to yours. my heart goes out to you in this journey--it isn't easy to make the decision to send your child away for his/her best benefit. our family went through a similar process with our teen and i did more research for this ''project'' than i did my graduate school thesis. and still, we needed an educational consultant. you did not say who you used, but there is a range of skill/talent out there. we have benefited from working with David Heckenlively at Integrated Teen Services. he's in walnut creek--far for us, but it has been worth the drive for the holistic and individualized approach he takes. best of luck to you. anonymous

I know what you are going through. First, we had a GREAT Ed. Conslt. Molly Baron in SF @Mallory, Mclure & Baron. I highly recommend her. We have had to handle several difficult situations and Molly has been a lifeline. She is very involved. My child is at a Utah RTC, Island View and seems to be doing well. The staff is very professional and my interactions with them have been good across the board - from getting ins. coverage to therapy. No adoption issues. Island View also has an adoption program, but I don't know the quality of the program or if it would be a good fit for your daughter. A friend does have very serious adoption issues with her daughter and Molly recom'd a place - Unitah? - in Utah that specializes in adoption issues and sounds wonderful. Note that the RTC's will negotiate the fee by quite a bit, so don't foreclose a facility due to the fee. Tell them what you can afford and see what happens. My sense is that in this ecconomy the places are not full. Just be careful. Some places look great, but are not. That is were the Ed. Conslt. makes such a difference. Let me know if I can give you anymore info that would be helpful. Optimistic Mom

Our adopted son is at Sorenson School

We also made the rounds and ended up choosing Sorenson because they had horse therapy, a wood working program, and it wasn't a locked facility. They also have a large adopted population and they have experience dealing with RAD issues.

He has only been there for three months and it's been hard not having him around. The school is tough but fair and academically, he is doing better than he ever did when he was at home.

He still has a long ways to go. In fact, as a family, we all have a long way to go. However, it seems that for right now, this is the best place for him. Best, Mark

I am not sure what your financial situation is, but as we know residential treatment is very expensive I want to make sure you are aware of the adoption assistance program (AAP).

If your adoption was a ''public adoption'' you definately qualify.Some private adoptions also qualify. Here is the language about who qualifies in California:

In order to be eligible for State-funded adoption assistance a child must be the subject of an agency adoption and one of the following circumstances applies:

Under the supervision of the County Welfare Department (CWD) as the ward of a legal guardianship or as a juvenile court dependent or Relinquished to a licensed California private or public adoption agency or to another public agency operating a Title IV-E program on behalf of the State, and would otherwise have been at risk of dependency as certified by the CWD or Committed to the care of California Department of Social Services (CDSS) or a licensed private or public adoption agency pursuant to Family Code section 8805 or 8918 (failed adoptive placements).

If your child qualifies AAP should be paying for whatever program you choose. I am a former adoptions social worker and have several friends who have adopted children that have been placed in residential care. AAP has payed for the programs. So do not accept ''NO'' as an answer from them if your child qualifies based on what agency the child came through. Remember, your income is NOT a factor in determining if you qualify for AAP.You would contact the agency you went through for the adoption to find out about AAP. the I know what you are going through is really difficult. I have an adopted daughter who gave me a run for my money and know many parents in your situation. Take Care of yourself the best you can during this stressful time. r 

After care services for teen coming home from RTC?

Nov 2009

My daughter is coming home in December from an RTC program in Utah. Does anyone know of after care services/groups they can recommend? She's been gone for 18 months and does not want to go back to her high school so we are also looking for another public school without much luck. I'd love to hear from parents who have been in this situation with their child.

I do have experience with the issues you raised. Here are some suggestions. There is an organization, in Orinda I think, called Coytote Coast that specializes in working with teens who are returning from programs or who ar struggling at home. Give them a call and see what services they can provide for your daughter and your family.

I know an excellent therapist in Albany. Excellent is not the word; she is remarkable. The therapist's name is Terry Trotter. I recommend her highly as someone for your daughter. Where did your daughter go to school before she entered a RTC? I must admit that I have qualms about a teen going directly from a RTC to a large, public school. I would rather, if possible, for a teen in the above circumstances, to go to a small school, where she will have more support. If this is not possible, do make sure that your daughter has a contact person assigned to her at her new school. Also, will your daughter be in special education?

