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Regardless of whether your teen has come forward about struggling with drug use, or you have convinced them that you’re all going to need help to get through this as a family, finding the right teen residential treatment program is a critically important and difficult process.

Private treatment facilities are relatively unregulated, and there are no strict standards set in place for these facilities nor the programs they espouse. Parents are required to do their own research and rely on other qualifications and accreditations to ensure that their teen is in the right hands, and that is no easy task.

The FTC asks that all parents go through a step-by-step process when identifying and vetting potential teen residential treatment programs, beginning with a thorough online search, proof for claims regarding qualifications and state- or nationwide accreditations, and a site visit. Here’s what some of the things you should pay attention to when looking for the right teen residential treatment program.

Accredited Program and Trained Staff

While there are no federal standards or guidelines for residential treatment programs and outpatient treatment programs, multiple non-profit organizations provide several regulations and accreditation options for addiction treatment facilities, outpatient facilities, and behavioral health programs. Teen treatment programs offering academic curriculums should also be accredited to offer these educational programs and adhere to the standards set by relevant national and international organizations.

These include organizations such as The Joint Commission and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. When reviewing a facility’s staff and clinical director, consider giving each member their own individual search. The Federation of State Medical Boards website, for example, lets you search whether a medical professional in the team has the board certifications they claim to have through DocInfo.org.

The Internet will be invaluable for learning as much as you can about the people running the show and their reputation in each given field. Any teen residential treatment program should have at least one accredited and trained child and adolescent psychiatrist, as well as multiple medical doctors and nurses. These treatment programs, particularly ones specializing in addiction and co-occurring mental health issues, are equipped to handle certain medical emergencies, from the aftermath of a self-harm episode to a serious physical withdrawal.

Reliance on Evidence-Based Treatments

Dual diagnosis and mental health treatment are evolving research fields, but certain treatments have a larger body of evidence to support them than others. Most treatment programs will rely on a combination of specific pharmacology and targeted psychotherapy, particularly:

Alternative therapies and treatments may also be offered and play a role in the treatment process, yet would not typically take center stage, including equine and pet therapy, acupuncture, and more. You can learn more about what therapies are most often recommended for teens struggling with drug use and co-occurring mental health issues through resources such as the American Psychological Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Long-Term Ongoing Support

Another important predictor for the quality of a program’s treatment process is its emphasis on long-term and ongoing support, even after treatment. Addiction is not wholly addressed within a 1–3-month period, and it can take months or years for a teen to remain reliably sober and learn to cope with co-occurring mental health issues.

Look for programs that offer and encourage extended care, as well as ongoing support, family therapy, referrals to other therapists for ongoing care, and access to community resources so teens can continue to seek help after the treatment period has ended. Programs that focus on promoting sustainable positive change in teen behavior and health, and offer realistic outcomes, are preferred.

Skills Training and Specialized Care

Teen treatment programs often cover care for many complex and varied conditions, with circumstances including a history of trauma, victimization, and more. These treatment programs must be tailored to each teen, based on their respective circumstances and risk factors, symptoms, and more, on a case-by-case basis.

This means programs must often work together with local specialists or include a staff of trained psychiatrists and doctors with experience in these special or unique circumstances to create an environment and treatment program conducive to each teen. Programs that include staff with multiple specialists are recommended.

School and Tutoring Services

Outpatient programs and residential (inpatient) programs might offer various academic programs to help teens enroll in treatment, keep up with their classmates and continue studying. An acknowledged accreditation body must usually accredit these programs.

Questions for Parents to Ask

When determining which of your options is the best fit for your teen helps prepare a few questions.

  1. What sort of accreditations does your program have?

While no federal regulations are surrounding residential and outpatient treatment programs, accreditation programs are the next best for setting an industry standard.

  1. What kind of qualifications does the staff have?

These treatment facilities work with children dealing with many serious mental and physical health crises, so having multiple licensed and experienced medical professionals on-board is important.

  1. What is the site like?

Is it spacious and private? Does it have homely accommodations for each teen in the program?

  1. What is your reputation like?

A program’s online reputation can be a great source of information. Be sure to go over multiple different local forums and groups for a big-picture impression.

  1. Do you provide an academic curriculum?

Teens are usually still in school when they are enrolled in a treatment program, and to this end, many residential treatment programs offer day schools.

  1. How thoroughly vetted are your staff?

Find out what sort of background checks the facility runs on its staff and how thorough these checks are.

  1. Can I keep in contact with my teen?

Some programs heavily restrict or forbid contact with the outside world, including parents. Find out what the rules and limitations are around having contact with your teen during the treatment process.

  1. How will my child’s needs be assessed and reassessed?

Most programs utilize rigorous psychiatric evaluations to determine a teen’s needed level of care and an appropriate treatment program. These evaluations may need to be performed multiple times throughout the program, depending on a teen’s progress.

Finding the right teen residential treatment program will be a multistep process. Understandably, you would want the best possible care for your child, and taking every measure to ensure you make the right choice is worth the time spent on working through the options available to you.