GOING THE EXTRA MILE
Posted: Jan 20, 2009, 20:36
By Bill Valentine PsyD, CC
"We never give up on a child." "Failure is not an option." "Providing second chances." "Going the extra mile."
Over the years many parent-choice residential schools and programs have used a number of catch phrases to assure anxious parents that special needs children at their program will not be lost in a homogenizing, "mainstream" culture. The memorable slogans are interpreted by emotionally and financially stressed parents as meaning that while their child may have been summarily expelled from previous schools, this school or program is especially skilled at working with difficult children and will not easily quit on a tough kid. And indeed, a lot of obstinate, oppositional teens and young adults have met their match in the skilled, patient adults who make up the line staff in many schools and programs.
However, there are those young people who can't, or won't, even minimally comply with the behavioral requirements of a non-locked facility. Usually, these kids have been given multiple consequences and equal chances to make more positive choices. Then, the call that every parent dreads comes: "We're afraid you are going to have to come and pick Junior up. He has become too difficult to control and a major distraction to the rest of the kids in the program. We are really sorry, Mrs. Jones, but we have to think about what's best for the program." For the parent who has been desperately hoping and trusting that this time the magic would work, that call leaves her feeling like a drowning person watching the rescue craft steaming away into the distance.
The unfortunate reality, especially for positive peer-based cultures, is that the greater good must take precedence over any individual child or family. However, the school or program truly committed to providing every opportunity for eventual success to its students and their families can still maximize those opportunities while, not incidentally, doing all they can to leave behind a degree of customer good will.
As it becomes clearer that they are dealing with a particularly difficult young person, the school or program must be proactive in sharing this information with the parent. Too often programs are hesitant to disappoint or appear to be reneging on enrollment promises, and therefore keep the "bad news" from parents until the decision to expel is imminent.
If an educational consultant has not been involved, the program can recommend that the parents engage one and provide several names of IECA members. If an educational consultant or other professional was responsible for the initial referral, that individual needs to be brought into the loop as soon as the first "alert" is sounded. A credentialed parent coach should also be recommended as an additional resource and strong support for an often confused, grieving parent.
By proactively communicating with the parent, and engaging other professionals early on, the program can help to ease a desperate situation while demonstrating its concern for the family's and student's eventual outcome.
Finally, and this is easily overlooked as the school goes back to its regular schedule after a dismissal, a staff member known to the parent should follow up with a call within the first month post departure. Again, just knowing that they are not forgotten and that the school really does care about them and their family's well being can go a long way toward comforting and creating good will with former clients.
The above has focused on the child and family forced to leave a school or program due to behavioral issues. However, in our work as parent coaches, we are seeing more parents having to remove their students from residential schools and programs due to financial issues. I suspect as the economy worsens, as most economists are gloomily predicting, we will see growing numbers of young people who will be facing the prospect of returning home before fully benefitting from the experience of completing a long-term program.
In some ways, the family that has a young person returning home prematurely faces more challenges than the family that must send their dismissed student to another program that is more equipped to deal with extreme behavioral dysfunction. In the former instance, neither parent nor child has received all the tools needed to successfully transition from a protective, learning environment to the freedom and uncertainty of the "real world."
A school or program has an important role to play in the eventual success of any transition. A program can demonstrate a high level of professional responsibility, first by suggesting transitional, on-going parent and family coaching and, if indicated, individual and family therapy. After the family's departure a follow-up call or two to the home can complete the "hand-off." Again, this is enlightened self-interest. Even a disappointed family can be a positive referral source if they feel they have been fairly treated and cared for.
Placing one's child in a residential school or program is a difficult, often highly emotionally charged experience, perhaps only surpassed by seeing one's hopes and dreams dashed by early departure from the protective embrace of caring professionals. We, as caring professionals, owe it to our clients and customers to go the extra mile.