I recommend a mentor, perhaps a college student, for your daughter. Good luck anonymous

Residential treatment for RAD ADHD Oppositional Behavior

June 2009

I need help finding residential treatment away from the Bay Area for my 16 year old adopted daughter. I am certain she has Reactive Attachment Disorder along with her ADHD. She cannot live with me due to several violent episodes which have left me with permanent scars and the physical and verbal abuse of her younger brother. She was living with her father (we have been divorced for 5 plus years) but he has asked her to leave within a few months due her running away and unwillingness to adhere to any house rules. Her grades are not passing and she has fallen in with other students with multiple issues. She loves animals and I am interested in sending her to a Camp which includes equine therapy. Has anyone had any success with this approach? The camps are quite expensive and I want to make sure they would be effective. Any constructive feedback or references greatly appreciated. Anon

I can sympathize with you right now. I went through the same thing about 9 months ago with my 16 year old son. He was spiraling out of control, dropped out of school, and was running away anytime I put a restriction on him. This Wednesday he is coming home for the first time in nine months a changed young man! I sent him to SUWS wilderness program in Idaho for one month which he still thanks me for to this day. It made a complete turn around for him. He cried when we left the desert after his graduation. From there he went on to boarding school at Aspen Ranch in Utah. This is where all the things he learned in the wilderness program sunk in and became a part of him. I took a great deal of time researching schools and I even flew up to Utah to look at different programs first hand before I sent my son there. Yes, there are some bad programs so take your time choosing one. It has changed his life and I am happy to say that he is coming home as the son I always knew he could be! I can't say enough good things about the programs! They also retrain the parents on how to better parent your child, it is not all about changing them so be ready for some intense, hard, life altering work, many trips to Utah for parent workshops which were very valuable! Also this is not cheap, I spent everything I had saved for my son's collage and my own savings, even selling some of my personal things for him to stay there. But he wasn't even going to graduate high school on the path he was choosing let alone collage. I am a single mom of 3. But I could never live with myself knowing that I had spent more money on cars in my life than I was willing to spend on saving my child. They deal with all types of issues there, adoption issues, oppositional defiance, drug use, and so on. This program is for kids who are inherently good but are making bad choices. Feel free to email me if you have more questions. Good Luck!

My heart goes out to you. I have a daughter who is now in her 20's who also needed residential treatment. I recommend Heritage School in Utah (Provo). The program is highly therapeutic with well trained clinical staff and on site psychiatrists. Your daughter's therapist will work with her intensively and with the family. Your child's therapist will be her team leader, an important fact, as some schools are so behavioral that the therapist plays second fiddle to behavior modification/ boot camp rules. Not at all what you want. The school at Heritage is also good and they do have equine therapy. Give them a call.... you will find the staff very kind. Finally, caveat emptor, many programs are not safe, based on boot camp like experiences, focus only on behavior, not clinical issues, have staff that is not clinically trained, and require your child to stay 2 years. Also, not what you want.

Finally, Montana Academy is a very good program. Check it out. By the way, you might be able to obtain public funding for Heritage School, ask the admissions staff. It is a certified Non-public school for the state of California. anonymous

Call Virginia Keeler-Wolf in Oakland. She is one of a group of therapists who are specifically trained to work with RAD. There are only a few such therapists in the Bay Area. She is also knowledgeable about residential treatment. A friend worked with her and his son was successfully place in residential for over a year and is now ready to come home. Our family worked with her for several years, and she is very insightful and knowlegeable. One of her partners, Laura Soble, has worked in equine therapy. Mom

Good boarding school for totally out of control teen

April 2005

A friend of mine has a teen who is totally out of control and none of their intervention seems to help. The mom wants to look into boarding school as an option but doesn't want one of those 'bad' boarding schools you hear about where kids are made to do extreme activity or something. Does anyone know of or have experience with a good boarding school that you could recommend? jen

When we needed to send our son away, we had no idea where to start. There must be thousands of boarding schools and programs out there. Some are definitely better than others, and some are better for particular kids.

