To Board, or Not to Board … Evaluating Options

As I mentioned in my previous post – To Board, or Not to Board … Our Current Dilemma, our youngest son is at a wilderness treatment program.

We are in the process of deciding whether he will come home or go to a therapeutic boarding school. 

When we went through this process with our older son, we hired an education consultant.  This time we are flying solo.

In the previous post, I shared how I organize my thoughts and try to keep my emotions  on the sideline.  I put on paper what we know about Jack’s challenges, what we know about his strengths, and what we still need to learn about Jack to inform our decision (results from recent evaluations and feedback from the therapist working with Jack).

This post walks you through how I evaluate programs.  I appreciate we all want what is best for our kids, yet we go through this journey differently.  Take what is useful and ignore the rest.

Therapeutic  Environment Wish List

After reflecting and talking with professionals, we expanded our wish list – or criteria – for a therapeutic environment regardless of home-based or boarding.

  • Family involvement
  • Individualized programming; strength based
  • Strong academics; including tutoring
  • Clear goals and a token economy system to measure progress
  • Experiential therapy (play therapy with sand tray)
  • An adoption component to process feelings of loss
  • A technology integration program (how to use technology responsibly)
  • A peer group to work on social pragmatics
  • Opportunities to expand interests beyond video games
  • Psychiatric consultation

This criteria guides our evaluation process and helps to ensure we stay as objective as possible when deciding what is best for Jack.

Potential Programs and Supports
Scenario One:  Jack Comes Home

If he comes home, we need to have the academic, behavior management, therapeutic, and in-home support pieces in place prior to Jack graduating from the wilderness program.  Jack currently attends a private school which means I am responsible for identifying resources and determining feasibility.

If we choose to transfer Jack to our public school, then the district would be responsible for providing most of the services needed.

We know that the private school is a better academic and social environment for Jack.  He has attended this school since age 4.  Jack is well supported in a nurturing learning environment, he has friends, and he benefits from a small class size.  This school provides after school enrichment programs which is a plus.

They do not offer any special education services.  Since the start of sixth grade this year, Jack has refused to attend school.  Tutoring is required, Jack missed four plus months of school.  We think in part due to the new demands exposing the ADHD and triggering anxiety.  And there is the ODD diagnosis.

Our public school would provide tutoring to get Jack back to grade level.  They have a behaviorist and therapeutic services.  The public school has larger class sizes and limited after school programming.  If we were to transition Jack mid-year, we still have to address the anxiety and school refusal.

Regardless of school …

Feasibility is a key consideration.  My older son has special needs and my husband travels full-time.  Without in-home support for Ben, taking Jack to after school appointments is challenging to say the least.

We will need to find a psychiatrist and a therapist who can help Jack work through his feelings around being adoptedWe also need to address his addiction to technology and defiant behavior.

Scenario Two:  Jack Goes to a Therapeutic Boarding School

Three potential therapeutic boarding schools meet our criteria per the wish list.  As I mentioned in my last post, the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs is a great resource for researching schools.  Before contacting each school, I develop a list of questions (yup, I love lists!).

For Jack, these are the questions I will ask each school.

  • Describe the profile of your typical kid.
  • What does the milieu look like today?
  • Describe your academic program.
  • Which accreditations do you maintain?
  • How do you determine the therapeutic approach for each child?
  • Describe your approach to behavior modification.
  • How do you track and report progress?
  • What does parent and family involvement look like?
  • What is the average tenure and credentials of the staff?
  • Why do staff typical leave?
  • What is the average length of stay for a kid with a similar profile as Jack?
  • What role does technology play on a day-to-day basis for the kids?
  • Describe your approach to diet and exercise.
  • For those kids who are unsuccessful at your program, what are some of the contributing factors?
  • What differentiates your program from the others?
  • More than likely we will not be receiving financial support from our district, what is your tuition for private pay families?

Important to share, when we went through this process for Jack’s older brother, we asked questions to gauge tolerance for disruptive behavior and physical outbursts. 

Now that I have my questions, it’s time to call each school.  I call the admissions folks and ask to schedule at least an hour to chat.  I also share with them that I have a list of questions and ask if they would like to see them prior to speaking.

If I like what I hear, then I ask to speak with other families … Two to three current families, two to three families of recent grads, and two to three families of kids who graduated at least a year a ago.  I typically do not contact everyone; however, I find it telling if a school readily provides references or if they  hesitate.

Once I find a school we like, I schedule a tour. I ask to speak with teachers, therapists, and staff.  Finally, I love spending time with some of the students without staff present.  This is always fun and time to get the student’s perspective on the school.  It is a big red flag if schools don’t let me spend some time with a student or two.

One last thought, even if you hire an education consultant, it is still important to get your ducks in a row and ask prepared questions.  Know what your child needs, consider your needs, come up with a “wish list”, and develop questions.  Do your homework.

Parents know their kids best and are the final decision makers. 

So … I am off to visit a therapeutic boarding school, yikes!  My final post in this series will share our decision and immediate next steps.











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