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Posted: Feb 21, 2007 10:02


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By: Lon Woodbury

In some circles, there have been growing demands from critics insisting that private parent-choice schools and programs, both residential therapeutic and emotional growth boarding schools, be regulated through licensing. One stated presumption is there is no oversight over these programs because they are unlicensed and unregulated. There also seems to be the presumption that with oversight, these programs will stop the perceived abusive and punitive methods that are claimed common. Another presumption is that lack of government or any other type of oversight is the rule, and that responsible programs are the exception.

I've always wondered exactly what programs these critics have in mind. True, there are some rogue operators who manage to get away with it for a time, despite being roundly condemned by legitimate professionals in the field, including responsible Educational Consultants and programs. Many have eventually been shut down by the authorities or otherwise forced to close their doors. I am aware of some who have settled in foreign countries to avoid any kind of oversight. (This doesn't include those who conscientiously follow US standards even when they are not forced to by foreign governments.) There are others I am aware of who take kids as a type of group home and claim their business license or permit (or some equivalent) is all that is necessary. But in my experience, these are the exceptions, the bad apples that any industry is plagued with. Apparently the critics believe that these rogue operations are the norm, thus the terms "unlicensed and unregulated." In their view, since the industry is "unlicensed and unregulated," federal legislation creating federal oversight is a vital necessity.

To answer the accusation that this industry is "unlicensed and unregulated," I went to the list of the top hundred schools and programs as viewed by the leading Independent Educational Consultants. These are the schools and programs found in my Parent Empowerment Handbook™, and are based on an annual survey among the leading Independent Educational Consultants. The last edition was published in early summer last year. These schools and programs are the ones with the best reputations. They are presumably the most often used for placement by professional Independent Educational Consultants and are leaders in our network. These schools and programs are at the heart of the industry that is being accused of being "unlicensed and unregulated."

Below is a list of those schools and programs that are licensed and regulated. I didn't include those only under the umbrella of a state's Children's Protective Service, or equivalent, with a mandate to intervene if any child in their jurisdiction is abused, which is a form of regulation. I also didn't include those who are just accredited for their academics, but that is also a form of regulation which includes a legal mandate in at least most states to report abuse if ever observed. In addition, I didn't include those that only have active parent activities, since a steady stream of parents and Educational Consultants through a facility is in itself an informal form of oversight. Finally, I did not include those who just have credentialed staff who have a legal responsibility to report unacceptable behavior, and also those who are members of professional organizations which also would have an interest in stopping abusive behavior they might become aware of. I did include those who are accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), because this is a designation that is difficult to obtain, and in many ways is the gold standard for competency, effectiveness and professionalism in healthcare organizations. As a result, I took a fairly narrow view of the question of how many of the programs were regulated with state oversight. The list of 100 schools and programs includes many wilderness programs and therapeutic boarding schools, as well as many residential treatment centers and mainstream type schools who take students transitioning from more highly structured schools and programs. The following are the schools and programs, as reported to us for the Handbook, from the 100 leaders in the private industry of residential parent-choice schools and programs, that have either some kind of state licensure or JCAHO accreditation, or both.

  • Adirondack Leadership Expeditions
           Permit from New York Department of Health

  • Anasazi Foundation
           JCAHO accredited, licensed by Arizona Department of Economic Security and Department of
           Human Services as a Behavioral Healthcare Provider.

  • Aspen Achievement Academy
           JCAHO accredited, licensed as an Outdoor Treatment Program by the Utah Department of
           Human Services

  • Aspen Ranch
           Licensed as a Residential Treatment Center in Utah

  • Boulder Creek Academy
           Licensed by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare

  • Catherine Freer
           JCAHO accredited, licensed as a Mental Health Program and an Alcohol and Drug Abuse
           Program by the State of Oregon

  • Center for Change
           JCAHO accredited

  • Chapel Haven
           Licensed by Connecticut

  • Copper Canyon Academy
           Arizona Behavioral Health Services licensed.

  • Explorations Home Base
           Licensed by Montana as a group home

  • Forest Heights Lodge
           JCAHO Accredited

  • Glenholme School
           Licensed by the Connecticut Department of Children and Families

  • Gray Wolf Ranch
           Licensed through Washington State Department of Health

  • Greenwood School
           Licensed by the State of Vermont

  • Hazelden Center For Youth & Families
           Licensed and accredited by JCAHO, and Minnesota Department of Health

  • Intermountain
           JCAHO and Montana State licensed

  • Island View
           Licensed by the Utah Division of Licensure and JCAHO

  • King George School
           Accredited by Vermont Department of Child and Family Services

  • The Learning Clinic
           Licensed by the State of Connecticut Department of Children & Families

  • Logan River Academy
           Licensed by the State of Utah Department of Human Services

  • Menninger Clinic
           JCAHO accredited and licensed by the Texas Department of Health

  • Mount Bachelor Academy
           Licensed by Oregon Department of Health and Human Services

  • New Dominion School of Virginia
           Licensed by the Commonwealth of Virginia with Interdepartmental Licensure and Certification