Fortunately [well, it did NOT seem so fortunate at the time], we tried and my son flunked a local rehab program, and the psychiatrist there referred us to an educational consultant, Bodin Associates [in Lafayette and Los Altos]. They were able to recommend a therapeutic wilderness program and then a boarding school, both really right for our son.

We really needed the support, the assurance that these folks had visited and knew the places they suggested, a reasonable number of safe places to look at [they suggested 8 places, and we discussed 3 more we heard about], and the practical input they had at certain points. I can't imagine how to approach finding a boarding school without some kind of guidance like this. It would be a total crap shoot.

The internet is cool, but -- too many choices, too little info relevant to a particular kid or a particular place.

There was a time the cost of the consultant would have knocked me over, but [a] that is nothing compared to the cost of a boarding school, and [b] much more importantly, our son ended up where he needed to be, and is doing well after 14 months, and he has been safe and supported and challenged -- and also, at his particular school, he got sober plus had fun. And he's graduating next month!

Best to families in this situation. a mom

13yo relative's drug use, stealing, and cutting

March 2005

We have a troubled relative who is 13, and out of control. Her immediate family is from out of the country and is not equipped to deal with her current problems, which range from drug use and stealing to dangerous boyfriends and cutting herself, and regularly disappearing. We have already called the police and Child Protective Services, there is not much they say they can do at this point -- and we want to see if we can find a safe place for her to be contained, such as a boarding school that would be affordable and effective for us. Please let us know if you know of any schools, camps, programs, or even group homes that would be a good option for us (she has MediCal, and her mother is on Disability). Many thanks for your help.

my advice the the family with the ''out of control teen'' is to look on line for therapeutic boarding schools. ''The ASpen group'' is a great network of schools for troubled kids. My son went to Stone Mountain school for boys. It helped him a lot. They have a school for girls in Arizona i think. Good luck. mom of troubled kid

To the relative of a troubled teen: Understandably, if her parents are from another country, it would be difficult for them to deal with the cultural and social pressures on teens here. I strongly recommend Berkeley Youth Alternatives. They can help the parents as well as the teen and even offer a temporary live-in facility for teen run-aways while they are in counseling with family. I went there as a teen myself and it changed my life. Of course, that was 30 years ago. I'm sure much has changed! Good luck.

former troubled youth

My 16-year-old step-daughter is out of control

October 2004

My husband's 16 yr. old daughter has gotten so out of control - both living with us as well as with her mother - that we are considering trying boarding school or an alternative living situation to see if she can get back on track. A wonderful posting put it so eloquently when the writer said we ''might begin by considering whether our problematic children are really the canaries in the coal mine of our toxic society.'' Considering this, we hope that a change in her environment might at least give her a different perspective of what is important. If anyone has any information on these types of facilities, we would greatly appreciate any feedback.

I am a family therapist who has treated teens who are making life difficult for themselves and everyone around them. You do not mention in your letter if she or your family has sought treatment. It is important to have a clear idea of what is causing the behavior before making the change. Kids are also the canaries in the cages of their families, and their acting out often demonstrates the affects of what's gone on around them over which they may feel they have no control. Some express this in extreme ways that may include drugs or alcohol, sexual acting out, stealing, cutting and the development of eating disorders. In other cases, there is an emotional problem that's been quietly developing which surfaces during stressful times, such as depression, anxiety disorders or more serious mental illness. Since bad behavior is the cover up for all of these precursors, it is important that a professional evaluate the child so that even if the decision is to send her away there can be adequate treatment and/or medication to deal with a more severe condition. If there is not a pattern of open communication in the family with either parent there is more chance that the child will continue to act out. A family therapist can explore ways of getting family members to open up and speak with each other about difficult subjects. Often things can change once this happens. Get the help you need so that all of you can begin to feel better. Cynthia

