Boot Camps

The Juvenile Boot Camp Debate

The use of the term “teen boot camp” is still being debated. The media tend to focus on the “in your face” element of teen boot camps — the element that professionals who work with teens like the least.

Dr. MacKenzie, who has been studying adult boot camps since 1987, holds that defining the term “boot camp” has been a major issue and remains one. Her 1991 survey of adult boot camps (MacKenzie and Souryal, 1991) found some common boot camp characteristics, including:

1. A military-style environment.
2. Separation of boot camp participants from regular prison inmates when they are housed in collocated facilities.
3. The participants’ perception that boot camp is an alternative to a longer term of confinement.
4. Some hard labor.

The most noteworthy finding from Dr. MacKenzie’s survey, however, was that boot camp programs differ widely, particularly with regard to the amount of time participants spend in therapeutic activity and in the aftercare they are provided.

The definition of teen boot camps given by OJP in its Fiscal Year 1995 Corrections Boot Camp Initiative: Violent Offender Incarceration Grant Program includes the following elements:

1. Participation by nonviolent offenders only (to free up space in traditional facilities for violent felony offenders, i.e., those who have used dangerous weapons against another person, caused death or serious bodily injury, or committed serious sex offenses).
2. A residential stay of 6 months or less.
3. A structured schedule stressing discipline, physical training, and work.
4. Participation by juveniles in appropriate education opportunities, job training, and substance abuse counseling or treatment.
5. Provision of aftercare services that are coordinated with the program that is provided during the period of confinement.

In the 90s the military-style boot camps became popular. Several daytime talk shows like Dr. Phil showed uniformed men yelling at and intimidating teens and adolescents into behaving in the way they wanted them to. The problem with this type of boot camp is that the teen was learning to behave in a particular fashion when in a controlling and intimidating environment. They were not learning how to make good decisions in the environment they would return to upon leaving the camp. Because the scope of this type of boot camp was so limited, long-term change in the participants was often very limited. Coercing a teen to behave through fear and intimidation is not likely to change any core beliefs or teach them any life skills that will help them in the daily challenges they will face outside of the program.

Too many parents think that a boot camp will be a quick fix for negative behavior patterns that have developed over months or even years. Unless, or until, the juvenile learns to cope with and make consistent good choices in their regular environment, lasting changes are not likely to occur. Most of these behaviors have developed overtime as a method of adapting to and coping with life. Adolescence is, arguably, one of the most difficult times in a person’s life. Along with new types of responsibility and freedom comes many choices about behavior, friends, priorities, values, and how one will spend his/her free time. Most teens start looking to peers or role-models outside of their home and can be greatly influenced by these people. If a teen starts to identify with the “wrong crowd” and finds the belonging they are seeking they will likely follow the actions and behaviors of that crowd, even if it doesn’t coincide with the values and lifestyle they were raised with.

For parents that feel like their teen is out of control and don’t know where to turn for help, boot camp is one option; but remember that until the underlying concerns and issues the teen is dealing with are addressed, long-term change is unlikely. A good place to start is by simply talking to your teen. Try to understand the emotions and fears that are driving the undesired behavior and ask them if they are ready to make a change. Often the teen wants out but doesn’t know how to make the change. If they know they have the help, love, and support of a parent or trusted individual they can make radical change, without a boot camp or other program. If your teen does open up to you, be sure and follow through with the support they need. This may require changing schools, spending more time talking and listening to your teen to help them learn basic choice and accountability and decision making skills that will help him/her achieve desired results. Bad behavior is most often a cry for attention, providing adequate time and attention may be all that is needed. Consult with a therapist for professional counsel on what is the best option for the troubled teen in your life.

Residential Treatment Centers

Finding a Residential Treatment Center

The term “Residential Treatment Centers” covers a wide variety of places that people go to and stay at while receiving therapeutic treatment for some condition or issue. In the case of teens, they may also receive schooling. This article explains more.

What Is a Residential Treatment Center for Teens?

Residential Treatment Centers has two definitions. In one case, it is a very broad term and covers a variety of institutions at which teens may reside while receiving treatment. Those that treat teens often limit their population to that age group or-if they treat multiple age groups-separate the teens from younger and/or older clients. But the specific use of the term Residential Treatment Center is more specific.

Places where teens can go and reside while being treated include emotional growth and therapeutic boarding schools, wilderness programs and outdoor therapeutic programs, and small residential programs. Residential Treatment Centers is another type of treatment, a category along with the five just named. Each has its special focus. The mission of residential treatment centers is to treat teens with psychological and behavior issues that are serious, in a highly structured environment where both medication management and monitoring by health care professionals is available. Individual and group therapy are available, and recreation and education are provided as well. It is desirable that they be accredited by The Joint Commission (TJC), previously known as the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) or other, similar organizations.

Types of Residential Treatment Centers for Teens

Even though they have a similar purpose, Residential Treatment Centers for teens can have distinct admissions criteria and be guided by different therapeutic approaches. For example, Gray Wolf Ranch, a boys-only facility for young men aged 14 to 25, includes a day school program and provides transitional living for young men who are in the early stages of recovery from addiction. Its approach is based on the 12-Step principles and philosophy. Turn-About Ranch, on the other hand, is a coeducational program for teens 13 to 17 having issues with defiance, and enlists them in running a working ranch with an approach based on Christian values.

