Sending a struggling child or young adult away to a program is a wrenching experience for the entire family. For the young person, the shock of the parents' decision and subsequent physical displacement is often the first step in taking responsibility for choices they made prior to the placement.
However for the parent, the days, weeks and sometimes months after the child leaves the home are often times of mental and emotional turmoil. For many parents, sending their child to professionals for specific assistance in regaining their health and happiness is tantamount to "Giving my child up for other people to parent."
Even if the eventual decision to send their child away is facilitated by coaching and a determining Home Contract, (see previous essay, The Problem Child At Home: Coaching For Logic In An Emotional Environment) the parent may react to the actual event with guilt, fear, distrust, doubt, anger, regret and generalized anxiety. Too often these feelings are projected onto the program and its staff.
Most programs make an earnest attempt to maintain communication with parents, not only for child updates, but also in recognition of the parents' vital role in a successful outcome. It is often a full-time job to communicate with, support and educate fearful, mistrusting or guilt-ridden parents. For smaller programs, and/or those maintaining low direct-care staff to student ratios, this support of the needy parent may prove nearly impossible. In addition, the program's attention is by definition, focused on delivering a beneficial experience for the student.
Unfortunately, the result of this conflict between the program and the parents' needs often leads to negative results for all involved. For the program, anxious, unhappy parents results in dissatisfied clients, negative word-of-mouth, high attrition and friction between staff and admissions personnel. For the student, parents not fully onboard with their program become an easy target for manipulation and "button-pushing," which leads to premature cessation of their learning and growing experience. And for parents, an inability or unwillingness to learn and grow with their child while supporting his or her work in the program, guarantees a negative return on their substantial investment of time, money and heartache.
In an effort to maximize their service to families, a growing number of programs are now referring some or all of their clients to parent and family coaches for additional support and education. The program as well as the family gain important benefits and insights when employing a skilled parent coach.
Parent coaching benefits for the parent:
An additional resource and support for their journey.
"Third party" objectivity.
Individualized, personal attention.
Education for parenting all of their children.
Parent coaching benefits for the program:
An additional resource for the parent program.
A partner for assisting anxious and needy parents.
A vehicle for extending program effectiveness into the home.
A proven method for reducing attrition.
Parent coaching benefits for the student:
Parents willing to change and grow.
Integration of the student's experience into the family.
Family understanding and appreciation of the student's work.
A new milieu for the return home.
However, parent coaching should not be confused with family therapy. While together they make an effective team working toward the goal of reuniting healthy families, the two disciplines have different methodologies.
The therapist's job is to uncover and bring healing to the family's dysfunctional dynamics. Much of the therapist's focus is on what has not worked. By contrast, the parent/family coach focuses on maximizing the child's program experience by developing and building upon the family's innate strengths and willingness to undertake positive change. This is accomplished largely through educating and encouraging parents while also holding them accountable for their role in their child's outcome.
A key component of this process is what we call "triangulating the program experience." Helping parents to better understand the child's process often requires them to separate their needs from the child's. The parent coach is there to provide an ally, confidant and partner (in short, a coach) for parents as they explore ways to apply what the child is learning to themselves and their other relationships.
The parent coach can provide valuable insights to the program staff that are working with the child. For most direct-care staff, their view of the parent/child dynamic is limited to what they hear from the student. A program savvy coach in communication with both parent and program can mitigate the need for the oft-repeated pledge to parents at conference time, "We won't believe half of what they tell us about you if you don't believe half of what they tell you about us."
Finally, the parent coach is ultimately the child's leading advocate. By encouraging parent growth, learning, and support of the program's methodologies, parent coaches extend the program's philosophical reach into the family. The adolescent or young adult becomes the beneficiary of a unique partnership of adults dedicated to their healthy future.
Next essay: Transition Coaching: A Key To Success.