Paying for Residential Programs for Teens

Parent Q&A

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  • 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! 

    So sorry to hear this. It’s so hard to see your child suffer. I’ve got years of experience in this  area for my my child has behavioral problems. We went the therapeutic school route( boarding and day) and this was achieved only because has has Medi-Cal (he’s a former foster child). This was 5 years ago and it made a difference, plus a good therapist  He has had an IEP for some time and it’s hit or miss with out district. The District should provide supports such as a counseling, therapists, classroom aids to help them succeed. Goals need to be measurable and services must be provided. If the services aren’t provided as written in the IEP then you will need meet and meet and meet with them until they are. If still the IEP is not followed then seek help from an educational rights attorney. Getting a district to pay for outside School placement is hard. It will take time. You will need to show/prove that they can’t provide a fare and appropriate education in the district.  For help with the IEO contact DREDF in Berkeley. For info on treatment facilities, contact Willow in the Wind, a support group of parents . People attend who are seeking info on therapeutic placement,  have kids in such schools, or a transitioning out of residential placement. I found it helpful to attend.  In closing, know that an IEP alone won’t get you an independent placement. You need proof and then the right advocate to push for you.  Good luck and be strong. 

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

    Yes, in some cases a school district will place a kid in a therapeutic boarding and pay for it as part of an IEP for emotional disturbance.  I would call DREDF (you can google them for the number) for a free consultation. You could also pay a couple hundred bucks for an hour-long consultation with an attorney. I highly recommend Deborah Jacobsen. 

    Hi, I am so sorry you are going through this, trying to care for a child at risk when you are not a mental health professional is the scariest experience for a parent. Have you reached out to Willows in the Wind, a free support group for parents considering RTC/Wilderness or are currently facing crisis? Or to DREDF, a free organization that has trainings and information about Educational Law and rights? Your child has a disability and is not able to access their education, which encompasses the social/emotional realm as well as the academics. Your District is required to address the disability with a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). 

    To respond to your questions based on personal experience, you are already on  the most effective best path to reaching an IEP agreement for placement at a Residential Treatment Center to meet FAPE since you already have a District-specified qualifying disability of Emotional Disturbance. Yes I would highly recommend an Educational Attorney, we used Deborah Jacobson in Berkeley and she is truly magical. It may take months of IEP to recoup, but we are talking about recouping potentially $500K, not $500.

    I would recommend getting a copy of the facility spreadsheet and start screening RTC's now and get an Educational Attorney on board. You do have an option to do what is called a "unilateral placement", which means to give your District 10 days notice that you are placing your child at an RTC urgently now and will work out the details with the IEP team, all the way through Due Process if neccessary, later. You will need to be able to float about $15,000 per month for treatment. I had my credit limit increased to $200K and played a shell game for quite some time until we settled confidentially with our District. Some District are more difficult to work with and have a hard time being compliant with the law and treating families with respect and not blaming the "home environment". Other Districts may offer RTC as FAPE up-front with not much battle. But as I said, since you already have the education disability identified as ED, you are most of the way there and there's not much to battle about.

    A good way to get quickly introduced to Education Law is through an amazing organization called DREDF. There are free training classes and advice.

    Best wishes on this journey. We survived emotionally and financially (thanks to Willows in the Wind and our attorney), my son is alive (thanks to Heritage RTC in Provo, Utah), and is now more than 1 year home after 3 months of hospitalization and 3 years of RTC and is doing "good enough" (thanks to my son and his amazing recovery and resiliency)!.

    Willows in the Wind is a terrific resource for support around issues like this (!)

    Consider attending a meeting and speaking with the folks there.

    Get in touch with Willows in the Winds. They run groups for parents  and  can help guide you in requesting assistance from school district. My understanding is that therapeutic boarding schools or Residential treatment centers cost about $10k a month, so you are looking at much more than $500 if they will cover some of it. Definitely worth it in my opinion.

