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We Advocate for Parents!
We provide current, subjective information related to adolescent treatment for mental health and addiction.
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The Mission of Parent’s Treatment Advocates is to provide parents with current, subjective information related to adolescent treatment for mental health and addiction.

Top 12 Things to Avoid When Choosing Treatment for an Adolescent

Many of our families have suffered unnecessarily because of a lack of good information available related to adolescent treatment. One of the primary purposes of the Parent’s Treatment Advisory is to provide fellow parents with information that will allow parents to make informed decisions when choosing the best treatment option of their child. To that end we strongly encourage all parents to consider the following:
Avoid All Wilderness Programs
There are multiple reasons that insurance companies will generally not pay for treatment in any wilderness program.
The first is that they simply do not work. Every study conducted by an independent third party strongly suggests that any changes that might occur in a wilderness program are rarely sustainable. More importantly, there is ample evidence to suggest that these programs can cause great harm.
Adolescents frequently report being physically and psychologically abused in wilderness programs. While some might question the validity of reports made by troubled teens, or former employees of such programs, we do not- and for good reasons.
Many mental health professionals report treating adolescents for trauma sustained in wilderness programs. Health care providers report physical injuries that are the direct result of abuse and negligence. And most tragic of all, there are web sites devoted exclusively to the obituaries of young people who have died in these programs.
Do Not Consider Any Programs in the State of Utah
Utah is the single state without any laws to protect adolescents in treatment. For this reason the least scrupulous of treatment providers flock to Utah. The conditions are so horrific at some programs in this state, that they federal government has attempted to step in with national regulations on more than one occasion. Each time, such efforts have been thwarted by lobbyists hired by the very perpetrators who make such regulations necessary. While there are programs that may be exceptions to this rule, there is no need to risk your child’s safety or their very life by choosing a program in this state.
Do Not Consider Programs Outside of the United States
Under no circumstances should you consider a treatment program for your child that is outside of the United States. While there are many horror stories about treatment in the US- there are many more take place outside of our borders. A number of our members were talked into sending their children to places like Mexico, Costa Rica and Jamaica, only to learn later their children were denied, food, water and in some cases clothing. Some were emotionally, physically and sexually abused requiring additional treatment for trauma on top of what they first went to treatment for. Many programs outside of the US are not licensed or accredited by any authority. It is also not unheard of for programs to be raided and closed by authorities, leaving adolescent struggling to get home safely.
Do Not Enroll in Programs that Excessively Limit Parent/Child Communication
Many treatment programs will give you multiple reasons or excuses that you can’t speak directly with your child while he or she is in treatment. Others will greatly limit communication to short monitored calls. Our collective experience suggests that such limitations should most often be seen as a serious red flag. It is not uncommon for youth to report that they are treated very differently, sometimes abusively, by the staff members of treatment programs once communication with parents has been reduced or restricted in its entirety. You should seek out regular, direct communication and get your child’s perspective on their treatment experience throughout any treatment stay. Even if a teen is resistant to treatment- weigh carefully any report that they give you about not being treated fairly. The management of any reputable program will appreciate any opportunity to clarify an issue of concern, learn how to better meet client needs and/or address your child’s clinical issues. More communication is always better; Less is cause for great concern.
Be Cautious of Programs with Hidden Religious Agendas
Countless number of parents report taking their children to treatment programs, only to learn after the fact that the program had a hidden religious agenda. Many times programs advertise as “Christian”, “Jewish”, or “Spiritual”, etc. and falsely purport to share the values of the family enrolling in the program. Other times they present as having no religious agenda at all. Some of these programs are owned and operated by groups that have been officially labeled cults by groups such as Cult Watch. Always ask a treatment provider if their program has a religious component and ask for details. Do not assume that your definition of “Christian”, “Jewish” or “Spiritual”, etc. are the same.
Avoid Programs that are Owned by Faceless Corporations
Many of us were stunned to learn that the programs we enrolled our children in were not actually owned by anyone that we interacted with. Rather, they were and are owned by huge, faceless, for-profit corporations. When problems arose we found ourselves navigating phone trees and desperately searching for accountability. We were shifted from department to department. When pressed hard we found ourselves referred to corporate legal departments that treated us like advisories rather than concerned loved ones.

Worse yet, many of the large corporations that operate dozens of facilities have the worst safety records in the industry. They often times own standard residential treatment programs and wilderness programs- rotating youth from one to the other. When too many youth are injured or die, they simply close shop or re-open under a new name.

