Adding Salt & Light: Child and Adolescent Residential Programs

It is crucial that residential programs not talk out of both sides of their mouths. There is life and death in the power of the tongue. If your program assures families and parents that you can help a child work through significant trauma and behavior issues, it is NEVER ok to parade the children on social media or in front of anyone and say that their families “don’t want them” or make similar statements. Not only is that most likely a blatant lie, you are doing damage. DO NO HARM. The temptation to add drama to get monetary donations may be there, but it will do more damage than good. The children hear you say these things, and you have added to their hurt. PLEASE STOP if you are one of those programs. Children and their families have endured enough without this type of victimization at the hands of those they entrust to help them.

We all can help stop this by politely interrupting and correcting this type of misinformation whenever and wherever we see or hear it. PLEASE make an effort to keep programs honest. Kids hear these things. Families hear these things. Dollar chasing should not be the priority. Helping people to heal must come first.

Most residential programs have children who did not and could not receive all the help they needed even in foster care or from trauma that likely was in no way the current family’s fault. Families receive little to no help in most cases even finding help for their child. The notion that they “don’t care” couldn’t be farther from the truth. Please keep that in mind if you hear “sales pitches” lumping all families together as problematic. Add salt and light where needed.


Watch and Wait? 

   Law enforcement’s role is to serve and protect. Most of our men and women out there do a WONDERFUL  job, and we are GRATEFUL for them. Many go above and beyond to help wherever they can do so. However, it is very disturbing to learn that  local authorities in a few counties surrounding at least one residential treatment program for children dealing with trauma and mental illness have repeatedly let those youth, the community, the children’s families, and other law enforcement officers down. 

     In some states, the residential treatment facilities cannot be locked (a broken link in the treatment process.)  It is normal that a child may run. This is part of the “fight or flight response” that may be easily triggered or operate in overdrive for those affected by trauma. Staff must then notify local authorities that assistance is needed for an endangered youth (due to being in the program and it being EXPECTED that the child may somehow do something that could hurt himself/herself, another person, or property.)  An agency that is protecting and serving will try to get the child to safety BEFORE anyone can be hurt or a crime can be committed. If the child is resistant (part of that “fight or flight” response some have needed earlier in life to survive,) they are supposed to go to crisis assessment. 

     At that point (also a broken link in some states,) the crisis assessor SHOULD admit the child to acute psychiatric hospitalization to help stablize the child. Sometimes kids run during mood swings before they have even had opportunity to meet with a psychiatrist for temporary medications to assist in working through the trauma. 

     It is NOT acceptable for authorities to just watch and wait for children in this situation, knowing that they are are high risk, until they can throw the book at that them for some type of crime! 

     This puts the child AND the community at risk. It is NOT supporting the treatment program. It is in a way continuing to victimize victims. It is offensive and disheartening to the children’s families who are told local that law enforcement is aware and helping. This is hurtful. In fact, it more closely resembles entrapment than protecting and serving. 

     Yes, the children, as part of their learning accountability and their treatment, will need to make amends for anything that hurt someone or property. However, when authorities sit back and wait for triggered behavior to escalate until potential crimes occur, they are as much at fault. Actions as part of “monitored,” triggered behaviors in this situation certainly should not become part of a juvenile record. Perhaps an audit of the involved law enforcement protocol and implementation would be more beneficial. These preventable cases should not be clogging up our court system or feeding into the already crowded “pipeline to prison.”

     Can you imagine being a parent trying to seek help for your child (already triggered and emotionally unstable,) TRUSTING the local authorities to do their part in keeping your child safe while in their community then finding out they failed to do so? Failed Miserably. Then can you imagine finding out they not only failed to protect your child and their community, their county wants to file some sort of charges against the child? Seriously? They fail, and now your family and your child have to deal with court–all stemming from their county mishandling runaway, unstable, endangered youth ALREADY in a treatment program. THIS MUST CHANGE.

Why Don’t Those Parents Just Get Help?!?!

   Have you ever wondered why some parents don’t “just get help” for their kids?  You know, the kids who appear to always be in trouble but in reality have probably been through more trauma in their lives than most adults experience in a lifetime. The kind of trauma that gets them quickly labeled as thugs and illicits other nasty name-calling by adults who should know better. Oh, and their parents, are somehow to blame. It’s the parent’s fault that they were put through hell before adopted, played like a ping pong ball in divorce or foster care, bullied on the bus, assaulted by someone that should have been trustworthy, involved in a bad wreck, or a million other traumatic events that developed into emotional issues sometimes expressed behaviorally. Those parents also should somehow be able to create treatment programs out of thin air and force existing, full ones, to accept their children. Sure. Why not?

