How To Face The Reality Of Placing Your Child In Residential Care.

It’s one of the toughest decisions a foster or adoptive parent has to make. We know because we’ve had to make it. Not once, twice, or even three times, but four! Out of the ashes of these dark moments, we learned how to face the reality of residential care with hope.

“Man have we been there!”

Those words crossed my lips last night as my wife shared the news that a friend of hers had just left her son in the psychiatric ward of their local hospital. Tears ran down Kristin’s face as she identified completely with this broken mother. We know the pain, the agony, and the defeat of making this decision. We’ve made it four times with one of our children in the past. It never gets easier. It leaves you feeling like a failure; like you’re the worst parent in the world.

You wonder, “Will life ever get better? Will my kid ever get better? How will we ever make it through this darkness?” If not questions like these, it’s the guilt. Oh, the guilt! It batters your soul like like a relentless hurricane making landfall. You feel as though there’s not a parent in this world worse than you. You beat yourself up with thoughts such as, “I’m a parent and I couldn’t control my child!” “They’re behavior is because of me! It’s my fault.” “I couldn’t protect my other children so I had to send him somewhere else.”

We know what you’re going through. Like I said, we’ve been there. We’re still there. Our oldest son doesn’t live at home and won’t until 2016. Every time we visit him, or talk to him on the phone, we cry. Our hearts break. It’s the toughest thing in the world. But, it’s also the most hopeful thing in the world. We believe in our son and we have solid hope for the future. However, that wasn’t the case 4 years ago. We were in a pit and we were desperate.

Step by step, inch by inch, we had to crawl out and rebuild life. The experiences we’ve had, and the lessons we’ve learned, have helped us see the light at the end of the tunnel. If you’re in this same pit and you are struggling, here’s what you can do to move forward:

  1. Grieve. Allow yourself to grieve. Don’t try to be strong and fortified right off the bat. Take the first few days, to a week, and be sad over this new reality. The first time our son entered residential care we were distraught, but we tried to pull ourselves together too soon. You need to pull yourself together for the sake of your family but not right away. You’ve just lost someone you love, at least in terms of proximity to your home. Grieve. It’s a critical step to the healing process.
  2. Hope. After you’ve grieved, have hope that your child is getting the help he or she needs. This was hard for us to grasp. We kept focusing on the fact that we couldn’t help him, instead of the truth that he was getting help. When we figured this out we found hope. I remember driving away from a visit with him, one afternoon, at the residential facility he was placed in, and feeling hopeful. Even through tears, I felt hope. I looked at Kristin and said, “God has big plans for our son!” I believed this beyond a shadow of a doubt, even though things seemed bleak.
  3. Rest. Now that your child is not in your home for a period of time, and you aren’t fighting a daily battle with them, take time to rest. The first time our child entered residential care this wasn’t something we did. We learned how important it was though. He came back home after only 2 weeks and we were still exhausted. I know it’s not easy to rest when your child is not at your home anymore, but you need to do it. You need to invest in your other children and take the break you so desperately need. Resting and recalibrating will better prepare you to parent your child if and when he or she returns home.
  4. Work. Work hard to change things before your child returns home. Change your family’s routine to make your days more productive. Change your eating and sleeping habits. Fix the things that are broken, both literally and figuratively, in your home. We even changed where our son’s bedroom would be once he returned. Create structure so that he or she enters into a peaceful and controlled environment. This will help your child grow but will also help you grow as well.

The hope is that you never have to make the difficult decision to place your child in residential care. It’s not easy, at all! But if you face this reality, there’s hope. We understand the reality and we know the pain first hand. We are living proof that you can make it through the darkest night.

Our son is living proof that there is healing and restoration, even when it seems completely hopeless!

Question: Have you had to make this difficult decision with your son or daughter? What lessons have you learned? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Hillary Alexander

    Yes, we have been there when he was just 7 years old. He is my step son and the courts haven’t given in to the permanent home, or step parent adoption. My husband has sole custody, but his mom has filed protection orders saying his screaming and throwing things is from us. The last time he came back he became dangerous to his sister and the puppy. He spent 10 days in inpatient therapy. It helped for awhile. Now at 9 we are facing decisions again due to stealing and violence. It seems never ending for him to struggle. I find hope in prayer and pray he decides to heal one day.

    • Hillary, I am so sorry to hear that you guys are going through this. Hang in there. You’re not alone in this fight!

