Last month, I shared Part 1 of my journey to find help for my son. After years of trying to ensure he was on the right path, we had come to a fork in the road. And all I could see in front of me was him slowly walking away from me, into a world that no parent wants their child to visit, let alone live in.
I had exhausted every resource I knew of in Central Illinois. Though some were helpful for the short term, they were unable to do what I had so desperately tried — to help my son change the course of his life before it was too late.
In desperation, I began searching the Internet. I finally came upon the term “therapeutic boarding school,” and that Google search was the click that began a chain of events that changed the course of our lives and that of our son.
The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP), by definition, serves as an advocate and resource for innovative organizations which devote themselves to society’s need for the effective care and education of struggling young people and their families. Their website, www.natsap.org, offers a wealth of information necessary to make a seemingly unthinkable journey thinkable. They clearly state that they are not a referral or placement agency, but a volunteer membership organization supporting professionals and programs in their efforts to help troubled young people.
The members of the NATSAP offer a variety of different schools and programs, located in 30 states. The ages served range from under 12 years old up to 25 years old. NATSAP is a membership organization whose members abide by ethical principles and standards. Their programs include: Emotional Growth/Therapeutic Boarding Schools, Outdoor Behavioral Health (Wilderness Programs and Outdoor Therapeutic Programs), Residential Treatment Centers and Small Residential Programs. Each program provides children to young adults with their own unique modalities including but not limited to:
- Structure and supervision for physical, emotional, behavioral, familial, social, intellectual and academic development
- The opportunity to earn high school diplomas or award credits
- The promotion of self-efficacy and personal autonomy through task accomplishment in a therapeutic social group
- Medication management and medical monitoring
- Incorporation of life skills training, academic instruction, outdoor adventure, recreation, and family involvement into an experiential living environment.
That’s what he needed. There was the help. The question was, how would we even begin to navigate this sea of programs and offerings? There were hundreds of accredited programs. Where would we start and how would we know if any of these would be the right fit for our son?
Enter our educational consultant, or what I have determined a good way to describe her, “The Realtor of Therapeutic Programs,” minus the commission or referral fee. Educational consultants often have backgrounds as clinicians or addiction counselors so have incredible insight into what an individual needs, and what type of program would be most appropriate. They have personally visited and assessed hundreds of schools and treatment programs yet operate independently, so receive no incentives from programs and are thus able to truly individualize their recommendations without losing objectivity.
Like a shot in the dark, we selected an educational consultant in Illinois: Kim Jenkins, owner of One Oak Educational Consulting in a Chicago suburb. In our initial consultation via phone, we discussed our son’s issues and our concerns in-depth for nearly two hours. In her incredibly comforting and reassuring way, she expressed confidence that she could help us on this long but necessary journey. We enlisted her services and she became the catalyst of change for not only our son, but for us as well.
That was six months ago. Since then, our son has graduated from an amazing wilderness program and is now attending a therapeutic boarding school, where he will earn his high school diploma next year. Though he is still on a very difficult journey, the goals he has reached, the insight he has gained, and the strides he has made are nothing short of miraculous. And Kim has been with us every step of the way.
I’m sure you, like I did, have many questions. I had a pre-conceived notion as to what wilderness programs were, and did not enter into the decision lightly or without hesitation and a ton of questions. There were many sleepless nights, indecision to the nth degree, and financial fears. Yes, it is expensive. Yes, it’s absolutely worth it to do whatever you have to do to make it happen.
Like I said, my son’s journey, and mine for that matter, has just begun. But for the first time in years, I’m hopeful. I see glimmers of what could be, what can be.
If you are a parent with a teen who is careening; if you know not where to turn, I tell you there is help. Use the resources in this article or feel free to contact me if you are unsure of where to begin. In the words of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
If you would like to contact the author of this article, please email Cheryl Eash, editor and publisher of this magazine, at firstname.lastname@example.org and she will put you in touch with her.
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