Advice about Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Parent Q&A

IEP helping pay for therapeutic boarding school Aug 26, 2019 (10 responses below)
Therapeutic Boarding Schools Apr 11, 2019 (5 responses below)
Possible Boarding School with LD/Executive Function Support Apr 3, 2019 (8 responses below)
School for challenged teenager Nov 24, 2018 (2 responses below)
Troubled Teen / Boarding School Or A Summer Program Feb 20, 2018 (4 responses below)
Desperate for a therapeutic boarding school for high schooler Sep 15, 2017 (9 responses below)
Boarding schools for troubled teen Sep 8, 2016 (3 responses below)
Therapeutic Boarding School options for ADHD & Anxious 12 y.o. Jun 26, 2016 (1 responses below)
  • We are at a loss with a 14 year old who really hasn't been able to attend public school since last year. The school did an evaluation and assigned an IEP for 'emotional disturbance' and after a long round of treatment we enrolled in 9th grade and sadly didn't make it two weeks before the self harm and suicidal thoughts came back. Was admitted to the hospital but will come out soon and we'll be looking at therapeutic boarding schools to help get through the next year or so. I've been told the IEP might help defray some of the cost. Is this true? What are the next steps from someone who has been through this before? Is it worth pursuing getting the district to help pay (I don't want to spend weeks/months to recoup $500...)?  We live in Contra Costa County, if that matters.

    My son has/had an IEP and this did nothing to help with paying for a therapeutic boarding school.  Your first step should be consulting a Educational Consultant to help you on this journey. 

    Hi I'm so sorry that your child is having difficulties.  I know that you are asking a different question but my son went through very difficult school times and was helped very much by the partial hospitalization program and intensive outpatient program at Alta Bates

    It takes time to get in the program but I highly recommend it.


    You should contact Wind in the Willows support group. They have meetings around the Bay Area and help families with navigating these things.

    We may end up in the same position and apparently you can get the District to pay but it’s work. They also have specific schools the State certifies and is more likely to pay for. Good luck! 

  • Therapeutic Boarding Schools

    (5 replies)

    Parents who dealt with challenging teens and sent them to a therapeutic boarding schools, is there such a thing as a safe and well run tbs?

    Asking as even the top rated ones seem to have massive issues. (For example, Pacific Quest has a ton of posts about rats and roaches in the kitChen, high turnover, people hired without degrees.) I am not even mentioning all the schools that had closed because of lawsuits and reports of  abuse.

    I know that to select a school we would hire an educational consultant and have a local list of such people.  However, at this point, I would just like to ask parents if they have found a safe option for boys.

    Please share a few options if exist.

    Thank you and feeling frustrated 

    RE: Therapeutic Boarding Schools ()

    Hi. I'm so sorry you are dealing with this issue with your son. We have been there and my son, after attending the excellent Open Sky Wilderness program out of Durango , CO is currently at Catalyst, which is a residential treatment center and school for teenage boys. It's excellent, I'm impressed with the program, the therapy, and I've been there several times. Most of the boys there (and at other similar programs) do wilderness first. A good EC is critical to help you find the right match for your son and your family. I wish you the best on this challenging but ultimately rewarding journey.

    RE: Therapeutic Boarding Schools ()

    I'm sure mine won't be the only response that will recommend that you contact Willows in the Wind and attend one of their monthly meetings -- in one of three locations, Oakland, Los Altos Hills or San Rafael. Willows is a support group for families facing the same decision you are.  Call Jan Rao, 650-868-1988 or email jrao [at]  I believe there's a meeting this coming Saturday in Oakland.  It's a group of wonderfully compassionate people.

    Best of luck to your family.​

    RE: Therapeutic Boarding Schools ()


    Having a kid who is struggling to the point where you are considering a therapeutic boarding school (TBS) or residential treatment center (RTC) or wilderness program is incredibly painful, stressful, frightening, and confusing. You have my empathy (been there) and sympathy. 

    Yes, there are many safe and well-run TBSs and RTCs. But even at those programs that are safe and well-run, there will be a) some kids for whom a particular program just doesn't work or doesn't fit; b) some staff who are less than the constantly perfect and ideal guardians we want them to be; and c) some program aspects that are simply not to one's own taste or standards. That's just reality, in the same way it would be if you were considering multiple standard high school choices for your kid. What that can sometimes mean, though, in the kind of extremely fraught and high-stakes situation that sending a kid away to TBS or RTC is, is that upset parents, students/patients, and even former staff can post negative reviews that freak out already highly anxious parents who are desperate to find help, support, and guidance for their struggling kid. 

    As an aside, Pacific Quest is not a TBS, it is a wilderness program. Wilderness programs are often used as gateways to TBS and RTC programs. They are meant to be short-term--typically three to five months--to stabilize and assess a teen who is struggling, and then help a family decide (often in conjunction with an education consultant, who typically follows the entire wilderness process on a weekly basis) what kind of TBS, RTC, or other program will best fit the needs of the teen and their family. 

    My 16-year-old was at PQ from Nov 2018 to Feb 2019. She is now in an RTC in Utah. She misses PQ, loved her therapist there, loved the site, the peers, the process. She and her dad and I all agree that her PQ experience was profoundly impactful and positive. And yeah--there are animals in the kitchen, because the kitchen is entirely outdoors in a huge, wild garden!

