Despite our efforts, many children are falling into the at-risk category every day. According to Dr. Richard Marshall of the University of South Florida Polytechnic, this is because approximately 20% of the students lack the essential skills, abilities, motivation or background to fit into our traditional school systems. When these children seek to join a community whether at home or at school, they experience severe difficulties which often will push them towards becoming at-risk.
The teenagers’ homes and the communities they seek to join are big factors that can cause them to become at-risk. For example, a bad neighborhood, bad role models within the family, accessible and unregulated forms of media such as the internet, unhealthy living conditions, negative peer pressure from neighboring friends are contributing factors to becoming an at-risk.
What at-risk children needs most is a positive environment that is conducive for them to change. As a parent concerned over your child’s welfare, if you are unsure whether you can commit to a level of attention and care, or your home foster a positive environment needed by these kids, the best solution would be to enroll him or her to a residential program that is conducive for change.
Right now, there are dozens of programs for at-risk youth available both in the public and private sector. When looking for the best program, parents will have to understand what each specific program entails, what its strengths are and its weaknesses.
To help parents decide, here are brief overviews of the most common programs:
Residential Treatment Center
Community based programs are among the most popular solutions for providing help to at-risk youth, and among these are the residential treatment centers or live-in health care facilities where patients stay for a period of time in order to be treated.
Residential treatment centers in the teen intervention setting are “unlocked”, which means residents are generally allowed to move about the facility with relative freedom except outside of the premises as opposed to locked residential treatment facilities wherein patients’ freedom is severely restricted, usually confined to a single hall or room. Residential treatment centers are generally more clinically focused, providing treatment based on the medical history of the patient. These institutions also primarily provide behavior therapy and treatment for patients suffering from serious mental, emotional or behavioral issues.
Residential treatment centers are usually considered as the “last ditch” option to helping a child.
In an effort to distance themselves from the stigma of committing oneself to a rehab, many residential treatment centers have begun distancing themselves from the name by becoming instead multi faceted treatment facilities that offer additional programs, usually educational in nature and offer to teaches life skills that may be useful in later life. For instance, Ironwood, a Maine based teen residential treatment is also a culinary class where the teenagers learn preparation of world renown dishes, such as Pasta alla Carbonara or Paella Valenciana.
Example: Ironwood, Morrill, Maine
Therapeutic Boarding School
Some community based programs are adopted from the therapeutic community model such that they feature a long term, participative, group based treatment approach. Primary examples of these are therapeutic boarding schools.
Therapeutic boarding schools, also known as emotional growth schools, are boarding schools that have a significant therapeutic component and offers education and treatment in a highly structured and supervised environment. In contrast to residential treatment centers, the focus of therapeutic boarding schools is toward mental, emotional, and academic recovery. Its students usually are children and teenagers with mild to severe mental, emotional and behavioral problems, substance abuse problems, or learning difficulties due to other issues, such as ADHD.
To offer a level of education on par to better than that of other schools, therapeutic boarding schools generally follow the content of courses and regulations of the nation, state or region. Some schools are fully accredited and are licensed to award a high school diploma.
In the U.S., Britain and Australia, therapeutic boarding schools are widely credited for their role in providing intervention and treatment to troubled teenagers and at-risk youth. In the U.S., researchers have noted that participants of therapeutic boarding schools have much lower recidivism rates due to the long term residential treatment and the benefit of the educational program that ensures teens are easily reinserted into their society.
Military Boarding School for Troubled Teens
There are two types of military school programs in the United States: those whose purpose is to prepare cadets for service in the armed forces, and those that are designed to provide tough love intervention to troubled teenagers.
Military schools that are intended to prepare cadets for national service generally do not accept teenagers with behavioral, mental or physical problems.
Military boarding schools for troubled teens and at-risk youth are offshoots of the highly popular intervention solution for troubled boys in the 1980s. Among its main criticism was the length of the program, usually 2 to 3 months, which is deemed highly inadequate. By offering subsequently longer program duration plus an educational component, military boarding schools now offer a significantly better outlook in regards to providing intervention and treatment.
Still, there are many criticisms of programs that use a military based approach. According to many experts, the confrontational model used by these programs is not the most appropriate model for kids suffering from various issues such as emotional or mental problems. Plus, it is a model most susceptible to abuse. Research has shown that military based intervention also does not reduce recidivism rates of its participants. While the above standard physical fitness and a highly disciplined, highly structured environment can provide huge benefits to teens, rehabilitation programs that are not designed to scare, deter or control troubled youth are still better alternatives.
Example: Southeastern Military Academy, Port St. Lucie, Florida,
Christian Boarding School
Christian boarding schools are private residential schools managed by religious organizations. Since most of them are privately funded or are financed by charging tuition, Christian boarding schools are generally exempt from local or national educational regulations, although they generally follow regulations in order to provide a national level quality of education.
Christian boarding schools tend to follow a respective mission; among these is helping troubled teenagers and at-risk youth. Some tailored to providing intervention to specific category of struggling children, such as providing treatment and care to abused kids or kids struggling from drugs.
One main drawback of Christian schools is inequality, as Christian schools tend to follow their respective denomination. They are allowed to refuse some students based on qualifications, such as race or religion. Another disadvantage is the possibility of institutional or systemic bias, especially over topics on religion, which prohibits schools from accepting new ideas.
Example: Heartlight Christian Boarding School, Hallsville, Texas