     “Why don’t those parents just do something? Can’t they see that the child needs help?” Those words certainly do roll off the tongue easily…

     Nevermind that the application process can be much harder than getting someone accepted to college, and there are not enough appropriate treatment options. That aside, there is often little help from even systems, like outpatient counseling programs or post-adopt services, who promised to help some folks. However, there will never be a shortage of people to point fingers for any imperfections–even if they failed to help when obligated to do so.

     Costs are astronomical. This is a quote from a recent program. I assure you, this is the norm among ones who are not supported by faithful congregations and other folks–we need more of those supportive people. (That mission field is WIDE open…)

     “Costs for treatment:

One time enrollment fee of $2,500
Monthly $6,850.00 of which on average $4,000-$4,200 is therapy services. The therapy services can be billed to your insurance company as a claim, filed by you.”

     The program will not bill insurance, and your insurance may decline. You are encouraged to apply for multiple personal loans to secure financing or do whatever it takes.Treatment is expensive. They do have a lot of liability, security, and staff. You also definitely want trained therapeutic staff–at least access to some Master’s Level or higher clinicians  in some key positions, plus your facility psychologist and psychiatrist or medical practitioner. 

  The next time you hear someone suggest that parents need to “just do something,” thank them for volunteering  to pay for the $31,000 treatment program. 

Ballots, Choices, and Stickers

     If you live in The United States and were old enough to vote, you may have felt like your ballot options, or lack thereof in some spots, may not have been good. Hold on to that feeling for a moment. Parents, spouses, caregivers, and individuals often experience this trying to find appropriate mental health services and treatment for loved ones. 

     There is very little actually available for most between acute hospitalization and sporadic outpatient services. Although there are some great programs, not everyone gets accepted-receiving help appears more competitive than applying for college. In many cases, it is more expensive. Not everyone has the extra 10 percent of gross income up to excess of $8000 PER month to pay. Many states, counties, schools, or other possible funding sources only work with the cheapest option, ones they have contracted with, or none at all. As everyone has different needs, this obviously leaves many folks in the dark. 

     Now, if you voted in a county like mine, that did not provide those coveted “I Voted” stickers, you probably felt a bit jipped. Fortunately, my polling place gave us stubs that we could still use at local places for things like free donuts or coffee. However, folks who really went for the freebies or sticker and got neither were disappointed. This is another common feeling for those trying to get appropriate treatment and help. 

     Imagine paying thousands you cannot afford in hopes to help your child who experienced significant trauma then seeing little to no progress from one of the very limited programs you could access. There is a multitude of families, not limited to the U.S., who sacrifice much and receive little visible results from programs they trusted to help. 

     Moving on to add insult to injury, let’s say that your friends, relatives, and random folks decide to hold you personally responsible for any mistakes made by the candidates for whom you voted. This is exactly what happens daily to people who get blamed for not being able to “fix” their loved one with the limited resources currently available. 

     Please be thankful that you only deal with these frustrations at election time. For many, it is a daily struggle that takes its toll on the entire family. 

Iced Tea Break

     Yesterday, after walking around in the sun at a farmer’s market, I decided to sit down with a cold iced tea at a nearby fast food restaurant. I am very glad that I did.

     Unfortunately, the town I was visiting has had some bad publicity lately due to a few folks going a bit beyond the bounds of peaceful protesting. This is not representative of the entire community.

    While I sipped iced tea and edited pictures from the farmer’s market, I could not help but smile. An older gentleman, who talked to himself (and everyone who passed him,) was treated kindly by all–especially the employees who seemed to recognize him as a regular. Two elderly gentleman, one black and one white, chatted about random things and their many years of friendship. The employees were very friendly and interacted well with everyone, people representative of many cultures, as they worked. One of the elderly gentleman happily engaged the younger workers in conversations about college and their hometowns as they would pass his table. They treated him with respect. The view from my table was as refreshing as the iced tea in my cup.

Janitor Harley is Right

“Even bad kids have good parts, and without the good kids, you never find out what they are.”
–Janitor Harley, aka Harvey Keiner on “Girl Meets World,” Reformed Bully from “Boy Meets World”

     I love his character. He speaks truth. You need to surround kids who are struggling with kids who can encourage them and be positive influences for them. If you take kids who have more issues or make some mistakes and just push them away from the main group or lock them all together somewhere, you only infect them with more of each other’s issues. Our society, as advanced as it wants to believe it is, has not yet figured this out. Yes, some will still need to be incarcerated for safety, but not as many as this country has found to be profitable.

