Private residential treatment programs for children, adolescents and teens offer a range of services, including adoption / attachment support, clinical support, confidence building, alcohol treatment, eating disorder support, family support, learning challenge and academic support, and psychological counseling for a variety of addiction, behavioral, emotional and mental health challenges. Many of these programs are intended to provide a less-restrictive alternative to incarceration or hospitalization, or an intervention for a troubled young person.

When you are a parent or guardian and think you have exhausted intervention alternatives for a troubled child or teen, you may be considering a private residential treatment program. These programs go by a variety of names, including “therapeutic boarding schools,” “emotional growth academies,” “teen boot camps,” “behavior modification facilities,” and “wilderness therapy programs.”

The programs are not regulated by the federal government, and many are not subject to state licensing or monitoring as mental health or educational facilities.

Many programs advertise on the Internet and through other social media, making claims about staff credentials, success rates, the level of treatment a participant will receive, program accreditation, education credit transfers, and endorsements by professionals.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, cautions that before you enroll an adolescent in a private residential treatment program:

  • are you licensed?
  • ask for proof or support for claims about staff credentials, program accreditation, and endorsements
  • ask specific questions
  • check it out online
  • do an on site visit
  • get all policies and promises in writing

Should the program be unlicensed and you still want to consider it, contact the State Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau, and the local consumer protection office where the program is located.

Regardless of whether a program is licensed, when contacting any of these groups:

  • Ask for copies of all publicly available information, including any complaints or actions filed against the program, site visit evaluations, violations, and corrective actions.
  • Pay particular attention to any reports of unsanitary or unsafe living conditions, nutritionally compromised diets, exposure to extreme environmental conditions or extreme physical exertion, inadequate staff supervision or a low ratio of staff to residents, medical neglect, physical or sexual abuse of youth by program staff or other residents, and any violation of youth or family rights.

Several independent nonprofit organizations, like the Joint Commission (JACHO), the Council on Accreditation (COA), and the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), accredit mental health programs and providers.

  • CARF International is an independent accreditor of human services providers in areas including behavioral health, child and youth services, and employment and community services.
  • COA is an international child- and family-service and behavioral healthcare organization that accredits 38 different service areas, including substance abuse treatment, and more than 60 types of programs.
  • JACHO accredits and certifies more than 15,000 health care organizations and programs in the U.S.

The organizations above grant accreditation and certification after evaluating the quality of services provided by a treatment program.

Among the sources of information for families researching private residential treatment programs for troubled youngsters are: