Why Family Involvement is Important if Your Child is Going to a Treatment Center

There comes a point in the life of some families where it is determined that the child or teen needs assistance and support that the family is not able to provide on their own. The youth may have gotten involved in trouble in school or have behavioral, emotional or psychological issues that require the assistance of trained professionals in order to overcome. The youth may need a residential treatment center or program that is used to dealing with difficult or troubled children.

However, rather than these programs/centers being a place that the child is “banished” to and ignored, the family will need to continue to work together and function as a family in order to see success and behavioral change. If the troubled youth is sent away and the family has little or no contact with the child, there is less of a chance that the program will be successful on a long-term basis.

The child or teen must first understand that the family is choosing the program or center in order to give the child help and because he/she is truly loved and valued by the family. It needs to be clear that it isn’t simply a way to punish, “get rid” of the youth or make them not a member of the family any longer, but that instead it is because of the great love that the family has for the child. The family needs to show their commitment to assisting in the process and also be prepared for the youth to respond in anger or feel hurt by the decision. However, the family must stay strong and not change their mind once they have committed to the need for a program. This can be a very difficult and trying time as the child may begin to make promises about changing their behavior with pleas like “I promise I’ll be good, just don’t send me away” or similar bargains or deals. These types of “deals” can be heartbreaking for parents to hear, but again, they must stand firm and be prepared to hear the resulting anger that may result with phrases such as “if you send me away, I’ll never come home” or “I’ll never forgive you for doing this.” The parents must remember that the child is under emotional stress and also likely fearful about being away from home, even if at to that point, they’ve done everything they can to ruin the home life and show their dislike of the parents.

The initial part of the program may involve less contact between the child and the parents in order to give the staff time to conduct assessments and begin a treatment or behavior program without the child reacting to the parent or simply being defiant as he/she may have been at home. Many programs will have parents and children communicate through the use of letters or phone calls while the youth is in the program. Again, initially contact may be restricted, but will generally increase over time. Parents may also be referred to local support groups or groups offered at the center in order to interact and communicate with parents who are currently going through or have gone through similar situations and experiences. This can be a great support system as they often feel alone or like they have failed as parents by having to seek outside help to change the behavior of their troubled child. It can be very beneficial to hear from those who were in the same situation and that were helped by the program to become a strong and respectful family again.

A successful program will not only work with the child individually, but also with parents on their own, and then the entire family together in order to rebuild the relationships that may have been comprised or destroyed by years of acting out and defiant behavior. The child will need to be reminded that they have the support and love of the parents and the parents will also need training in how to manage the situation once the child has returned to living at home.

Once some of the individual work is done by the child and the parents, there will come a point, often after the child is showing some success and change, that it will be time to begin the process of recreating the family unit. This may involve counseling sessions, group activities, and the creation of behavioral “contracts” or agreements about what is permitted on both sides and the consequences of poor behavior in the future. There may also be the involvement of the other family, such as siblings, grandparents or others who have a regular and important role in the youth’s life.

If the parents and family are not involved in each step of the treatment program, once the child has returned home, even if he/she was successful in the program and showed great behavioral and emotional changes, things will likely revert to the original behavior if the entire family has not grown and changed together. The child’s behavior was not created in a vacuum and therefore, the entire family system needs to be modified to provide support, structure, respect and love between all members of the family going forward.

While the decision to seek the assistance of a residential treatment center or program that is used to dealing with troubled children can be a very difficult one for families to make, it is often the only solution that will result in the necessary behavioral and emotional changes that need to happen in order for the child or teen to go on to have a successful future. The involvement of the family each step of the way through the program is a critical and necessary component that will lead to changes throughout the family and increase the likelihood of long-term change on the part of the troubled youth. With communication, respect and love, all members will make it through the process and hopefully, come out on the other side, as stronger and more cohesive family.

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