     Also from the TV show, Cory Matthews, now a teacher, like his childhood role models Mr. Feeney and Mr. Turner, often says the secret of life is that PEOPLE CHANGE PEOPLE. They influence each other one way or another.

     This may be why some of the more successful long term changes appear to come from therapeutic programs that are longer in length, not for profit, and have slow turn over. Relationships and rapport matter. It takes time to build those.

Photos Speak Volumes


This is a picture of currently available mental health and crisis services for people in many states. Some pieces are broken and smashed to dust. Others are completely missing. They no longer all connect, but only by the grace of God, some light still gets through.

This is an actual vehicle windshield that has been kicked by a child. The child was sent home less than 24 hours prior to the damage from an ER crisis assessment by a contractual worker in which the parent was dismissed and armed with only a paper behavior contract and a referral to the worker’s employer for outpatient counseling. Nevermind that the parent had clearly stated the child’s history of trauma, past failed attempts at outpatient, and other clinical issues. Nevermind that the child had been so distraught and out of control (mental health and grief issues not discipline issues) that a handful of police officers physically had to carry the child to assist in de-escalation and transportation to the ER. The worker indicated that risk to harm self or others was no longer enough for the child to be hospitalized in order to become stable and transitioning to appropriate treatment. He would have to state that he wanted to kill himself or someone else. Jumping out of a moving car would not be enough intent to harm self unless he stated he was trying to kill himself, and throwing objects at someone or grabbing a steering wheel was not intent to harm others unless he would specifically state he was trying to kill them.

This is where it got worse: the contractual crisis worker was fixated on whether or not the parent would profess some type of refusal to take the child back home with only the outpatient referral and behavior contract. The worker told the child, who already had residual attachment and trauma issues from time stuck in the child welfare system (from which the child was already rescued and adopted,) that if he did not go home he would be placed back in foster care. That is absolutely unacceptable as “mental health treatment” or treatment of another human being. Period. The crisis assessment actual made a bad situation even worse and more dangerous. Consequently, the child became extremely upset later but refused to see a counselor for fear he would never see his adoptive family again if he had to be hospitalized. This is how the windshield fared in that conversation…

Unfortunately, this is not at all an uncommon scenario among families in which a child is unable to access appropriate mental services. Youth who have a history of trauma or attachment issues fall into this category. It appears that the percentage of children with significant residual mental health issues that have been in foster and adoption services is much higher than actually reported.

Keeping the Team Together

With permission from a friend in a parent support group, I am printing the letter that she created for her child’s IEP team. I am removing identifying information.

A letter is especially helpful for those of us with kids who have attachment and trauma issues–most kids in the foster care and adoption systems. Many people really mean well, but some of their actions, without their knowing it, trigger setbacks and problems for our kids and families. This type of letter serves to keep everyone on the same page.

This is her letter:

“Greetings to all the IEP moms and dads out there.  After years of fighting the Disneyland Effect, this is the new attachment to my child’s IEP (Warning: long post):
–I will supply a bag of clean clothes. If he shows up with torn, smelly, poorly fitting clothes, you have the option of telling him to change.
—Don’t use physical affection (hugs, I love yous). Use high fives, but not excessively.  Even affectionate, family-type phrases like, “We’re your family while you’re at school” have been misunderstood by him as school staff wanting to be his new foster family.
—Use natural consequences (if he tears apart his shoes or wears a summer shirt in 20 degree weather,  he can stay inside during recess, rather than getting attention, donated clothes,  or criticism of home for “sending him to school this way”)).
—Avoid excessive rewards (if he gets a whole series of rewards during the school day–praises, hugs, stickers, iPad time, candy, prize box items–he gets extremely frustrated at home when he can’t get that same quantity.  The frustration often leads to more resentment of home, long meltdowns, runaway or property damage behavior).
—It’s his homework, not mine.  I will have a homework desk and school supplies available and will help (not do it for him). If he keeps refusing (or “losing” the homework), the consequence will be at school.
—-The consequence for missed homework or other negative choices should not involve increasing one-on-one attention.  Having adults giving him talks about homework or letting him stay inside (at recess) to be the teacher’s helper reinforces the behavior.
—Offer some rewards that are shared with home (like a “praise report,” via email home, or a small ice cream or pizza gift certificate that he can bring home).  That gives him an example of adults communicating versus a competition between his “home family” and “school family.”
—Understand that the charming, helpful, shy, and entertaining  behaviors seen at school are very unlike behaviors at home. This is part of RAD, that kids with early trauma often seek to control their environment through developing a public prescence that everyone loves, or by teaming up with outside adults against home (triangulating).
—Avoid making home the “bad guy.  RAD parents don’t become overjoyed when other adults say, “He behaves perfectly for me . . . Maybe if you did/read/bought/said something different . . . ” Then, professionals blame the parent for “not appreciating him enough” and seek to rescue him.  This is damaging to the tentative bond he is forming with home.
—Make consequences quick and praises specific (versus all-encompassing statements, like “You are so awesome”).
—It helps when adults resolve differences privately, versus in front of my child.
—Use email early and often. This prevents misunderstandings from turning into resentment between home and school.
—Understand the “parent-shopping” phenomenon. Even though he no longer jumps into professionals’ and strangers’ laps or hugs their legs, or asks to move in with them (thanks to all these therapies), the “shopping” behavior has become more subtle. And it leads to fantasies about moving in with favorite teachers and having a life with no rules. Yes, all kids do that at times, but he carries it many steps further, threatening to run away or to kill me or my family if he can’t live with that person. The goal is to keep him out of residential care or the juvenile system.
—Pass on this information to any substitute or aide who will be working with him.
—No individual sessions with the counselor.  He can participate in the group programs, such as the counselor coming to the classroom to talk about bullying or friendship.
—Limit one-on-one time with adults (such as having him eat lunch in the classroom with the teacher while the aide takes everyone else to the cafeteria).
—Any advice about home should be about academics only (such as educational computer games kids can do at home).”

