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Posted on 12/27/2022

Choosing the Right Educational Path: Exploring Therapeutic Private Schools for Children

Choosing the Right Educational Path: Exploring Therapeutic Private Schools for Children

Making decisions regarding their child’s education is one of the most important considerations for parents. Today, more than ever before, there are alternatives to education for children and adolescents outside of the public school system in their community. Parents can select the best setting for their youth based on their student’s needs, parental preferences, and their financial situation. Some families may decide to homeschool their child(ren), or they might select a charter school, participate in a local co-op or seek virtual academic services. Private schools, in which parent’s pay for their child’s education, also called tuition, may be a viable option for families with the financial means to do so. For parents who have a child or teen needing additional emotional or behavioral support, in addition to the academics, a Therapeutic Private School is another possibility.


What Is A Therapeutic Private School? 


Therapeutic Private School is designed to accommodate and assist children or adolescents who are sometimes referred to as “troubled”, meaning the youth may have mental health needs resulting in academic, behavioral or emotional challenges.  These youth may also have learning differences. Youth with substance abuse disorders, mental health-related issues and disorders - including anxiety, depression, and complex trauma disorders, eating disorders, and addictions, such as internet, gaming, gambling, and sexual problems. In many instances, when parents select a Therapeutic Private School it is because they do not feel as if their child or adolescent will receive the attention and support they need in the public school setting, and desire a more structured and treatment-focused academic setting.  The parent may fear that their child’s emotional or mental health may decline and/or their challenging behaviors may continue to worsen, if these concerns are not addressed in a more structured, supervised setting.   Parents may also have found that their community mental health services are insufficient to address their child’s needs and seek a program that provides combines academics with mental and emotional health support.

Therapeutic Private Schools are either residential programs-such as boarding schools, where the child lives on campus during the academic year, or non-residential programs-the child lives at home and attends school on campus each day or for part of the week, such as in a hybrid program. These programs may follow an academic calendar year or be a year-round school. 

How Do I Choose The Best Therapeutic Private School?

There are many considerations that go into selecting the best Therapeutic Private School for your child, including:

  • The school’s criteria for acceptance 
  • Location of the school (distance from home for daily commuting if non-residential or traveling during holidays and breaks for residential)
  • Tuition and fees (i.e. room and board, if considering a residential program, uniforms, program fees, books, etc.)
  • Schedule (academic year and daily schedule)
  • Student profile (co-ed or single-gender)
  • Faith or non-faith based
  • Academic program and areas of focus (for example, some are college-preparatory focused)
  • Faculty bios
  • Student-teacher ratios
  • Your child’s academic interests (arts, music, sports, science, etc.)
  • Your child’s physical, behavioral and emotional needs
  • Therapeutic needs and best treatment approach, such as equine therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Eating Disorder treatment, etc.
  • School’s ability to appropriately support any learning differences
  • Success rate for grade level promotion and graduation
  • Code of conduct for students, including behavioral expectations
  • Licenses, accreditations, and awards
  • History of any violations or suspensions
  • How academic and behavioral issues are addressed with student and parent(s)
  • History of the school
  • Reviews from other parents and Educational Consultants


When determining the best placement for you child or teen, it can be helpful to read their website, check the internet for reviews, and set up a consultation with the school before enrollment. Also, consider touring the school, in-person or virtually. During your visit, ask questions, verify claims about staff credentials, accreditation, licenses, success, and endorsements. Make a list of questions ahead of time that you would like to ask during your meeting(s).  Meet with both instructors and administration and observe campus life.  You may also want to include your child or teen in the process before agreeing to enrollment. Also be prepared that there may be additional psychological or academic testing and/or an interview of your child prior to approval. The more information you have, the more likely you will make the best decision for your child or teen.


When Should I Consider A Therapeutic Private school For My Child Or Teen?  


Typically, parent’s begin to consider a Therapeutic Private School when their child or teen is experiencing consistent behavioral issues that cause excessive strain on the family. They have usually come to realize that their local public school system has exhausted their available resources to address their child’s needs and their youth needs more expertise, structure or support. Parent’s may have tried less intensive academic options as alternatives to their local public school, such as online learning or homeschooling, and a Therapeutic Private School:

  • Is recommended by their child or teen’s school counselor, therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist or other mental health professional or juvenile justice services
  • Their youth is experiencing challenging emotional or behavioral issues, substance abuse, or academic issues that are not being addressed effectively by the local school district 
  • Community mental health services seem inadequate or unavailable
  • Their youth needs a more structured academic setting
  • Their youth is at risk of failing, or has failed and is need of more support 
  • Their child or teen is being discharged from psychiatric in-patient or out-patient or residential treatment facility and needs to transition into a structured academic program before returning home
  • Physical risk for the child (running away, eating disorder, suicidal gestures)


How Do I Know My Child Would Benefit From A Therapeutic Private School?


By the time parents begin considering Therapeutic Private School, they have likely considered most other possibilities and are eager to find something to help their child or teen be successful in school, while also getting emotional or behavioral support.  They may also be concerned that their child has the opportunity to maintain the therapeutic gains he or she has made through residential treatment or psychiatric hospitalization.   


Children or teens who benefit from Therapeutic Private Schools generally are youth who need more structure, guidance, attention and expertise from teachers, administrators and other school staff than offered in most public schools or non-therapeutic private schools.  They may have difficulty with impulse control and need more support than their peers to navigate adolescence. The learning environment of a Therapeutic Private School is intentionally more controlled and trained to address behavioral and emotional challenges. 

