Am I A Failure For Placing My Child In Residential Treatment?

It’s a decision we had to make 3 times in 4 years with one of our children. It never got easier. There were only more questions and more what-ifs. Along the way I asked the question…. “Am I a failure as a parent for making this choice?”


Not a day goes by where my mind doesn’t drift to that day. I can close my eyes right now and remember everything clearly. I’m standing in a warm office on the hillside of a residential campus in Missouri. It’s December, just a week before Christmas. I keep noticing how the barren trees on the rolling hills, surrounding us, form a murky gray color. Fitting for the circumstances. In another building, across the campus, my son is meeting the people he’ll live with for the next 15 months. It’s taking all of my strength to hold back tears.

I don’t hear a word the intake person says. Kristin takes over answering his questions because she can tell that I’m about to lose it. In the past I was always the strong one, holding it together, able to answer questions, game face on. But today, I’m a mess.

My mind bounces from one thought to another. First, I think about my son. He’s only 11. I put myself in his shoes for a moment. I allow myself to feel the fear and anxiety he’s going through. It’s overwhelming almost to the point of throwing up. Then I think about the past year of life with him in our home. I flash through the numerous times he held us hostage with his violence and aggression. I think about the items broken or completely destroyed by his outbursts. I see the fear on the faces of my other children. I hear their own cries from the secondary trauma they’ve experienced as a result of his violent behavior. For a moment, my emotions subside and I think to myself…He got himself here!

Finally, the faces of those who question our decision. Who ask us questions like, “Oh, aren’t there services, like a counselor, you can use for bad behavior?” (Bad behavior. Is that all you think this is?) Or, “He’s just a little guy, can’t you get control of him yourself?” I see their haughty looks, and hear their judgmental tones. I see the confusion on their faces when we share that our son has to go into residential treatment and won’t be returning to school. I know they don’t understand. I’m fully aware that quietly, they think this is our fault. After all, their child’s brain isn’t damaged. They took their pre-natal vitamins, ate healthy while he or she was in their womb. They wouldn’t understand.

All of this in a span of a few minutes. All while I sit in that office hearing the sound of the intake person’s voice. And then it hits me. A question with the weight of a thousand pounds of concrete being dropped on my head….

“Am I a failure for placing my son in a place like this? Am I a loser of a parent for not being able to figure out another way to handle my out-of-control kid?”

I’m Not A Failure.

It’s easy for people to point fingers at the adult and say, guilty. It’s especially easy to do this with foster or adoptive parents. The world does it all the time. Handing down guilty verdicts, blaming us for choosing to take an at-risk child into our home. “Well, you got yourself into this mess,” they say, “You wouldn’t have to do this to your family if you would’ve just chosen to have your own kids and not adopt!” Ever been told that?  If so, you’re not alone.

Truth is, however, it’s not your fault. And don’t you dare, for one millisecond, believe the pack of lies that life would’ve been better off had you not chosen to bring your child into your home. Stay far away from people who say garbage like that, even if it’s your own mother! Your big heart led you to love. Don’t forget that. You received the unique calling to love a child from a dark and difficult place. You’re not a failure…you’re a fighter!

To Australia With Love.

We once told a person, who questioned our decision to place our son in residential treatment, that if he had a terrible illness or disease and we were told the only cure for him was to drain our savings account, fly to Australia, and see a specialist who could give us a cure, we would. In a heartbeat, no questions asked!

Why? Because we love our son. Our heart to help him heal, leads us to fight tooth and nail for him. We envision a day where he leads others, helps others, and gives back to the world in some amazing way. In order to help him get to that place tomorrow, we must fight today.

I’ve seen it in the eyes of a thousand parents I’ve talked to over the past few years- passion for their child. A belief that their current choices are not the end of their story. We’ve read it in the millions of words some of you have written in the comments on our blog or on our Facebook Page- a hopeless, empty, even terrified feeling over your child’s extreme behavior. But a willingness to fight. A belief in tomorrow. An “I’m not quitting” mentality.

Was the choice to take our son to residential treatment difficult? Absolutely! Did his choices lead him there? You bet! Does it mean we are failures for making that choice? Not in a million years!

Question: Have you had to make the decision to place your child in residential treatment? Share your story with us. You can leave a comment by clicking here.


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