    I'm adding more, another consideration could be a NPS (non-public school) funded through the IEP FAPE, which is a "less restrictive environment" than a RTC.Personally I hate that legal term "less restrictive" as to me it seems like a description of a punitive setting, it really just means "less supports in place". For some kids, just getting to a smaller more supportive environment with other students that understand the struggle can be a therapeutic setting.

    The NPS my son attended after RTC, Bayhill in Berkeley, had therapy built in to the day. He learned coping tools at RTC but needed a safe place to implement them before transitioning back to public school and the increased support when he first returned home after being in treatment for 3 years.. 

    Also check through BPN posts from the past about Willows, TBS, RTC, etc.

    Best wishes

    I was able to have the school district my grandson was in pay for him to go to a therapeutic boarding school in Utah. The school district failed to provide him with an appropriate education setting for two years. I hired an attorney and after quite a bit of time and out of pocket money spent he was placed in the appropriate therapeutic setting, completely at the expense of the school district, including travel expenses for him and his parents, and reimbursement for the money spent on attorney fees, outside psychological testing, short term placement in a private school and mileage. You have to be very strong, research educational law and not back down. Document everything and save all emails, messages, etc. 

  • 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, I am the parent of a 14 yo girl who struggles with terrible depression. She has been placed under 5150 several times in the past four months and is currently under residential treatment--however, our insurance is denying the treatment center's request to keep her there (although they are very clear that she is not safe to go home) and we are panicked and trying to figure out what next steps are. I've been reading this forum and it sounds like we may need to engage an educational consultant to help us navigate this process--bring her home? Get an IEP? Wilderness program?? I have no idea... But we have already spent thousands and thousands of dollars on her treatment and honestly I'm not sure where the money will come from for whatever comes next. Can anyone give me a ballpark on what an educational consultant costs?

    I lived through this exact experience with my 14 year-old daughter.  It is horrible.  You have to get your insurance company to let her stay. It's insane:  they kick her out of residential treatment, she attempts suicide, goes back to ER, back to residential, leaves before she's ready, until, I guess, she succeeds at suicide. If she's suicidal, you can't have her at home because you can't watch her 24 hours/day.  She needs to be in a residential facility.  I can share with you how I got the insurance company to keep her in residential.  Please ask the moderator for my contact info. Also, contact Willows in the Wind. They are a great resource and helped me find an educational consultant.  

    Don't lose hope!  My kid got through this and is now 18, just finished freshman year in an out-of-state college, is thriving.  

    We had to give a $5K down payment for services then a % placement fee if we ended up placing her in a camp/facility/school. We ended up working it out at home by ramping up meds in the short term to stabilize, taking time off to monitor her fulltime at home (we also put an alarm on her door / taking anything away she could use to hurt herself), then going to DBT (Clearwater in Oakland). My greatest desire was to have my daughter stay home with us.  To do this, we (parents/family) had to change our tune big time to make things work.  DBT trained us to deal with ourselves and my lovely daughter magnificently. Volunteering with my daughter 4 hours a week helped tremendously too.  She loves animals so we ended up volunteering at the SPCA.  After a wild and bumpy ride, I'm forever grateful to have my daughter happy and safe at home with us 2 years later.

    I’m so sorry you are dealing with this. My heart goes out to you and your daughter. 

    One area you may want to start with is speaking with the school psychologist and principal to explain the situation and take them as a partner and resource. They could assess for a 504 plan for accommodations or an IEP if there is an underlying disability that is a root cause of her depression. An educational consultant might not be necessary (and an added expense).

    I hope you find the support that you need to guide your daughter through this difficult time.

    I've been in this emotional and financial hell for more than 3 years, starting with hospitalizations, 5150's, local treatment centers and step-downs, PHP, IOP, and more than two years of out of state RTC. With time, tenacity, legal assistance, DREDF, and Willows in the Wind I have made it through the financial hell. The emotional hell remains, I guess for always.

    Connect with Willows in the Wind and DREDF as a first step. Also get a copy of your statement of benefits/coverage from your health insurance, in electronic format is best. Get and keep the WRITTEN justification for treatment from the professionals. Learn what your recourse for disputes is with your insurer and look up the California Dept of Managed Health Care.

