The Stetson School is a residential treatment facility that specializes in the treatment of children and adolescents with sexual behavior problems. Located in rural Barre, Massachusetts, Stetson works with boys who range in age from 9 to 18 years, each of whom has a history of sexually inappropriate behavior, which may include sexual offending against others, overly compulsive sexual behavior or addiction to pornography, including internet pornography. About half of the boys at Stetson have been adjudicated as juvenile sexual offenders; although I was also told that the non-adjudicated residents do not differ significantly from the adjudicated. Because of the nature of their unique problems, the vast majority of Stetson residents are publicly funded.
In addition to having significant sexual issues, students at Stetson may also have a wide range of other behavioral or psychiatric problems including anxiety, depression, defiance to authority, drug or alcohol use, ADHD, mild learning disabilities, etc. However, the program is not set up to deal with serious substance abuse, nor will Stetson accept a youth who has a history of violence, as it is not a locked facility. Any boy accepted to Stetson must have sexually inappropriate behavior as his major problem.
Stetson is located in a lovely, rather isolated area in Western Massachusetts. The buildings and the campus are attractive and well maintained. There are a number of separate dorm buildings, and all dorm rooms are singles, as are all bathrooms; there is 24-hour awake staffing.
Residents are responsible for some household chores such as their own laundry, but all meals are provided in a central cafeteria.
There are about 115 boys living on the campus in the separate dorms, with the program broken up into a few smaller sub-programs. For example, there are separate programs for younger boys (9 to 13) and boys with lower intellectual functioning (IQ below 80 but above 55). The school also has transitional services for older residents who are preparing to return to their communities.
Although I did not have a chance to talk with or directly interact with any of Stetson's students, I did observe a number of them playing a game of pick-up touch football with a residential counselor. They were a diverse, healthy looking group of teenagers who were clearly comfortable in their surroundings. They appeared to be serious about the game and certainly enjoying it.
I did spend a good deal of time with the Stetson leadership team, which included the educational director, the residential director and an admissions counselor. Also at this meeting, and taking a leadership role there, were the program director, Allan Ouimet, who has been at Stetson for six years, and the clinical director, Dr. Philip Rich, a psychologist who, having been at Stetson for ten years, has published a number of books on the psychological treatment of sexually inappropriate boys.
Dr. Rich explained that the treatment approach at Stetson is very individualized. It utilizes a relationship-based approach that combines psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral methods. There is at least one clinician assigned to each of the school's sub-units, which allows for increased integration of the residential, educational and clinical services. Certain specialized treatment techniques, developed for use with sexually inappropriate individuals and generally endorsed by specialists in the field (such as the offense cycle or the polygraph), are employed on an as-needed basis.
The major focus, however, appears to be on providing thoughtful treatment for the whole child, including the sexually inappropriate behavior, not solely the sexual behavior problem. In addition to individual psychotherapy, residents participate in a variety of groups, art therapy, recreation therapy and family therapy, often via telephone. Family visits to the school and resident visits to home are encouraged, though maintaining safety is the key to all visit planning.
The academic program at the Stetson School follows the MA state curriculum, and the on-grounds school is state accredited. The school, which follows a 12-month schedule, has separate programs for the older boys and the younger boys. In addition to their academic classes, Stetson boys have access to a full gymnasium, an exercise room, a ropes course, an indoor swimming pool, and a woodshop.
Stetson has a group care program license from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Nursing coverage is provided from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm, and after hours the nurse is on-call. The campus is handicap accessible.
About the author:
Stephen Migden, Ph.D., ABPP is a licensed psychologist and educational consultant who specializes in the needs of adolescents and young adults with learning, developmental or behavioral problems. He is the East Coast Liaison for Woodbury Reports. His office is located in Roslyn Heights, NY, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.psychologicalandeducationalservices.com.