There is available help for parents who have a child who needs residential treatment. If your youth, teen or child has mental health issues, drug addiction, or an eating disorder, chances are you have felt lonely, isolated, and confused. You may wonder why this is happening to you and if your family will ever be normal again.
While you may not know other parents in your day to day life who are experiencing what you are going through, please know that you aren’t alone. Many families have been in similar situations and found appropriate placements and treatment for their children.
Children are resilient and able to heal. Families can be reunited and create positive relationships. There is hope.
Read on for the various support available to parents whose child is in residential treatment or needs an out of home placement.
Where to Turn for Help When Your Child Has Mental Health Issues
Are you wondering what help is available for your child’s unique needs? Here are some of the options and support systems available.
- Parenting skills education.
- Depression, anxiety, PTSD and Secondary PTSD treatment.
- In-home therapies.
- Marriage support.
- Support for siblings.
- Legal assistance.
- Residential treatment staff.
- Adoption and attachment support.
- Additional resources for parents.
Parenting Skills Education
Parenting a child with mental health or developmental issues requires a whole new set of parenting skills that is above and beyond what typical parents might need. (Regular parenting is hard enough, but parenting a child who is depressed, aggressive, or addicted requires advanced skill.)
You might feel that the problem lies with your child and not you. While to a certain extent this is true, the reality is that this child is part of your family, and as the parent you run the family system. It might be unfair that you have to change your style of parenting, but life is rarely fair.
Here are some of the options available to help you learn to parent in this unique and difficult situation:
- Empowered to Connect – Empowered to Connect (ETC) is an attachment rich community focused program that exists to support, resource, and educate caregivers. Their online resources and in-person training events are a fantastic resource for parents.
- Child Institute of Psychology online course – During this course, explore the impact of trauma on neurological development and how this presents in children’s behaviors.
- Local parenting classes – Contact your local mental health department to find what is available in your area.
- Books, websites and podcasts – There is a wealth of information available online and in books to learn how to parent a child with mental health or developmental challenges.
- NAMI (National Association of Mental Health) offers a variety of classes including a free 8 session family-to-family course series.
Many more options for parenting skills are available. If you have a favorite resource to share that has helped you, please list it in the comments below so we all can benefit.
Depression, Anxiety, PTSD and Secondary PTSD Treatment
Due to the intense stress of dealing with your child’s special needs, you may experience one or more of the following issues yourself.
- Depression. Depression is common for parents who have children with special needs of all types and especially mental health challenges. If your child is violent, aggressive or manipulative, you might feel especially vulnerable.
- Anxiety. You are dealing with your child’s ongoing mental health challenges, advocating for services and support, and walking on eggshells not knowing what the next day will bring with your child’s behavior. It’s totally understandable that you would have ongoing anxiety.
- PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). If you have experienced a traumatic event because of your child’s behavior, you might have PTSD. This can come about from a child’s hospitalization, aggression, police involvement, or other highly stressful situations. Therapy is available to help you work through the trauma and find healing.
- Secondary PTSD. Secondary PTSD is when the family members living with someone with PTSD begin to exhibit similar behaviors. Many people in helping professions experience Secondary PTSD due to working with and witnessing people who have experienced trauma. Click here to learn more about how to heal secondary trauma.
- Marriage problems. Holding a marriage together is challenging under the best of circumstances, but when you are parenting a child with special needs, your bond with your spouse is especially vulnerable. Keep lines of communication open and try to find time to spend with you spouse each week without your children, even if it’s simply cuddling up with a movie and popcorn in the evening after the kids go to bed. Pay special attention to not allow your child to triangulate your relationship.
- Drug, food, and alcohol abuse. In an effort to deal with the high stress of parenting, drug and alcohol abuse can result. If you’ve found yourself in this position, know that you aren’t alone and help us available.
- Physical sickness. Chronic stress can manifest as physically illnesses. Work with your doctor, therapist, and other health care workers to treat your conditions. Finding ways to de-stress is important but often challenging.
- Triggering events from your past. We often informally say that “your kids stuff brings up your stuff”. If you have issues from your past that are still traumatic and the emotions have not been fully healed or expressed, dealing with your child’s difficult behavior may be especially hard. Children with attachment disorders and RAD have a keen way of tuning in to parent’s problem areas and using them to their advantage. Seek therapy for yourself to bring healing.
Parenting a child with special needs is extremely difficult. Do all you can to take care of yourself and your own mental health.
While you might feel lonely and alone in caring for your child’s needs, advocates are available to support you.
