• Is the program licensed and accredited?
  • Have all staff had criminal background checks and have they been cleared through the state’s child abuse registry?

There are no federal regulations for residential treatment programs for children with emotional and behavioral problems. State regulation varies widely and some programs advertise that they can help such children and adolescents even though they are not licensed to do so. Some states send children out-of-state to residential programs that are not appropriately licensed in the state in which they are located. Consequently, it is important to check licensing and regulation information thoroughly. Programs need to be licensed by the state where they are located to provide each of the specific services they are offering.

Look for accreditations either by AEE, JCAHO, COA, OBH, or CARF. Check the American Psychological Association, Better Business Bureau or NATSAP. (NOTE: this does not guarantee that a program is safe or appropriate). To learn about possible problems with any program, research online for news accounts relating to the facility and contact the Better Business Bureau and the state attorney generals office to learn about any serious, ongoing issues. Also check with the local fire department and police department to see how many calls have been made to the program or school. Other questions you need to ask during your on site visit:

  • Which state agency licenses the residential program or outdoor wilderness program?
  • What state agency licenses the educational services at the program?
  • Is the program accredited?
  • By which agency?
  • What training is provided to the staff members who work day-to-day and evening shifts, field shifts, with the children?
  • What kind of supervision does the staff have, especially those that work holidays and weekends?
  • Have all the employees been subject to background checks? By which organization and what kind of screening has been done?
  • Are all employees and staff subject to drug testing?
  • Does the program take children’s and young adults medical complaints seriously, with a better safe than sorry approach, rather than assuming that this children or young adult with behavioral challenges is faking?
  • How does the program communicate with the parents about any serious incidents?