What Made Residential Psychiatric Care Best for My Teenager?

March 19, 2018 Susan Traugh

Residential psychiatric care for your child is not an easy decision for parents, but choosing residential psychiatric care for my daughter probably saved her life. Learn what to consider before sending your child to residential care here, at HealthyPlace.

Putting a child in residential psychiatric care is one of the hardest decisions a parent has to make. Five years ago, I put my teenager into a residential psychiatric care facility for a year. Housing my child out of my home and in a residential mental health treatment center was a very painful decision that probably saved—and definitely changed—my child’s life.

Residential Psychiatric Care Was My Last Hope

My daughter had been in psychiatric hospitalization a half-dozen times for her severe bipolar disorder. She’d been through—and was kicked out of—every intensive outpatient program in our area. But, she just wasn’t getting better. We couldn’t stabilize her with medication or even convince her to take it.

Soon, she began to use illicit drugs to self-medicate. They only made matters worse. She started to steal the car at night. She’d run away, get picked up by the police and run away again. Every time the phone rang, I'd fear it was because my daughter was dead.

So, we put her into a residential psychiatric care facility (Admitting a Child to Inpatient Psychiatric Treatment: A Parent's Perspective).

You’re Not a Bad Parent for Housing Your Child in a Residential Psychiatric Care Facility

Back then, and to this day, people will ask me why I couldn’t just control my child. Why couldn't I parent my child at home? And, for those who don't deal with severely mentally ill children, it may seem like a reasonable question. But, it is not.

It is not because the implication of the question is that I simply don’t parent well enough to manage my child's behavior. The questioner assumes that my child is simply rebellious, or coddled, or spoiled, or whatever. They live in the world of normal teenage behavior and assume that’s where I live also.

The truth is: there are times I wish I could just chalk up my child’s problems to my bad parenting because then I wouldn’t have to face the fact that my daughter has a debilitating mental illness that will challenge her life for the rest of her life. Bad parenting would be so much easier.

Pre-Commitment Residential Psychiatric Care Questions

For those of us considering residential psychiatric care, many factors play into our decision to institutionalize our children (Inpatient Mental Health Care Facilities: Who Needs One?). For my child, five considerations were:

  1. Was she safe? This was my first consideration. Housed in a locked facility, she could not steal cars, she could not take drugs, she could not run away, she could not get attacked. First and foremost, my daughter would be safe for the first time since her condition had deteriorated three years before.
  2. Was she medicated? My child refused to take her meds at home and I could not force her. (Even though I tried.) There, they could. They had the 24-hour staff necessary to follow-up on consequences or pull privileges until my daughter complied. Then, and only then, could we use those vital drugs to help stabilize my girl.
  3. Could the family heal? Without their sister’s mental breakdowns driving our family life, we all had the needed time to heal. Then when we visited my daughter, her siblings were able to show their love, express how much they missed her, and address the issues that her mental illness had caused in their relationships.
  4. Could my child regain her life? The facility we chose had a credit recovery program so that my daughter could catch up on the credits she lost from repeated mental breakdowns. In small classes of only eight students and a reward system for completion, she was able to catch up on her classes and eventually graduate on time. Additionally, she became a peer-leader in her substance abuse class, earning the kind of leadership role that she had always played in school before mental illness knocked her down.
  5. How involved could we be? Even though I signed custody away, I was unwilling to give up control of my child. The program we chose had weekly family therapy (via the phone), sibling groups, allowed regular family visits and provided family training for when my daughter came back home. Her therapist was wonderful, and we still stay in touch.

While residential psychiatric care was not a cure-all for my child, it did provide her with a new start and a new lens with which to view the world. I do believe she is alive and thriving today because of the safety of that vital year. And, given the same choices I had at that time, I’d make the same decision today.+

What to Consider If It's Time to Send Your Child to Residential Care

APA Reference
Traugh, S. (2018, March 19). What Made Residential Psychiatric Care Best for My Teenager?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 27 from

Author: Susan Traugh

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Jessica Harms
April, 9 2023 at 2:44 pm

I’d like to know just where to start in this process? I believe my daughter is in need of this exact treatment. I have no idea who to speak to about looking into this.

Susan Traugh
April, 5 2018 at 3:10 pm

Hi Diane,
I do hope that you were/are able to find the treatment and hope you want for your child. Personally, I have a problem with our children's "legal adult" status stopping us from getting them the help they need. As my mentally ill daughter said in a more lucid moment, "What part of 'crazy' do they not understand?" There are times when we really need to be able to step in and protect our children from themselves. I will send good thoughts that you find that opening to help your child.

Diane Dorbin
April, 2 2018 at 1:38 pm

My child was legally an adult so I had no "control" over health decisions. I prayed for a psychiatric hospitalization. It was the point where denial no longer worked. It was the point where reality could lead to treatment and hope.

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