How To Transition A Child Home After Residential.

In the unfortunate situation that your child has to live away from your home in a residential treatment facility, there will likely be a time when he or she transitions back home. But how do you do this as smooth as possible? We’ve walked this road a few times. Here’s what we’ve learned.

It’s important to note, right here from the start, that we believe in the preservation of family. And we believe in permanency. Children need forever homes. If that’s not with biological families, then it’s with healthy foster or adoptive families. Children need permanency in order to form healthy attachments and bonds that will last a lifetime. With that said, we never advocate that a child go into residential treatment unless their behavior or choices have reached a point of being unsafe for them or unsafe for you and the rest of your family.

We do not wear “Residential Treatment” like a gun on our hip. You shouldn’t either. While the special needs of your child may cause things to be difficult in your household, to the best of your ability, avoid residential. But, the reality is that sometimes residential is your last option after you’ve tried desperately to keep your child safe and in your home. We’ve have had to place a child in residential several times in the past, for unsafe behavior. We get it. It was always a grueling choice to make. And each time he transitioned back home, we learned valuable lessons on what to do and what not to do.

It’s a big question that many people come to us with- “How do we make this upcoming transition back home as smooth as possible?” While it’s never completely smooth, or perfect, there are some valuable keys we’ve learned to help make it as successful as possible:

  1. Have a plan. To the best of your ability, create a plan for bringing your child home. Before he or she arrives home, answer questions like, Where is he going to sleep? When will she transition back to school? What boundaries will we have in place for interacting with other kiddos out in the neighborhood? What safety plans do we need to have ready to go and understood amongst the rest of our family? What do we need to communicate to the rest of our children, and help them through? What will our daily routine and structure look like? Is that routine/structure written down? What post-residential resources are available to us? Have we lined these resources up yet? We know that you may not have much time to plan, but even if you have a day or two (like we’ve had in the past), do whatever you can to plan accordingly and answer as many lingering questions as you can.
  2. Create (or resume) structure. When our son had to be in residential the first two times, we allowed our other kids to heal. They needed it and so did the two of us. Part of that healing was allowing them to be “normal” for once. We extended bedtimes (it was the summer), went places we never could go before, stayed out late at the movies or visiting with friends, and allowed lots of other privileges our kids never had when we lived in consistent turmoil. Our days (even weekends) had to be structured. But then, for the good of our family, the successful transition home for our son, and the most peace possible, we had to resume the structured schedule we had before he left for residential. It was hard to pick back up, but it was absolutely necessary. Some of you may have struggled to have structure before your child entered residential. It’s crucial that you develop this before he or she enters back into your home. Remember, in most scenarios, their days were very structured (if it was a good residential facility) so it’s something they’re used to. Whatever the case, your home and your schedule must be structured.
  3. Clear the schedule. Don’t overload your family schedule with a lot of extra activity. You need structure, yes, and often times activity is a good way to achieve this, but activity can also backfire if you are bouncing all over the place in the first couple of weeks he or she is home. The reason this is can be detrimental to a smooth transition home is that, chances are, that activity will not be the norm all the time. Any disruption to schedule can cause dis-regulation. Plus, random activities can often carry high amounts of overload or stimulation which also lead to dis-regulation or over-stimulation. Much like I mentioned in #1, it’s about planning. Plan to not have a lot of activity other than what you’ve intentionally instilled to achieve needed structure.
  4. Communicate. Again, this comes down to timing, but make sure you sit down with the rest of your family and discuss their sibling’s transition home. Talk through the safety plan, share the new schedule and structure you have to adhere to, and allow your other children to share their fears, worries, and frustrations. Make sure everyone understands the new plan and why it’s important that the entire family is on the same page. More on this in a minute, but I do want to mention the importance of positivity. It’s easy to allow your own fears and worries to dictate your demeanor and language. While it’s important to be honest (which you need to do) it’s equally as important to communicate your positive thoughts on your child’s homecoming. If you feel happy, relieved, peaceful, share this. Share your commitment to help him or her achieve health and healing. It helps your other children to feel at peace.
  5. Carve out personal space. The best thing we could have done before our son transitioned home was to carve out his own space. He didn’t share a room with anyone. Nor did he share storage space, or a closet. We know this is not always feasible but if you can manage it, do it. We went farther though. We intentionally worked to give each of our kiddos their own private personal space. And then, we instituted the rule that no one was to enter one another’s private personal space without permission from them, and us. We achieved this with 6 kids living in a 1,950 square foot house. It’s possible. Just takes intentionality and a little elbow grease.
  6. Seek out post-residential resources. If your child has entered residential treatment through your state’s Medicaid, chances are there are resources available for post-residential. We had providers who worked a certain amount of hours with our family after our son transitioned home. If you haven’t sought this out, stop reading this post and pick up the phone. You need post-placement resources to help make the transition home as smooth as possible. If you are struggling to find support, a simple Google Search will yield several options. You can also contact your local Department Of Child Services office to inquire.
  7. Be positive. I remember after we brought our son home from residential the second time, he said, in a tense moment, “You just want me to be in a program, not here with you!” Nothing could have been further from the truth. We deeply desired to have our family together, complete, and for him to be with us. But his words got us thinking- We felt very positive about him coming home, but we needed to show this more than we were. He needed to understand that we believed in his healing and restoration, and we strongly believed he was supposed to be part of our family, and not living in a facility. Again, to the best of our abilities, we supported and upheld this and demonstrated this to him and the rest of our family.

The transition home will not be easy. In fact, it may be incredibly hard for you and your family. You are living with the trauma of what happened before he or she went into treatment. It’s taken you some time to heal from this. Plus, you have fears over what may happen again. None of this is easy to deal with. And there may be curve balls that nothing I just mentioned above can help with. But we know one thing- you can do this. You’re a good mom and dad. We have had to walk through this several times and we made it. Again, not easy. But we made it. And because of that, our entire team is cheering for you!

Question: Are you parenting a child who is close to transitioning home from residential treatment? What are you most worried about? Have you transitioned a child home? What else would you add to this list? Share in the comment section below. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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