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Researching Schools

Your child’s school district may provide you with a list of schools that they recommend or have had positive experiences with. It still helps to research these schools and additional options yourself.

Parents should learn from schools’ websites whether they are accredited, and by what agencies. There are many types of residential schools but not all are considered “residential treatment.” Settings such as boarding schools, wilderness programs, or other non-accredited schools may not have a similar level of professional staff to assist with treatment and education planning compared to special education residential schools.

The school’s website should describe what students they serve. This can be confusing for parents, as children may have more than one challenge (such as autism and a mood disorder, or a psychiatric and learning difficulty). Parents should ask the school’s staff if they can accommodate both needs. Look at and ask about the credentials of the educational and mental health providers to determine if they are qualified to address the complexity of your child’s needs.

“MAAPS website offers a school comparison checklist, and parent listservs can be a helpful way to obtain input from other families in similar situations.

Questions to ask potential residential placement options:

Several websites have created lists of questions that parents can ask potential residential schools.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness has an informational brochure online titled: A resource for families considering residential treatment programs for their children (PDF). It contains practical information to help parents grapple with out-of-home placement decisions once they have exhausted community resources. The information is targeted primarily for parents of children with mental health and behavioral challenges. Sample lists include questions for parents to ask potential programs, factors to consider when contemplating this decision, as well as rights of youth and families to prevent abuse and neglect in such settings.

CHART’s website also provides a list of questions parents can ask potential schools.

Residential placement (RP) for children with psychiatric difficulties may be approached differently than RP for children with severe IDD. RP may be a short term solution (e.g., a few weeks or months) to help the child/family manage a crisis (e.g., an episode of violence, suicidality, a succession of brief hospitalizations with no resulting stabilization). No one knows or can predict how long a child will require RP, which can range from short to long term. This may not be clear at the beginning of a placement or even after a period of time.