I posted above about my serious concerns about the industry that has grown around ''troubled teens''. I don't want to beat a dead horse but while the responses of people who've had success with these programs are not to be dismissed, their success seems more a matter of luck and that their teens are among the very few for whom these programs (minus the stripping of all constiutional rights, including the right to make a complaint of abuse, may MAJOR concern about most of these places. Abuses of the most horrendous sort, especially in states like Utah, ''the fraud capital of the world'' according to Forbes, have happened and have been covered up. These programs bring in a large amount of revenue for their states and the large corp. owners of these schools donate A LOT of money to Utah. Montana and Missouri are among others that are known for similar egregious problems. There is no need for the kind of secrecy, extreme deprivation and shut off from the world that these programs (the bad ones) require. The cost of the programs, nor the slickness of the brochures should not fool anyone to believe that they represent the quality of the program. I have a brochure in front of me that baldly lies that they have a child and adolescent psychiatrist, (actually implying a Team of psychiatrist), where in fact there are NO psychiatrists.

Intelligent people from the bay are have sent their kids to these places and have have severe regrets. Their stories are out there to read in many places. I just pray that anyone who decides to send their child away, a) consider all other options before resorting to this drastic option and b) have not only been to the site but checked on the credentials of the owner, corporate ownership, therapist, psychiatrist etc... Adults, know in their 30's who were among the first to attend these places, including someone I know, often suffer from PTSD as a result and have never recovered.

I do believe that sometimes a break between parent/teen for both can be good. IF it can be done in a regular boarding school, through relatives or friends I believe that to be better. I seriously doubt that any real ''therapy'' happens at these places except for a very small minority. I will say that Anastazi, a wilderness program, is one of the few based on principles of love and works with the family in a healthy way.

I have a disorganized blog on the matter at I hope to have it in place as a very informative website soon. I the meantime just scroll through and I'm sure you'll find some good info there.

I have read hundreds of nightmarish stories and only a few good ones. I am trying to do my best to stop anymore kids from going through these (often) permanently damaging ordeals at the tremendous expense of their families, often with the effect of alienating a child from their family for good. There is no evidence of their efficacy, only the anecdote here and there. The tremendous bulk of evidence points in the opposite direction. AND every major psychological authority - NIMH, American Association of Child and Family Psychiatrists, , American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Association of Nurses along with all the states in which these places can't exist (like California) because they operate without the standard rules we have in place to protect children from abuse and protect their basic rights.

Unfortunately, I sign this anonymously because there are educational consultants and people associated with these programs who can be VERY AGGRESSIVE AND INORDINATELY DEFENSIVE when criticized. I have already been harrassed to the degree that I've exposed myself personally. anon

Warning about Harsh residential schools

June 2003

Since this newsletter has carried discussions about residential schools in the past, I thought readers might be interested in an article that appeared in the New York Times May 9, 2003.

Here is the abstract; the full article (and it is long) can be purchased from the NY Times - info is on this page:
Parents, Shopping for Discipline, Turn to Harsh Programs Abroad By TIM WEINER (NYT) 2654 words Late Edition - Final , Section A , Page 1 , Column 1 ABSTRACT - Behavior-modification programs and boarding schools for troubled youths that have faced legal and licensing challenges in United States are moving abroad, where they operate largely free of regulation; some are said to employ minimum-wage custodians more than teachers or therapists; about 2,200 youths are thought to attend 11 affiliated programs in Mexico, Costa Rica and Jamaica run by businessmen based in Utah under banner World Wide Assn of Specialty Programs and Schools; local governments and State Dept officials have investigated these programs in Mexico, Czech Republic and Samoa on charges of physical abuse and immigration violations; some have been closed; many parents and youths say behavior-management system of discipline and punishment scares youths into sobriety and obedience; others say programs profit from struggling parents unable to handle their depressed, delinquent, defiant or drug-abusing children; profit margins and growth within programs appear solid.

Looking for residential schools for out-of-control teenage daughter

April 2000

I am in the process of looking for a boarding school for my out-of-control teenage daughter. I need something that addresses both emotional growth and academic growth. I don't want a lock-down situation, but hopefully something that's isolated enough that it accomplishes the same purpose. Things have gotten continually worse in the last month and her grades have plumetted. Does anyone have any experience with such schools or know a good source of information? (Yes, we've been in counseling each of us individually and also as a family.) Anonymous

I recently did a massive search for residential schools that included a therapeutic/growth model, both in California and out-of-state. A good place to start learning about the options is a website called the Woodbury Report: It has schools divided into same sex, co-ed, behavioral/conduct issues, psychiatric and wilderness programs. Keep breathing and Good Luck. Rosa

Boot camp for 16 year old who is endangering herself?