    I recommend that you attend a meeting of the group Willows in the Wind, which is a parent-led support group for parents with kids in, or considering, residential treatment programs of all sorts. You can get a lot of information and talk to a lot of experienced parents at one time, and ask about their own TBS recommendations. 

    Very best of luck finding the right help for your kid and your whole family. 

  • Hi,

    Seeking a discipline solution for a 13-year-old who is about to enter high-school next year.

    Ideally, this would be a well-run, small boarding high school with lots of empathy and a structure, LD support, academics for high iq  kids who can't handle the high-pressure environment, but this doesn't seem to exist. 

    Dealing with lots of everything on a somewhat low scope: disrespect and not much respect for boundaries we set, very strong personality, some oppositional behaviours, autoimmune health issues that will require gluten-free diet, and a supplement regiment.  No drugs or substance abuse, depression or such, thus prefer not to place him into a residential program. Simultaneously, behaviorally he is uncontrollable unless things are his way and disruptive.

    Wilderness camps seem to be cruel and extreme.

    What does one do with a child like this? What kind of program do we put him in?  (We are in Peninsula and he rejected programs like Compass or Mid-Peninsula.  I can't say I disagree with him, the academics are low and the pace is slow, plus, he doesn't want to be placed in a school for kiddos with disabilities as doesn't think he has any.) . He got into an emotionally well balanced private high school, but is refusing to go there as well because it is not popular with his peep group.)

    Your recommendations are appreciated.

    Parent at a loss :(

    I am sorry you are going through this. I would suggest consulting with and educational consultant for a good fit school for your child. I have used Mary and she was very experienced and knowledgeable regarding what school to chose for each child. She lives in Washington but I didn’t feel like the distance was an issue with us.

    I think you are right about residential treatment centers not being the right place for your son. Maybe a therapeutic boarding school is good for him. 

    I believe the priority in this case is, have you child become a respectful person first (to self and others) and then academics. My son is on the gifted side (junior in high school and now in a therapeutic boarding school since this January), we decided to have him focus on building self confidence, healing and self esteem above anything else. So we kind of lowered the academic intensity. That allows the child to have less pressure and less distractions. Meanwhile kids will learn other important life coping skills that regular schools don’t teach. You might want to look into Diamond Ranch in Utah.

    You are doing the right thing by trying to find a good place for your son!

    Good Luck,


    You are very wise to start looking for solutions for your son now, while he is in his early adolescence. I don't have a suggestion for a particular school, but having dealt with a struggling son, who eventually went to a wilderness program a month before his 17th birthday, I have empathy for your situation. Wilderness was extreme but an EXCELLENT intervention. I recommend engaging an educational consultant. The solutions are often very individualized - they look at your kid's psychographic and educational profile and have expertise in the various schools and program out there. Yes, they can be pricey but the good ones are worth ever penny. I am happy to talk to you further about this if you like. Please contact the moderator for my email. And best wishes.

    I'm sorry for your distress. This is indeed a difficult situation, and one of with which I am very familiar (including Peninsula School if that is what you meant by "in Peninsula"). 

    If you have not already, you might consider a few steps:

    Having neuro-psychological and neuroscience-educational assessments done (Morrissey-Compton is one on the peninsula).

    Meeting with a high school placement consultant familiar with boarding schools (NextStep: School Selection is one on the peninsula).

    Meeting with an educational consultant familiar with a range of supportive services from very little to highly supportive in a range of environments from support at home to wilderness to various types of boarding schools (Bodin Group is one on the peninsula).

    Attending a meeting of Willows in the Wind, a parent founded and run support group for parents who are going through or have been through what you're describing (meet in 3 locations, including Los Altos).

    First step: do something to take care of yourself today, no matter how small, you may be in for a long ride. You are not alone.

  • School for challenged teenager

    (2 replies)

    hello, reaching out to see if anyone has recommendations for our troubled teenage relative who recently moved in with us.  As a child she was taken away from her mother due to abuse and lived for several years with her grandparents until they became afraid of her due to her escalating behavior. We stepped in to support both her and them, but are finding that, despite good therapeutical support, we are encountering the same issues and are unsure if we can keep her in our house  due to concerns of violence.

    we do not wish her to be in foster care and wondered if some kind of therapeutical school (perhaps residential) where she could receive more intensive therapeutic support  while attending school might be an option until she reaches the age of majority (a year and a half). Do any of you know of such a program?Any additional advice would be most welcome. None of what she is going through is her fault, of course, and yet we are feeling unsure that we can keep her in our home. 

    RE: School for challenged teenager ()

    This sounds like a really challenging situation. To learn more about schools and appropriate therapeutic support, you may want to consider attending the next Willows in the Wind meeting in either Oakland or San Rafael. This is a parent-led support group for parents of challenging teenagers. The group discusses in-home (local) solutions as well as residential treatment options. It's a great place to pose questions like one you have asked here, and to feel less isolated. I have listed the Willows in the Wind meeting times below. Feel free to contact me in the meantime--I'm a volunteer support group leader: Sarah [at]

    You might also try enrolling yourself and your loved one in a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) course either through Kaiser or Clearwater Clinic or Oakland DBT and Mindfulness Center in Oakland. The course teaches invaluable skills in de-escalating emotionally charged situations, and more. And finally, you could look at the NEABPD site to see if you might be eligible to sign up for a Family Connections class:

    Wishing you the best...Sarah

    When: Saturday, December 15, 2018
     Time:  1:00 - 3:00 PM
    Location: Kaiser Medical Building
     3600 Broadway, Lower Level, Conference Room C
     Oakland, CA, 94611

    When: Sunday, June 24 , 2018  
    Time 1:00 - 3:00 PM
    Location:  Center for Families
    1104 Lincoln Avenue
    San Rafael, CA.

