Educational Consultants: your guide to the best-fit program

Are you at the end of your rope with your teen? Tried everything? Therapy and meds not helping them enough, or not at all? School’s not happening, and home life is toxic?

What can you do? Putting them on a rocket ship to Mars, or in a suspended animation tank until they are 25, are not viable options – at least for now. (Say, there’s an idea for a science fiction plot! Definitely an audience for stories like that, right?)

Well, until technology catches up, many families will instead turn to finding a therapeutic boarding school or residential program for their struggling teen/young adult with special needs. And like the situation itself, that is no laughing matter.

A family at the point of deciding to find a program is probably in crisis mode or close to it. The impulse is to click around online or pick up the phone and find the first program that can take the teen NOW. You may get lucky with that approach, but these programs are not one-size-fits-all. There’s a good chance a randomly-chosen program won’t be all that effective for your teen, or it may even be inappropriate. The results of a bad fit will be frustration for you, worse attitude from your teen, even more strain on your relationship, and lots of time and money wasted. It’s a big commitment and a big deal; you’ll want to make a wise choice, not a hasty one.

If you are in crisis mode you probably don’t want to hear this, but it is advisable to pause and hire an educational consultant before making any placement decisions. These are independent professionals who have in-depth, usually firsthand knowledge about what each program has to offer. Through conversations, meetings, examining relevant paperwork, etc., the consultant will get the big picture about your teen and the whole situation, then will point you to one or more programs that s/he feels would be the best fit under the circumstances.

And where does one find an educational consultant to hire? A good place to start is a professional organization, such as the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA). Make sure you find a consultant who specializes in programs for teens with special needs. The “Find a Consultant” page on the IECA website allows you to narrow your search by selecting a “Special Needs & At Risk” specialty; “Learning Disabilities” is another specialty you can choose or add to the selection. The site also allows you to narrow your choice by state, but it might not be necessary to find a consultant close to home. Some consultants are willing to work with clients by phone or Skype, or will arrange for a face-to-face visit.

Hiring an independent consultant is not cheap: it can run from somewhere around $2500 up to $10,000, depending on the breadth of services they are offering your family. A typical charge is in the $4-$5K range. Not liking those numbers? You may find that educational consultants who are not independent will charge you much less. They are not independent because they are receiving money from certain schools. And guess which program they will recommend to you? The program they are shilling for may not be the best fit for your teen, and that’s the whole point of hiring a consultant.

Not long after I started learning about this world, I came across, the website of Woodbury Reports Inc., an independent educational consulting firm founded by Lon Woodbury in 1989. The website has a wealth of information for families in this situation. Please follow the link and click around – you won’t be sorry.

I was fortunate to be able to ask Lon a few questions about what parents should know. He quickly brought up the article “Ten Common Mistakes Parents Make”, which he says has been copied or plagiarized many times over the years. (I believe it, because I think I saw a version of it on another website!)

Here are some aspects of the process you’ll want to know about:

  • It’ll be important to find an educational consultant you feel you can trust. Talk to a few of them before deciding which one to hire.
  • Educational consultants can provide or arrange for relevant testing and evaluation if needed.
  • They can coordinate with other professionals for needed services.
  • They may be able to arrange for a placement in as little as 3-4 days.
  • Most programs for special needs have rolling admissions, so usually it’s not necessary to wait for the start of the next semester, for example.
  • A program close to home is often not preferable. If the teen is a “runner”, the temptation will be stronger for them to (ahem) absent themselves from a program that’s just a few miles from their old hangouts. Also, parents may tend to visit too frequently if the facility is nearby. The therapeutic process often includes having a significant break from family dynamics, to sort out the parts that may be dysfunctional.
  • Once a program is selected, the consultant can coordinate with the program’s staff for your teen’s admission and placement.
  • There is another type of professional, called a transport agent, who will safely escort the teen door to door, from your home to the school or program – by car, plane, whatever it takes. The website for the Association of Mediation and Transport Service (AMATS) includes links to some of the firms that provide these services.

This is all very expensive. How do families cover the cost?

  • It is possible that the parents’ health insurance will cover part of the cost of the school or program. It may depend on the particular program, as well as on the insurance policy. My understanding is that insurance coverage is not common, at least when substance abuse is not a factor. However, it’s certainly worth looking into.
  • Many families pay out of pocket, which often means taking out loans.
  • There is at least one nonprofit out there that helps families with financial limitations whose teen needs a therapeutic program:  Saving Teens in Crisis Collaborative.
  • This article gives a couple of options I wasn’t aware of:
    • Sometimes the local school district can be persuaded to pay.
    • There may be state programs and grant money available for people under the age of 18 with disabilities. However, figuring out what’s available can be a very big task in itself.

Our family hasn’t dealt with therapeutic programs. I imagine that choosing one would be an emotional, nerve-wracking, information-overload experience – and that having a professional guide would be tremendously helpful. If your family has been down this road, or is going down this road now, please feel free to fill us in by adding your comments.


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About janet565

I've lived in the Inland Empire of Southern California since 1982. My profession involves maps and geography. I hope you find the blog useful, and wish you well....

4 responses to “Educational Consultants: your guide to the best-fit program”

  1. Bette Barkley says :

    Thanks again, for a clear, well thought out ideas for challenging issues.


  2. janet565 says :

    Thanks for your comment, Bette. Part of the credit goes to Lon Woodbury, who read a draft of the post to make sure it didn’t contain misinformation. Thanks for that, Lon!


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