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Posted: Sep 6, 2007 19:19


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By: Lon Woodbury

This will be the first issue of this newsletter that has a specific theme. However, the topic of what is workable and ethical in our practice in relationships between referring consultants and schools and programs has been receiving considerable attention over the last few years, so deserves expanded treatment.

We hope to encourage a full discussion of ethics in our industry, and are starting with several statements from within the industry of private parent-choice schools and programs and those professionals who work with these schools and programs. I encourage those who want to add their comments to please send them on to us. We will at least put them on line, and space allowing, in the print edition as well.

In any professional relationship, there is always the question of where to draw the line in what is appropriate and what is inappropriate in regard to professional relationships. The extreme on one side would have referring consultants with almost no contact with schools and programs outside making specific referrals. This could be because almost any other contact could be perceived as potentially a conflict of interest. Even a personal friendship between a consultant and a school or program staff could be plausibly claimed that a referral to that school or program could be based on personal friendship instead of what is best for the child and family. This extreme perspective would be unworkable because the consultant would be working in a vacuum with no or little knowledge of schools and programs outside of formal written materials and reports.

The other extreme could be called "anything goes." Nothing is inappropriate if it brings in business. This could be paying money for each referral that enrolls, making promises to parents that the program or consultant cannot keep, referring to a program the consultant has an undisclosed financial interest in, schools or programs hiring marketing people but encouraging them to advertise themselves as independent consultants, or selling parent names from a web site to the highest bidder among referral sources. Unfortunately, although each of these techniques have for years been soundly condemned by the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP), they have become more and more common among programs and referral sources who do not associate with either of these professional associations. We have written extensively about these activities in this newsletter (For some examples see: Beware Non-Professional Advice, Full Disclosure, Transparency, Secrets, But I Found It On The Internet, Ethics Matter!, Do You Own Your Own Name-Part II, and Do You Own Your Own Name?). In my opinion, the expanding proliferation of these practices is the most serious threat to establishing ethical standards. If someone cheats and is not held accountable, then that person gains at least a short term advantage.

Where you draw the line in these professional relationships depends on a balance between two elements. On the one hand, to best serve the children and their parents there must be considerable formal and informal contact between consultants and programs. It is through extensive contact that consultants can gain the intimate knowledge of programs in order to make appropriate referrals. On the other hand, these contacts cannot be such that they either feed or appear to feed self-serving behavior to either or both parties such as secret agreements, understandings, or payment of any kind for favored treatment.

Professional bodies such as NATSAP, IECA, AMATS and OBHIC have wrestled with where to draw this line for years. Included in this issue are statements from these professional bodies defining how, after years of consideration, they have determined where to draw the line.

However, the discussion goes on, with the issue of ethics being revisited regularly, as it should be. In this issue of the newsletter, we have included a statement by David Ventimiglia, Ex. Dir. and Founder of Monarch Center for Family Healing in Georgetown Colorado. Ventimiglia is making the case that the line has been drawn by the professional bodies too loosely, and should be tightened.

We have tried in this issue to present a broad discussion of the issue, and welcome input from others as to where they think the line should be drawn. This will always be a sensitive issue because opinions are guaranteed to vary, and as situations change, ethics statements and where the line should be drawn might need to be changed to reflect changing circumstances. We welcome thoughts and suggestions from our readers.

As part of the ongoing discussion, it would be good to hear how other professions have drawn this line of how to conduct professional relationships between referrals and program services. How professionals have solved this problem, or failed to adequately solve it as the case may be, would be very helpful to see whether our current standards are too low or too high compared to other professions.


September 14, 2007

Awesome article. I look forward to reading more. Liz Gordon writes - "some educational consultants with no background in mental health or therapeutics are making placements for special needs youth without the appropriate experience."

Relations between Educational Consultants and industry programs and schools as well as associations and organizations are being closely examined once again. I would like to comment that some programs and schools admit children with problems beyond the scope of what their program can offer. The practice of profiting from failure seems to be growing so much that parents, referring professionals and some industry leaders are commenting that youth programs are becoming a "rip-off industry." In many cases a program will profit if they fail a child or a child has problems beyond the resources of a program. I absolutely agree with Liz about how a child's life is affected by the placement decision.