    RE: School for challenged teenager ()

    I only recently became aware of a treatment option that falls between weekly therapy and residential treatment. It is called Intensive Outpatient Therapy (IOP). It is a program for a few hours a day, 4 or 5 days/week. BACA (Bay Area Clinical Associates) will do a free assessment and suggest what treatment plan they recommend. They also know of many other programs in addition to their own. If you have Kaiser, you will need to get a referral from a psychiatrist or therapist. If you can keep her out of foster care, that would be better for everyone. Good luck! 

  • Evening, I have three children - 2 biological and 1 adopted - my adopted son was diagnosed with adhd at 7. We adopted him out of foster care and aren’t sure of his first few years nor natal history. We haven’t ruled out FASD - though doctors arent certain and there’s no true way to tell without a neurologist. At 16 we are seeing a spiraling out of control — dangerous behaviors, drugs, sneaking out, apathy, dishonesty, and poor grades. It’s unsettling for our family and not how we have raised or children. The psychiatrist he sees has recommended - sadly - that it’s time we look into a theraputic boarding school or summer program. This seems to be a slippery slope ... Some good, some bad ... and often you are hand held by a consultant. Does anyone have experience with this? Have the name of a consultant? I have seen previous post recommending Terry Trotter, Sullivan Ranch School, Herritage, etc. Also, any Los Angeles based Consultants would be welcomed too. We are currently down here for family - so a local opinion now to tied us over and help us launch into research might be good. Thanks.

    There is a non-profit group that meets monthly in Los Altos, Oakland, and San Rafael.  It is called Willows in the Wind and is a support group for parents such as yourself, facing this decision, or after having placed their child in residential treatment.  Here is the website:

    Mercedes Carbone, educational consultant in Walnut Creek has guided us through finding the best support and placement for our child. I highly recommend working with her. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have. This can be a very challenging process.

    Coyote Coast, a private social work type organization specializes in dealing the kids like this, in Orinda should be able to help you. They are thoughtful,experienced and work with troubled kids and placements like schools and wilderness..  I'd be wary of sending away an adopted kid, but I know an instance where it worked well.  I think these schools are full of adopted kids.  Adoptive mom of teen.

  • Hi,

    I am looking for any recommendations to therapeutic boarding schools for a troubled teenage daughter. I realize there is a lot of data against them but I really feel at a loss. She lies, skips class, has no motivation aside from putting on make up... I don't know if she is doing drugs -- it may be so with the amount of blatant lies that go on. I really don't think I can manage this at home. We have tried the carrot and the stick, read books on teenage behavior, talking to counselors at BHS (which I have to say are are overall blasé about the whole thing: "there are worse students" etc). If you know of schools that can be helpful I appreciate your recommendations. 

    Desperate mom of a teenage monster

    I've spent the last couple of years considering options for my teen.  In addition to what you described we also had sneaking out at night, on-going bullying an episode of physical violence against a sibling, barricading in the room for days at a time, refusal to follow house rules or engage in general civil behavior, beginnings of self-harm and cannabis and alcohol mis-use.  A real Jeckle and Hyde, our teen presents outside the home as a "a little down" but basically a good kid with friends and respectful to adults.  At heart this is a good kid who we love dearly, but clearly struggling in a way we cannot parent or help effectively despite "trying everything", including years of evaluations, therapy, and various other "interventions" both individual and family. 

    We worked with The Bodin Group in Los Altos ( to explore options. There is a wide range to consider from treatment at home, to therapeutic wilderness programs, to a range of boarding schools (traditional, supportive, therapeutic).  This is serious stuff and traumatic for not only the teen, but also the whole family.  If you are considering a therapeutic option, I highly suggest you work with a professional and speak with many parents that have been through / are going through it.  Therapeutic programs and schools are truly the point of last resort after "everything else" has failed.

    At the beginning of this summer, we were one scheduling phone call away from entry into a wilderness therapy program - application in, acceptance offered, spot held.  A final few phone calls with parents who's teens had gone through the program made us think the move was too drastic for us, we became concerned we risked further alienating our teen.  We realized we we'd be putting our teen in a program with much more troubled teens than ours, and that we hadn't "tried everything".  Getting through the summer was hell.

    Our teen is now in the second week of an out-of-state traditional boarding school with an optional supportive program which we found with the help of an independent high school placement counselor.  We are hopeful the supportive program is appropriate to address our teen's challenges that underlie the out-of-bounds behavior. Our teen went reluctantly, but after a few days of radio silence, communication is open and better than it's been in a long time.  Clearly, we're in the early days here, but all looks promising.  We are grateful that our teen is in a structured environment with adults we trust, and for relief from the constant stress day-to-day parenting a teen like this put on our marriage and family.  We'll see how it goes, but I'm glad we made this decision.  I'm more hopeful than I've been in a long time.  (BTW: the $ spent with Bodin was well spent, as it got us to this point, even though in the end we did not follow Bodin's recommendation).

