Beyond Hospitalization

In some instances, your child may continue benefiting from other structured environments similar to an inpatient psychiatric unit. An outpatient program is a service that may be offered by your hospital or another facility that specializes in providing behavioral or mental-health care to kids. Sometimes called a “day hospital” or a “partial hospital program,” an outpatient program may offer up to six hours a day of treatment that includes some or all of what your child received during his hospitalization but without the overnight stays (which may be a real incentive for your child to participate). The goal of this service is one of collaboration with your child and family, your child's doctor, and school district to coordinate treatment for a time-limited duration. Although the length of time in such a program is determined by your child's needs, the average length of treatment is usually between three to six weeks. It is one viable alternative to inpatient hospitalization and may be more cost-effective and less traumatizing for your child and family in the long run. Usually only kids who no longer are at risk of harming themselves or others are eligible for this type of programming.

It is rare that a professional hospital team is unable to stabilize your child's mental health so that he is no longer a danger to himself and others. But there are exceptions to every rule, and in the most extenuating of circumstances there may be certain children who are more challenging to serve in a hospital environment. Oftentimes, these are children with particular needs that may best be served in an alternative environment staffed by professionals with the specific expertise to address each child's issues. Such children may have developmental differences, such significant intellectual impairment (mental retardation) or autism, or they may be consistently physically or sexually aggressive and pose a threat to the community. (This is not to suggest that persons with mental retardation or autism are as harmful as juvenile sexual offenders; it implies that many mental-health professionals aren't well equipped to support such kids as fully as they need to be.)


The caveats to a residential treatment program are that the closest one may be several counties away, across the state, or in another state and it may be very expensive (thousands of dollars a day) to maintain your child there.

If such serious issues arise for your child, a residential treatment program may be recommended. A residential treatment program is a community-based, homelike environment where your child would stay for an extended period of time while continuing to receive his education and psychiatric treatment. The environment may serve a number of children, and it will be more highly structured with more restrictive rules that your child will be expected to comply with. Your child may require this kind of regimented structure on a lengthier basis as opposed to a hospital stay of a matter of days in duration.

If a residential treatment program becomes a realistic possibility for your child, you will wish to gather as much information as possible in order to carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages.

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