      • Hillary Alexander

        There are days that your posts hit just what I need to take one more step forward. And on those days the posts seem to fit exactly what I need to hear for what I just went through. My husband has PTSD so I am often going it alone. Your family has been a comfort and a support that I have needed. Thank you for sharing your family with all of us!

        • We are so grateful that we can come along side of you guys and encourage and support you in this way.

  • MaMeex5

    We made this decision after several short term hospital stays. I can relate to all that you posted. I remember going to a support group at your house while she was in PRTF and on the way being absolutely terrified of no one understanding. I was so glad that wasn’t the case but I still remember feeling like you guys had it all together with 8 and we couldn’t do it with 5. Then you told us about taking your son jogging and hearing coyotes and I thought maybe they do understand more than I thought. You were unbelievablely gracious and welcoming hosts. I recall a kid whining/screaming and I looked at my husband and thought oh no here we go. Turns out it wasn’t ours and that was the greatest feeling of not feeling alone in a long time. Thank you for welcoming us to the group and your home and making us not feel so alone

    • Oh wow, we are overwhelmed by your kind words. So grateful we had the chance to interact and encourage one another through that group. We have fond memories (and many posts have come out of our discussions). Hang in there. You are not alone and we are cheering for you. 🙂

  • Kristen Madison Basaran

    Please look into PANDAS/PANS. My child was misdiagnosed as bipolar but his rages were caused by PANDAS.

    • Prudence Dagg

      I’m hearing so much of that lately, especially in large forums dealing with vaccine injury and autism. So sad. 🙁 I hope you have found help.

  • Janes Chiarelli

    Hello. My husband of almost 7 years, cheated on me and left me for her and is living with her now. He said he hasn’t been happy in years but never told/showed me he was unhappy. We have a 4 year old son that missed his daddy so much and cries for him to just come home. Our son even crawled all over his car crying “daddy stay home with me.” And he still left. He just keeps saying “he’s never coming back, no matter what.” I didfn’t know what to anymore..he left me 5/7/15, the weekend before mothers day this year and it broke my heart and I keep praying to God and he keeps telling me “be patient” I was still trying my best but it was hard when this was hurting my son so badly. I have told my sister about this and she gave me some advice to contact a very good and powerful prophet who can help me pray for my husband to come back and be happy with us again which i did and i contacted the prophet. he prayed for me and my husband cam home begging me to take him back and now we are happily living together and a family. all thanks to the prophet and his email is ( May God bless you abundantly!

  • Leah Miller Wright

    My almost 30 year old son was initially hospitalized at 17. This resulted 5 mental disorder diagnosis. His manifestation started at 16, but we had NO clue what was going on with him. He’d always struggled, he’d always needed extra help in school. But at the same time was incredibly intelligent. His teachers had to watch him because instead of learning what he was taught, he’d just tell them what he had memorized. He had a photographic memory. Had, because upon manifestation of certain mental disorders regression occurs. This had been a 15 year trek. Finding out things I NEVER in my wildest dreams would have thought I’d find as a Mom. Being thankful for things most people are annoyed at. Snoring, for example. Snoring meant my son was still alive. No snoring meant panic in my heart and quietly racing to his room ‘just to make sure’ that he’d not carried out his wish to ‘make the voices GO AWAY for GOOD!!’ The complete isolation because who in their right mind understands about your son seeing people who are dead walking around in the town graveyard. Not to mention the searching every minute of your pregnancy and trying to figure out what on EARTH you did wring? Questioning everything that wasn’t ‘in the books’. Later, during school years hiding the fact that you had to go to school, sometimes 5 or 6 times a week to get your son because the school was afraid he’d hurt himself or someone else. Feeling complete shame walking up to the school. Fear, of your own child? REALLY?? But I know that one. I finally stopped lying to myself and understood that , yes, I was afraid of him. I’m 5’almost 4″. He’s 6’1″ and weighed over 200#, at that time. (Meds have produced a 100# weight gain. But he’s better.) That wasn’t what I feared. I feared the changes I saw in his face, his expression and his EYES, they weren’t his. Even the way his eyebrows were on his face wasn’t him. How do you explain that every aspect of your sons ‘look’ changed without sounding insane yourself? After quite a few years of all this, we were finally able to find help, for him and us. He’s now living on his own. Living at home isn’t an option, for several reasons. The major one is that our counties’ dynamics don’t offer the help for him the county he now lives in does. Group homes have a 13 year waiting list. He lives 20 minutes away. He doesn’t drive. I’ve been told a persons’ success in their recovery processes are directly related to the support system they have. My son is a ‘rarity’. (Which brings me joy and breaks my heart at the same time.) I REFUSE to not be his mom because it’s difficult. I have 3 other kids, I couldn’t stop being their mom either. What have I learned on this trek? My son isn’t ill. He doesn’t suffer from an illness. To me, being ill means he’ll become better, cured if you will. He won’t. He has mental disorder. DIS order that doesn’t go away, he recovers, but then the downward slide eventually begins. I call it ‘riding a roller coaster blindfolded’. Because essentially, that’s what it is. I LOVE my son, he knows that. But he also knows that there are choices he makes that he has to walk alone on. But he KNOWS INFINITELY I will stay where he left me. So far, he’s come back. The fear, DEEP in my soul, is for that one day when… he won’t.