    These programs are all ridiculously expensive.  They are deep investments in time and emotion as well as money.  There's something underlying the troubledness.  Do your research thoroughly and find what's the next best step for your teen and your family.  You're not alone, find other parents / parent groups to support your through this phase.  I wish you the best through this difficult process.

    I can honestly say sometimes I feel the same, like I don't know if I can survive my daughter's lies and acting out very much more. So, if you find anything, a good school, I'd definitely be interested to hear and kept in the loop. It hasn't gotten to that point yet, but I'm keeping my options open.

    I am SO sorry that you are in this situation. I'm sure you'll have many responses. A good resource when you are considering residential treatment is Willows in the Wind. They have been really helpful for me. DREDF is a fantastic resource to learn about educational law and your rights.

    My son was hospitalized non-stop for 3 months for harm to self and others prior to entering a crisis RTC in St George Utah. He's now at a wonderful step-down RTC called Heritage School in Provo Utah. We found out he has autism spectrum disorder and was really good at hiding his daily struggles and challenges during the school day. Based on my experience, please be sure to completely exhaust all other resources before resorting to residential treatment, unless it is a matter of life or death. Your child needs to be assessed for learning disabilities and illnesses.

    Follow the law, start immediately with the school and with your health insurance and do not back down until you get what you need. Document everything you do to advocate for your child.

    There is no such thing as advocating too hard for your child's rights. 

    Best wishes.

  • Boarding schools for troubled teen

    (3 replies)

    Can someone recommend a boarding school that have both therapeutic and strong academic components for a 15-year-old teen. Thanks. 

    I have a friend who runs just such a school in Bend, Oregon. It's a great place, really supportive and structured with good academics. It's called Bridges Boys Academy. Check it out. Good luck.

    You might want to contact a group called Willows in the Wind, which was founded by parents whose children had gone to residential treatment of one sort or another.  Willows has monthly meetings, one in Los Altos Hills and the other in Oakland.  The Oakland meeting is usually held at Kaiser Oakland, but is not affiliated with Kaiser.  It a wonderfully supportive group and they have a lot of knowledge about programs.  Several years ago, I regularly attended meetings even though I could not afford to send my troubled teen daughter to a residential program.   I'd suggest contacting them and attending a meeting:  Jan Rao 650 868-1988 jrao [at]   The website is

    Best of luck to you and your family. 


    My daughter attended a residential treatment center called Newport Academy that she had a lot of success at. I would try calling them, if they aren't right then they maybe know others.

  • Have any of you had to resort to this?  I feel so alone.  My DS refuses to do any school work and it is often a challenge to even get him to go to school.  He is very smart but also very anxious and feels overwhelmed easily and generally has a mindset of "I can't do it." 

    Looking for Therapeutic Boarding Schools that are licensed for California...any luck getting funding from school district?  They offered me NPS but having trouble getting them to fund the places that seem like a good fit...(i.e.Cherry Gulch).

    Contact The Bodin Group  They will assess your child and work with you on options and placement.

Parent Reviews

I don't have personal experience with that location but I have significant experience with RTCs in the states. My concerns would be about accreditation and liscencing. If your student is in high school, even the California accredited facilities don't transfer academic credits the qualify for A-G requirements. The academic rigor just isn't available.
Liscencing is specific about qualified staff. I would be especially concerned about therapeutic and medical clinicians and their qualifications. The ability to be able to prescribe medications and evaluate their efficacy, where are medications purchased from, how many hours each week is spent in individual, family, group and recreation therapy, how they may support an IEP or other ways they may collaborate with your student's home district, how they support transition planning for the return to home, what are the visit restrictions both there and away, what types of behaviors and illnesses to they treat and support, do they have many students that are judicial placements, I could go on. There are a lot of things to consider and a lot of research to do.
I would definitely visit there and plan to spend a few days, not a few hours, being in the environment. Best to get a tour from a staff member and then another tour from a student. Eat the food. See the homes. What do they do when a student is AWOL?
Are you planning on having this placement funded by the school district? This also makes a lot of difference. Have you contacted Willows in the Wind?
Best wishes.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Therapeutic boarding school for daughter with Conduct Disorder and Substance Abuse

May 2016

Hi, My husband's job is based out of the Bay Area, we reside in San Diego currently. Our
16 year old daughter has a dual diagnosis of Conduct Disorder and Substance Abuse (marijuana, wax, alcohol). We are working with a wonderful psychiatrist, however she is saying that she believes our daughter would benefit most from residential treatment (already in the works with Center for Discovery Long Beach), followed by Therapeutic Boarding School. Since most of the TBSs are out of state, I worry that we'll end up with a place that has a history of insurance fraud and abuse. Would very much appreciate hearing any experiences and recommendations, including costs, from anyone with personal experience with TBSs. We are open to any in: CA, AZ, UT, NV, OR, WA, NY, FL, VA, MD. And yes, we will be using planned college funds to pay for this, since it has become clear that our daughter will never get to nor complete college without a major change. Criteria should include: girls, age 16-17, 11-12th grade, education component, strong therapy component, mood disorders/mental illness, substance abuse. Thank you all so much, have a great day. L

I'm sorry to hear of your troubles, and hate to point this out. However, it sounds as if your psychiatrist has a financial interest in therapeutic boarding schools, rather than simply a disinterested belief that they're a good idea.

