Category Archives: Step Down Programs

Appreciating Positive Changes From Teens in Treatment

This is the follow up to my post about the frustrations encountered with my son’s treatment and moving to a step down facility. Now I am going to write about the positive changes I have experienced in my son since his move. Reflecting back, the positives do outweigh the negatives. Sometimes I can get hyper focused on the negative and want everything to be perfect, then it is time for me to reflect on all the good that has come.

Because this time of year is so busy with time crunches between the holidays, writing consistently in my blog and also having to work I am going to bullet point my thoughts.

  1. Clean and Sober – He remains clean and sober, therefore we are able to have    real constructive conversations. Smoking cigarettes may lead to drugs, but at this point I have no reason to believe he is using.
  2. Rage – When issues arise and we have had to confront him, he has not gone into a rage and started swearing at us. We have been able to discuss the experience and get honest information from him.
  3. Villains – He is not treating us as if we are the villain and it is our fault. He is starting to accept responsibility.
  4. No AWOL – He has not bolted or run away, or expressed the desire. We have actually talked and tried to reach a compromise.
  5. Accepting – He may get upset but somewhat accepts the consequences.

These may sound small to some and “expected” results but they are  huge improvements from where we were before he went to treatment. Our conversations nightly on the phone  he tells us that he misses us,  I know in his own way he is trying. The treatment  process is long and arduous and there are very few people that really understand what families are coping with when they have a teen in treatment.

During a discussion with our son’s therapist she made this great analogy; I hope to quote her correctly:

“When you sent your son to treatment it is not like trading your car in for a new model. Your son went to treatment and he came out the same person but with modifications.”

This is another saying that I would chuckle at during the parent meetings at Heritage, they would comment:

“We can help treat your teen but we cannot take the teenager out of them”

Like many of us, I need to get used to my teenager, not take things so personally and we all need to learn how to live together, again. Until another day. . .

Teens Treatment and the Honeymoon Is Over

Their really is a  honeymoon phase when your kid first comes home from residential treatment. Everything is perfect and everyone is on their best behavior and it is amazing that I did thought it would be different for us. I am always asking when will my teen learn but when will I learn? Am I in that much denial?

The honeymoon phase is over for us, I would say it lasted maybe four weeks since we placed our son at a step down facility. Our teen has gone from a level 14 to a level 12, in numbers it does not sound like much of a step down, but when you think that at a level 14 they are at the facility 24 x 7 and the level 12 is a group home environment. Even though the level 12 is on a level system they have much more freedom and trust. When they return from an outing they are not completely searched, they just check the pockets and look in the bags.  Also as parents we are way more involved in the daily routine, we have a short daily phone call to check in with our son. This can be either good or bad, sometimes the more I know, the more I don’t want to know. We also have the opportunity to see him every week that he has been at this facility. The visits in the beginning were on site, then in the community and then he started coming home every other weekend. It is an hour drive from our home so this is much more time consuming on a weekly basis for us and this is ok, because we want to be a part of our son’s life. But at the same time we have had some slip ups and I can tell he was not ready to come home and I am beginning to wonder about his ability to hold it together at the group home.

My expectations I think were higher than they should have been. I don’t know why I thought he would just sail through with flying colors. I also thought after 8 weeks of Wilderness he would be a star client when he went into residential treatment. Wrong again! We have had a few set backs and at times I have wondered if he should have stayed at the level 14 facility. But then he is a teen and why do I think this would be trouble free? I guess I am just hoping.

The biggest test moving to a step down is to see if he can be independent and responsible and so far that has not played out. Maybe we have given him a longer leash than he can really handle. We have allowed him to have friends over, go into town without us and be responsible. To any parent with a normal functioning teen this may sound minor, but we have now caught him smoking and he took cigarettes back to the group home and got caught smoking in the bathroom. He has not followed our house rules for curfew when he has been home. These are all red flags, but do you send your teen back to a higher level of care for smoking cigarettes? I don’t think so, but I really do not want to babysit a 16 year old. He is at an age where he should be able to follow the rules and not try and see what he can get away with. Another area of real concern is weight loss, he has lost 10 lbs. since his return. As a health issue this is most serious, and this could be anxiety due to all the changes and expectations.

This is all troubling for me and I am trying my hardest not to be effected but it always does. He knows how to manipulate us and I don’t understand his motivation. I really thought we were getting along well and had a truly open and honest relationship.  He tells us he is ready to come home and then he sabotages it. Here it is almost Christmas and the plan was for him to be home for the two week break. But now it looks like it will be a few days here and a few days there, because I can’t trust him to be alone and responsible over a long period of time. Now the plan is to have successful visits not stressful visits. Sometimes I wonder what he really wants.