Pros and Cons of Residential Treatment Centers for Teens

The key to a successful residential treatment experience for a teen is a) only considering and choosing licensed and certified centers with an exemplary history to ensure that your teen is safe and well cared for and b) making a good match between the teen and the treatment facility and their approach. Teens with issues that the RTC is not equipped to deal may have less successful treatment experiences. Different treatment centers either welcome or prohibit family contact, and either approach may or may not be suitable. If there are triggers, temptations, or other issues in the teens environment, school, or home life, if these are not addressed along with the teen’s individual issues, even the best program may seem to be unsuccessful.

Finding Residential Treatment Centers for Teens

The Joint Commission offers a search for programs that it licenses and/or certifies here:

The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs both includes a search function and also lists the accrediting and/or licensing agencies and the professional affiliations for each school, which gives other points to begin a search.


Residential Treatment Centers

Residential Treatment Centers

What is a Residential Treatment Center?

Residential treatment centers for troubled teens are similar to Specialty Boarding Schools, except they include individual and group therapy. Being residential means the teens reside at the center, typically 6 – 18 months. Most residential treatment centers include a full academic program so teens can continue their education while at the center, however; education is secondary to maintaining emotional and behavioral health. They differ from Specialty Boarding Schools as they have therapist on staff and don’t usually need to contract outside services to provide individual and group therapy.

Which teens are appropriate for Residential Treatment Centers?

Residential treatment centers are long term, typically 6 – 18 months. They are most appropriate for teens that need long term help for serious issues like Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Depression, Bipolar disorder, as well as some personality disorders. Candidates for a residential treatment center would include teens that have been abusing drugs or alcohol, getting into a lot of trouble at school, or have other emotional or behavioral problems. Teens who have been to other ‘quick fix’ type programs or treatment centers and have returned to the old behaviors need more long-term help and can benefit greatly from the environment of a residential treatment center. Teens with suicidal ideation or severe depression would also benefit from a residential treatment center.

Which teens are not appropriate for Residential Treatment Centers?

Residential treatment centers may not be appropriate for teens that have only moderate problems. Teens that only need a ‘quick fix’ may not need a long-term program. A teen that is getting into mild trouble at school or has just started talking negatively may not need a residential treatment center. If problems are just beginning a family should consider local help and solutions that are not as drastic as sending the teen to a center for several months. Talking with professional counselors in your area can help you determine what kinds of treatment options are best for the teen issues and problems your family is dealing with. Some teens do very well with outpatient programs that allow them to live at home and continue to attend their regular school.

Why Residential Treatment Centers are appropriate for Behavior Modification?

Because residential treatment centers are long term and include therapy, they give the teen enough time to make lasting changes. Residential treatment centers include therapy and are able to spend the time working with the teens to delve deep into the causes of the emotional and behavioral problems the trouble teen may have and to introduce them to a new environment that will, over time, adapt their thinking and the way they process their environment to help them make better decisions in the future. Because the poor behavior was often exacerbated by environmental factors that contributed to their problems, it may be required that their previous living conditions change once they leave the residential treatment center to prevent relapse. Some residential treatment centers are available for many issues including: abuse, drug and alcohol use, behavior issues etc.

How much does a Residential Treatment Center cost?

Teen Treatment Centers are more expensive than Specialty Boarding Schools because they include therapy. The costs range between $4,000 to $11,000 a month. Some expenses for the therapy may be paid by health insurance. Check with your health insurance company before assuming they will pay for any of the costs of a residential treatment center.

It is important to note that residential treatment centers are not always drug treatment centers – you should look into drug rehab facilities if you are looking for drug treatment.

What to ask before choosing a Residential Treatment Center

Because not all treatment centers are created equal, it is important to do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions before selecting a program for your teen. The following is a general list and it is not mean to be fully inclusive but will give you an idea of the type of questions to ask and research.

  • Is the center licensed by the state and what specifically is the center licensed for: metal/behavioral health, rehabilitation, education, etc.?
  • What academic curriculum is available, if any? How much priority is place on education? Do all participants participate in an educational program?
  • Does the residential treatment center have accreditation? There are several independent, non-profit organizations that provide accreditation for these programs and you can check with them to find out more about a specific centers accreditation: Joint Commission (JACHO), Council on Accreditation (COA), and Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).
  • What credentials do your directors and staff have? Ask about degrees, experience, endorsements, and references.
  •  How much experience does the staff have? Have they worked at other residential treatment centers? What type of issues are they trained to deal with? Do they have CPR and other emergency training?
  • What type of pre-assessment screening is done? How familiar do you become with individuals and their problems before accepting them into the program?
  • Does each person have an individualized program and how often is the program assessed?
  • How is discipline handled? What happens in case of an emergency?
  • How often can you communicate with your teen? How is success defined/determined? Is there any kind of refund policy if the program is not completed and/or is unsuccessful?

If you have specific concerns for your teen, be sure and find out ahead of time how the center will handle the situation or issues you are wondering about. Check  with the US Government Accountability Office to see if any complaints have been filed with the center and what the outcome was.