Unfortunately boarding schools in general have been getting a bad rap recently: my ex and I sent my daughter to St Pauls, and got to see the place pilloried on the front page of the New York Times.

I'd suggest- since you're asking- that you find an internship with an environmental or animal-protection or some other wholesome non-profit in your home town, and see if a lot of independence and exposure to the world's problems help your daughter. Best of Luck.

Even though there are some negative reviews on Yelp (and one never knows what prompts those), our friends found a great fit for their daughter at Maple Lake Academy in Utah.

Their 14 year old daughter had severe, brain chemistry-induced emotional problems. (Pooping in her pants out of spite, some really dreadful stuff, no friends, screaming fits.) But she is also wicked smart. There was no choice but to send her somewhere that could help her.

She has been able to make great strides under their observation. She finally got the right meds, and most importantly, loves being there. They do horse therapy, which she just adores. She only wanted to come home briefly over the summer, which I think speaks volumes, because her parents are lovely people, and she has a nice relationship with them. But she finally feels like she fits in somewhere. Like you, the parents bit the bullet and are using her college fund to pay for this. Sympathetic

Thank you to all who replied to my query, I appreciate your understanding and compassion. We've decided to move on from this idea for several reasons: a) Can't afford it at all (can't even afford a consultant or interventionist); b) insurance - we've asked and prodded and gotten our healthcare advocate involved, but Blue Cross won't chip in any money for this (but they will give us a couple of weeks of inpatient rehab); c) Risk of elopement - I wouldn't put my daughter anywhere where she'd be chained/locked in anyway, so given what we know from extensive testing and therapy, she would most likely run away. So we are continuing to work with a great local psychiatrist, are looking into rehab options (and making the insurance pay for that as much as possible), and are also looking into alternative public school programs for 12th grade next school year.

If all else fails, we will be detaching with love and kicking her out after her 18th birthday to sink or swim on her own. Any college money (read: spare change) still around will be given to her to get an apartment and find a job. She'll have to figure out if and how she will get to and through college on her own. As for college in general - we make too much money for aid but not enough to pay for it, we won't co-sign loans, her grades are too low for merit scholarship, she has zero outside interests that would lead to scholarship funds, and it's doubtful she'd make it through first semester without major implosion. If she said ''I love pot so much I want to be a grower'' we'd say ''Great - go study business and agriculture, move to CO and do it.'' But that's not her thing - she's too sick to see the forest for the trees. So tough love is how it's going to be. Thanks again to all of you. L.

Therapeutic boarding school for younger adolescents?

May 2013

Do any parents out there have personal experience with therapeutic boarding schools for challenged younger adolescents (ages 10-14)? I am searching in particular for therapeutic boarding schools with a high level, professional clinical services, and possibly residential treatment centers with a high level of nurturing. Any suggestions welcome, particularly any comments (positive and negative) about Cherry Gulch in Idaho, Intermountain in Montana, Cherokee Creek in South Carolina, and Forest Heights Lodge in Colorado. Thanks.

We have experience with finding the therapeutic boarding school that most appropriately could meet the needs of our son at 15 years old - wish we had taken action earlier,but we were in denial and ignorant of the resources. His issues were anxiety, depression and turning to drugs to check out rather than learning appropriate coping skills. So we found help through 2 EXCELLENT Educational Consultants. We found hiring an Ed Consultant really important because EVERY place looked excellent on their webpage, but the Ed Consultants know the inside scoop on which programs really are suited for kids of a particular category and which are well run, which have counselors with longevity, which have a current turnover in staff or leadership struggles. We have personal experience and can recommend: Larry Stednitz lstednitz [at] 1-805-772-4311. And Anne Lewis eduoptions [at] 1-805-969-2186. And look for places with NATSAP certification (national assoc of therapeutic schools). Good luck. Ginny

I have 2 yrs of direct experience with Forest Heights Lodge and it is of the highest professional and common-sense quality. I recommend it without reservation. eb mom

Therapeutic Foster Home for violent 14-year-old?

Oct 2011

Do you have experience placing a child in a therapeutic foster home? I am considering this for my 14-year-old adopted daughter who is exhibiting increasingly risky and unnacceptable behaviors such as smoking weed, running away from home overnight, and having violent outbreaks with me. She has always been out of the normal range for developmental milestones, is diagnosed with ADD and anxiety, takes mood stabilizing medication, and has an IEP for accommodations in school. She started high school this year and is already floundering and making poor choices of friends. I am a single parent and it has gotten to the point where most of our interactions are negative and confrontative--beyond the norm for cranky teens. Our therapist recommends a placement in a home associated with Families by Design/Nancy Thomas Parenting, saying she is concerned that my child will soon precipitate a crisis which could be more painful than placing her outside of our home. Any advice or experience you can share would be helpful. Thanks in advance. Worried Sick Mom

Our adopted daughter is 16 and just completed 12 weeks in a wilderness program and is now attending a therapeutic boarding school. I would be more than happy to share what we have learned along this journey thus far. I can tell you that I feel so relieved that we are moving forward in getting help for her and us. Karen

