Posted: Dec 23, 2008, 07:43
By Bill Valentine PsyD, CC
To paraphrase an old training sergeant of mine, fear has a way of sharpening your focus. Today, there is plenty to be afraid of: collapsing 401k accounts, major organization bankruptcies, mortgage foreclosures, downsizing, the Wall Street bailout, and on and on. For many parents of struggling teens and young adults, these harsh economic realities are making the difficult decision to place their child in an out-of-home school or program a near impossibility. It is incumbent upon all of us in the helping fields to assist our clients in exploring the most cost effective support for the dollars available.
Recently, we have been hearing from educational consultants, admissions people and parents themselves that, unfortunately, more than ever money is an object of considerable importance when trying to deal with an out-of-control child. Faced with the daunting prospect of a forty-day wilderness program followed by a year to twenty-four month therapeutic boarding school, parents are increasingly seeking options for maximum return on their considerable investment in money, time and emotion.
For a parent coach, exploring alternatives is a critical part of his service. Unlike much of family therapy, parent coaching is focused on the here and now and empowering clients to solve immediate, presenting problems. Referring consultants and their clients may want to explore the following alternatives.
In-home pre-placement coaching
For the parents whose child is displaying non-clinical, behavioral acting out, a certified coach who can work with them to frame clear rules and conditions, and then support them in the application of a Home Contract, is an affordable and often effective alternative to outside placement. For the more clinically challenging child, a combination of local individual and family therapy in conjunction with parent coaching can provide the kind of "wrap around" family support that may preclude more costly intervention.
An often overlooked benefit of pre-placement coaching is the greater parent commitment to a later placement. Even when the young person has been unable and/or unwilling to abide by the Home Contract, parents who have given their child this "final" opportunity will be far less likely to experience buyer's remorse when they send their child away.
Most programs have long since found a wilderness experience to be an effective pre-curser to their longer term treatment modalities. Indeed, many programs now require wilderness intervention before admission. And while we strongly support wilderness as preparation for the longer and deeper work of a therapeutic boarding school, the current reality is that some parents will not be able to afford the additional costs.
Here is where a parent coach, working in tandem with a local therapist, can help prepare the family for the child's transition home. In addition, an experienced coach, with the help of the program's field therapists, can support the young person's integration of newly learned skills and insights into the 'real' world of family, friends and school or work.
One of the more disheartening and sad experiences of our many years in therapeutic boarding schools was the early departure of students for other than behavioral reasons. It was our experience that the majority of students who left schools and programs before scheduled graduation did so due to parent decision. Exit surveys revealed a number of reasons parents gave for their decision to prematurely terminate their child's experience. Among them, but not predominate, was the lack of additional funding. It is our belief that as the economy stays the same, or worsens, finances will increasingly account for more early departures.
It is becoming more common for schools and programs, therapists and coaches to provide transitional preparation and support for graduating students. There is ample evidence that this 'after-care' is a critical determiner of post-program success for the student and family. However, we would argue that transitional coaching support for parents and students is even more crucial when the young person leaves her program before completion.
A coach who is working with an early departing student and his family can help overcome parental guilt and student apathy or feelings of failure. By facilitating clearly articulated family values, teaching communication skills and coaching all members through the creation and implementation of a Home Contract, the parent and family coach can help turn disappointment into success for the family, former student and program.