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Posted: Jun 29, 2005 15:27


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By: Lon Woodbury

(If you have placed your child in a special needs residential program, or have attended one, we would appreciate you going to, filling out the survey and submitting it to us. As we receive more surveys, we will update these results)

For several years, we have collected surveys from parents who placed their children in private, parent-choice special needs residential programs, and the students who attended these schools and programs. It has been some time since our last report, so here are the updated results.

So far, we have received 374 surveys, all of whom provided to us their full names and addresses to ensure the survey was from a real person, and we promised them we would maintain their anonymity. Some of the collated answers below will not total 374 because some questions were not answered on some surveys. Some included two or more responses to specific questions and the percentages sometimes do not total 100 percent for similar reasons. Although this is not a scientifically selected sample, nor a very large sample considering the thousands of children who have been in residential placement, we feel these results can provide important clues as to what parents and ex-students think of their experience with residential placement. We hope to receive many more responses in the future which will make the results more valid, and might be the basis for more serious research.

The last question in the survey is the key to evaluating the responses, where it asks the respondent to rate their overall experience with their specific program on a scale of 0 to 5. A rating of 0 indicates the respondent felt the school or program had a Negative Effect, a rating of 1 indicated they thought the program had No Positive Effect, while 2 stood for A Little Helpful, 3 for Helpful, 4 for Very Helpful, and 5 rated the school or program as being Very Effective and Appropriate.

The overall average of all surveys was 3.69, indicating that the overall average satisfaction of all the respondents was more than Helpful, and a little less than Very Helpful. The respondents were mostly female with 289 women (78 percent and mostly mothers) with an average rating of 3.62, and 83 Men ((22 percent and mostly fathers) with an average rating of 3.93. This suggests men have been slightly more satisfied than women. Along a similar vein, regarding the sex of the child placed, the respondents indicated 153 girls placed (44 percent) with an average score of 3.59, and 198 boys placed (56 percent) with a score of 3.71. This would suggest the boys have a slightly greater satisfaction with placement than girls.

Looking at the numbers of the different rating scores, there were 43 respondents (11 percent) giving the lowest rating of 0, indicating a harmful experience, while 199 (53 percent) gave the highest rating of 5. There were 88 (24 percent) giving a rating of 0, 1 or 2, the bottom half of the choices, and 283 (76 percent) giving a rating of 3, 4 or 5, the top half of the choices.

At the time each respondent filled out the survey, the comparison of the student's status was very revealing. One hundred (27 percent) indicated the student was still attending with an average rating of 4.57, indicating more than Very Helpful at the time. This makes sense because the student’s potential of successfully completing the program, and being very involved in the program, would foster considerable optimism. The 172 (47 percent) that had graduated had an average rating of 4.20, solidly indicating Very Helpful but somewhat down from the optimism indicated during placement. The 96 (26 percent) who had left early had an average rating of 1.91, a bit less than A Little Helpful. These respondents include many that blamed the program for the student’s failure, and felt the program was not competent and/or honest, but also some expressed sadness that the program did not “take” for their child. Although this might indicate the existence of “bad” programs that the parents had saved their child from, it might also indicate that a major cause in parental dissatisfaction stems from allowing the child to withdraw early.

One group of interesting responses were from the 38 ex-students/patients who gave an average rating of 3.45, more than Helpful, but somewhat less than Very Helpful. Although a few of these were very negative about their experience, the overall positive rating average does suggest there are a lot of ex-students who feel they benefited from their placement experience.

The average ratings for the various types of programs vary considerably. Highest average ratings were for wilderness programs, with 12 surveys for long-term programs receiving an average rating of 4.58, and 76 surveys of short-term wilderness programs at 4.01. The lowest were the 2 military programs at 2.5, 9 regular schools used as transition at 2.67 and 19 Group Home/Family Living programs rating at 2.67, 23 Therapeutic Boarding Schools at 3.05, and 10 Religious programs at 3.2. Others being above the overall average of 3.69 for all respondents were 39 responses for Behavioral Modification programs at 3.74, 106 Emotional Growth/Highly Structured at 3.75, 56 RTC/Psychiatric at 3.82, 6 for Over 18 at 3.83, and 7 Drug Treatment at 4.0.

The numbers for identified referral sources for the placements were 75 from Woodbury Reports averaged at 3.86, 103 from Educational Consultants at 3.85, 6 from Magazine ads at 3.83, 63 referred by parents or word-of-mouth at 3.8, 33 from Local Child Care Professionals at 3.79, 32 from parent research at 3.63, 26 from the Internet at 3.62, and the 26 who were referred by other programs rated an average of 3.34.

These results are interesting, and provide some clues as to what parents and students might be thinking regarding their experience with a residential special needs program. None of these results are conclusive of course, and these results need to be taken for what they are worth, as very tentative. However, the more survey responses we receive, the more helpful the results will be. I hope this report will encourage many more responses. We will publish another update when we have received more surveys.

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