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Opinion & Essays - Feb, 1992 Issue 

Why Special Purpose Schools?
By Lon Woodbury

When a parent has a child with emotional and/or behavior problems, most are aware of only three choices open to them. Parents can work within regular schools and local resources, the mental learning model, or they can choose some form of hospital, the cure model, or the child can be punished if he or she has broken the law, the correction model.

Regular schooling has a variety of approaches - Special Education tracks, public alternative schools, reading specialists, counseling, residential boarding schools, military schools, etc. These can help the child with mild behavior/emotional problems and who accepts the help. They fail with the vast numbers of children who are out of control, resistant to authority, and/or with more serious behavior problems.

The next choice parents are usually aware of is hospitalization. This includes adolescent psychiatric hospitals, residential treatment centers, drug rehabilitation programs, etc. There are many variations, but the commonality is the idea that these children are "sick," and need to be diagnosed and then cured.

The third option is state detention facilities. These operate under the idea that punishment will stop the wrong behavior. It is a choice that is usually imposed on the child by the court for serious law breaking.

There are a vast number of adolescents who are not helped by any of these three options. Schools cannot meet their special and individualized needs, juvenile detention might backfire by making them bitter and criminalize them, and hospitals overkill by attempting to cure a child that just needs to grow up emotionally.

For those adolescents who fit none of these standard solutions, a forth model is available, the Special Purpose School and Program approach. It is partly a mix of regular school approaches, and of therapy, but the emphasis is on structure more than anything else. For a child in one of these programs, the emphasis is in consequences which are swift, appropriate, and dependable. From this, the child can learn the consequences of his or her behavior, and learn values and behavior which can produce a successful life. The goal is to teach them the lessons they need in order to become fully mature and responsible adults. These programs vary in length, and in approach. Some emphasize the structure imposed by challenging the wilderness, others emphasize experiential education techniques, and others primarily utilize the structure of the work ethic. Some use all of the above.

Special Purpose Schools and Programs were developed to fill a need unmet by the three traditional options. These new programs work well with the child who is immature with behavior problems, but not as well with the psychologically damaged or violent child. The growth and popularity in the number of Special Purpose Schools and Programs prove that the need for the psychologically non-damaged child with emotional and/or behavior problems is beginning to be met. By the existence of these programs, professionals in the field of youth care have a fourth tool to use, once they understand that Special Purpose Schools and Programs are an expansion of opportunities, not a competition with regular schools or hospitals.

Robert L. Freedman
71 Barbara Road, Orinda, California 94563
(510) 253-9712

Copyright 1992, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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