Notes on Choosing the Right School

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Editor's Note 1:  Most schools and other programs are not accustomed to people touring being as thorough as is suggested here.  FamilyLight recommends that parents planning to pursue this agenda, tactfully let the school being visited know in advance that they have a longer than average checklist and will likely take more time than most visitors.  Return to "Choosing the Right School."

Editor's Note 2:  Total disclosure to any school, including a non-therapeutic school, is important. Frequently parents anxious for an acceptance think their student is more likely to be admitted if some of the story is not told. However,  if you do that you are much more likely to end up with a school that is not a good fit and THE SCHOOL VERY LIKELY HAS THE RIGHT TO DISMISS THE STUDENT IMMEDIATELY WHEN THE DECEPTION IS DISCOVERED. Return to "Choosing the Right School."

Editor's Note 3:  This is one place where we disagree with Jeff.  It is certainly helpful if the school or program will allow you to meet with students with no staff present.  We do not expect anyone will allow you to meet one on one with just one student; one adult with one child in any context is less and less acceptable as time goes forward. We are aware of a number of situations where schools and programs did not allow touring professionals to meet unsupervised for good reasons, and it should not be a deal breaker.  The more the school or program resembles a private academic school, the more likely it is that they will allow this kind of contact. The more it resembles a clinical setting, the less likely they are to allow this kind of contact.  Return to "Choosing the Right School."

Editor's Note 4. We agree with what this says -- if the school or program is for-profit or proprietary.  Many are not- for-profit.  Note that not-for-profit organizations in the USA are still required to file an annual disclosure of their finances with the IRS. This report is known as a "990" and is open to review by the general public.  To gain access to to the website and search for the organization by name.  In order to look at their 990, you must register and sign in, but there is no charge.  (They will probably invite for a donation, but you can get to the 990s whether you give one or not)   If they tell you they are nonprofit or not-for-profit and you can't find them on Guidestar, ask them for the corporate name under which they file their 990. If they become testy or resistant at that point, you are probably looking at the wrong school or program.

Whether the school/ program is legally for-profit or not-for- profit,  you  want to know (1) whether you can be confident they will remain in business for the period of time your family member will be in that school or program and (2) are they willing to put their best effort into meeting your family's needs regardless of financial issues or are they willing to cut corners in order to help their bottom line?  Many families we deal with seem to assume that a not-for-profit organization is most likely to be stable and focus on their family's needs and not be dollar conscious.  Our experience, however, is that for-profit vs. not-for-profit is not a clue to whether the school/program is financially stable vs. at risk for closing or mission driven vs. dollar driven.

Many "not-for-profit" schools and programs are actually set up by a closed group of people who own the real estate where the school/ program is located and pay themselves exorbitant amounts of money through leasing the real estate to the school/ program and charging huge salaries and/or consulting fees.  Making this work requires a closed group of people controlling the board of the interest of the people who are getting paid.

We can name a number of 501 c 3 not-for-profit schools/ programs that are clearly dollar driven and we know a number of for-profit facilities that are clearly mission driven and will bear extra expense to better serve the people they are paid to serve.  Return to Choosing the Right School.

Editor's note 5.  The relevant concern is stability.  Will the school/ program suddenly shut down, disrupting your family members' treatment process? Bankruptcy is rare for programs still in business. Usually the bankrupt schools and programs simply shut down when bankruptcy occurs.  The previously bankrupt schools and programs that are currently in business were part of a larger company that went bankrupt, and in every case they are quite stable now. If they are stand-alone, a more relevant process would be to do a credit check.   If they are part of a larger company, then look at that company's history of closing schools and programs.  If it is Universal, look at how they dealt with the closure of King George School.  If it is CRC Health, look at their history of closing a number of the schools and programs that had been part of Aspen Education. Return to Choosing the right School.

Editor's note 6:  We certainly prefer a situation where admission people are based at the facility and know every student/ resident individually.  However some high quality schools and programs work with admission people who live and work in an entirely different part of the country. We don't think this should be a deal breaker. Return to Choosing the Right School

Editor's note 7 -- Accreditation is not foolproof.  We can provide many stories that address the limitations with accreditation.  We know some very good quality programs that have not borne the expense of accreditation -- a cost that would need to be passed on to  consumers.  Accrediting agencies often have what have seemed to be high standards.  But some relevant issues are not included in accreditation standards, for example quality of relationships between front-line staff on the one hand and students/ residents/ patients on the other. We know of no accrediting agency that considers that.  Also the fact that a school or program is accredited does not necessarily mean that the program or school actually meets the claimed standards. Very often the accrediting agency will grant accreditation on the basis of a promise to meet certain standards at some time in the future.  We believe families and referring professionals should consider accreditation as the original document suggests, but in many situations it should not be by itself a deciding factor. Return to Choosing the Right School