Brown Cows and Chocolate Milk 

Friendly Disclaimer:  No cows, school personnel, or families were harmed in the writing of this research-based blog post. The author was raised in a pro-education family,  still looks up to, and maintains contact with teachers from childhood. In fact, one parent was a school administrator and teacher for decades. The author has an MS in Rehabilitation  Counseling and was first certified and licensed as a counselor over two decades ago with experience in juvenile, adult, mental health, substance abuse, and criminal justice populations. As for rural credibility, this author served all eleven allowed years as an active 4-H member and knows a little bit about milk production. 

     Recently, there has been a lot in the news about trying to punish parents for their child’s behaviors, such as truancy and delinquency. This is apparently somehow, maybe through osmosis, supposed to teach the child  accountability and solve the problem. Perfect. If you believe this, you should also buy this lovely brown cow I know about named Bessie who only produces chocolate milk. There is some bull involved, but not in the traditional way…

     Nevermind that research indicates traditional behavior modification techniques are not effective with much of the population that will experience situations that fall into this category. We will address that a bit later. This isn’t even a valid behavior modification technique. If anything, it reinforces the undesired behavior so that the child maintains a sense of control over the parent by being able to get him or her into trouble. This is especially true of those children with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and attachment issues. It may however generate revenue for a municipality or other entity. It may also fulfill someone’s misguided need to feel powerful. Money and power. Those are not therapeutic tools generally recommended…for anything. 

     We know that the root of all evil is the love of money. Once people navigate around the sticky, steaming piles that don’t seem to fit into the rest of a picture,  the money trail usually surfaces. Some have identified the punative treatment and criminalization of truancy and delinquency issues, which per research, tie more closely to physical/emotional health than anything, as a “pipeline to prison.” 

     The beginning of the alleged “pipeline” would be sending kids or parents to incarceration, which is  often a means to learning negative peer behavior and future incarceration. In some states, a few folks have found out how to make themselves and shareholders very wealthy by privatizing prisons. The gist is that they severely underpay staff in stressful positions, putting folks at risks, and make quite a bit off the top for themselves. This creates a high staff turnover rate and can make for poor continuity of services. It would be interesting to know which states or counties that have bought into the privatization pitch inappropriately try to crucify parents for child behavioral health issues. If any of the stakeholders  pushing for punative measures as opposed to more appropriate assistance also have stock in privatized corrections, there may be a money trail. Hmmm. Got ethics? 

     In reality, criminalizing behavioral health issues like truancy, and punishing the parents ends up costing taxpayers, families, and communities more than the district could possibly save. Treatment would be a much better long-term investment. Sadly, much of our society seems impulsive and grabs at those temporary, quick fixes. (Adult society makes bad, impulsive choices and then wonders why our youth do the same. Puzzling…)

     Another, more commonly recognized money trail is the correlation between student attendance rates and school funding. There can be pressure from a variety of sources on a school district and county to keep attendance high enough to not lose any funding. Sadly, the love of those dollars wins out over the best interests of the students and families. Criminalizing truancy only adds trauma and compounds mental health issues. There have been instances where working parents lost jobs due to punative jail time because the school not wanting to address mental health issues appropriately as opposed to as just truancy. One parent actually died in jail over a truancy issue. The unnecessary guilt piled upon her children had to be immense.

