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Therapeutic Boarding Schools – State Licenses & National Accreditation

My unaccompanied minor child travels by herself to see her family in Utah. After getting off a direct flight over a break in the middle of a summer week, she said, “Mama there was a kid on the flight who was flying alone too. He goes to boarding school in Utah.”

There is only one non-profit traditional boarding school in Utah (Wasatch Academy). There is another school in Utah that has a boarding school accreditation from the state of Utah and it is a for-profit school. That school takes students who need a step down from a higher level of care.  The state of Utah used to have a “therapeutic boarding school” accreditation and only one school (now closed) had it.

There are 10 different types of boarding schools. The phrase “boarding school” gets thrown around depending on the social situation, professional situation, or dealing with unaccompanied minors who have a lot of questions. Throw the word Therapeutic in front of boarding school and the whole situation goes to a whole new level of generalities. A Google search about therapeutic boarding schools for this blog revealed “about 6,960,000 results.”

For the purposes of this blog, I am discussing the state and national accreditations which are tied to a healthy portion of boarding schools.  Any educational institution that is claiming to educate your child and give your child a diploma better have an academic accreditation.*

You parents, in search of the facts about an out-of-home placement, need to know that not all therapeutic boarding schools are the sameState licenses vary greatly state to state. If you do a Google search on “therapeutic boarding school,” some of your results will have a state license but some will not because some states do not license the type of therapy program with education. Therefore, parents are encouraged to look for therapeutic programs that have national accreditation.  When you are sorting through the options – find places that have–

  • Licensed clinicians
  • Outcomes-based and clinically-based treatment modalities
  • Accreditation for academics
  • Accreditation for the type of treatment they are doing

Therapy and treatment are not a straight line from beginning to middle to end. There are no guarantees to treatment, what you can do as a parent is looking to the programs that are WILLING to open their doors to regulators or accrediting bodies. I have been told by treatment programs who advertise here — “if the state wanted to show up daily and be in our office, we would find them a desk, we have nothing to hide.” And then the next statement to me was, “but the state won’t hire enough people to investigate the programs here and that is where the state falls down.”  And then I read about what is happening in the news – just look at what is happening in Missouri at the Agape School and I see the problems.   These “schools” had limited state oversight, limited state regulation, and a lack of national accreditation.

Therefore, when you are searching the web, be sure to also find Therapeutic Boarding Schools that have a national accreditation that scoured their procedures, policies, and practices. This means that another group of third-party eyeballs examined the documented procedures, interviewed the employees, and performed an on-site evaluation.

These are the national accrediting bodies that offer options for “Therapeutic Boarding Schools”:

  • COA accredits therapeutic boarding schools either under Wilderness and Adventure-based Therapeutic Outdoor Services (WT) or Residential Treatment Services (RTX).
  • CARF  accredits therapeutic boarding schools under its residential treatment core program. (CARF does not have therapeutic boarding schools separately listed as a core program).
  • Joint Commission: application lists 24 Hour Therapeutic School under Behavioral Health Care and Human Services accreditation and applicable standards are the same as child/youth residential treatment programs.
  • NIPSA – NIPSA’s website indicates accrediting for-profit day and boarding schools and a therapeutic certification for therapeutic schools.**

Ask questions to the admission team. Ask about state and national accreditation and when necessary, why a program does not have it. There are 5,750,000 Google search results for Therapeutic Boarding School – understand how to interpret those results.

* Much like the difference between a State license and a National Accreditation, there are different types of Educational Accreditation bodies that involve more intense and frequent evaluations of the academic program. 

** Information about national accrediting bodies was provided by Accreditation Guru, which works with treatment programs of all levels to attain national accreditation. It is not a small task to receive national accreditation.  

Note to the reader: When I created this website, I intentionally removed the filter of Therapeutic Boarding School from the website. I felt that it was too confusing for the consumer.   That was in 2015; in 2022 it is even more confusing. Ask questions.  Hire an expert.

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.