Dec 29, 2008, 09:08

By: Lon Woodbury

The name of the month of January evolved from the name of the god Janus, the Roman god of "gates and doorways." As commonly used in our culture, it marks a New Year's custom of reflecting on the past and making resolutions for the future. Thus this first issue of 2009 is a perfect time to re-state what we at Woodbury Reports Inc. are trying to accomplish.

First, I need to make a couple of comments of what we are not! Although some view us primarily as a source of information about residential treatment programs for troubled teens, this is too narrow a definition and misses our most important goal. Likewise the comments that we are a compendium of residential therapeutic programs for adolescents also miss the mark. Although our print and online publications can be helpful for these purposes, these are secondary benefits that evolve out of our primary purpose.

Parent Empowerment is our primary purpose. We seek to help parents when they have a child making poor, self-destructive decisions. We do this by providing them all the information, support and tools possible so parents can make informed and appropriate decisions regarding intervention for their struggling child. Many of the programs we describe are very therapeutic oriented like hospitals and Residential Treatment Centers, but we also include boarding schools with minimal therapy and a high degree of structure (commonly called emotional growth schools), faith based schools and programs, and home based programs. Although many are residential, there are an increasing number of resources that are home based where professionals are hired by the parents to work with the child and family in their own home and community.

Parent-choice is the first criteria for inclusion in our directory, and to be described in our online and print newsletter. To be included and described in our publications, the parents must be able to make the enrollment decision. Most programs for adolescents look to referrals from courts, law enforcement, psychiatrists or some other authority or professional, and parent involvement is optional. We work only with those programs that accept the parents as key decision makers in choosing what program in which to enroll their child.

The other important criteria for inclusion is that the programs are private as opposed to being public programs. A private program is more conducive to parent choice for several reasons. The main reason is that a private program oriented toward parent choice survives so long as it can satisfy the child's parents--the ultimate deciders who usually know more about what their child needs than anyone else. A public program has radically different dynamics. For a public funded program to survive, it must keep legislators and public administrators happy. Parent unhappiness seems to be incidental. Two extreme instances that happened about the same time period in the last few years illustrate this difference.

On one hand, a private therapeutic boarding school had five parents complain, to the extent they filed a law suit against the school. Eventually the case was settled out of court without any culpability proven against the school, but the resulting publicity and attention by state licensing agencies was devastating to the school. The school survived, but with considerable loss.

In about the same time period a public funded Florida boot camp had 182 complaints filed against it by parents and ex-inmates (Lawsuits against a public agency are usually thrown out because the legislature has given them immunity). Out of all these complaints, nothing significant happened, , the program continued using the same harsh boot camp methods. It was only when the 183rd incident was caught on camera and showed a beating that likely caused a juvenile's death that the outrage finally got some serious reaction. Even then, the program was not closed until several legislators, state administrators and the media got heavily involved. It was obvious that the parents of the juvenile inmates were powerless to have any influence. This is a glaring contrast to it only taking five complaints describing much less egregious conduct than complaints against the boot camp to have an impact on the private program.

I think that many parents, and many professionals who work with at-risk teens, usually understand and agree with the above comparison, that too many public programs are underfunded, dangerous and ineffective. As a consequence, an increasing percentage of parents with children making poor decisions are willing to do anything they can to find a better alternative for their child. This leads more and more parents to consider private placement, even if it places the parents in debt for years.

This makes me optimistic for our network of private parent-choice schools and programs in the coming year. Even though the private parent-choice option is more difficult financially for parents, it is balanced out by an increasing percentage of parents wanting to bypass relying on professionals to take care of the problem for them. We empower parents to take action and responsibility on their own.

Should anyone want to discuss this issue further with me, you are welcome to visit my blog at

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