     Technically, mental health and emotional issues such as anxiety and depression that are interfering with education should be addressed in a 504 Plan or an  IEP (Individualized Education Program.) ADA (The Americans with Disabilities Act) is not a new concept. (Try thinking Rehab Act of 1973…) This is 2017! Youth have a right to a free, appropriate education. 

     If the school is not able to assist in a way other than just “facilitating suggestions” or similar things people say to document in attempt to be legal, with actually getting a child to school and to engage, they may be obligated to provide education in a therapeutic residential setting until emotional stability occurs. Appropriate is not just warehousing a child to collect per diem. Appropriate is not expecting the parent to do what the school gives up on–most parents did not cause their child’s trauma or mental health issues and have no more ability to fix them alone than the entire school staff would have at its disposal. Appropriate is not making some crazy assumption that it has to be a bad home life or a faulty parent but instead using the  knowledge we actually have in 2017 on how trauma, medical conditions, and mental health come in to play. 

 Research (don’worry– a list of links and resources is provided…) does indicate that developing positive, working relationships with the child and family can help. Furthermore, it is known that for kids with attachment disorders, they will set out the parent–most often the mother figure– with the more severe attachment disorder cases. So, if you tell a child that you are going to fine or jail the parent for the child’s behaviors, you have given that child control. He or she may try to ensure that the worst case scenario happens. The older and bigger the child becomes, the more dangerous you have made life for the parent, the child, and society. 

     While we are on are similar topic, maybe a stretch, the respect that EVERYONE wants needs to be mutual. Yes, parents need to be respectful speaking to school, community, and other authorities in front of their children. However, the reverse needs to also be true. Otherwise, it can create a dangerous situation in which you have undermined a parent’s authority in front of his or her child. Please don’t do that then complain about parents not having control of their children. Even Bessie the cow can connect those dots. 

     “Do no harm” used to be a more common phrase. We need to bring it back. Punative measures (especially when applied to parents for kids that a entire school can’t seem to corral…) are harmful and actually add trauma as opposed to getting to the root problems. Time does not just make these problems go away. Doing time most certainly will not make them better–unless maybe the person is in one of the rare locations in the United States attempting to make up for the lack of community mental health treatment by addressing some of it during incarceration. Yes, consequences and discipline are necessary but within reason, and not for profit. With many kids, it must be understood that they may not connect that the discipline ties to behavior because of the effect trauma may have on cause and effect thinking. It has to develop. Healthy relationships can help that process. Harsh consequences and rejections will hinder the process. Trauma spreads from the affected child or family member to the whole family. What may appear to be apathetic parents may actually be caregiver PTSD or secondary PTSD symptoms. It becomes a medical issue for the family members as well. Please don’t make it worse for them. Keep the “we need you to do this token busy work so that we can document that we are facilitating an effort to provide family service” stuff to a minimum and actually HELP them. 

     It’s not just that folks seem to be barking up the wrong tree. They somehow took a rather sharp wrong turn and wound up in the wrong forest. Now, Bessie is a wonderful, beautiful cow in her own right, but she knows she doesn’t produce chocolate milk. Either the folks who engineered self-serving, punative measures grew up without the benefit of participating in 4-H or FFA, or that bull mentioned earlier has some smoke and mirrors. Who else suspects that as long as someone pays the dairy to document that Bessie produces chocolate milk, at least on paper, she will?

Resources And Links:

Ephesians 6:4 

Proverbs 12:18

Proverbs 13:20

 Student Enrollments & State School Finance Policies –


About Light for the Broken Road

Light for the Broken Road aims to provide encouragement, resources, and information for parents/caregivers/families of those dealing with trauma and attachment issues, mental health disorders, and relevant topics.

As many are realizing not just within the United States but around the world, there is a disconnect between the reality of these issues and what the general population and even some professionals believe. Significant trauma and attachment issues appear to be prevalent in the foster and adopted poulations. They also seem more common than once realized among other children within public schools and other common settings. Trauma can impact ANYONE. As one peels the onion layers of issues like substance abuse, it is often at the root. It may also play a part in the development of mental illness. There even appear to be correlations between some untreated trauma and domestic violence and other crimes.

Unfortunately, if access to appropriate mental health services is sparse, it is even more so for post-adopt families and biological families trying to prevent their children from landing in the criminal justice system or worse.

In the near future, I would like to publish some anonymous letters from families (written so that they cannot be identified) regarding what does and does not work with suggestions for improving systems. 

Light sometimes shows us a clearer path, and other times it illuminates problems so that we may seek solutions.