April 2000

My best friend has a 16 year old daughter in real trouble. Over the past couple of years she has become increasingly unmanageable. She has developed a drinking problem, become depressed, and become extremely sexually active with adult males. The other night she was found by the police on a remote canyon road with an adult in a very compromising position. This just isn't safe. My friend has tried all the home-based solutions, the girl is in counseling, has had all rights and privileges revoked or monitored. This is just a very painful situation for all concerned.

My question is this. Does anyone have any experience with those boot camps you hear about? It is my friends opinion that he needs to get her away from the area and from the friends she has developed and start on a new path. If this child's path isn't changed soon - she will suffer some horrible result. Anonymous

So sorry to hear about that girl's situation. I have a friend whose daughter sounded a lot like the girl you wrote about. She's really in trouble. This girl had similar stuff going on and then she took up with a group of older biker guys in San Francisco. These people essentially whisked her away and sent her to what they refer to as a convent in Italy. [the mom's a Catholic school teacher] The girl was there a year. Five years out she's living at home, doing well, attending community college. Tell your friends to get that girl the hell out of here. If they're interested in more details about convent the newsletter coordinator can contact me. Hopefully someone else on this newsletter knows about someplace closer!

We have close friends who placed their teenaged son in a residential program in Oregon for about 2 years. If the original poster would like, I will try to put her in contact with them.

I'd be happy to talk to you or your friend about this. I have researched some of the residential treatment programs, and found one in Utah that saved my daughter's life. I'd say your friend's daughter needs help fast.

This girl is in crisis, as is her family. She needs to be protected from herself and from her friends who encourage this behavior. I haven't any experience with the boot camps but it certainly sounds like a necessity in this case. (My teen's situation isn't as dire but I am in the process of nipping similar behaviors in the bud.) I am learning that there are many types of schools with varying degrees of restrictiveness. First, I would suggest that he get a psychiatric diagnosis of his daughter to determine if there are psychological problems. He might also want to do educational/psychological testing. After getting all that, he can start researching the schools (since there are so many out there, hiring an educational consultant might be helpful).

As a parent of an out-of-control teen, I can strongly recommend Tough Love International, a self-help group for parents of teens who have behaviors that cause parents deep concern. This group is simply excellent and the concepts it uses work. I have been attending a local chapter of this group for 5 weeks and have found it a lifesaver. It doesn't provide an instant cure to your problems, but you gradually collect skills and tools which are priceless. See their website at: Good luck!

I just wish to communicate my utmost sympathy to the family of the 16-year old girl. It is extremely painful to see a beloved child go through such turmoil. Foremost, this 16 yr.-old girl needs 24 hour supervision. This may require pulling her from public school into a private school that will work intimately with the parents to oversee her while in school. One of the parents needs to drop her off at school, escort her into the school, pick her up after school, and supervise her 100% of the time outside of school. The whole family needs to get into counseling right away. She most likely also needs individual counseling. Try to get her involved in a youth group (Christian or any other solid group) where she can meet peers who may or may not have gone through similar experiences, and who can relate to her. This is a matter of life and death for her. She will need 100% time and emotional commitment from her parents until she is safely through it all. She most likely was not born with the tendencies to behave in this manner, and a deep exploration of the causes of her behavior is crucial. Best wishes, much love to this young person and her family.

To the person looking for help for an out of control teen: We have friends who sent their son to the Hyde (spelling?) School in Maine. There is an additional campus elsewhere on the East coast. It has been an incredible experience for their son. The school is not a teen bootcamp. It is a school with firm values around strong academics in a therapeutic environment. This opportunity has really been powerful for both the boy and the family. I just phoned them for information, but the family is currently away at Family Weekend at Hyde. Call me and I will get further information and/or put you in touch with the (local Berkeley) family.

