The Best Residential Programs

Matching facility resources and student needs is critical – Here is what to look for

Once the decision is made to place a teen in a residential program, parents face the formidable task of selecting among the many facilities that advertise nationwide. A ‘good fit’ between the family and the residential facility is essential to optimize the chances of a favorable outcome.

Like therapists, residential facilities vary widely in their goals, their theoretical orientation and treatment paradigms, and the specific features of their treatment settings.   Therapeutic programs also very widely in their location, cost, amenities and lengths of stay.

We urge parents to seek out markers of quality and encourage them to ask a lot of questions before committing to a particular program. There are no standardized or nationwide ratings of residential programs, but generally speaking, high-quality residential treatment facilities will have the following characteristics in common:

  • Accreditation and/or licensure: The best residential programs tend to subject themselves to scrutiny and oversight by state licensing authorities. Such licensing and accrediting authorities require strict standards for evidence-based care, documentation, medication storage and handling, and other key aspects of residential care.
  • Fully credentialed staff: Staff who work in the best residential programs must be sensitive not only to the dynamics of each individual client, but also to group dynamics, the dynamics between staff and clients and, perhaps most importantly, the often-subtle indications that a client may be in need of more intensive programming or even hospitalization. Prior experience in inpatient facilities can be quite helpful for residential program staff members.
  • Ready access to urgent and emergency care facilities: Accidents happen and so do intentional acts of self-harm. The best residential programs that have working relationships with local hospitals and urgent care facilities are well positioned to transition patients in crisis to a higher level of care with less disruption.
  • Research orientated: Although costly and time consuming, research is critical to any top quality program. While most programs are founded by well-meaning individuals, many of these founders have created a philosophy and curriculum based on their own life experience. Research-based programming breaks through this bias and forces programs to adhere to the science of change. When programs make research a priority, parents are assured that the staff is focused on outcomes and the future success of their teen is highly valued.
  • Purpose driven: Whether it’s called a statement of faith, a mission statement, or something else, every program has an underlying basic philosophy that drives their program and treatment. This unifying purpose or value statement impacts whom they hire and how they will interact with the teens. It provides critical insight into the beliefs of a program and staff. Asking residential programs what they believe about the nature of man will help you understand the underlying philosophy of the program, which impacts how the program will go about creating change.   Unfortunately, most residential programs are unaware or naive regarding this larger philosophical question. But whether programs realize it or not, their beliefs have a significant and long lasting impact on the teens that they work with. Good programs should stay in touch with former students and will inadvertently continue to share their values long after the students have left. So ask the program what they believe about the nature of man, how people change, and if they recognize a higher power. We place our children in residential programs to be impacted and changed, so it stands to reason that understanding how this change is going to happen and what messages are going to be conveyed is critical.