What Do You Do When Your Child Fares Better In A Residential Facility?

Placing your child in residential treatment is a bridge no parent wants to cross. But what happens when you realize he or she is doing better there than they did in your house? It happens often. What do you do? How do you respond? Here are some thoughts…


It’s a warm sunny afternoon on a Saturday in early September when we load our kids up in our super-used Chevy Suburban to make the hour and half trek across our state to visit our kid in residential treatment. This is not our first rodeo with this scenario. We’ve been here before. It never gets easier. Sure, it becomes routine…after some time, but never easier. On this particular afternoon we’re confined to campus due to bad behavior in the days prior.

It’s disheartening. And it’s hopeless. We see so much potential in our child. Sooo much! We believe in him. And we refuse to believe, for one milli-second, that his struggles…his diagnosis…and his past aggression (as a result of that diagnosis), defines his future. Absolutely not! He’s made for so much more and someday, somehow, he’ll awaken to become the person he was created to be. I believe it to the core of my being.

But this sucks. No other way to say it. It just does.

He’s there, and we’re here. An hour and a half of distance between us. And so, we drive. Every week, we drive.

On this day, however, our visit seems different. There’s a spring in his step, a peace in his voice, and a calm in his spirit as we frolic and play together on a grassy hill, with a football we actually remembered to bring with us (did I just say frolic and play?). He’s getting along with his siblings, all of them, he’s talking respectfully to us, and he’s actually participating with our family…like a normal kid is supposed to. As we toss the ball back and forth another resident and staff member emerge from a building next door and greet our child with warm acknowledgements as they pass by. My child is respectful to them too.

That’s when it hits me- “He’s doing better here than he would at home,” I think to myself.

It’s a confusing thought. In fact, it goes against just about everything in me as a parent. It’s not supposed to be this way, I  lament. I never thought we’d be doing this! But almost instantly, a peace comes over me knowing that he’s not coming home to terrorize my other children for a while. Tonight will be a peaceful nights rest knowing he’s safe and secure, and in a structured environment…with fences…and staff…and a system. It’s almost too much to take in. It’s such a massive collision of competing thoughts that I feel my brain is about to explode. I love him more than anything. Nothing will change that. But, I can’t watch my other children live in fear. And I can’t watch him live in an unhappy state either.

Been there? Made the same realization? I thought so. It’s emotional to say the least.

What do you do when you realize this? What do we do? When we come face to face with the reality that our child is faring better in a facility than he or she ever did in our home, WHAT do we do? We’ve wrestled with this. Here’s the conclusion we’ve come to…

  1. Focus heavily on your relationship with your child. This was the best advice we could have received. Well, the second best (the first is #3…we’ll get to that in a minute). A guardian-ad-litem once told us to rely on them (herself, the case manager, and therapist, and staff at the facility) to enforce and instruct, while we are free to focus big time on our relationship with our kid. We didn’t have to make the rules or make sure everyone else in our house was safe while he was there. That was their job. He was in a structured facility that took care of that. We didn’t have to worry about it. It freed us up to focus solely on our healing our relationship with him, and building into the future.
  2. Don’t beat yourself up. I know! Listen…I know. I know what you’re going through. You realize your child is beginning to thrive in a facility in ways he or she never did at home, and you take it personally. He or she is in a place that provides the structure you kept struggling to provide. And now, you feel responsible. Like an outsider looking in. You’re his mom and dad and you’re supposed to keep him safe, and help him grow, but you couldn’t and now he’s locked up. You feel like a failure. You feel like less of a parent. Yep, I’ve been there many, many times. I’ve felt this and more. But here’s what I want you to do. I want you to stop. Stop it. None of that is true. You’re believing lies. You ARE his parent. You ARE the primary adult she’s looking to and loving. Nothing will change that. As hard as it may be, try to arrive to this place of peace. It’s not your fault.
  3. Heal. This is so unbelievably hard for many people to do. Because of our guilt, because of our shame, because of our own trauma as we’ve tried to help our kid through theirs, we struggle to take the time to allow ourselves to heal, now that we’re not hands-on, 24-7, with our kid. When we first faced this, 6 years ago, we didn’t realize how much healing needed to take place in our lives and in our children’s lives. Now that we’ve faced this again, we’ve thrown wide open the doors of healing. We’ve invited home-based counselors to spend time with our other kiddos. We’re focusing heavily on giving peace the right-of-way throughout our home. We’re spending dedicated time with our other children, whom we neglected (at times) while we focused on the child who was out of control. Doing all of this has allowed us to pour more energy into our child when we see him once a week. We know he’s in a safe place and he can’t harm himself or others. So, we focus on healing our home.

It’s not easy to see this unfold. It’s defies everything you were wired to do as a parent to see your child doing better in a place away from home. But when you put it into perspective, and you consider everything that can happen while he or she is away, you realize you have a unique opportunity. And when he or she does return home, you and your family will be way healthier than you were when they left your care in the first place.

Question: Are you in this place personally with your child? What have you learned to do? How are you healing personally? Share with us in the comment section below. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Paige Samdal

    I was surprised at the relief I felt after my youngest was admitted. I didn’t realize how much her behavior and mental health consumed me.

    • It’s a tough road Paige. We understand this. You are not alone.

  • Christie Rodgers

    Our 10 year old does much better in a facility where we can visit than she does at home with her siblings. It was definitely a hard choice to put her in a long term program, but everyone is much more at ease without her sleeping in the same house.

    • Christie, we totally get this. We’ve experienced the same thing when one of our kids was younger. It’s hard but the peace is much needed. Thanks for sharing.

