Having a child leave home and reside in a residential treatment center or therapeutic boarding school can be a frightening event for any parent. And for parents of an adopted child, having their child away from home can create fears that their son or daughter is struggling more with their attachment to their adopted parents.
From the day of admission to the day of discharge, it is important that a treatment center is mindful of the attachment concerns of adopted students and the need for continued attachment with their parents. On one level, it may be an oxymoron to have a teenager with attachment difficulties not residing with their adoptive parents, with whom the child has a relationship and behaviors issues in the first place. However, these children need residential care due to the severity of their emotional and behavioral problems, and need a safe and loving environment to receive intensive treatment.
Students with attachment concerns or adoption issues present with a different set of behavioral, emotional and interpersonal struggles than those who aren’t adopted. It is vital to adjust the residential staff styles of engaging with students with a history of attachment disorders. The traditional structure and complexities of residential treatment can potentially create barriers for optimal student and staff relationships. It is the student’s relationships with staff that are vital to growth and progress.
Residential staff is often seen as the crucial link between students with significant emotional and behavioral difficulties and effective treatment. The general premise underlying residential treatment is that all interactions in the milieu have a therapeutic potential that adds up to a corrective emotional experience for the youngster (Moses, 2000). The residential staff has more exposure and contact with students, potentially having more of an impact on them.
It is important for the residential treatment program to adjust and create an optimal fit between the student’s therapeutic needs and those of the milieu. The goal is to move from controlling the teen to building and sustaining a healthy relationship. It is this therapeutic relationship that is created by all staff with students that affects internalized and long-lasting change. Research indicates that staff and student interactions significantly impact the child’s treatment. The quality of the relationships formed within the RTC is viewed as an indicator of the youth’s subsequent capacity to form relationships and make an adequate psychological adjustment to the external environment (Moses, 2000).
Attachment In the Milieu
At times, it is challenging to balance the need of creating a validating and responsive environment with creating a setting that is therapeutically challenging for the students and their families. Individualized treatment and care is the best course of action when working with an adolescent with attachment difficulties. The clinical staff and residential staff are strongly rooted in attempting to understand a particular student’s needs and negotiate and accommodate them. At times, the program rules need to be adjusted to accommodate what is best for the adolescent and his or her relationship with staff, peers and her family.
To equip the staff with tools and skills to effectively connect with students with attachment concerns is crucial to the student’s success. Guiding and training staff in authoritative parenting principles help provide structure and support for the staff by creating and maintaining an environment that is conducive to teens with attachment concerns. This approach acknowledges that all relationships are reciprocal. All members of the staff share the responsibility in the quality of that relationship with that student. At times, staff can manage the milieu by decreasing the number of staff and peers that this student engages with to help that student develop deeper and more meaningful relationships. In addition, it’s important to be continually mindful of the strengthening the adolescent’s relationships with their families, providing ample opportunity to contact family and encouraging families to visit often. The parents are part of the solution and not part of the problem. These are just a few of the multitude of strategies and tools Sunrise Residential Treatment Program in Utah uses to meet the special needs of an adopted teen or any adolescent struggling with attachment difficulties. We believe that the quality of the student’s relationships with staff, peers and family during her stay at Sunrise is the agent of her change.