Since this has been much more stressful than I thought and with the holidays my blog posts have not been consistant. There has been some positives and I will update you on what positive changes we have seen not only in our son, but also in how my parenting has changed in dealing with issues.

Family Life Center, Petaluma, CA Adolescent Residential Treatment

Recently we moved our son to a step down residential treatment program near our home. Before deciding where he would go I toured a few level 12 facilities, one that is very popular for many teens is Family Life Center. From what I have heard many of the teens from Island View in Utah transfer here.

Family Life Center is located in a rural section of Petaluma, CA in Sonoma County. The grounds are meticulously maintained and I was very impressed. The school separates the boys and girls and there is very little interaction between the two sexes. I have heard the education is a bit soft but this is true of most residential treatment programs where the education is secondary compared to the all so important treatment.

I have heard great things from families that have attended, but it did not feel like a true step down program, even though it is not a lockdown facility and a level 12. The program appeared to be as structured and they had high expectations on how the boys should look and behave. Individuality did not appear to be one of the characteristics they were developing, it felt like everyone needed to fit a specific mold. Some of the programs philosophy reminded me of the Wilderness experience.

After the teens reach a certain level there is a program where they can move into a satellite house with six kids living with house parents. At this stage they do a lot of off campus activities such as going to the farmers market, out for pizza, shopping at a thrift store, even an occasional movie.

It was not my choice for my son, I think it would have been too confining and not as accepting of his creative individuality. I was looking for more of a “real” step down program that would test my sons ability to begin to integrate back into the community. It did not appear to be enough of a change from the facility that he was currently attending. For some families it may be the right place for their teen and I understand they have an excellent therapeutic model.

As you look at the pictures below, notice how clean and neat everything is, also I think they have a gourmet chef that cooks with all natural ingredients. I was very impressed with the house cleaning (I wished mine looked as good) there literally was nothing out of place from the kitchen counters to the boys PE clothes that were folded perfectly on their beds. I did not tour the girls area.

One thing I do recognize from my experience every facility is very different. Even though they may work with the same level systems and do the same type of therapy they each have their own character. If possible try to visit the facility before making a placement.

Moving to a Step-Down Facility Level 12

No one ever said this was going to be easy or quick or have any guarantees, but we are in for the long haul and entering a new phase of adolescent rehabilitation and residential treatment with our teen son. It was June 2007 that he went to Wilderness, unsure of what it meant or what they could do but we knew we had to do something, then in August 2007 he came out of the Oregon forest and went to a residential treatment center in the beautiful state of Utah. This October 2008 he discharged from Heritage Schools, flew home,  spent three nights with us before going to a step down residential treatment program one hour from our home.

“… In the Spring of 2007 if I had been told that I would be spending quality time with my son in 1½ years I would not have believed it.  I just spent the most awesome weekend with the son that I remembered and love, therefore I am forever grateful.”

Phase three another unknown in this ongoing process; we began the end of last summer researching the different options that were available to us. This is what we considered:

  1. returning home and attending special classes at the public high school,
  2. private schools in our area and living at home
  3. step down residential treatment or group homes.

Residential Treatment Centers are given a rating with a level of care they provide. How they figure out the rating is very complicated. Heritage is the highest level of  care which is a level 14, he is now in a level 12 which hopefully will transition him back home or into society. There is somewhat of a big difference between the two levels.

Our son was questioning the different options that were open to him, due to his experiences he definitely had an opinion about his comfort level and what he wanted to do. He did not like Wilderness and could not believe we placed him at an RTC after Wilderness, this has not been his favorite experience.  My husband was set on him coming home, thinking that is what he would want, but surprisingly my son chose a step down. I think it really is the best and I am glad that he was able to make that decision on his own instead of us dictating what is next. At this point his success is up to him, he is writing the story. He did not want to go to a public or private school and have to explain where he had been the past year or his situation. 

In my perfect world he would have finished the semester at Heritage Schools and then move to a step down program but Residential Treatment is so different from being in the regular school system. Since they are in school year around, kids come and go at all time and they make accommodations for them. I wanted everything to align perfectly, finish the semester in December and then move to the next phase. But life isn’t like that and one day we got the phone call that the new facility had an opening earlier than they expected and were we interested. He had to be there in a week, YIKES! Instead of losing the space and not knowing when a new vacancy would be available we took it. So much for  preparation.

The success is truly within him, there is not much we can do at this point except stand by him. We wanted him closer to home, so that we could be more involved in his life and he could start integrating back into our community. This is whatever you want to call it, a test, new phase, but if he cannot control himself with this level of care, then he will go right back to where we started until he can prove himeself or turns 18.  My gut tells me this was the right decision. He has matured, he is clean and sober, and needs to know that we are not living in the past, we trust him and recognize that he has done a lot of work to get to this point.