As noted earlier, building a plan for a child in crisis must begin with a thorough objective assessment of the child’s needs- academically, socially, emotionally, chemically, and legally. This understanding of the child must be joined with a thorough, objective understanding of the family’s priorities and dynamics. One must recognize that the child and all other family members function as parts of a dynamic system that requires elucidation as part of understanding the the crisis and subsequent planning.
Placing the child in a wilderness program, or another similar program, of several weeks duration serves as the first step toward complete evaluation and treatment. These programs change the child’s environment, usually removing him/her to a new, quieter, safer, and more isolated setting. This environment change provides the child with time, safety, and support, providing the opportunity for perspective, evaluation, insight.
A Wilderness program lays the foundation for a long term plan by providing a safe, controlled, environment from which to gather data and feedback:
1. Wilderness programs clearly affect, and produce effects on, the child; “I am somewhere else and have responsibility for myself with clear expectations.”
2. Wilderness programs give the family and involved professionals time and space to step back and strategically think about the crisis and possible solutions.
3. Program professionals provide evaluative feedback. “How is the student responding to physical and emotional challenges?”
4. Educational and psychological evaluations can be completed.
5. Wilderness programs slow the child’s life and remove the distractions and issues of their earlier environment, providing therapeutic benefits. Clearing the child’s head begins to help the child build perspective.
6. Preparation for the next step, often a longer term program, begins. The child begins to see the journey ahead.
This initial step has several goals:
1. Stabilize the child.
2. Provide insight into how the child thinks and functions and acceptance of the therapeutic process.
3. Corroboration and program feedback gives the mental health professionals and the family data for diagnosis, planning, and understanding.
From these gathered understandings, treatment and future educational options emerge. The continuing evaluation of the child works to answer the following questions: “How do you know where you belong and which treatment options, programs or schools have the “right combination of attributes” for a particular child?
Most importantly, parents must remain open and receptive throughout the entire evaluation and planning for their child. No notion of a template can exist. Every child is different: therefore, evaluation and objectivity are paramount. Parents cannot have a preconceived long term plan before a through understanding of their familiy and child emerge.
Parents in Special Needs
As Parents, you must submit to the process that evaluates and assesses not only the child's needs, but the entire family structure. You must build a trusting relationship with the professionals but the decisions are ultimately yours.