As I have said before, the ripple effect of us touching these lives will go beyond what we will ever know.

Part of what I feel Educational Consultants and programs need to be aware of in all their yearly updated training is the children of today are very different and they are not going to respond what worked just 10 years ago. We live much of our lives in an artificial world, a world of make believe. The parents of these children of the 21st Century have many of their own illusions because of how they are living as well. Our society encourages the constant daily viewing of artificial worlds in the form of the Internet, movies, video games, etc., and we call it entertainment!

Really it is an unhealthy illusion in many ways. Children are taught how to escape into their own world of this falsehood, and to be another person. Some of these video games and Internet sites help a person create an illusion of a person they wish they could be. Children are not taught to be their own true self, but rather many are taught to follow in the footsteps of others that may not even be real, thereby denying their own true self. We teach children to avoid drugs, yet they are at times drugged into submission for ADD, ADHD, Bipolar, Depression, etc.

We teach children to educate the mind, yet we fail to teach them or educate them about emotions. We teach children to love others, yet we are not teaching them to love themselves. Indeed these are the children of the 21st Century. I advise parents to be cautious and seek qualified consultation when they intend to enroll their child in a program that is likely to recommend one of their own programs as a next step instead of what may be in the best interest of the child. Some programs refer to their "family" of programs exclusively and make minimal effort to refer students to other programs that would be more appropriate. I advise parents to ask the program if they pay incentives to their staff when they make a successful referral to programs in their "family" of services. I advise parents to never sign a contract unless the contract states that the well-being of the child is paramount and that no contractual obligation supersedes that child's health and emotional well-being.


Dore E. Frances, M.A.
Horizon Family Solutions, LLC
Bend, OR

September 07, 2007

I have heard of programs paying for trips to Costa Rica, Santo Domingo, etc. for consultants who send them a certain number of kids. It is unethical for consultants to accept these extravagant offers. Also, some therapeutic programs are referring solely to one consultant either when they can't accept a referral or when a child needs another program following wilderness. Often times the consultants they are referring to do not live in the client's area so logistics is not the decision-maker.These consultants can rely on a stream of referrals from these certain programs. Lastly, and this has more to do with consultants than with programs, some educational consultants with no background in mental health or therapeutics are making placements for special needs youth without the appropriate experience. I think it is imperative that consultants pass some sort of special needs test before working with special needs palcements, especially when it is concerning mental health. I can't stress enough how a child's life is affected by the placement decision, and hopefully an accurate one.

Liz Gordon

September 06, 2007


I'm a professional working in the primary area of adolescent substance abuse, although I will admit to relishing working with various personality disorders and adult alcoholics. I do work closely on some cases with an educational consultant who specializes in placement. My charter, as stated to this particular educational consultant, is "to put you out of business; to ensure that you don't send one more child out of the family home." And this educational consultant supports my charter. You see, I am option A. I get a referral and my job is to work with the family to preclude placement. Alas, I am only successful about 25% of the time. When it is clear that stronger methods are necessary, I refer back (sometimes it is an initial referral) to the educational consultant. I then get out of the loop. I give them my data, they collect more and then Option B is usually enforced, which means the kid is sent generally to placement, usually via a wilderness program. At that point I recommend the parents continue counseling with me or another professional to increase their parents skills for when the kid returns. I get tons of literature from various placement organizations to visit, to call, etc. I don't because it is not my charter and I want to remain completely distinct from the placement organizations to which many of my Clients are referred. I believe in, and live with, a very distinct line so as to not bridge any ethical boundaries. This is difficult because I have become biased towards some wilderness programs and some therapeutic boarding schools because I get to witness the results when some of the kids return to me after placement. I still keep my mouth shut. My educational consultants leave me alone and don't attempt to prejudice my judgment in any way, shape or form and I attempt to give them the same courtesy. In my opinion, a distinct line between us is necessary to keep ethical standards.

In-Spirit (sometimes),

Michael Kelley, Ph.D., MFT
A Center for Hope
690 W. Fremont Avenue, Suite 6
Sunnyvale, CA 94087

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