Please do NOT send your daughter away. I think it would be a mistake. We were at our wits end when our son was doing the same thing - leaving the house in the middle of the night, having the wrong friends, doing scary things. However, we got counseling at Kaiser - I asked for a male psychologist since he was a boy and it turned out well. We only met once a month ( I had changed therapists when things got worse, thinking we needed to go once a week) but that was awful and we went back to Kaiser. It took TIME. We met as a family for half the session and our son met with him alone for the other half. It saved me as I was about to jump off a cliff - literally. Get help. The counselor at school. talk to teachers - let them know what is going on. Things will get better, and believe me, I did not think they ever would. Our son is also adopted ( at birth), dyslexic, etc. They are under enormous pressure to 'keep up' with other kids. But again, get some help. No one can do this alone, least of all a single mom. I learned how to ignore the awful language, and when I refused to participate in the screaming and yelling, his behavior changed. It took 2 years. Then his spaceship returned to earth. He is a senior now ( he switched schools too) and is a nice kid. My suggestion is to surround yourself with help and love and get another therapist. I would never send my kid away. Her 'symptoms' sound in the ballpark, not out of it. Do NOT Give Up

Therapeutic boarding school for angry and violent 13-year-old

May 2011

Hello. We are a two dad family and we adopted our boys six years ago when they were 6 and 7. They were severely abused by their biological parents and spent two years in a foster home before we adopted them. Our oldest is now 13 and the last six months have been a living nightmare. He has always been an in-your-face type of kid always craving attention but when puberty hit, he became extremely anger. Cursing at his teachers, destroying his room, threatening others. We had to call the police a few times to calm him down. We ended up pulling him out of Catholic school and put him in a private school specializing in ADHD. We had about six good weeks but then he started receiving packages from Best Buy. It seems he stole some gift cards from us back in October and started using them. It was one thing after another with the stealing and the cost came close to $500. Finally, a parent at his new school has said that she heard from her child that my son talks a lot about hurting himself.

We are pretty overwhelmed and not sure we can give him the help he needs. We learned that adoption assistance will pay up to 18 months in boarding school costs so we are looking at that alternative. I have a lot of guilt about sending him away but my partner is tired of coming home every day and walking on egg shells. I am also not sure how this will impact his younger brother.

We have looked at Red Rock Canyon School and Sorensen Ranch but I was wondering if anyone had any recommendations and what type of success they had with a therapeutic boarding school.

This is a hard time us. We want to keep him safe but we are not sure we can do this without some help.

Thanks for reading. Mark

Hi Mark, Please look at our website, We are a group of parents whose children are now enrolled in, or have graduated from, Therapeutic Boarding Schools. We meet once a month in Los Altos, and once a month in Marin County. The Marin group is likely closer to you. The Los Altos group is larger since it has been ongoing for five years while the Marin group is less than a year old. During our meetings we share our concerns and hopes for our kids. Feel free also, to call me personally. Are you working with a therapist already? If so, do they have an educational consultant they work with? Your son will likely benefit from a wilderness experience followed by a boarding school experience. Educational consultants are familiar with these programs and can guide you to one that would meet your son's needs. I highly urge you to use a consultant, since schools use different methods. From our experience, I suggest you not use a school that claims it can help your son and send him back home in six months. It takes a long time for teens to internalize what they are learning so they can use their new skills when they come home. Ed consultants are expensive - thousands of dollars, so ask for a free appointment first if see if you feel you have a ''fit'' with the person you use. Please phone or email me and I will give you some names to try. Your first duty as a parent is to keep your child safe. It sounds like you can't do that right now. Robin

Boarding School with challenging academics for teen w/PTSD and grief/loss

Feb 2011

Can anyone provide a parent-and-teen recommendation for small boarding schools that would help with PTSD and grief? My 15-year-old daughter is smart and talented, but significant life events have knocked her emotionally. She suffers from guilt and her self-esteem is very low. I am concerned that a therapeutic school will not offer her the challenge or academics that she needs to return to life after boarding school. On the other hand, I'm concerned that an academic school may not have enough support for her psychological health. She has begun to act out. We've been researching schools for several weeks and I've talked to an educational consultant, but our funds are limited. Plus, I'd rather hear from an actual parent and teen with direct experience than a school or consultant. Summer programs are also of interest. Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thanks, Em

I faced the same choice you are about to make with my then 15 year old daughter. Please think of an alternative. Boarding schools are not prepared to deal with PTSD. And, therapeutic boarding schools are typically very behavioral and the therapists are typically interns who leave right after they become licensed. My daughter, who also had PTSD and was acting out, went to a therapeutic boarding school. The staff was not trained clinically and she was punished over and over for symtpoms that really were trauma based.