  • New Haven Female RTC
           Licensed by Utah as a Residential Treatment Center and as an Addiction Treatment Center

  • New Leaf Academy
           Licensed by the State of Oregon

  • Northwest Academy
           Licensed as a "Children's Residential Care Facility" in Idaho

  • Provo Canyon School
           JCAHO accredited, licensed by Utah Department of Human Services

  • Remuda Ranch Programs
           JCAHO accredited, licensed by the State of Arizona

  • Redcliff Ascent
           Licensed by the State of Utah

  • Riverview School
           Licensed by Massachusetts Office of Child Care Services

  • Rogers Memorial Hospital
           JCAHO accredited, licensed by Wisconsin as Psychiatric Hospital

  • San Cristobal Ranch Academy
           Licensed in New Mexico as a Pharmaceutical Custodial Care Facility

  • Sierra Tucson
           JCAHO accredited

  • Spring Ridge Academy
           Licensed by the Arizona Department of Behavioral Health

  • Spruce Mountain Inn
           Licensed in Vermont as a Therapeutic Community Residence

  • Summit Achievement
           Licensed as a Residential Treatment Center in Maine, with Mental Health and Substance
           Abuse Treatment certifications

  • SUWS Adolescent Program
           Licensed in Idaho

  • SUWS Youth Program
           Licensed in Idaho

  • SUWS of the Carolinas
           Licensed in North Carolina

  • Three Springs of Duck River
           Licensed Residential Child Care Facility in Tennessee

  • Three Springs - Paint Rock Valley
           Licensed as an Outdoor Treatment Center by the Alabama Department of Youth Services

  • Valley View School
           Licensed as Treatment Facility in Massachusetts

  • Villa Santa Maria
           Licensed by New Mexico to provide Residential Treatment

  • Vista Adolescent Treatment Centers
           JCAHO accredited, licensed by the Utah Department of Human Services

  • Wilderness Quest
           JCAHO accredited, Licensed by the Utah Department of Human Services

Out of the 100 leaders in the industry of private, parent-choice, therapeutic and emotional growth schools and programs, about half (45) have some kind of state licensure and/or JCAHO accreditation. Actually, the percentage would be higher because some of the leading programs are in Montana, which does not yet have comprehensive licensure but is developing it with the cooperation and help from these schools. The percentage would also be higher if we excluded those that are included in the top 100 who are primarily mainstream boarding schools, that just take graduates of more highly structured programs as a transition and make no claim to be therapeutic, thus not needing licensure.

So, where are these "unlicensed and unregulated" schools and programs we hear accusations about? Certainly not with the schools and programs we at Woodbury Reports and other professional Independent Educational Consultants primarily work with.


February 21, 2007


Thank you for the excellent article. This is the kind of factual information we need to counter the criticism.


Christopher Mays,
Executive Director
Summit Achievement

February 23, 2007

Very informative article, but I disagree. I do not believe that a licensed program necessarily equals a good program. A license shows adequate facilities, adequate educational standards, and qualified staff. All theses standards do no necessarily add up to quality care. A licensing board is not present during normal day to day activities, and can provide no accountability after licensing. As a "critic" that Lon mentions, I don't believe that licensing is a solution to industry problems.


A legitimate point, but that wasn't the purpose of my essay. I was focusing on the claim that these were "unlicensed and unregulated" schools and programs and trying to point out that this accusation is only a sound bite with little factual basis. The question if they are "good" is a whole different discussion.

Lon Woodbury IECA
Certified Educational Planner
Bonners Ferry, Idaho

February 23, 2007

The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (“NATSAP”) has completed its 2007 Annual Renewal of membership. We are pleased to announce that

76.3% of our members that serve children and adolescents are licensed. Ten unlicensed programs are based in Montana and these members are actively working with the Montana legislature on licensure and regulation in that state.

30% of these programs serving children and adolescents are accredited by the Association of Experiential Education, Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, Council on Accreditation or Joint Commission (JCAHO).

69.2% are accredited by an academic accreditation agency

Our members continue to work with their state to ensure appropriate legislation and regulation is in place.

Jan Moss
Executive Director
National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs

March 1, 2007

I wanted to say thank you for writing this article.

I also applaud you for mentioning how difficult it is to obtain the JCAHO accreditation. As a company owner I felt that becoming accredited by an accreditation organization was extremely important for the overall quality assurance of our program. Although we are not accredited by JCAHO, we are accredited by CARF Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities which is also internationally recognized and very hard to obtain and retain. Being a small business, I was wondering if the benefits would outweigh the costs (it is expensive and takes a lot of time and dedication). Since our accreditation in 2004, I have found that becoming CARF accredited has had more benefits than what I expected. We have implemented an extensive outcomes management plan, avenues for improved quality assurance and the discipline of reviewing the overall company quarterly and yearly which has assisted us in maintaining a high level of service.

In conclusion, I appreciate you keeping this topic and this discussion going.

Jacqueline Danforth
Executive Director
New Horizons for Young Women

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