I was a bored, gifted 'out of control' teenaged girl nearly 30 years ago: sexually active from 15 (though used effective contraception every time); some tobacco, pot and acid use; much confrontation with parents, especially authoritarian father. Kept my grades up the whole time. My parents' felt desperate, that choices were boarding school, detention center (as 'inccorrigible'), and psychiatric hospital. They chose the latter, and it took me 20 years to get over that decision. Really. I caution you to be very careful about your decision. I've read horrible things about those boot camps.

Is your daughter gifted and bored? Send her to a rigorous single sex boarding school (though boarding school leaves lots of room for drug use and sexual experimentation, too, check it out carefully). If you think your daughter has fundamentally good values at base, try some kind of away summer program, maybe some teen outdoors adventure program (do you want her to behave healthier, or to punish her - something to consider). It will give you a break from each other, which is what I really felt my parents were after (despite all kinds of acting out behavior, it wasn't until I said f-you to my mother that I found myself literally taken off the street and deposited in an old fashioned state psych hospital, ah, the good old days). I think an Outward Bound program would have been good for me (though I may have hated it), boarding school, or even a group home. They went for the thing they could get the fastest.

I do feel it's important to intervene: though I've been successful academically and done lots of interesting things in many countries, I believe I missed some fundamental lessons during adolescence that affect me even still. Just be very careful what you choose; punitive solutions may have repercussions that you all may not recover from. anonymous

Based on the problems you described with your friend's daughter, I myself would have been considered an out of control teenager. Drinking, drug-consumption, various risky/dangerous behavior, sexual and otherwise, were all part of my very independent life. Basically I was very bored, very nihilistic and liked experimentation. (Like dropping acid every day for 33 days at noon.... go figure.) I might have differed from your friend's daughter in that I was very self-aware, was very philosophical about my behavior, and I was smart/clever enough never to be caught doing anything illegal.

My parents were rather oblivious, and nobody in my immediate family was really pressuring me to change or conform. I did well in school and kept my private life to myself. However, I sensed what was happening was leading to a bad outcome and I decided to save myself....

At age 15, I bought a round-trip ticket to Paris. I had been corresponding with a French pen pal for several years and arranged to stay with him and his family in a small town outside of Paris. Needless to say, the host parents were rather wide-eyed when I walked off the plane in my lipstick, halter and sandals!

During this time, I underwent a rather dramatic transformation. In short, I cleansed and processed my personal history. Being away from my usual destructive environment really changed the way I saw myself. I quit shaving and wearing make-up, for example. I didn't drink hard liquor and quit smoking cigarettes. It's not that I suddenly became straight and narrow. What happened was much subtler: I basically had a chance to collect myself, refine my thinking and make new impressions on myself. I continued to lead a very independent life, perhaps even more so than before, but I was more mature and self-aware about my behavior and the responsibilties and consequences of independence.

The idea of juvenile boot camp makes me cringe. A 15 year old person who is making bad judgements needs to find a path that makes sense _according to their own world view_, limited as it may be. Conformity is not a real long-term solution, IMHO. Learning how to take responsibility for one's actions, in terms that are self-generated, seems infinitely more dynamic and effective. Such solutions are the product of a developing conscience, and that seems to be what it's really all about.

Hope this story is of some use. Best wishes, Claire

I'd like to echo Claire's story and thoughts on boot camps (from last week) for wayward teens. I too was in trouble as a teen: depressed, on drugs, drinking, having risky sex with risky men, and very angry about the family and world I saw around me. Being sent to a boot camp wouldn't have made me toe the line; it would have made me crazy with anger and probably would have made it even harder for me to develop a solid foundation. What helped me was having a few insightful adults around (they were rare, as we were in a very rural area), who recognized a few good seeds in my psyche and nurtured them, by telling me I was sensitive, I was smart, I had talents, etc. That set me on the difficult path to breaking free of old habits and friends, developing some goals and focus, and starting to get my life together. Looking back on it now, I don't think of myself as a bad or even out-of-control teen: I think I was a smart, sensitive, lonely kid in a very difficult family and social situation (small town). I see teen-agers who look like trouble today and my heart goes out to them.


