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Opinion & Essays - Feb, 1994 Issue #26 

TWELVE STEPS TO IDENTIFY SAFE AND EFFECTIVE
WILDERNESS TREATMENT PROGRAMS 

by: Larry Wells
Monticello, Utah
801-587-2167

(Larry Wells was the founder and director of the successful Wilderness Conquest, as well as involved with running wilderness programs for more than 20 years. Although Larry closed down Wilderness Conquest for reasons of health, he is still active and shares here his observations as to how parents can find the best program for their child, and protect themselves from inappropriate and unsafe programs. This is a shortened version of his full article.) 

In over 20 years with the wilderness based treatment industry, I have found the following items helpful: 

1. LICENSING. Are they licensed with the appropriate state and local agencies? Ask that their license from State Health and Welfare, Mental Health, or Human Services be included in your packet. Get the name and phone number of the person in charge of that licensing, then call. Ask the licensing agent pointed questions:

a. Have there been any complaints or charges against the company or any of the owners? 
b. Have they had any deaths? 
c. When were they first licensed and what does their license say they can do? 
d. Who are the owners? What is their background? 
e. Do you feel the program is effective and if so, with what type of client? 
f. Are criminal record checks completed on staff as part of the licensing? 
g. Would you send your child to their organization? 

2. COST, FINANCING, AND INSURANCE. Make sure you know the price and what that price includes, (i.e. clothing, equipment, supplies, transportation to and from the field, and will it cover medical or AWOL emergencies later on). Require a written contract and make sure you understand it. If a program states they are JACHO or insurance approved ask for a copy of the certification and call the issuing agency for verification. Liability insurance should be carried by all programs. Ask if they have [or need] a land use permit? 

3. REFERENCES. Ask for references (i.e. clients, parents, counselors, teachers, agencies, principals, probation officers, doctors, etc.). A good reference list should include both parents and adolescents from 30 days to several years after completion of the program. 

4. CLIENT REFERENCE. Ask the adolescent (client) [pointed] questions: 
a. Has the program helped them? 
b. Did the program help family members?
c. How did the staff treat them? 
d. What would they change in the program if they could? 
e. What have they done for follow up since going home? 
f. Did they want to go to the program, and are they glad they went? 
g. Ask if the client was escorted to the program. How a program handles a child needing to be escorted to the program is very indicative of their overall philosophy. Note: Part of what you are assessing is the adolescent's honesty and ability to communicate openly, a crucial factor in long term recovery. 

5. PARENT REFERENCES. Ask the parents the following questions: 
a. Did the program help them and their family (or client)? 
b. Did the program keep them informed. 
c. Did counselors they talked with appear to actually know their child? 
d. Did the program deliver what they promised? 
e. How do they feel the client/family member is doing now? 
f. Were there weaknesses in the program and if so where? 
g. What were the strong points? 
h. What were their child's problems before they entered the program? 
i. What type of child do they feel the program works best with? 
j. Are they glad they participated in the program? 

6. ADMITTANCE CRITERIA. Ask for a copy of the program's admittance criteria. Check to see if their admittance criteria fits your child. 

7. TREATMENT PHILOSOPHY & MODEL. Ask for a copy of the program's treatment philosophy and modality. Does it fit your personal values and philosophy? 

8. FOLLOW UP. What do they provide for follow up. There are no quick fixes or magic. 

9. STAFF MANUAL. Do they have a policy and procedures staff manual? Have them send you the pages covering emergency procedures and evacuation and/or any areas where you may have concerns. If possible, talk to a field staff member about their qualifications and see if it fits policy and procedures. 

10. RADIOS. Do they have VHF or UHF radios? CB's are unacceptable. 

11. ADMINISTRATION. Is the salesperson knowledgeable or just telling you whatever you want to hear? Ask to talk to the person you will be working with after your child enters the program. Do they seem honest and open? Ask about School credit. If they state the client can earn school credit ask pointed questions. 

12. If they refuse you any of the above information no matter what their reason, go on to another program! You are not only checking to provide a safe, caring, effective treatment, but you are making sure a troubled child is not hurt and damaged more as has unfortunately happened in some programs. 

Copyright 1994, 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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