For years, I have worked with parents of troubled teens and struggling teens as they have searched for therapeutic boarding schools. This is one of the most difficult decisions parents make on behalf of their child and their family. It has significant implications not only for the immediate future, but long into adulthood. Finding the right program can be daunting, given the many options, subtle differences between programs, and the marketing that schools and programs have in place to draw prospective parents. The evaluation process necessarily entails a degree of discernment and care that is often difficult since the decision is often being made in the face of crisis. Parents experience a myriad of emotions — frustration, fear, disappointment, anger, hopelessness — none of which are good for making informed, well reasoned and thought-out decisions.
After reviewing a school’s website and admissions packet, and speaking with admissions personnel, parents need to make the all-important campus visit to learn first-hand whether the school is appropriately equipped to meet their child’s needs.
My experience has been that many parents are not well prepared for this campus tour, and understandably so. Most parents have not had the experience of evaluating and choosing a therapeutic school environment, and thus do not know what to look for or how to discern aspects of a school that make it right or wrong for their child. In addition, there is usually so much emotion associated with the process that the evaluation is sometimes based on an emotional reaction rather than the merits of the school.
My hope in writing this is to provide parents with a checklist — a list of important and necessary things to look for, questions to ask, and mistakes to avoid when touring a campus. The list is developed not only from my experience as the director of admissions at a therapeutic boarding school, but also as a clinician who has visited over 100 schools and programs. From both sides of the table, I have experienced the challenge of not only learning and understanding programs, but in accurately representing them as well.
Although this information is copyright protected, permission is granted to parents to copy and use as they begin to visit schools and programs. I hope that it is helpful to you, and that it empowers you to more effectively engage and evaluate the schools you visit. I value any additional items that could be added to make the checklist more thorough. I invite you to email me your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org