The preponderance of responses to this request for advice that seem to be coming from people who see themselves in the picture of this troubled teenager compels me to respond. Obviously, some, in fact many, out-of-control teens find a path for themselves that leads them out of danger and, in these cases, on to become parents of teens themselves. These people write telling us passionately how boot camps would not have worked for them and may be inhumane. But I think we should acknowledge that not all despondent, rebellious, self-destructive teens come out of this phase of their lives as well and that those who don't represent voices we are not likely to hear on this e-mail list.

So I will relate the story of my older sister who had three sons (large blended family) who went through very, very difficult periods when they were teens--alcohol, drugs, depression, crime, anti-social behavior, etc. She agonized over the decision that this parent is now agonizing over: should I consider an act that I find repugnant because it may be the only thing that will save my child? In two of the three cases, she ended up concluding that some kind of forced removal from the immediate scene was what the child needed. In one case, the child had to be decieved about what was happening in order to take physical custody of him. It was awful and at least as traumatic for the parents as for the son, who was too stoned to know what was going on. I'll cut to the chase. One of these two boys has ended up just fine. As a result of the program he went completely clean and sober (more than 15 years now), has subsequently married and is a loving and responsible parent. The second also substantially changed his behavior and was pretty much ok for 5 or 6 years, until he had a very tragic run-in with a firearm and is now in prison. Interestingly, after he completed the boot camp program, not only was he not angry with his parents, but rather he thanked them for caring enough to do such a difficult thing. Just to complete the tale, I will say that the third troubled son, who did not go into a program, came out OK as well; that her two other children never got into any trouble whatsoever and went to college, pursued careers, and had families as she had expected all five would; and that the entire family has been very close and supportive of one another, despite their very different paths, for many years.

There are two points here. One is that it is very, very difficult to understand why children get derailed or what pulls them out of it. The second is that horrific as these boot camps may seem to some of us, we need to remember that they are probably right for some kids. In this case, I believe they saved one kid and helped another. I would implore this heartbroken mother to listen, listen, listen to her child and her heart.

A few years ago I faced the decision of what to do with my very much out of control teen aged daughter (who up until 10th grade was a straight A student). I took her to a theraputic community out of the country. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my whole entire life. The desicion was agony, but I was sure my daughter's life was in danger. After I left her there I went through her things and found her beautiful down jacket full of cement glue. It also had a tear in the back from where someone tried to knife her. During a visit as we were lying in the dark falling asleep she said to me mom, I've had guns put to my head and knives to my probably saved my life.

I've had doubts. I'll never be totally sure if I did the right thing if I should have kept her here and let her work things out. She was angry at me after she left the place for a while and her life has not been easy and clear cut since, though not bad like it was before. I do know one thing though. She's alive to make it better.


My son's friend's mother had him kidnapped and taken to a therapeutic facility - what can I do?

April 1998

I'm in the role of the other adult for one of my son's life-long friends and am wondering if anyone has any advice that could truly help this kid now because I think by the time he can legally separate from his mother his life will be such a mess that it'll be very unlikely he'll be able to set it right.

My son's friend was adopted as an infant and his very sweet foster dad died suddenly when he was about four. Since he was about five his mother has repeatedly told him (typically in a frenzied scream) what an awful and useless person he is. I've been a witness to these sessions, and while in recent years he's also been less than an angel in them, for a long time he simply took the abuse. She told me once about how she'd been raised this way and how awful it had been, but of course such patterns tend to repeat despite such awareness. Now, at 15, he seems hell-bent to prove her right and has totally destroyed his chances to succeed in school.

The mother's solution has been to send him away to boarding school both during the school year and the summer. All the other parents around this situation agree that this is the best thing for him because it gets him out of her house, but he's now refusing to go because he wants to stay near his friends, who are for the most part good kids & decent students. Several of us parents have talked to him and suggested that he'd be best off just going to boarding school and focusing on pulling his life together, but he's steadfast in the opinion that he can turn it around here. I think he's fooling himself and have told him so. So far as I know, none of us have confronted the mother directly because we're all pretty scared of her ourselves, although recent events have some of us now chomping at the bit for the opportunity to lay into her.

