Dec 20, 2007, 13:59

By Bill Valentine PsyD, CC and Jim Powell PhD

If opportunity can be found wearing the cloak of adversity, then this is a time of tremendous opportunity for parent-choice, private therapeutic programs.

Our industry finds itself under intense scrutiny from several sources. Some parents and congressional representatives have allied to paint public and private youth programs, regardless of their history of program safety, with the same damning brush.

Disgruntled former students or employees with passionate feelings post accusatory memoirs of their times in various programs. Serious incidents are reported in the media with little or no attempt to distinguish safe, effective youth treatment programs from the few bad apples that threaten the whole barrel.

The sum of these concurring events is that the clamor for governmental regulation of our industry is growing ever louder. Turning this serious challenge into opportunity is the focus of this essay.

As we see it, there are several options available to the industry in responding to this challenge.

Option #1
We could jump into the ditch and start slinging the mud back that has been thrown at us. We could broadcast data on dangerous and shoddy programs being run in the public sector. We could call press conferences and denounce the vendetta style of Congressman Miller's hearings. We could hire the Madison Avenue attack dogs to discredit all who would dare to question the private industry's safety and effectiveness. We could hire lobbyists to "give 'em hell on the Hill." This is easily the most viscerally pleasing of the options. But what end is served by shooting the messenger?

Option #2
We could look upon this threatening time of outside inquiry as a passing crisis soon to be forgotten by an attention-deficit society. Reassured by the knowledge that we only have the best of intentions for our clients and their families and that the vast majority of programs in the private sector have safe, effective records, we could go about our businesses doing the things we do so well - and as we've always done them. This is the easiest of the options.

Option #3
To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., we can take the full measure of ourselves in these times of challenge and controversy. We can seize this opportunity to increase the professional expertise of our staffs. We can evaluate and elevate our safety standards while simultaneously challenging our own assumptions of our program's or school's strengths and weaknesses, policies and practices, treatment modalities and client satisfaction. We could find the value within the criticism. Would we be worse off to go through such due diligence? In our opinion, this is the option with the greatest opportunity for a positive outcome for all.

We believe the common denominator among the many different programs and schools represented by the National Association for Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP) is the healing relationships that healthy, skilled adults bring to the children, young adults and families within their care. This profound commitment cannot be guaranteed by graduate degrees, administrative resumes or time in operation. However, our evolving industry demands yardsticks to measure the safety and efficacy of our programs.

The answer, it seems to us, is to:

  • Hire staff with demonstrated and accredited skills and then put them on a vigorous and documented track of personal and professional growth.

  • Implement a thorough risk management program that is comprehensive in its scope.

  • Operate in an inclusive environment that allows for objective assessment.

  • Solicit and track outcome information from former participants, their parents and other stakeholders.

  • Maintain a process that continually monitors all of the above.

Rigorous as these processes are, they are no firewall against potential exposure, liability or scrutiny. Nor do these actions guarantee that accidents won't occur. What they will do is demonstrate and document our commitment to safety and successful outcomes. In so doing, we will bring additional health and credibility to our industry and our respective missions.

In our next essay, we will take a specific look at these suggested policies and procedures and offer suggestions for their implementation.

About the Authors:
Dr. Bill Valentine is Co-Founder of Next Step For Success, a parent and family coaching service, Redmond, OR 541-504-4748,,

Dr. Jim Powell is Co-Founder of Powell & Elliott Collaborative, LLC, Lake Arrowhead, CA, 951-317-3151,

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