    • Leah, we have some of those same fears with our son!

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  • Julie Tech

    Oh my goodness….thank you for this. We are past this stage, but it had to be the hardest thing that I have ever done in my life. My ex-husband and I adopted our son and it was easy for him to blame my new marriage for the change in our son. I still don’t think I’m past the guilt, but I know that the decision we made was best for him. He returned home after 5 months, things aren’t perfect, he still lashes out and disobeys in a variety of ways, but I am calmer in how I handle it. I’ve worked really hard at natural consequences and teaching him that his actions have results and he needs to accept responsibility for his choices. I wish I would have found this blog last year….it will be year on the 26th when we first spoke to the organization that we considered to place him. It was the day before Thanksgiving and I was frustrated with the thought of him having 4 days away from school and what the holiday weekend would be like.
    If I had any advice for a parent going through this…I would certainly agree with getting/keeping healthy. I gained 30 pounds during this ordeal, and was so depressed that I missed work and needed another medication added to combat my depression. We are lucky and have a great support system, my in-laws had been through this ordeal as well as the parents of my son’s older brother. I don’t know how we would have managed without him. My husband and I want to adopt another child, but felt we needed to wait until my son was back to ‘normal’…no one would ever let us adopt with the chaos in our house. But that is the guilt talking…we are looking into it again. I love children and believe in it. I am a success story of adoption and I want to give another child the opportunity for a loving family. Thank you so much….its nice not to feel so alone.

    • Hey Julie, it;s our pleasure. You are definitely not alone. 🙂

  • Eduardo Alexander Caceres

    Hello I have question and I hope you can please help. I have a 13 year old son that has multiple diagnose. He has been hospitalized twice for attempting to hurt himself and he was also placed in a non public resident school due to his extreme behaviors. The school released him and since he returned he’s been nothing but trouble. He refuse to behave. He is having issue in school. He won’t respect others. He no longer has a relationship with step sister and my wife. He steals and provokes others and he just turns any environment into a toxic environment. Honestly my son has social path tendency but no one will take action because he’s 13. My biggest fear is that he will hurt someone or himself. Please help what can I do.

    • Eduardo, have you sought out professional help in the way of a psychologist or behavioral therapist?

  • Nora Matthews

    One thing I will say to anyone facing hospitalization level psychiatric issues with a child, especially the first time– take advantage of any and all resources the hospital provides for YOU. If there’s a support group, go! And then reach out to whatever support network you have– church, neighbors, friends– and let them make some meals, just listen, or run a couple errands on your behalf. Fight the temptation to close ranks and hide. The child is not the only one who needs caring for in these circumstances.

    • Nora, great insight and advice! Thanks for sharing.

  • Carol Kohlberg

    Our oldest son, is headed to RTC of 60-90 days in about a week. I do feel guilty and at fault, because we did do the right thing, but reporting. But it became a battle instead of a team. I regret making the call. Not because I don’t think he needs help, he does. I feel we could have done this a different way. My heart breaks, and I am so angry. He is not being retraumatized by a system that really doesn’t care. I would take his place in a heart beat. It just really sucks.

    • Carol, it’s not easy in the least bit. We’re in this trench with you. Hang in there!

    • Khai Fox

      You failed your child. You’ve harmed him worse than anyone ever could.

  • My sister and her family are walking through this now with their youngest son, who is a twin. He is on a plane, headed to a year long program, which specializes in RAD and adoptive children who are overcoming trauma. We are holding onto hope, resting in Jesus, and ultimately trusting the ONE who created this sweet child in his mother’s womb and knew the plans for his life. My sister is my identical twin, so I suffer with her and feel her pain deeply. Your blog, this one in particular is full of hope and tangible ways that we can pray and help them all recover from the trauma. Thank you for being a bright light and for sharing your experience!