    Hope we can connect through Willows.

    Hang in there. It's awful, but can work out.

    I'm very sorry to hear about the struggles you're going through with your daughter. You mentioned the insurance company is denying additional treatment: this might be a really good time to speak with an Insurance Advocate. This can save you thousands of dollars later AND help you to get appropriate services. Karen Fessel of the Mental Health and Autism Insurance Project is a good place to start: 925-388-0892 or info [at] You can speak with Karen for the first 30 minutes for free. She has a sliding scale fee of $75-$150. Karen can help anyone who is working with an insurance company--not just parents of children with autism. 

    To the best of my knowledge, Ed Consultant fees currently range between $5,000-$15,000 for a package of services. You might not be ready to commit to the whole process of finding a higher level of care for your daughter yet--the "package"--and if this case, it doesn't hurt to ask if you can arrangement an initial hourly consultancy fee (hourly or a mini consultation of $1,500-$3,000). Some Ed Consultants that you may have heard of:  Jen Taylor    Jennifer [at]      415-887-8998Shayna Abraham   shayna [at]  (650)888-4575

    It does sound like you will need an IEP moving forward and possibly a neuropsychological evaluation if you don't already have one. In my experience, district assessments are often not very comprehensive--and it can be very helpful to get one of your own in order to get a clearer picture of what's going on with your daughter. Always check with your insurance company first to see if they will help you get the evaluation done. Summer time is a popular time to get a neuropsychological evaluation, so you may need to get on someone's waiting list if you decide to do this on your own. Hopefully other parents on this list will mention places to go for the neuropsych eval. You mentioned not being sure where the money will come from: a cheaper route for a neuropsychological eval is to contact UC Berkeley's psychology department. They have grad students who do them under supervision, and I've heard they can be very well done.  

    I don't have the name offhand, but I've also seen the name of a therapist on Solano Ave that advocates keeping your child at home and has some expertise in this area. I wish I could find her name! First name might have been Terry?

    I volunteer with a parent-to-parent program that offers free monthly support groups for parents called Willows in the Wind. You may already have heard of this group or attended a meeting in Oakland, San Rafael or Los Altos. Upcoming Willows meetings are listed at the bottom of this message. If you want more information, please feel free to contact me at: s.mackaylynch [at] or contact the director, Jan Rao at: jrao [at]

    Everybody's path is different. I hope that you'll find what works for your daughter and your family.

    Willows Oakland Meeting: Saturday,  June 16, 2018, 1:00 - 3:00 PM, Kaiser Medical Building, 3600 Broadway, Lower Level, Conference Room C, Oakland

    San Rafael Willows Meeting: Sunday, June 24 , 2018, 1:00 - 3:00 PM, Center for Families, 1104 Lincoln Avenue, San Rafael

    I'm sorry for your daughter's suffering. I can not directly answer your question about costs as it was some time ago that I hired an educational consultant for my teen.  I have two suggestions for you:

    1. Call The Bodin Group in Los Altos (  They can give you pricing over the phone.

    2. Consider reaching out to Willows in the Wind (  They provide support for parents going through what you are going through free of charge, and are an excellent resource in the community.

    Know you are not alone.

    Dear Concerned Mom,

    I do not know of any resources here in bay area, however, I do want to encourage an IEP, typically given through school district, I would start there. Our daughter struggled with severe depression & self-harm at this same age for several years, she is now a thriving, talented young lady entering her sophomore year of college. She went through several residential treatments, Dr's & therapists. I recommend Timberline Knolls in Lemont Illinois, they offer schooling, it is one of the best. I know your heartache, stay the course, it does get better. I am from Chicago suburbs and was very fortune our district had resources to help. I am now in bay area. My hope is wellness & health, I am praying for your family.