What is an advocate? An advocate offers support, mentoring and advice to walk you through the process of parenting a child with special needs.
Some of the work an advocate might do:
- Provide parenting support and education.
- Attend doctor’s appointments and meetings, such as IEP meetings, with you.
- Provide information and education on managing systems of care such as education systems, legal systems, insurance, and Medicaid.
- Inform you of your rights and responsibilities within various systems of care.
- Provide information about services available in your community.
Advocacy services might be at no cost to you or might charge a fee.
Types of advocates available include:
- Educational advocates. Educational advocates work with parents to make sure their child receives an appropriate education. Educational advocates may or may not be attorneys. Typically educational advocates are hired by parents.
- Family advocates. Family advocates work with families in their home and community and provide support, education and empowerment. Many programs require that family advocates have lived experience, which means they have parented a child who has mental health challenges and understand the unique situations other parents face.
- Insurance advocates. Insurance advocates help parents understand their rights and what the insurance company is legally required to provide. Insurance advocates may be paid or provided at no cost by the insurance company. Medicaid provides insurance advocates to its members without fees.
- Legal advocates. Legal advocates help you navigate the court system and may be paid or provided at no cost.
- Victim advocate. If you or your child has been the victim of a crime, a victim advocate will provide support and services to you without cost.
Because in-patient and residential treatment programs are very expensive, many insurance providers (including Medicaid) and county Departments of Mental Health provide in-home and community-based services for children with mental health issues.
The goal of these services is to keep the child within the family and community whenever possible, as well as strengthen the skills of both the child and family members in order to deal with the mental health challenges that are present.
In-home therapeutic services can include:
- Mental health therapy
- Behavioral support
- Care coordination
- Child skill building
- Parent skill building
- Parenting support
Contact your local Department of Mental Health and complete the application process if you believe your child would qualify for these services.
Parents who have a child with special needs are more likely to divorce due to the stress of caring for a child with additional needs.
While parenting a child with mental health challenges, taking time away for your marriage may feel difficult or impossible, but it’s important for the well-being of everyone in your household. The added stress of the situation can strain even the best of marriages, so extra care is required for both spouses.
Consider attending marriage therapy, marriage groups, taking time away for date nights, and creating additional means of communication and connection with your spouse.
Support for Siblings
Siblings of a child with special needs may feel slighted or invisible compared to the high amount of time and attention that parents (out of necessity) pay to the child with mental health needs.
One-on-one dates with each child in the home can help make them feel special, even if it’s just running errands together, grabbing an ice cream cone, or staying up late to watch a movie after the other children have gone to bed.
Addition sibling support is available with these resources:
- RAD Sibs – for siblings of children with Reactive Attachment Disorder.
- Sibling Support Project – Support for siblings who have a brother or sister with special needs of any type. This includes Sibshops which are in-personal gatherings just for siblings.
When parents are struggling to have their child placed in residential treatment, one of my recommendations is for them to seek legal assistance by hiring an attorney or legal advocate. While this can be pricey, it is sometimes necessary to seek legal representation.
Look for an attorney who handles family law, adoption, or children with special needs.
Helpful legal resources:
Residential Treatment Staff
Once a child is placed in residential treatment, the staff at the facility provide an important connection between child, home, and family.
Parents can foster this by participating in the treatment plan, visiting their child regularly, and staying in close communication with therapists and staff.
Adoption and Attachment Support
For those parenting children from the foster care system, adoption, children with early childhood trauma and Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), here are some helpful resources.
- RAD Advocates – An organization by parents who have lived with children with attachment disorder, they provide parent support and coaching.
- Nancy Thomas – Nancy is a pioneer in attachment treatment and provides Family Attachment Camps, parent education, phone support and more.
- Living with RAD: I Still Love Him and I Would Not Wish This Life On Anyone – Parent perspective article.
- Living with RAD: God Would Not Let Me Forget Her– Parent perspective article.
- Living with RAD: There is Not Enough Love to Fix a Broken Soul – Parent perspective article.
Additional Resources for Parents
- PACER – Free video trainings about a variety of children’s mental health challenges.
- National Federation of Families – Free webinars, trainings for parents and support.
- Building Bridges 4 Youth – Supporting children, their families and treatment providers, this website includes tip sheets for those working with children in residential treatment settings.
- Other parents – If you don’t know of a support group in your area, consider an online support group such as a Facebook group where you can meet other parents who have a child with similar needs to your situation.
If you are a parent and your child needs out-of-home care, be assured that resources are available to help.