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Article  by Lisa Scimens, Family Sanity Founder

Sending Your Troubled Child Away: 

It’s Never Easy, 

But It May Be the Right Thing 

I have been following the SF Chronicle’s investigative reports into the closing of abusive behavioral programs operated by Sequel Youth and Family Services with great interest.


This week I read a NYT book review of “TROUBLED: The Failed Promise of America’s Behavioral Treatment Programs“ by  Kenneth R. Rosen, a man who was sent to one of these programs and is now a journalist.  In it, he talks to four people who had negative and sometimes abusive experiences at three different programs, all of which are now closed.


As a parent of a young adult who attended two out-of-state programs to help her with her depression and anxiety, and the subsequent founding of Family Sanity, a non-profit organization that provides support to teens and young adults who are challenged by mental health issues, I feel I need to speak out and say there are many good programs out there that do change lives.  It is our job as parents to seriously vet them ourselves and not leave the final decisions up to others whenever possible.


Tips for Parents with Troubled Children:


—No matter how early you start to see troubling behavior in your child, take it seriously.  Talk to your pediatrician, teacher, school counselor, etc.  (We had our daughter first “observed” by a child psychologist during pre-school.)


—If the problems persist by the fourth grade, ask your pediatrician to write you a prescription for a neuropsychological evaluation.  Private insurance will often pay for it.  Or, ask your (public) school to do the assessment.


—Get an IEP as early as possible, if warranted.  Having one in place in middle and high school can sometimes mean the school district will pay for a special program for your child.


—Get your child into therapy as early as you start feeling the problems are serious. While it’s not clear if therapy at a young age is that helpful, having your child observed by a mental health professional can be very helpful. Kids are often averse to therapy by middle or high school.  (It’s the same with trying medication for psychological issues.)


—If you decide to use an educational consultant, try to find one who will bill you by the hour.  Hiring one of these professionals can be very costly.  (We paid $10,000!)


—If you can’t afford a consultant, attend parent support groups, find a NAMI in your area and most of all keep asking questions and Research, Research, Research!


—If you are going to send your child away to a special school or program, visit it yourself, in-person.


—Trust you gut feelings about any programs, people etc. you encounter in this process. Don’t send your child to a program with children who have problems where exposure to these kids might influence your child in a negative way.


—Realize sending your child to a program is often just the beginning.  You should consider a transitional program when’s/he returns.  Therapy, medication, etc. may become a lifelong reality.


These are lessons I have learned over the past twenty years of raising one child with psychological issues.  Just as every child is different, all parents’/families’ experiences vary.

I write this only with the intention of trying to help a few other families who may be navigating this very difficult process.


Lisa Scimens

Family Sanity Founder

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