Nov 6, 2007, 10:10

PART II: Don't Feel Sorry For Montana Programs

By Larry Stednitz

Last month I wrote about the licensing issues in the state of Montana. This essay cuts to the very heart of the licensing issue.

I believe that all programs and schools need some form of licensing. Licensing in and of itself will not solve problems in programs, but standards are an organized way to continually improve a program's consistency of its own approaches. I also think that other important areas of concern should be addressed like, insurance, back ground checks, emergency procedures, etc. I also believe that all programs should develop some cost effective ways to complete outcome studies.

The state should impose certain standards like responsible levels of training, emergency procedures, back ground checks and the like. Beyond a number of these basic standards, the state should be provided by the programs many other areas of importance, namely clear enrollment requirements, models of care, appropriate levels of supervision, flexibility to continually improve the individual programs, outcome studies, and others. These suggestions should be determined in a collaborative manner with small and large programs alike.

Lately, there have been attacks upon the Parent Choice Schools and Programs. During the Woodbury "get together", the main topics were unethical methods of recruiting students over the Internet and issues of licensing. The picture painted is actually quite critical and frightening. If I didn't know better, I would question my own life's work! There are some problems in this field, but I seldom see them except for Internet activity I come across. I certainly think there are good programs and bad programs. Consultants let their "feet do the walking" and simply do not refer to the ones who do not live up to high standards. Montana is in the center stage of "cleaning up" the bad apples in their state and this effort is being closely watched nationwide. I wonder if the state of Montana's government agencies, the general Montana public, or for that matter, people all across the country realize what Montana programs have contributed to this important work.

As a consultant, I have lived and traveled extensively within the state of Montana as well as traveled to all other states. A simple visit to any number of programs in Montana would greatly open the eyes of any skeptic.

I first met Mary Alexine and Kenny Panell about ten years ago when I organized a conference in Montana, called "Beyond the Walls". Mary and Kenny had just started their program called Chrysalis located in Eureka, MT. Both were known as quality people who were accomplished in traditional, experiential and adventure therapies. I invited them to discuss their approaches to the attendees. I am fortunate to have two girls at Chrysalis now and the only complaint that I have ever heard about the program is that there is never any room! Chrysalis is known and respected all over the United States as one of the top small programs for girls within the United States and beyond.

Montana Academy was developed 10 years ago as well. Located outside of Kalispell, this program is owned and operated by some of the top clinicians in the state of Montana. The breadth and depth of the clinical and educational work at Montana Academy is impressive. Montana Academy is known across the country as one of the finest residential therapeutic schools in the United States. It is also difficult to get a child into Montana Academy. I have three families who are fortunate to have their son's enrolled in Montana Academy.

Monarch School, an emotional growth school with strong academics and an emphasis upon the arts, was founded in 2000, and quickly became the "darling" of the emotional growth schools across the country. They defined their student body early on, and work with bright and creative students who have not reached their potential. As all good schools, Monarch has stuck to its mission and families they have chosen to work with. As with the previous two programs, parents across the country work hard to get their child into Monarch.

Summit Preparatory, outside of Kalispell, also caters to intellectually average to above average boys and girls who are not reaching their potential. When I first visited Summit, I saw what I thought would represent the future of these types of programs. The physical plant and land was developed at a cost of seven million dollars and the result is a state of the art residential program for trouble kids. Summit is a not-for profit organization that makes every effort to provide a wide variety of treatments as well as extensive involvement in the Kalispell community.

Montana's Wilderness Treatment Center has been a national player in the treatment of substance abusers for many years. John Brekke, a national figure in wilderness programming, was the founder of WTC. One of the first wilderness programs in the country, WTC remains a respected and a nationally well known program.

Explorations has been the quintessential mom and pop program located in Trout Creek. Lorne Riddell and Penny James have been operating their expeditions and home base program for the past 17 years. Widely respected, Lorne and Penny are commonly referred to as "wonderful" people. Their very small program is intimate and they refer to themselves as being a "family style living" program. They also employ various experiential and adventure therapy approaches.

Three Rivers Montana is only three years old, but has quickly risen to a highly respected position in the country. An outdoor behavioral health program, Three Rivers leadership has extensive wilderness treatment experience. For seven years, they were in leadership roles in a state funded program called Alternative Youth Adventures. While in that capacity, the Three Rivers Montana management staff successfully navigated complex wilderness regulations and group home standards in Montana. AYA was one the first programs to complete extensive outcome studies and did so for seven full years.

My last example of a unique program is less well known except for one of the founders of Galena Ridge and 20 Peaks. That person is Paul Clark, a former Montana legislator. Paul could have easily taken the road to "grow" these programs and achieve national prominence, but has chosen to stay intimately involved in a small manageable wilderness experience combined with a small ten bed program for boys. Paul has been credited for bringing the Outward Bound model to the state of Montana. He has also been singled out as the developer and key architect of Ascent Wilderness program located in Idaho. This past year, I have had three boys with the program and I have been highly satisfied with the gains these boys and families have made. These boys were selected because although they all struggled at home, they presented no serious psychiatric issues or serious behavioral problems.

This list and discussion of top notch programs in the state of Montana could be expanded to include many others, like Mission Mountain, Intermountain, Elk Creek Academy and others. However, the point is made. Parents across the country and abroad look to Montana for the best treatment they can find. Unfortunately, only those who are in the upper socio economic range can afford these private pay programs. But then, it is a clear message that some of the brightest and most capable parents in the country choose Montana for their children. That says a lot. Montana is in the national spotlight and what happens in Montana may affect all states in some ways. However, don't feel sorry for Montana programs. They have an impressive start at providing some of the best care in the world. The PAARP board, in their efforts to improve programs through licensing mandates, should take on the physician's oath; "Do no Harm". As one program director said, "For God's sake, regulate us, but also for God's sake, don't turn the bull loose in the China closet."

© Copyright 2012 by Woodbury Reports, Inc.