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Opinion & Essays - Aug, 1995 Issue #35 

THE STRUCTURE SPECTRUM
(A tool for matching children with the right program)
by: Lon Woodbury
Adapted from the author's article appearing in Sober Times, May 1995 

So your child needs something more! Once again, you have to go through the pain and confusion of making a major decision that not only will impact the rest of your child's life, but can have an influence on the life of everyone around the child. 

The variables inherent in this process can be overwhelming. The trick is to find a school or program which provides a quality and professional experience, and fits the needs of your child. This is complicated by the fact that most programs look good at first glance, at least in their brochure, and most will say they think they can provide exactly the experience your child needs. Just as children's needs vary widely, so does the structure offered by schools and programs vary widely. Making the right match often is crucial for success. Overkill can be just as much of a disaster as underkill. 

One of the most helpful tools I use in matching children to the appropriate school or program is to evaluate each school and program on a continuum based on intensity of structure. On this structure spectrum, a long term, secure, psychiatric based program would be at one extreme, while living at home while participating in counseling or a day program would be at the other end. This is a subjective evaluation of course, and is based on my eleven years experience with emotional growth schools and their students, and from on- going feedback provided by professionals who have placed children in various schools and programs. With this concept, it first must be determined how tight a structure a child needs, based largely on his/her response to other interventions. The next step requires looking among those schools and programs which provide that level of structure, and picking those which seem to best meet the other needs of your child. The following examples are just rough estimates, since many schools and programs have several levels of intensity. Also, some schools and programs are moving up and/or down the level of intensity in order to take advantage of market or insurance policy changes. 

Toward the higher end of the structure spectrum are schools and programs (length of at least six months) capable of handling serious psychiatric problems, while giving a quality experience of immediate consequences upon which the child can learn and internalize how to make better decisions (staying away from illegal drugs, self-discipline, trust, etc.). These are usually JCAHO approved, which requires the ability to handle serious emotional and mental problems. 

They include Provo Canyon School in Provo, Utah; Three Springs Treatment Programs with facilities in Alabama, Tennessee, and North Carolina; and Heritage Center in Provo, Utah. 

The next step down in the structure spectrum are programs that provide psychiatric care, but with more emphasis on structure. It is their contention that qualifying for JCAHO requires expensive psychiatric services that are not especially needed by the particular population they have chosen to serve. 

They claim this allows them to keep their tuition down, and they screen out those children who need the more intensive and more expensive services. 

Included in this level would be Cross Creek Manor in St. George, Utah for girls. Also moving up into this category would be the CEDU Family of Services, with seven schools clustered around Running Springs, California and Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Historically, CEDU would be considered lower on the spectrum, but by their adding psychiatrists and psychologists to expand their services to include this higher level of need, I place them at this level. Others would be Discovery Academy in Provo, Utah; Elan School in Poland Spring Maine (they do not have students on medication, but their structure for behavior is one of the tightest I know of); Forest Heights Lodge, Evergreen, Colorado; Grove School, Madison, Connecticut; Secret Harbor School, Anacortes, Washington; and Valley View School, North Brookfield, Massachusetts. 

The next step down in the structure spectrum are those schools and programs which are self-contained, and healing is primarily provided by an emotional growth curriculum, with an overlay of counseling and therapy as needed. The terms mentor or strong adult role model or teachers would often better describe the daily activities of the staff than the term counselors. 

This includes Cascade School*, Whitmore, California; Desisto School*, Stockbridge, Massachusetts; Faith Ranch, Uvalde, Texas; Flying H Youth Ranch, Naches, Washington; Hampshire Country School, Rindge, New Hampshire; Hidden Lake Academy, Dahlonega, Georgia; John Dewey Academy, Great Barrington, Massachusetts; Mission Mountain School, Condon, Montana; Mount Bachelor Academy, Bend, Oregon; New Dominion School, Eillwyn, Virginia; Sorenson Ranch School, Koosharem, Utah; and Teen Challenge of Wyoming, Sundance, Wyoming. 
[* indicates schools that have closed since this article was written]

The next step down in the structure spectrum are family-based programs with extensive student interaction with the local community, mostly through the students attending the local public school. They usually are in the group home or foster home model and the staff might or might not be licensed as therapists. These programs have established excellent reputations by successfully working with young people who need a safe, structured environment more than they need psychiatric care. 

These include Explorations, Trout Creek, Montana; Galena Ridge, Trout Creek, Montana; Indian Trails, Spokane, Washington; Loveland Farms School, Noxon, Montana; Royal Haven, Sisters, Oregon; Shamrock Educational Alternative, Newman Lake, Washington; Skyland Ranch, Gold Bar, Washington; and Tyler Ranch, Spokane, Washington. 

The next step on the spectrum would be residential boarding schools which follow the traditional school year, but have extra resources to effectively deal with students with learning differences or relatively mild behavior problems. 

Examples are Brush Ranch School, Santa Fe, New Mexico and St. Paul's Academy, Phoenix, Arizona. 

The next step down would be living in the family home, supplemented by counseling, and maybe a new school which might be a local day school equipped to deal with a child's individual problems. This might include military schools or boarding schools emphasizing a sense of community. 

The above mentioned schools are those contained in my Directory. Excluded for reasons of brevity are short term programs and those for young adults ages 18 and above, but the same structure spectrum would apply to them also. If anyone believes I have mis-categorized anyone, or has any questions, please give me a call. 

This article copyright 1995, 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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