Therapeutic Private Schools usually have a specific behavioral approach that the entire faculty endorses which is designed to encourage and reward positive behavior and decrease or eliminate negative or undesired behavior. Values such as respect, self-discipline, and community are generally emphasized in the schools’ values and codes of conduct.


It can be helpful to discuss this important decision with your youth’s school counselor, therapist, or other mental health professional to help you navigate this new journey. You may also consider hiring an Educational Consultant to educate you about this service and answer any questions you might have.   They can support you during the search, and application and intake processes and make recommendations based on their assessment of your child’s needs.  These trained professionals are equipped to provide support to families before, during and after placement.


What Types Of Therapeutic Private Schools Are Available?

Therapeutic Private Schools may be:

  • Residential or non-residential schools
  • Single-gender or co-ed schools
  • Faith-based institutions or non-faith affiliated schools


Within these types, there are also variations:


  • Therapeutic (Treatment) Day Schools

Therapeutic (Treatment) Day Schools ensure that children receive intensive therapeutic treatment based on their situation without falling behind in school. Keen attention is given to the child’s academic curriculum in an environment that is nurturing amongst peers with similar needs. The child or teen continues to live with their parent or guardian while going to school, instead of residing on the school campus. Some of these schools meet every weekday and some are hybrid models in which the child or teen goes to campus a few days and works from home the other days of the week. 

  • Non-Residential Therapeutic School Programs Requiring Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) Enrollment 


This therapeutic day treatment program is designed to couple a partial psychiatric hospitalization environment with a therapeutic day school. In Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP), at-risk youth are continuing to work on therapeutic treatment goals through individual, group and family therapy and given the opportunity to build positive peer relationships, enhance self-esteem, learn to trust self and others, and practice overall healthy coping skills under direct adult supervision, while also working on academics. In the classroom teens spend time with trained and specialized instructors, helping them to stay on track with school while in treatment. Teens in this program are receiving services from licensed mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors, who inform the daily educational and therapeutic treatment services. 


  • Therapeutic Boarding School

Therapeutic Boarding Schools are private, residential schools for students who are exhibiting behavioral challenges or emotional issues. These schools aim to provide emotional growth and academic education for students away from their home setting. The attendance for therapeutic boarding schools are usually based on an academic calendar lasting for one year. 


  • Learning Difference Schools - Autism Spectrum Disorder Learning Environments

Therapeutic Private Schools that focus on Learning Differences, such as Attention-Deficit Disorder or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD) or Autism Spectrum Disorder is focused on a specific learning need or diagnosis  and more specialized attention is afforded in this setting which offers both academic and therapeutic focus. 


How Much Do Therapeutic Private Schools Cost?

Therapeutic Private Schools average $5000 per month and can cost $10000 or more per month for boarding programs or for a more intensive therapeutic program, typically shorter term (1-3 months).   

Parent’s often wonder if there is any financial support for Therapeutic Private School.  Here are some options to consider in paying for a Therapeutic Private School:


  • Using Insurance for Therapeutic Private SchoolsSome insurance plans will pay for the treatment portion of the program, for example the time spent that the child or teen is seeing a licensed mental health provider for assessments, therapy or medication monitoring while at school, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist, and not for tuition, boarding, uniforms and other fees. Check with your benefits coordinator to determine if any of the expenses you will be paying are covered by your medical insurance plan.
  • Free Therapeutic Private Schools: There are very few free therapeutic schools, and the ones that are low or no cost are usually very competitive and location-based due to state funding. 
  • Tax Deductions for Therapeutic Private Schools:  Consult with your accountant to see if any of the cost of your youth’s education and/or treatment are qualifying expenses to receive a tax deduction, particularly if your child has a diagnosed neurological or medical condition or disability.  
  • IEP Reimbursement From Public School System for Therapeutic Private Schools: If your child or teen has an IEP, meet with your local school district administration regarding policies related to alternative education reimbursement for Therapeutic Private School, particularly if they are unable to meet the child or teen’s plan within the district.
  • Scholarships and Financial Aid for Therapeutic Private Schools: Some schools are able to offer scholarships and/or financial assistance for families who meet their requirements.  Financial assistance is generally very limited and based on documented need. If you have adopted a child from foster care you may be eligible for financial benefits from the school or from your state’s post-adoption subsidy program since the school is therapeutic. However, be prepared to provide documentation regarding need from a psychologist and to complete the state’s application process.
  • Discounts for Therapeutic Private Schools Ask the school program if they offer any discounts on tuition or fees, such as multiple student enrollment (siblings) or cash payment or if you have a child you have adopted from foster care.
  • Payment Plans:  As the school if they offer any payment plans, such as dividing up tuition into installment payments.
  • Grants There are numerous grant and wish programs throughout the United States.  Some of those programs assist with educational, therapeutic or technology needs.  Each has their own requirements and deadlines for applications. 
  • Using Credit Cards for Therapeutic Private Schools
  • Educational Loans for Therapeutic Private Schools
  • Home Equity Credit Line for Therapeutic Private Schools


Final Thoughts


Academic programs offered at Therapeutic Private Schools may greatly benefit some youth in need of structure, support and individualized attention for academic success while attending to behavioral and emotional concerns. These types of schools are generally an alternative, privately paid academic setting for students with academic, social, and behavioral differences.

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