    Love & Peace

    I'm so sorry for your struggles. It is so hard to watch our children experience so much pain and not be able to help. Mental health services are so underfunded by health insurance! We have had good advice from Shayna Abraham, owner of Prepare to Bloom, who works with teens to find placements that are appropriate for them. She develops relationships with many services across the nation and knows their advantages specific for particular needs. She was able to help us get placement in a program that normally has a more rigorous process and waiting list. But because they know Shayna, her recommendation helped us cut through all of that. If it is a location away from home, she will check in regularly with them when she visits. Of course any ongoing services include a fee. If you are overwhelmed and need an advocate, she would be perfect. I think she would be happy to talk with you about costs and levels of service initially without a fee. We found her through our psychologist and our school. Good luck to you!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Alternatives when insurance won't pay

May 2016

RE: RTC for daughter with Conduct Disorder and Substance Abuse

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.

Will BUSD help pay for therapeutic boarding school?

Jan 2016

Our 15-year old daughter has dropped out of Berkeley High School due to anxiety, severe depression, suicidal ideation and other related issues. After two years of seeking local (excellent) therapeutic solutions for our daughter and family, we are finally sending her to a therapeutic boarding school. It has been chosen for it's humane approach and targeted therapeutic offerings. Our daughter was relieved when her neuropsych evaluation recommended that she spend a year in treatment away from home, so please do not reply if your opinion is that a teen should never be sent to therapeutic boarding school--with all due respect, I have already read those posts.

Our question is: Has anyone in a similar situation ever had any success in getting BUSD to help pay for therapeutic boarding school? Or tried and failed? We know that school districts are under a mandate to provide access to education. Given her issues, our daughter would not be an appropriate candidate for BUSD independent study program--at least until she has been in treatment for awhile. I should add that unfortunately, we do not yet have an IEP for our daughter yet. We have the name of a good educational advocate and a lawyer (based in the Walnut Creek area) and are already working with an excellent educational consultant. We are also members of Willows in the Wind (support group). However, before we seriously consider approaching the district, we would like to hear about other parents' experience with BUSD. Also, if you were successful in working with BUSD and would be willing to share the name of your educational advocate/lawyer, that would be great. I tried to research this issue on BPN but couldn't find anything (search error?) Thank you in advance for any assistance you can provide.

Seeking access to education

Mike Zatopa is the attorney we (successfully) used with BUSD. We had a very complicated case. He would be able to give you an idea of whether you had a case. Typically, the school district likes to use their own resources before recommending residential care. If you have already decided upon that path it may be harder but I would still go ahead and ask. anon

Dear parent looking for therapeutic boarding school. I was able to get BUSD to pay for what is called a ''Non-public school''. These are schools/therapeutic treatment centers that partner with school districts to provide services of just the sort you describe: Helping children who cannot otherwise attend school for psychological, addiction, or other related issues.

You will need to get an IEP and will need to get a recommendation that she attend such a school. The process can be tedious. You MUST ask for an IEP in writing and you must do everything in writing. You must advocate strongly that she needs this (not the silly independent study or other options they will recommend).

You are unlikely to be able to send her to an out of state private boarding school -- and you might be glad of that. Some of those are quite abusive and hardly regulated. I would be very careful about sending a child to any of those. Check it out first.

The IEP process will take time - so start immediately and follow up at every turn. make sure they follow guidelines about when they will complete assessments, hold meetings etc. but each time they usually get 50 business days so it can really add up.

Best of luck to you and your daughter.... Been there

My step son went to a therapeutic boarding school within the Tamalpais Unified School District (Mill Valley) and they almost laughed when we asked. I don't think school districts pay for any portion of TBS. Good luck.

I just placed my son last week, different school district but can sure help you out with what I have learned during this nightmare. Ask the moderator for my contact information. And just a warning, I have NEVER had my heart torn apart like this, and I have been through a lot. A friend who has helped me through this process told me the tears I cried through some 12 years of anguish were just practice for the devastating sorrow and shame of having no other options than residential placement. I sobbed for days. Still hasn't stopped. If anyone is being less than supportive, seek help elsewhere. Hang in there. Sue