The other morning at 5:30 she had him kidnapped by two huge guys (according to the kid who was spending the night and was picked up out of his bed and deposited outside) to Idaho for a wilderness experience camp for wayward kids. I can imagine the approach taken... He will then be transported to the boarding school in Maine that he was sent to this summer with the (now broken) promise that he'd be allowed to attend a local private school this year. The whole idea of having your own kid kidnapped out of his bed by a couple of thugs is repulsive to begin with, and yet I do think in the end that he's best off as far away from her as possible. So the question is, what do people think I should do? Let it lie, finally confront the mother (although I can't imagine she'd really listen), do the Dear Abby solution and send her this letter, what?

Thanks in advance to all. - a Dad

Parents having their children kidnapped is not uncommon - it's increasingly used as a way for parents to deal with children who have become a behavior problem in one way or another. Maybe the kid is destructive and dangerous, or maybe he just disobeys overly-strict parents and they don't want to deal with him.

There is a whole cottage industry surrounding the treatment facilities the kids are taken to. They are usually sent off to camps or schools where they receive intensive therapy or live under very strict conditions that are basically like being in prison. Sort of a new twist on sending problem children to military school. Look in the back of a magazine like Sunset that is targeted to older, upper-middle-class people and you will see lots of ads for these camps and schools, under the headings Defiant Teenager? and Teen Help. They even take insurance and offer student loans.

I read several articles in the newspaper about this over the summer. There was a case in the Bay Area of a neighbor who went to court to try to prevent a 16-year-old boy from being shipped off to one of these schools (in Jamaica) against his will. This neighbor was himself a judge, and he claimed that the boy was not a problem, but that his parents were very strict & inflexible and that the boy's only behavior problem was sometimes not obeying his parents' strict rules. This neighbor was ready to have the boy come live with his family. But he lost the case and the boy was sent off to the school. The ruling was that his parents were not harming him and so therefore they have the legal right to make decisions about their child.

Personally I think this kidnapping stuff is bizarre and abusive. The parents must have at least as many problems as the kids, to do something like this.

On the other hand, I know someone who had her teenage son kidnapped and sent off to boarding school in a different state. She said that he was violent, and had had a lot of drug and alcohol problems since early teens. He had made threats of violence against his parents - they were afraid to leave him at home alone and didn't know what else to do. He went to one of these places and apparently drastically improved, grade-wise and attitude-wise and otherwise. He's back now in a regular private school, doing well. So, it just goes to show you that there are all kinds of different ways to look at this, and it is really hard to know what the right thing is.

First ... don't give up on the kid. No matter what happens, just try to find a way to stay in touch with him ... write to him at the boarding school in Maine, if you can. You don't have to have all the answers ... SIMPLY caring, consistently caring, and not bailing out on him WILL make a difference. Even if you don't know how to help, just keep telling him you care and you believe in him. His mother is NOT telling him that (as I hear your email) AND his mother is breaking commitments to him. You have an unspoken commitment to show him that you care; don't give up; model for him an adult who will keep a commitment.

He also has some options. Now that he's out of state, it's more difficult, but if he comes back to California say, for holiday, *he* could take himself down to Social Services and ask to be legally freed from his mother and put into a foster home. To do this for someone under 18 is very difficult and I really don't know what Social Services would say to him. I don't know if they'd try to get him a place to move or try to offer counseling to him and his mom or what. But if he made such a move, on his own, the authorities would have to do something to offer some sort of intervention. Of course, he'd also run the risk of his mother just getting more angry with him, but if he feels things are bad enough, he might be ready to take that risk. He could, at a minimum, receive some free, professional advice.

I want to tell you that my sister never went to high school at all. She was a troubled teen with serious dyslexia which, in the early 60s was not diagnosed (no one knew about it) so teachers always just scolded her for not paying attention. She grew more and more despairing and left school altogether, and at 16,17,18 seemed utterly bent on self-destruction. She worked odd jobs for many years, married, had children ... and then decided that she WOULD be a good role model to her kids, WOULD get a college degree. (She also got a diagnosis of dyslexia, which helped a lot.) It took her many years of remedial work and tutoring before she was ready for serious college work, but ultimately she got her BA with honors and is almost done with her Masters.

Don't give up on your kid's friend. He may pull himself together in one year or in five, but if HE is steadfast in the opinion that he can turn it around then there is still a lot of hope for him.