It is also important to know that many of the large corporations operate phony call centers. If you call a “neutral’ call center and they offer referrals to programs owned and operated by a single corporation- run. These are among the most unethical and dangerous members of the adolescent treatment industry. The bulk of treatment related injuries and deaths can be tied to these companies. To learn more, please check out some of the articles below:

Medical Whistle Blowers/ Abuse and Neglect in Residential Treatment
Beware of Unqualified Treatment Program Owners
Unfortunately, simply avoiding the large corporations, will not keep your family safe. You need to know who owns any program that you enroll your child in. You need to know how hands-on the owner is. And you must know the qualifications of the owner. Many parents are shocked to learn the harsh realities of who owns many adolescent treatment programs. It is common for someone to complete treatment one day and then open up their own treatment center the next. What makes this of greater concern is that many of these rehab owners will claim to have expertise in treating mental health issues as well as addiction issues when their single qualification is that they once used drugs and stopped.
Do Not Send Your Child to a LARGE Program
If you send your child to a program that serves a large number of youth, you will greatly diminish their ability to be successful. These large programs by necessity approach treatment differently. Treatment is less individualized and often takes a one size fits all approach. In fact, industry insiders call this approach “McTreatment” as services are provided in a way that is not dissimilar to the way fast food is fed to the masses. As a rule we recommend that you avoid programs that serve more than a dozen teens simultaneously. Not only does a larger program generally provide less effective treatment, it also often times creates unnecessary safety concerns.
Beware Programs that call themselves Gender Specific
Many programs confuse Gender Exclusive Treatment and Gender Specific Treatment. They unfortunately provide the former and call it the latter. This is sometimes because of a real lack of understanding of how the two differ. Other times, it is a deliberate effort to manipulate parents and youth.

Coeducation advocates and researchers report that segregating teens by gender can make it harder for students to deal with the opposite gender post treatment. Creating an artificial single gender environment creates undue stressors for young people when they return to a co-gender world.

“Good treatment is preparation for adult life,” says Halpern, a former American Psychological Association president. “How can boys and girls learn how to interact in healthy ways if they are denied opportunities for interacting?” The number of studies that suggest that single gender treatment has no value and can even be harmful are numerous.
Before considering such a program please take moment to view any of the following links:

Single Sex Schools equals Segregation

Problems Segregating by Gender

Same Sex Research as Pseudoscience NPR

More reasons for Co-Ed
Avoid any Program that Doesn’t Publicly List All of Their Staff Members & Credentials
You should be very concerned about any program that doesn’t provide a complete list of their staff on the program’s web site. The list should include the staff members qualifications, license numbers and ideally photos. Those who do not list their staff members on their web sites do not do so for any number of nefarious reasons; It may be because their staff lacks credentials or that the program has excessive turn over. It might also be that they are staffed primarily by para-professionals or that they are grossly understaffed. In addition, you have the right to know if any person on the web site is no longer employed with the agency or if they will be away on vacation during the course of your child’s treatment. Finally, you should ask what type of background check is conducted on all employees and make sure that you are comfortable with the answer. We recommend you give weighted consideration to programs that conduct employee screenings that include finger printing and Child Abuse Index checks.
Do Not Consider any Program that will not let you Speak with the Parents of Alumni
Your best resource as a parent is other parents. Many of our members say that if they could recommend only one thing to a parent seeking treatment for a child it would be that they speak with one or more parents of a program graduate. Quality programs have no problem allowing prospective families to speak with alumni families. In fact, they most often encourage it.
There are some programs that will claim they are unable to allow you to speak with an alumni family because of HIPPA laws or other confidentiality laws. This is nonsense. Any alumni youth or parent can volunteer to make themselves available to speak with prospective program participants. Our collective experience is that program participants who have had a good experience are generally anxious to give back and share their experiences with others who are experiencing difficulties they once faced themselves.
Only Consider a Program that is Accredited
It is essential that any program you consider be nationally accredited. The highest form of accreditations comes from JCAHO, aka the Joint Commission of Accredited Hospital/Healthcare Organizations. Any program with JCAHO accreditation has met the most rigorous standards in the industry. There are less stringent forms of accreditation available, yet many programs hold no accreditation at all. While it is of course imperative that any program, be licensed, licensing standards vary dramatically by state. As such, licensing standards can be very low. Always feel free to ask an organization about their accreditation status and to verify it with the accrediting agency.

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