I wish then that I knew about a therapist in Albany, Terry Trotter, who is an expert in the treatment of trauma, really an expert. Terry also is a phenomenal therapist. Please consider making an appointment and trying treatment with this therapist as an alternative to the much more drastic solution of boarding school. Finally, a regular boarding school will not be a place where your daughter can heal. The above is probably the real issue- acting out is often a part of PTSD, especially with a teen. anonymous

You might want to look at Scattergood Friends School in West Branch Iowa. It is a wonderful school that becomes home to an eclectic mix of kids. I can't say enough good about it AND it is relatively affordable. Please feel free to call with questions. 415/747-8909 Barbara

Need info about out-of-state schools that offer treatment

July 2004

I am urgently seeking information from parents who've sent their kids to out-of-state therapeutic, emotional growth, character building, residential treatment schools, especially ones run by Aspen Education Group but others like Hyde or CEDU etc.. as well. Good and bad experiences are of intense interest, as well as good and bad experiences searching for appropriate placements, especially with independent ed. consultants. This information is critical to someone's life. Thanks Betty

This is a tough situation. There are a number of schools with excellent reputations, and a number that are run by absolute charlatans, so my advice, having had a very difficult/high-risk behavior teenager, is to hire the services of an educational consultant. It's their business to know which schools are okay and which should be avoided or have had serious problems. It's not cheap, but making the wrong decision about an emotional growth school creates more problems than it solves. I can strongly recommend the services of Elizabeth McGhee at Virginia Reiss Associates in Larkspur (980 Magnolia Drive/Suite 8, Larkspur, CA 94939/phone is 415-461-4788). Anyone in that office would be okay to work with.

Also, if either parent is covered by mental heath insurance, those insurance companies can pay part or all of a therapeutic school's tuition, but you need to get the agreement of your insurance caseworker, and this generally requires getting a letter from the child's therapist in support of getting a child into a facility.

I have personal experience with both Provo Canyon School and Island View School, both of Utah. Both schools are good and are Level-14 lockdown facilities (highly controlled access) with accredited schools (junior high through high school). Provo can handle slightly tougher cases, but I think Island View has a better progam. At Island View, in addition to being responsible for their individual therapy, the kids are all assigned to teams, so their behavior as individuals affects overall team progress. This gives them a peer group to whom they must be responsible, and I think it speeds the process of behavioral growth. Also, Island View teaches a foreign language (Spanish), which Provo Canyon doesn't (or didn't, when my child went there). Island View also has a continuation school (Oakley School) for kids who have completed the therapeutic program, but who wouldn't necessarily do well returning directly home. They also seem to be pretty well connected to other continuation schools in other areas. Their family therapy weekends are much better than what I experienced with Provo Canyon.

In terms of getting a child to an out-of-state school, some kids may cooperate with you taking them there, some may not. If you need to hire people to transport them, again, work with an educational consultant, since horror stories abound. Mine recommeded AGS (Adolescence Guidance Service/phone 877-700-3300). They were very low-key, very quiet and very professional. My husband went on the same plane and followed in a separate car to the school so her could meet with the therapist and treatment team. He was very impressed. Our daughter completed high school and the therapeutic program at Island View. She came home and has been working while waiting to start college, and has stayed out of trouble. She didn't have a meltdown when her dad paased away suddenly, so overall, I think Island View was very successful in its work with her. Anonymous

Yesterday we posted an article, Safe Choices for Parents of Troubled Teens . Members of this Berkeley Parents Network contributed their insights and experiences with our reporters and helped us develop the article, which offers advice for parents dealing with an 'out of control' teenager. Feel free to share the article with anyone you know in that situation. And I'd like to warmly thank the moms who helped us develop this story. Cheryl

I've been doing a lot of research into these schools and would recommend a) in independent ed. consultant (NOT Virginia Reiss), maybe Bodin in S.F. if they work with these types of schools. If not, call and ask them for a referral. The info they have on their website regarding ther. schools is very good. Also, I'll reiterate that you should carefully read the above referenced There are more pieces of the kind on the net. Provo Canyon may have worked for a few kids but disasters stories continue to pour out of that place. Just recently (last few months) Utah (which is known to do almost nothing concerning regulation of these schools) put a permanent injunction on Provo for their abusive, really horribly abusive isolation room, use of forced drugs, their practice of taping kids mouths shut and one other think I can't remember. Also, don't simply trust the ed con. Some of them, no matter how slick, expensive, experienced may not be independent. Also ask if they ''specialize in these schools'' Too often these consultants work with k-12, college, therapeutic programs, they can't do it all. Double check credentials of everyone on staff at these programs that you can, especially psychiatrists and check backgrounds (not necessarily criminal) of directors and head therapists. I'm glad that the who posted parent had a good experience with Provo and Island View with her daughter. I DO wonder though how long it might take for stories to start coming out. Island View is just like so many schools, standard behavior mod program, experienced director but nothing very special. Kids are usually traumatized by Escort Services. I would avoid it if possible. And think and double think and triple think before you sign a contract that allows people you don't know to do pretty much whatever they want to your kid, which many contracts more or less require.

As you can tell, a concerned parent that's seen and heard too much about these places. This is a BUYER BEWARE arena if there ever was one. anon

Dear Parents of Teens readers: Our 14-year-old daughter has been at CEDU Middle School in the San Bernardino mountains for about 9 months. It has been great for her. We think this emotional growth school is excellent. The couple that picked her up at our house and transported her were gentle and wonderful. We'd be happy to share our experiences with others -- just drop us an email.