Editor's note 8 -- We don't agree.  You need to know that in case of emergency medical need, the school or program where your son or is can order medical treatment if you can't be reached. There are other situations in which a school or program needs to have a clear right to act without delay. Recovering in case of runaway?  In some programs, right to restrain at times of danger? State laws vary.  In some states power of attorney may be the best way if not the only way to have that in place. What we strongly recommend against is allowing a change of custody to the school or program by court order. A power of attorney is revocable.  A court custody order is unlikely to be so easily revoked.  You do need a clear understanding with the school/ program regarding consultation with you in cases in which the the  school/ program takes action based upon the power of attorney.  Return to Choosing the right School.  Return to Choosing the Right School

Editor's note 8.5 Too many schools and programs have been damaged or destroyed by attacks through the Internet.  If you find negative information about a school, or program, or professional person, contact them to get the other side of the story. Credible comments on the Internet are likely to present both the good and the bad with some kind of balance.  Reports that suggest no weaknesses and all is perfect are probably coming from the person or facility being praised. Totally negative reports are probably coming from a person with a vendetta. All programs have helped some people and all have some weaknesses. Even with what we publish, compare our comments with the reports and opinions of others.  Return to Choosing the Right School

Editor's note 9  --  This is desirable if it can be arranged, but it would be very difficult for most programs to deliver on this.  When Jeff wrote this, he worked for a programs that usually would have made it happen, at least on request if not making it a routine part of a parent or professional visit.  But that is unusual. The student / resident who the object of intervention is very likely to be in crisis in a way that meeting with the visitor would not be in that student's/ resident's interest. Return to Choosing the Right School.

Editor's note 10 -- This is another situation  where we agree with Jeff that what he recommends, a psychiatrist fully involved with the treatment team, is preferable.  But in most situations it should not be a deal breaker. Remember that in this century psychiatrists are the gold standard for medication, but psychiatrists who have been trained recently might have had very limited training in anything but medication management.  Other disciplines are likely to have more specific training in other areas of therapy.  A psychiatrist who is skilled in therapeutics other than medication management is an extremely valuable find. But having a psychiatrist with little competence other than in medication management taking a major role the treatment team and pulling rank on other team members, an be a real detriment.   Return to Choosing the Right School   

Editor's note 11 -- We agree that training is important.  We would add accountability to function as trained.  We know of too many situations where the training is superb but a culture within the staff blocks the wisdom of the training from benefiting the students/ residents. Return to Choosing the Right School   

Editor's note 12 -- We agree with what Jeff says about communication, and take it a step further. If you are being guided by a consultant, a good consultant does not just recommend programs but functions as a case manager after placement. If your consultant chooses not to do that you have the wrong consultant.  If the school or program chooses not to work with the consultant with open communication, then you are dealing with the wrong school or program, one which seems averse to accountability. Return to Choosing the Right School   

Editor's note 13 -- A good therapeutic school or program will insist on parent involvement, perhaps whole family involvement including siblings. A good therapeutic school or program requires this. After all, making changes in the young person while the rest of the family remains static is a set-up for failure. The parent or family work should be handled by well credentialed family therapist and should give attention to your family's specific situation.  This should be folded into  the regular tuition or program fees and not be an extra cost item.  Return to Choosing the Right School   

Editor's note 14 -- We strongly agree and have an additional suggestion: When you speak with the people given as references, ask THEM for additional names of contact people.  These will not have been screened by the program.   It is not essential that the references be published, such as on a website;  some schools and programs prefer to give out names and contact information only when requested by an inquiring family.  Sometimes they need to check with the reference family before giving out a name. Nothing is wrong with those procedures. Return to Choosing the Right School   

Editor's note 15 -- We agree with Jeff that  these named and linked websites useful resources and published with integrity.  But also keep in mind that they are each promotional in ways that Familylight (and hopefully future websites like we are building) are not promotional. So we respectfully disagree with Jeff calling them "objective" but all three communicate with integrity whose interest they are intended to promote. is the site of a professional organization of the schools and programs.  Certainly they do respond to the most egregious misconduct by programs, but they include schools and programs we would never recommend. is an advertising service for programs. They are very reluctant to criticize. is a professional association for Educational Consultants. It rarely describes schools and programs but does promote the business interest of educational consultants.  We repeat for emphasis that we believe these websites are created and managed with great integrity and we do not criticize any of them.  But it is important to remember what their purpose is. Return to Choosing the Right School   

Editor's note 16 -- Remember the first person word "I" refers to Jeff Brain, not anyone at FamilyLight. Most of the time we agree with Jeff, but we don't speak for him and he does not speak for us. Return to Choosing the Right School   

Editor's note 17 We appreciate the detail with which Jeff has described the different levels of care and kinds of schools and programs.  We point out, however, that the distinction between a therapeutic boarding school and a residential treatment center is not quite so clear as this suggests, and differing state regulations make the picture even more confusing. You may find our pages on the topic of the distinctions between the different kinds of facilities helpful.    Return to Choosing the Right School   

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Please read our full disclaimer. You are responsible for verifying our information before acting on it.

Last Update March 8, 2015

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