Therapeutic college alternatives for traumatized HS senior?

The good news is that our bright high school senior has gotten accepted by several of her top choice colleges; UC’s and CSU’s.   The problem is that while she is mature and academically ready for college, she is suffering from PTSD, depression and severe anxiety stemming from childhood trauma with her birth family and then later in foster care.  She is also exhibiting risky behaviors currently, including drinking to the point of blacking out at times.   Both her therapist and her psychiatrist feel that she is not ready for the unsupervised college setting, as well as the accompanying parties, drinking and social pressures.

However while she is also anxious about going away to college she definitely does not want to live at home for two more years and attend the local community college.   She is chomping at the bit for more independence.    But we believe there is a risk that if we do not allow her to go away to college (i.e. pay for it), she will rebel by going to live with her birth family, who are meth addicts and currently homeless.

Does anyone know of any programs where she could go away and live in a dorm type setting, earn college credits, feel independent, but receive the therapy and professional support she desperately needs to become stronger and more stable?  We searched looked online, but the supportive gap/pre-college programs seem to be targeted to students with ADHD, autism, or learning differences.  Our daughter is an extremely capable student, but emotionally fragile.   Also, none of the colleges she applied to allow applicants to defer admission, so she either has to reapply as a freshman next year, or as a junior transfer in two years.   Ideally the program would be in California.

Worried Parent

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Congratulations on your daughter's academic success! Although, I do see that you are facing many challenges. I can't help but wonder why your daughter applied for schools that would require her to live away from home, if that option was not something that her therapist and doctors were supportive of. I don't mean to criticize, but it feels a lot harder to take this opportunity away now that it is real, rather than if you had come up with a transition plan before she decided which schools to apply for. I can definitely empathize that if you don't allow her to go to school, she will be disappointed and upset, which could lead her to finding support and connection with her birth family. You may need to let her struggle and experience failure. It won't be comfortable or easy, whatever you decide. You could decide to send her to school and risk having her engage in risky behavior and fail academically. Or you could take away that as an option and risk having her try life with her birth family. But, whatever happens, I would encourage you to be empathetic and provide a safety net. If she goes to school, let her know that if she needs to come home at anytime, she can. If she chooses her birth family, let her know that you are her family and you support her exploring a relationship with her birth family. Reassure her that she can always come home. She's dealing with adolescence and trauma simultaneously. While she needs support, she's in a time of her life where it's hard to be different from your peers. Her peers are going off to college, but her support team says she's not ready. I know I would have a hard time not feeling disappointed if I were being advised to miss out on something that my peer group was doing, and I'm a grown-up that has not experienced trauma. Add to it that she got accepted. It's like baking a cake and then not getting to eat it once it comes out of the oven! I'm not a mental health professional, but I have worked with teens in foster care transitioning into adulthood. I can't give a professional recommendation, but in my experience working with teens, and my personal experience being a teen that academically was ready for college, but emotionally was not, I would present the facts to her. Help her see all the potential outcomes of the different scenarios. Encourage her to make a decision that she feels is the best for her future, while giving her a safety net, in case she needs one. If she goes away to her top choice school, see if you can find someone in that area to help mentor her - it could be a friend of a friend that lives in the area, a teacher, a staff at a store or restaurant she likes, etc. Having someone to help her stay accountable and help her feel connected will be important, while still giving her the independence and freedom that she is craving, but may not be ready for. Your daughter has a lot of things to work through right now. She is lucky to have your support. I encourage you to get support for yourself, too. It will likely be a tough few years, but what's that saying about losing the battle but winning the war? She may struggle or slide a bit in college, but she'll be learning so much about herself and her family connections and her abilities and interests, which will help her in her future. College is not just about academics - she has more to learn about herself and her healing, as well as academics. Good luck!


My daughter was also bright, anxious, drinking and accepted into colleges.  I sent her.  She dropped/was kicked out the first year from her drinking, partying and subsequent poor behavior choices.  She was 18 then, she is 32 now, and still an addict.  She has gone to several colleges but each time ends up back in Rehab, on the streets, homeless, and now has legal problems.  The problems just get bigger.  Your daughter's birth parents are addicts and she is exhibiting all the signs of an addict.  Addiction is a genetically passed on disease. Yes addicts are bright, academic, and social wonderful people, but they fail at life. If your daughter had cancer, you wouldn't let her go off to college and hope to find a side treatment that might help.  You would prioritize the cancer.  I suggest you get her help in the form of detox, rehab, AA, and then think about her future college or job.  Many outpatient rehab programs require that you are outside all day at school, work or volunteering, so she could be in college and do rehab.  She could go to Junior College and live in a Sober Living Environment (SLE).  These exist everywhere.  Good luck to you but my suggestion is to focus on getting her sober before anything else, and get yourself into Al-Anon.  Signed, Sobriety First, a Mom who learned the hard way.


We just attended the annual Gap Year Fair in SF.  Info about their programs is available year-round at:

They have so many options for HS kids in the summer and for HS graduates.  Some of the programs do give College Credit.  The Gap Year Website is an incredible resource and my friends whose kids have done Gap Year programs have been so, so happy.  Since my 11th grader does not have great grades and does want to go to college, we are looking to do one of these programs to add to his resume/transcript.  There are so many different options, experiences we are still narrowing down what he wants to do (film production, academic-type experience, travel, work-internship, etc.)

There are also scholarships and consultants to help you find the best program.

This is a great resource.

Good luck,

Mom to atypical learner.

As a mother of an adopted daughter (whose medical background is completely unknown), who is just heading off to college with similar issues and who is also married to a recovering addict, I have this to say -- to those who say you should be doing more (i.e., get her into detox, rehab, etc.) -- NO you should not. She is an adult. She is not your responsibility anymore. You need to let go with love. Go to Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meetings yourself. Set your boundaries and stick to them.  Yes, addiction is a disease, but it is also a set of learned behaviors. They can be unlearned some of the time, but not always (so to use the cancer metaphor - not always curable either). I recommend reading the book "Unbroken Brain" by Maia Szalavitz. It will give you real insights into what's actually going on in the brain of an addict.  She's 32, yes? Time for her to sink or swim on her own. Doesn't mean you stop caring or loving her, just means you have to save yourself.

Oh poo - was replying to a reply - sorry about that! Well to the mom of the 32 year old - I stand by that. As for your situation, we are in a very, very similar situation. Our daughter was NOT accepted to any of the CSUs she applied to, so she's headed to NAU in Flagstaff. There's no particular support network I am aware of here or there, so that's not the point of my advice.  Our daughter's psychiatrist simultaneously advised us to let her fly the coop and hope for the best while preparing for the worst, i.e., that she'll boomerang back after freshman year. One thing we have done is we have required our daughter to continue her treatments with her psychiatrist via phone or Skype while she is away at school, and to see her in person when she comes home for breaks.  So that's one possibility. Our daughter also declined the options of local CC at first and/or a gap year.  If those are out of the question, another thing we tried (although we failed), was to have our daughter go away to a different state to live with family friends who she likes/respects, and attend a local CC there. Maybe that's something to explore - find out if you have family or friends who might be willing to help you out on this, people she loves and trusts. Good luck and do let us know how it works out.