Extended Insights
Extended Insight

Aug 7, 2014, 15:04

By: Deborah Thomason,
Independent Educational Consultant Skelton Thomason and Associates

As a therapeutic educational consultant I speak to several parents each month regarding placement in residential treatment for their adolescent and young adult children. These calls almost always occur when the family is in crisis, has been recently in crisis or senses a looming crisis. Parents are frequently on edge and often downright terrified about the prospect of what they call "sending their child away". This normal fear of the unknown is always a factor when considering residential placement. I am usually able to explain the process and placement benefits to parents and help them move into a calmer state of mind regarding out of the home treatment. Having worked with hundreds of families over the years I am always humbled by their vulnerability and courage. Regardless of each family's unique circumstance, a common thread that seems to run through almost every early conversation is the anxiety and dread of transport. Frequently parents say to me "the program sounds great, but how am I going to get my child there?"

There are numerous stories circulating among parents considering residential treatment about transport - the professional services that pick the adolescent up at their home and escort him or her to either a wilderness program or a therapeutic boarding school. At times these horror stories also seem to circulate through the therapeutic outpatient community. I have so often heard parents and the occasional outpatient therapist refer to transport companies as kidnappers or goons who make their living by snatching children from their beds in the middle of the night and delivering them to therapeutic programs.

If you are working with a qualified consultant this should never be the case!! In my practice, one of my guiding philosophies is treatment begins with transport. I honor the delicate process that transport entails rather than looking at it as a means to an end. I am the first to acknowledge that having a complete stranger come into your home and escort your child to a program is a terrifying idea, but carried out correctly a transport process can enhance the child's treatment experience. It should never be a traumatic event for the parent or child.

Why Use Transport?
There are always exceptions to the rule but nine times out of ten I recommend that my families use a professional transport service. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • 1. Less wear and tear on the whole family: An experienced and empathic third party (the transporter) intervenes in a calm manner that an anxious parent simply cannot. There is no emotional relationship in place and adolescents tend to not respond as reactively to transport people as they do to their parents. There is no bargaining or negotiations with the transporters who are always firm yet kind to the child.

  • 2. Adolescents act out more intensely with family members than with strangers. Years of experience have proven that kids arrive at program in better emotional shape when they arrive with a transport person instead of their parents. Time with the transport person gives the child the space to process what is happening in a less emotional way. Experienced transport people know how to give the right amount of factual information to a child. The #1 cause of stalled treatment in the beginning of a program is a well-intentioned parent who in a desperate attempt to deliver their son or daughter to a program lies to them about what is happening -ie "We are going skiing in Utah".

  • 3. Contrary to the kidnapping myth, reputable transport companies employ highly professional individuals who are skilled at working with families in crisis. A transport professional will speak to me about my client and then call the parents to learn about the child. They will answer all of the family's questions and give specific instructions on how the parents can contribute to the success of the process.

At Skelton Thomason and Associates we only recommend transport people who we know share our beliefs about the transport experience. We only refer to transport professionals who are well trained and most often have a behavioral health background. Nothing is more important than experience. We choose transport professionals for our families the in the same spirit in which we choose programs - a solid match in skill level and personality of the transporting professional to the child who traveling to a program. Our recommended transport professionals are people who love adolescents and see them as kids needing help rather than problem kids. We look for tenderness and compassion with a dose of firmness and wisdom.

About the Author: Deborah Thomason is an Independent Educational Consultant at Skelton Thomason and Associates. Her direct line is: 541-647-9095, For more information, visit

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