As a parent who recently had to make the agonising decision to send our son to a wilderness program and then on to a therapuetic boarding school, I know how difficult the process can be. At first we kind of went it alone, mostly for financial reasons, but eventually we decided to use the educational consultants, Bodin Associates in Lafayette. Part of what they do is pre-screen wilderness programs and boarding schools, for example, there are hundreds of wilderness programs and they only recommend four. Through Bodin we found a school that is a perfect fit for our son. His school is called Monarch It is a coed, creative arts based school, in Montana. They have an organic garden, animals, etc., and most importantly the founders, staff and faculty are incredibly caring, and commited to helping kids get back on track. Their program is very well-conceived and the kids who graduate appear to be doing well. Our son has made enormous strides there and is barely recognisable from the angry, sullen, negative boy who refused to say goodbye to us when we took him there in March. I'm sure the school isn't perfect for everyone but I wanted you to know there are options. If you have additional questions please feel free to contact me. Best wishes, lori

Residential school for bright son with emotional problems

November 2002

I am looking for a residential school for my teenaged son who,while very bright, has severe emotional problems. We have exhausted all local options and feel that a therapeutic/residential program may be the best option now. This is not a sudden decision and we would like to be sure that the school we pick will really serve his needs. I noticed that there was some discussion on this topic here a few years ago but I wondered if anyone had more recent experience, particularly whether someone could recommend a school by name, preferably one on or near the West Coast? Also, does anyone know the name of a good counselor who specializes in placing children in residential schools? Anonymous worried mom

For the mom seeking an educational consultant and therapeutic boarding school - I can highly recommend Elizabeth McGhee at Virginia Reiss Associates in Larkspur (415)461-4788. We had a lot of success putting our child into Provo Canyon School in Utah (you can check their website at & their phone is 801-227-2100). There is a boys' campus in Provo, Utah, and the girl's campus is in Orem. Both are about 45 minutes from Salt Lake City (which is a short flight on Southwest Air Lines out of Oakland). I STRONGLY advise going through a educational counselor rather than trying to make a placement decision on your own, though, because a mismatch on a school can be an expensive disaster, and while you didn't mention your son's age, you can't force children to attend such schools if they are over 18. It can take a while for a child to settle into a placement. There is also a lot of good general information at, particularly if you read through the newsletter archive (BTW,you can find educational consultants on their ''Resource'' list). If you or your spouse work for an employer with mental health insurance coverage, you may be able to get some or all of your child's tuition paid. There are therapeutic boarding schools in many states, including California, but qualities of programs vary pretty radically. A closer school might not be the best fit. Good luck to you.

I have worked with two ed consultants and would be happy to discuss my experience. I think it's important to have a good psychological evaluation of your child done before trying to select a placement. Until you know exactly what the issues are it's hard to select a place that can address them. -A mom who's had similar challenges

To the mom looking for a residential school for her teenage son - different children/young men need different schools. This is a difficult situation for the whole family, and it sounds like finding a school that will address his individual needs is cruicial to you. (Welcome to the club!)

I strongly recommend spending the money for an educational consultant. Their services are often a couple of thousand dollars, but considering the other potential expenditures you're facing they are an essential investment as well as being an excellent resource. They should help evaluate your son's situation and try to match them with an appropriate school, and my impression is that they don't recommend someplace unless they're familiar with it's approach and have personally visited the school. The good ones will remain in contact with you during his time there, which helps you understand what's going on.

There are a number of good ones in the bay area, and we used Molly Baron at McClure, Mallory & Baron in San Francisco, who was very helpful. She combined her own evaluation with tests and evaluations from other professionals to help us make the appropriate choices. She also met with us while our son was in the program to help us evaluate his progress and future needs. Good luck to you and your son. anonymous

Advice to person seeking information on a residential school for child that has emotional problems. A friend of mine's son with emotional issues has had great success at the Oakley School outside of Park City Utah--phone 435.783.5001. They used a counselor in Marin County to find this school, Alice Jackson, and unfortunately I do not have her phone number. anonymous

I'm replying to the mom looking for a residential school and/or educational consultant for her son. Several years ago we were seeking a boarding school for our daughter, at her request, and we went to see a very knowledgeable counselor who specialized in boarding schools. This was in the Fall of 1996, and I don't know if he is still around here, but just in case, here is his name and number: Douglas Bodin Bodin & Associates Los Altos, CA (415) 948-8651 Our daughter ended up at Happy Valley School in Ojai, CA. It is a wonderful school; however, I don't know if it is appropriate for your son's needs -- you might want to check it out. Their web site is Good luck in your search. JS

To the anonymous worried Mom looking for boarding schools and/ or ed consultants. We've been down this road very recently and have gotten VERY good help from Bodin Associates in Los Atos. They are profesional and well informed. they also do no take any money from any school. They are also expensive but in my opinion, worth every cent ( and I am not well of by any means). Their phone # is 650-948-8651. They plan to open a Oakland office sometime soon too.

As for boarding schools there are many and you need to really look at what your childs particuliar needs and issues are. There is no one answer and a good ed consultant can match your child and a school. I cannot stress this enough. Boarding school is expensive but the wrong boarding school is even more expensive because it may not work. The advertising that some of these schools! i! s polished and often they will tell you they are sure they can meet your needs. If your willing to make the commitment to a boarding school, get good objective advise. I have been extremely happy with the school that Bodin Associates have helped us find. If someone would have told me 8 months ago how happy and well adjusted my daughter would be now, I never would have believed it. Good luck, it is a very hard road to go but it is harder to watch your child lose hope, self-esteem and get into trouble. Another Mom

I agree with the other parents who have recommended evaluations and counseling before selecting a school, but I want to mention a school I haven't seen in the archives.... (See NAWA Academy for the rest of this review.)