How Do You Know When It’s Time For Residential Treatment?

Author of 5 books, podcaster, parent trainer, husband and father.

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It's one of the worst decisions you may have to make for your child on the journey of foster care and adoption. Placing your child in a residential treatment facility is never easy. But how do you know when the time is right to do so?

We’ve been down this road 3 separate times in the past. We know exactly how it goes: Your family is on pins and needles. You cautiously move through your house on a daily basis as if you’re walking across a frozen lake that may collapse at any moment. Looking at your child the wrong way could send them into a tirade. Your spouse, and other children, have experienced so much secondary trauma you hardly know how you’ll recover as a family.

A therapist mentions residential treatment as an option because he or she can tell your family is falling apart fast. You suddenly find yourself in the middle of a wrestling match in your mind. On one side, the loving parent in you speaks: “I love this kid. I brought her into my home with love and I feel like I’m giving up by choosing residential treatment. Could I live with myself if she were hours away from us?” On the other side, the human being in you speaks: “I’m so tired. I can’t do this anymore. I want to quit. This is not what I signed up for. My family is traumatized. We need a break, and she needs help!”

We wrestled these thoughts to the ground five years ago. We were hanging on by a thread. We faced a tough choice. Our son’s behavior was out of control. He was lashing out daily and our family was paying the price. He needed help. Our other children needed some peace. We needed a solution and fast!

But, residential treatment? Was it the right move? Would sending him away from our home help him, or harm him? After all, he had already experienced severe trauma when he was removed and placed in foster care with us. Would this actually help to change him?

Seeing the signs.

Let me be the first to say…this is a tricky balance. On one hand, you are tired, exhausted and ready to quit as a parent. It’s easy to let those feelings drive the bus of your reasoning. We understand because this partially drove the bus for us each time we were faced with this choice. But, at the same time, there are warning signs that give us a clear indication if residential treatment is the right step. Below are 6 key signs followed by key questions to ask yourself:

  1. Behavior that is harmful to themselves. Is he or she making choices that puts their life in jeopardy?
  2. Behavior that is harmful to others. Is he or she making choices that puts others in jeopardy?
  3. Secondary trauma in your other children. Is his or her behavior causing trauma in other members of your family?
  4. Apathetic toward their choices or behavior. Does he or she display an uncaring attitude toward their choices or the repercussions of their choices?
  5. Unwilling to change. Is he or she unwilling to change?
  6. Addictive. Does he or she have an addictive personality? 

By the third time we faced the reality of residential treatment, we learned to look for each of these signs. We were able to go down the list systematically and clearly answer each question. This was critical because we did not want to make the decision to send our child into treatment solely out of our own exhaustion (which is easy to do depending on the severity of your situation). In full transparency, our exhaustion was a big influence on our decision early on. It’s completely understandable. You’re tired. And, you’re human! (More on this in a minute)

Knowing, not knowing.

What about choosing a facility? How do you know which one is right?

It’s one of the biggest questions we receive, and it’s an important one. After all, your child will be living there. This is not like selecting a hotel or a summer camp (which also needs to be done with caution as far as we’re concerned).

In 2011 our son went to a facility funded by Medicaid. It was a great experience, as residential treatment facilities go. The staff was warm, caring, and focused on helping our son get better, develop coping skills and more, which he did, just 4 months after his admittance. But unfortunately, with state funded facilities there is much turn-over and political dictation. When we had to make the unfortunate choice again to send him to residential treatment,  we chose the same facility. This time, it was a disaster. They had a totally different staff, different program, different policies, and no one had our son’s best interest in mind.

So, how do you make the right choice?

The best thing you can do is research. Do your homework. Look up each facilities online, ask questions of former (or current) families who’ve placed their child their, read online reviews, and inquire from professionals who are familiar with the facilities. Homework, homework, homework. We can’t stress this enough. We live in the age of the internet so everything is available online. Again, this was a lesson we learned after our first and second go around with residential treatment. We wish we would have known this in the beginning.

Our duty as parents.

When it comes down to it, we have a duty as parents to protect our children and ensure their well-being. While our own emotions and exhaustion are real and relevant, they must take a seat behind our children’s well-being, including the child who may be headed for residential treatment. If he or she is behaving in a way that brings danger into their life or our home, it’s our duty to protect them and our family. We signed on the dotted line the day we became parents.

But let me be clear about one thing- our well-being as parents (and human beings) is in the seat right behind the well-being of our children. We have one other important duty as parents: Taking care of our own health. Keeping our children safe and cared for comes first. But our well-being as parents comes in at a close second. If you and I are not healthy, we can’t expect our family to be healthy either.

At the end of the day, the choice to send your child to residential treatment must always be entered into soberly, with lots of consideration, dialogue, prayer, and thought. It has to be. It’s the only way your child, and your family, will achieve maximum health.

Have you had to make the choice to send your child to residential treatment? Are you considering it? Share your story with us in the comment section below.

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Mike and Kristin Berry are the Co-Founders of The Honestly Adoption Company and have been parents for nearly two decades. They are the authors of six books, and the host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is the executive assistant to Mike and Kristin Berry. And she is the best in the land. In addition to providing a warm and friendly response to the many emails our company receives on a weekly basis, she also manages Mike and Kristin’s speaking and meeting schedules, and makes sure that team events go off without a hitch.

Nicole Goerges

Nicole Goerges is a Content Contributor & Special Consultant for The Honestly Adoption Company. She works with Mike and Kristin as a recurring co-host for the Honestly Adoption Podcast, and co-host of Kitchen Table Talks, exclusive video content for Oasis Community, along with Kristin. She is a fellow adoptive mom, and former foster parent.

Matt McCarrick

Matt McCarrick is the Content Production Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. If you’ve loved listening to our podcast, or enjoyed any of the videos trainings we’ve published, you have Matt to thank. He oversees all of our content production, from video edits, to making sure the tags are correct on YouTube, to uploading new videos to Oasis, to hitting publish on a podcast episode, he’s a content wonder!

Karen Anderson

Karen Anderson is the Community Engagement Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends the bulk of her time interacting with, and helping, people through our various social media channels, as well as providing support for Oasis Community members through chat support or Zoom calls. In the same spirit as Beaver, Karen is also passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and supported. Karen is also an FASD trainer and travels often, equipping and encouraging parents.

Beaver Trumble

Beaver Trumble is the Customer Care Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. Chances are, if you have been in need of technical support, or forgotten your password to one of our courses, you have interacted with Beaver. He is an absolute pro at customer care. In fact, he single-handedly revolutionized our customer care department last year. Beaver is passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and encouraged.

Kristin Berry

Kristin Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Content Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends most of her time researching and connecting with guests for our podcast, as well as direction, designing and publishing a lot of the content for our social media channels, blog and podcast. She loves to connect with fellow parents around the world, and share the message of hope with them.

Mike Berry

Mike Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Marketing Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. He spends the bulk of his time and energy designing and building many of the resources you see within our company, as well as social media and email campaigns. His goal is to use media as a means to encourage and equip parents around the world. He is also the co-host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.