  • Carolyn Ruch

    A counselor helped me recognize that I have limits and that there is no shame in being limited. This was key in my healing. Knowing I am not the healer in my child’s life, but simply one of the conduits the Healer uses has freed me to allow others to come in, do their part, and let go. Also, realizing I can’t write my child’s story, but I can record it. Journaling brings me clarity and helps me surrender to Thy will, not mine.

    • Carolyn, this is such great insight. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  • Holly

    I’m in this place now. First with my daughter and now with my son. He just left yesterday. 15 years old. His issues are with his dad. But those issues have ruined his childhood. This move is keeping him out of jail. He is very positive about the whole situation. I am very negative. My fear is that he will see me as a failure as I see myself.

    • You are not a failure in any way! You’re a good mom. He’s a good dad. Hold on to this truth. Because it is the truth.

  • Lori Moffit

    I really needed to read this today.

    • Sorry it’s been rough day. Hope tomorrow is a better day with a lot more better days to follow for you whole family.

  • Julie Knowlton

    I can relate. My 11yo daughter has been in residential for 6 months. It was a huge relief to take her. And the healing that has taken place in our home is profound. Her siblings are blossoming and doing extremely well and my husband and I are healthy after being in the ER multiple times in the fall for stress-related illnesses.

    Fortunately, I do not struggle with guilt and I know it’s not me. That poor girl was so mistreated her first three years! In fact, we just had to transfer her to a new facility because the first one could not handle her behaviors. Not what we wanted to do, but certainly validation that it is not us. If the professionals can’t handle her, how can we? I’m not sure how we did it as long as we did.

    I thank God every day that there are facilities that can help our precious kiddos. I pray that they find healing so that they can come home and have healthy relationships with us.

    • Your perspective sound healthy and hopeful. Thankful with you and praying with you too.

    • We are so grateful for the facility that cares for our child.

  • Amy

    What do you do when you can’t find a facility that your child will agree to go to? That has been our struggle. So hard when you are at a loss what to do, and the child does not want help or relationship with you as parents or her siblings.

    • This does seem like a never ending struggle. Whether it’s finding a facility or a school or the right doctor, it’s so maddening to keep getting the run around or no help at all from the ones who are supposed to get it. But when you find IT, it’s so refreshing. Keep trying. Don’t give up. There is help and there is hope!

      • Amy

        The only option that we could find has cut all ties to us(her parents and siblings). RAD will not go away, so it is heartbreaking to know that she is not dealing with her pain and hurt. Praying God will somehow help us all find healing in spite of the lack of relationship. Trying to just pray for her and realize she may never want anything to do with us ever again. SO HARD!!!

        • Her story is not over. She may be well into adult years when she’s ready. But it’s not over. There is hope. Hang in there.

  • I often think that really fragile kiddos need the structure and safety of the relational distance that institutions provide to start to heal. The key is obviously finding one that will move them toward healing and not provide more trauma.

  • Brenda Ell

    Our son is in a residential 3 hours away and they don’t allow siblings there except for family therapy. We only get out there once a month, sometimes not even that frequently. He got worse there and has not had a home visit and only 3 community visits in the past 9 months. He was not making his weekly phone calls until recently. It is difficult working towards reunification with these obstacles. The meds are constantly changing resulting in severe tics and extensive weight loss. We called every Residential Facility in the area and not one takes our insurances. I am so frustrated and feel like he may never come home.

    • I am so sorry. This breaks my heart for you all. Just wondering about getting a doctor trained in trauma to intervene. Sometimes the doctors who get out kids just don’t even get it. They are hard to find but they do exist. This list is a list of therapist. Just thinking they may be able to help you find someone in your area. https://child.tcu.edu/tbri-practitioner-list/#sthash.hLKfa50X.QD9mPUzd.dpbs His story is not over. There is still hope. There is.

  • Phillip Connor

    We’ve had 3 centers in 1 year and now home after breaking out of his last one, trying to walk the 30 miles to our place. The year space allowed us to learn to not take his poor decisions so personally. Legal battles galore and now he seems to want a change and work on stuff now. We’ve had 3 bad days in 1 month, so not bad, but success happens with lots of supports at home, school and work. Mike, I share your vision for your son as we’ve sensed a similar vision for our son. God has clearly shown us that one day the chains of DSED will be gone. We trust in that on the hard days. We are hopeful this time it will work, but if it doesn’t, he and us still have many years to begin the healing again. Thanks, Mike, for your heart and encouragement.

  • Teressa

    If your child does better in a residential facility, how do they do when they come back home? I’m worried that nothing is changing. Right now our son is in a group home waiting to go into a residential treatment facility. Social services took him cross country for the treatment so we have not been able to visit him at all. Do you know of any articles that support parents being close to the child to participate in the therapy at the residential treatment facility?

    • We know this is so hard. Residential facilities are usually far from family adding stress to the situation. It depends on the child and the facility. There are some facilities that are great and some that are not. Sometimes it takes once and sometimes it takes several times or places. It’s just hard. But we are with you. We are. And whatever happens when they come home, their story is not over. There is hope. Always.

  • Chris Waughtal

    I have been struggling with this very much over the fall. My 4 special needs kiddos went to public school after being homeschooled for the 7 and 5 years they have been with us. I have felt like a failure as they have enjoyed and thrived in the school environment. But the healing process won’t go well for the 5 of us at home if I keep holding onto what was NOT working.
    Thank you for a timely read. My heart needed this

    • You are not a failure! You found them an environment for school they learn in so that home can be home and you can be mom! That makes you a great mom! Yay!

  • Toni Esparza

    Would you all be willing to do a post explaining various ways to access residential, if your child has reached this point? Possibly asking commenters to share their thoughts as well? I know quite a few whose child needs a resource like this but they simply haven’t found a way to access it.

    • Of course!! This is a common HUGE problem. We’re working on 2018 schedule right now and will try to make sure this is included. Stay tuned!