    • Tammy, it’s our pleasure! We’re so encouraged to hear of the hope you’re holding on to!

    • Margaret M

      My 10yo adoptive daughter is too violent with me and no longer living with me. She is on hold in a safe place while we find a spot in a residential program for her RAD and trauma. Can you tell me the name of the program your nephew is in and how it is working out for your sister and family. I like to talk to parents with children in the RTC to get a feel for the program and whether is is the right fit for our family.

      • Heather Stone Hovan

        Our daughter is in a program called Ranch For Kids in Rexford, MT. It is a faith based program that specializes in adopted children with RAD. She has PTSD, RAD and some other trauma related issues and was adopted as a teenager from Eastern Europe. Placing her in a RDC has been the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make. We had multiple assessments done trying to avoid it, to be honest. But we reached a point where we could not keep her safe, and others around her. It was DEVASTATING to admit that we were not enough for her. We have many days still where we grieve the loss of her presence in our home, but we are starting to see healing – and we have HOPE. She’s been there for 3 months and wants to come home, but is not quite ready for it yet. We are anxiously awaiting the moment our family can be safely reunited. The ranch has been amazing to work with, I’d highly recommend the program.

  • Tabitha Estes

    I have had to put 2 of my biological children in residential care. Multiple times. Now we are having to look at placement for a 3rd. I can completely relate to your article. I need to work on letting go of the guilt, but it is so hard.

    • Hey Tabitha, man oh man, we know the pain you are going through. That is the hardest thing to do. Hang in there.

    • Khai Fox

      You’re a failure as a parent and a shitty person. Do your kids a favor and give them to someone else. Just let them go. Stop pretending you’re human enough to raise children.

  • April Brooks

    We are walking this road right now with our foster daughter who is 18. We sure thought we could love her enough to help her, but her deep-seated anger issues were too much for us. We have grieved for two months, but have all finally decided this is the best decision for our family and for her. We are currently waiting on placement. It is heartbreaking and exhausting. Thank you for this post. May God bless you!

    • Khai Fox

      Just let her go. She doesn’t need your bullshit.

      • April Brooks

        Thank you so much for your encouraging words. (Sarcasm intended.) It is clear you have been living in our house and spent all the hours of sleeplessness researching ways to help her which did NOT include institutionalizing her. You must have been standing beside me, hour after hour, as I called every person I know who could offer interventions for her which did not include institutionalizing her. You must have been standing in between her and me as she lunged at me and threatened to attack my youngest child as well. I must have missed seeing you while you were here. Clearly, I need to open my eyes more if there are complete strangers living in my house seeing everything I do. Now, on a serious note, I really do pray that God will cover you with His love today. It sounds like you really need it.

        • April, thanks so much for your kind response to this commenter. Unfortunately, their comments had to be deleted though. We do not allow people to use foul language like that, nor do we allow abusive talk toward other readers. We know the difficult road you walk every day. We’re in this trench with you! Have yourself a great week!

    • Cindy McQuay

      So they can be places even when they’re 18? Our son was adopted at age 3… has had legal and mental health issues for the last several years and we r desperate to help him

      • April Brooks


        In Alabama, the answer to that question is yes. There are several hospitals who will help children still in need of mental health treatment. We got on the phone as many as would talk to us to determine the best choice for her. They are very full (so sad) and she had to wait several weeks to be placed. Praying you are able to find the help you need for where you are.

  • Deanna C. Kennedy

    Be careful with this when others do this. I was abandoned to care at age 11 because I was going to tell on abuse in the family, and if they could make me look nuts, then they could cover their arses. It took a long time before anyone believed me and in the mean time, I was drugged mercilessly by the state.

    • Khai Fox

      I was drugged and put in therapy because I was depressed due to abuse in the home. I was not allowed to talk about the abuse and didn’t understand that effort was being made to make me appear mentally ill so that CPS would not come investigate and remove me.

      • Khai, we are so sorry you had to go through something like that.

      • Deanna C. Kennedy

        I have extreme empathy and sympathy for you. My father and mother tried to do the same thing to me, but I was vocal so they had to shut me up and put me into an actual locked mental hospital at age 11, telling the doctors there that I was delusional, among other lies. They were good actors. Abusers often are. For me, it took my sister to come forward about a year into this to tell some truth,, –and I was made a ward of county, later state–but by then, I was already “officially” diagnosed as whatever and it took a few more years before a caring shrink recognized what was going on and changed my diagnoses to non-biploar depression and a.d.d. I was 14 by the time they got it right. I spent 3 years drugged stupid, .Literally drugged stupid.

