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Questions To Ask When Touring Teen Residential Programs

Updated October 2020, formatting & added detailed information to the reader.


When you visit a teen treatment program you may be meeting with just one person who will answer all of these questions (usually the admissions person), or you may meet with several people from the program’s different departments (clinical director, academic director, an owner or the program director).  You may also find that many of your questions will be answered before you arrive to tour through your phone calls with admissions contacts or owners or even speaking to the program’s referral sources.  If you only have a few remaining questions, one of your goals with the visit should be to absorb the atmosphere of the community and connect with the staff & administration (or not) because these people are going to be your connection to your teen, when or if your teen is enrolled in the residential program.  



Note to reader: Most of these questions are required to be answered by the Teen Treatment Programs that advertise on this website.  If you sign up for a free account you can compare the treatment programs side-by-side too.  

  • What is the average length of stay?  What determines success and readiness to graduate/transition?
  • What is the program’s philosophy on change?  How do you invite a student to change and encourage change?
  • How would you work with a student who didn’t want to go very deep emotionally?
  • Give a description of the stage/levels of progress.  What are the expectations for each stage?  What are the privileges associated with those stages?  Is there individualization of the stages based on each student’s needs/challenges?
  • What are the program’s philosophies about consequences and discipline? DIG HERE for specifics about how the program deals with consistent undesired behaviors: ask for specific examples of how they would handle consistent non-compliant or “power-struggle” behavior.  Give an example of your child on his/her worst day.
  • How does the program use peer culture as part of the treatment process?
  • Is there a difference in outcomes for a student who participated in a wilderness program vs. one who did not?  What is the difference in a student’s transition to your program? 
  • What does a typical day look like?  What do students do in their free time?  How often do they leave campus?  What kinds of activities do they do (on campus and off-campus)?  What, if anything would exclude a student from being able to participate in activities?



  • What are the expectations of family involvement?
  • How often are parents expected to participate in family therapy? Is there other parent work expected or suggested?
  • Are siblings allowed/invited to participate in the process?  If so, when and how?
  • How often will the program be communicating with the family?  How do they deal with divorced parents?
  • What is required in order for you to be able to visit or for your teen to be able to visit you?
  • Are there different types of communication with the student at different stages?  DIG HERE  Are communications monitored? i.e. Are letters opened and read before being distributed? Are emails read first?  Is there a staff person in the room for phone calls?
  • Is communication allowed with friends?  What is the process?  Do you get to choose the people who your child communicates with?
  • What is the amount/frequency the program will communicate with the family throughout the program?  Who will be communicating with us? 
  • How does communication work internally?  How often do they discuss each student?  Who is involved in those discussions?



  • What is their training?  What is the average age?  What does your program look for when hiring staff? The education level of staff?  Are the employees’ contractors?
  • If you have a child who is transgender, how are the staff trained? **
  • How do they manage medical, psychiatric, and dental care?  How is staff trained in terms of medication and first aid?
  • What is the ratio for:
    • academic class sizes— teachers;
    • direct care staff —students;
    • therapist caseloads?
  • How is professional development managed with staff, therapists, and the education team?



  • How often does the student meet with the primary therapist? (Some programs do not have individual therapists. Who does the student connect with or go to if there is a problem?)
  • How often do we (the family) speak with the therapist or contact the program? 
  • What other types of therapy do they have on a weekly basis?
  • Is there ever a reason why they would not have therapy?
  • What types of groups are offered and are the groups run by therapists?
  • How do you deal with therapy burnout?
  • What types of experiential therapies are offered and how often? (e.g. Equine, Art, Rec., Sand Tray, wilderness /adventure weekends, etc.).  What training do the specialists have?
  • What do you do if a student isn’t connecting or working well with the assigned therapist?
  • What would you change about the program?
  • How is movement or progress in the program measured?



  • How much money is due upfront? If I pull my teen from the program, are there refunds? (This will vary program to program and be in the contract that you sign.  It is not something you think about at enrollment, but it is a sticking point, should the placement not work.  Ask upfront.)
  • What expenses are not covered by the monthly tuition?
  • What does my teen need to bring?  What is not permitted?
  • If the treatment program claims to work with transgender clients — What is their philosophy?  Who are the therapists that do the work? **



  • What is the structure of the school program?
  • Do the students have grade-level classes or are they combined?
  • Is the school accredited? 
  • Are teachers certified in their subject areas?
  • Are teachers available outside of class for help?
  • Are teachers present during any of the study hall periods?
  • If there is a concern in the classroom how is it dealt with regarding treatment goals?



A tour may or may not include meeting with students in the program with or without staff present.  If you meet with current students find out how long each student has been in the program.  You may also ask if they completed a therapeutic wilderness program.  This gives you some context for their answers. Be sure not to ask any of the student’s confidential information — last names, why they are there, etc.

  • What do you like most about the program?
  • How do you feel about how the staff treats you?  Do you feel respected?
  • When you think about the other teens who you have seen successfully complete the program, what do you think their biggest accomplishment was?
  • How often do you communicate with your family?
  • What type of child/behavior does not succeed here?
  • Do you feel your family is working as hard as you are?
  • How are your relationships different from your therapist, staff, or teachers at this program vs. being at home?
  • How does the program or staff deal when a student is being non-compliant?
  • How often do you get off-campus?
  • What would you change about this program?
  • If the treatment program accepts transgender clients, ask the students about their experience with transgender clients. ** 

 **There are several teen & young adult treatment programs on this website that identify as working with transgender expansive clients.  If your child is on this spectrum, as lots of questions of the teen treatment program. There are many programs that do many pieces of training on this & other that claim but do limited training. 


About the Author
Jenney Wilder M.S.Ed launched All Kinds of Therapy in 2015, as the only independent online directory for the Family Choice Behavioral Healthcare Industry. With an impressive case of ADHD and her starter career in the 90’s in Silicon Valley, the dream for creating a website with features like side-by-side comparison and an integrated newsletter was born. Jenney stopped counting treatment centers and all types of schools that she has visited when she hit 500 many years ago. 
She was the sponsoring author of the only Economic Impact Study of the Family Choice Behavioral Healthcare Industry, which revealed the only true financial figures about this industry (in Utah). 
Jenney has a Masters in Special Education from Bank Street College (NY) and a Bachelors of Arts focused on History from Wheaton College (MA).