Homes for Troubled Teens

Michele Meleen
Teenager with attitude

Parenting troubled teens can seem impossible. The best option for the entire family may be enrolling the difficult child in a professional, residential program. Teens in these programs receive individualized attention that may not be possible while at home.

Types of Residential Programs for Teens

Deciding to send your teen to a residential program is a tough decision. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of programs. With the help of a counselor, and by asking the right questions, you can find a program that is a good fit for your teen.

Therapeutic Boarding School

While boarding schools are often thought of as an alternative schooling option for wealthy families, this is not always the case. Therapeutic boarding schools are privately owned institutions set up to handle the specific needs of teens dealing with issues such as drug abuse, mental health concerns and behavioral disorders. These types of schools offer:

  • Residential care
  • Academic and emotional support from trained professionals
  • Small class sizes
  • Individualized education, mentoring and therapy plans
  • Can be co-ed, all male or all female

Successful therapeutic boarding schools are academically accredited, so they offer a diploma that will be recognized by colleges. A typical stay at a therapeutic boarding school is usually one to two years, according to the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSP). Parent & Teen Resources suggests the cost can range from $2,000-$12,000 per month. While payment options vary from state-to-state and school-to-school, some of the costs may be covered by insurance or by your local public school if they are not equipped to handle your child's needs. BestTherapeuticSchools.com offers a comprehensive list of boarding schools for troubled teens.

Group Homes

A group home is exactly what it sounds like, a small house occupied by a small group of troubled youth in a residential setting. Trained staff are on site at all times to aid youth in daily life including:

  • Getting youth to and from local schools
  • Keeping in close contact with school staff
  • Teaching life skills as teens are expected to help with housework
  • Providing emotional support as needed
  • Facilitating regular family interactions
  • Enforcing routines and disciplinary policies

Group homes are often used to provide a transition from a higher level of care back to regular home life. The home is typically overseen by a team of licenced psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health counselors who develop individualized plans of care for each child. Group homes can be operated by non-profit organizations or government agencies. To find a home near you, check with your county or state Department of Child and Family Services.

Residential Treatment Facility

A Residential Treatment Facility, or RTF, is a live-in facility that provides more intensive help for youth with severe mental health and behavioral concerns. The focus in an RTF is treating psychiatric disorders, severe emotional disturbances and extremely violent behavior. Teens living in the facility will follow highly structured routines that include an Individualized Treatment Plan and full-time supervision by trained staff.

A RTF is overseen by an on-site mental health professional and houses anywhere from 11-50 residents, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. A co-ed RTF will generally be split into male and female wings, keeping boys and girls separate. There are also RTFs that are all-male or all-female. The typical cost can run anywhere from $4,000-$12,000 per month according to Parent & Teen Resources. ResidentialTreatmentCenters.me offers a state-by-state directory of RTFs. It includes both adult and youth programs so you will need to read options carefully.

Wilderness Therapy Program

Boy on Log

Teens enrolled in a Wilderness Therapy Program, or Outdoor Behavioral Health Program, spend an extended period living in the wild with a small group of peers and staff. Accredited programs employ approximately four trained counselors per group of four to five teens. Participants are equipped with minimal survival supplies such as a sleeping bag, food, water and other necessary gear. The typical Outdoor Behavioral Health Program as described by the American Psychological Association is an 8-10 week journey that includes physically demanding daily hikes. Parent & Teen Resources' website suggests Wilderness Therapy programs range in price from $300-$495 per day.

Similar to the Wilderness Therapy programs, Working Ranches are another residential option for teens that incorporate rigorous physical activities combined with natural elements. Instead of hiking and camping, youth live on a real ranch and help with chores.

Juvenile Detention Center

A Detention Center is similar in appearance to prison. Teens who have committed serious crimes are housed in a juvenile detention center while awaiting court hearings or trials. The purpose here is to protect not only the family, but the public from youth who may be of threat to public safety. The center also gives teens a safe, restricted environment that often includes rehabilitative and therapeutic opportunities.

While the living quarters and daily life can be similar to jail, modern Juvenile Detention Centers use screenings to determine the emotional, physical and educational needs of residents. The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange suggests detention centers are moving away from punishment-based systems and taking a more rehabilitative approach.

Boot Camp

Sometimes called "shock incarceration," Teen Boot Camps are much like a military boot camp. This type of program uses strict rules and schedules along with immediate physical punishments like push-ups to correct problem behavior. Teen Boot Camps can cost anywhere from $5,000-$10,000 says Family First Aid. The typical stay at a boot camp, according to Scientific American, is three to six months. During boot camp, youth will participate in:

  • Daily manual labor
  • Physical training
  • Drills and ceremonies
  • Educational classes
  • Group counseling

How to Choose a Facility

With so many types of residential facilities, it can seem difficult to choose the right one for your teen. A few considerations to keep in mind when exploring your options are:

  • Know your child's medical, physical, emotional, mental, social and educational needs.
  • Look for programs that are accredited by professional organizations.
  • Consider how the program will affect the teen's schooling.
  • Look for programs with a professional and informative website.
  • Ask a lot of questions when interviewing potential programs.
  • Check with your insurance company to see if they cover any associated costs.

To find a program that is right for your family, ask a trusted mental health professional or your primary care physician for recommendations. The Trouble Teens Directory also has a great function where you can search programs by state.

Home Away From Home

Residential programs for youth dealing with behavioral issues, mental health concerns and drug abuse allow teens to find the help they need in a restrictive setting. Alternative housing solutions for troubled youth offer trained professional help paired with individualized attention and care, something that cannot always be achieved in the family household. Keep in mind the goal with all residential facilities for teens in crisis is to help them return home to their family.

Homes for Troubled Teens