    • April Brooks

      I am so sorry this happened to you.

      • Deanna C. Kennedy

        Thank You for your sympathy. It took years after to even partly recover from the damage un-needed Psychiatric drugs caused. I still have nightmares.

  • Khai Fox

    All of you can go fuck yourselves. There are shamanic techniques that are HIGHLY EFFECTIVE for dealing with mental illness. You REFUSED to research alternative options and you REFUSED to do what’s best for your child because it didn’t conform to mainstream behavior. You DID fail your child. You are shit parents and you deserve to rot in hell. Your children will never forgive you. No matter what they say or tell themselves in any given moment, they will know deep down that you are a spineless worthless fool and you abandoned them. They will hate you for the rest of their lives.

  • Khai Fox

    God forbid we explore how the artificial toxins in our food and our environment, not to mention the assload of hormones pumped into our meat, god forbid we investigate how those affect the human mind and take steps to control the chemical and hormonal composition within the body to treat mood and thought disorders. GOD NO THAT WOULD BE TOO FUCKING LOGICAL AND HEALTHY.

  • disqus_3BZTFHAf02

    ….we have our son in therapeutic foster home. One year now. The healing time has been amazingly strengthening for us. But, at the same time, the insurance company said its done now. We do not feel so and are not sure in having him back. (Years of inhome intensive family therapy has….done us in). There are not enough progressive services for adopted children. We are considering relinquishing him back to the state. We are scared. We want to advocate for him….but…getting no where

  • Samantha Jacobs

    How do you make the transition for the child to come back home? Our son has been in a residential treatment since the end of April. He insists he does not want to come home, yet that is the goal for all parties involved. (He just turned 16).

  • Colleen Ncrew

    Nobody can truly understand unless they are committed for the long term. I have met people who did not see a child, they saw brokenness, they thought the only answer was to disrupt. It isn’t easy for families but it can be done. One day I hope that organizations that facilitate adoptions from breakdowns will move towards facilaiting healing outside the home. We moved all the valuables that could break and were triggers. We installed door locks to keep others safe. I know families that installed cameras. Many of these kids have no idea after the crisis what really happened. They are acting in a part of the brain that was their history. We disengaged and prayed that when we drove away that we had a house to come home too. (In the early days we sat outside the house) It became evident that the things that were important to us were the exact things that seemed to be the objects of destruction. We are four plus years in and hoping to get a few days away together next month. Four years ago I said every day …I can’t do this much longer… but we did and we have. Attachment was taught to us as a one time relationship to build on and not sever. Throw that idea out, take time to regroup and know that attachment is a continuum. It builds on success and time but if you take a weekend away to reenergize it does not mess with attachment. Healthy attachment is life long. PS the pre teen years don’t judge your parenting capability lol. Keep smiling. We may have a few grey hairs we cover with good product but commitment is what kept us healthy and together.

  • Renee Bergeron

    How do you pay for this? Most insurance won’t cover it and I know the costs are unreal.

    • Lin Winfield Bucci

      Once our insurance ran out which was only a couple of weeks our son went on medicaid.

  • Andy New

    I know this is an old board, but I thought I could give it a shot. My wife and I are at the end of the rope. We are looking to place our adopted daughter in a home but have no idea where to start. She has been with us for three years and my family has been through the ringer. We don’t want to take this step but unfortunately my daughter is forcing our hand. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Michelle Sackett McKinney

      Hi, Andy! Sorry to hear this. I will send a message and see if someone with experience in this can respond. Hold on!

    • Michelle Sackett McKinney

      Hi, again! We have a care team member that would love to talk to you. You can email her at

  • Tired

    We have twins one of them is a boy and he has severe behavior autism. does what he wants when he wants meltdowns all the time. he is destroying our relationship as a husband and wife and he is also destroying our lives. We love him and that goes without saying but this extreme autism is killing my family. He needs to be placed in a care facility that wil deal with his behaviors or we are going to have to just give him up and that is not something we want to do. Can anyone point us in the right direction. we are suppose to be getting all the services but its nothing comparred to what he really needs.

    • I’m so sorry this is such a challenging time for you. There’s a lot that could be said here. I’d love to know how old your son is. There are so many things I would suggest before you go to any extremes. But I also know that when you are in the fight for your life you just can’t see to do anything. You need family therapy and you need it now. IEPs with school can help. Doctors can help. I encourage you to join our Oasis community. We are all in the same boat you are in and it helps so much to know you are not alone. You can do this and we want to help pull you through.