The room is filled with the nostalgic scent of your Christmas tree that sits in the very same spot it has since you have lived in your house but somehow manages to look more and more magical every year. That is the draw of the holidays. When the calenders flutter past the fall months and hit December it seems as though the world and everybody in it puts on rose-colored glasses. Malls and stores are flooded with people trying to stretch their budgets to fit in gifts for their loved ones and family from around the country flock together to celebrate. But the truth is those rose-colored glasses are not handed out to everybody. The holidays go from the best time of the year to a time of year that stirs up pain, and heartache for those who cannot be with their loved ones. There is something about seeing everyone around you live in a Norman Rockwell painting that amplifies your pain.
We sat down with a mother who is no stranger to that feeling. Jessie Smith of Bucks County Pennsylvania could not be with her daughter on Christmas because her daughter had been admitted to an inpatient facility on December 16th. Instead of opening gifts with her daughter on Christmas as they had for the first 15 years of her life, they had to opt for a video call on Christmas Eve. This was an incredibly sad Christmas for the Smith family but looking back on her daughter’s time at a residential treatment facility (RTF) she knows they made the right decision. Smith’s lived experience will help shed some light on what goes through a parents head during those first moments of selecting a facility for your child. It can be very overwhelming navigating the road that gets your child into the right facility for them, and on top of that it can be hard to think straight when under that kind of stress. We want to help. By talking to parents across the state we have gathered tips on where to start, what to look for, and who you can lean on for support.
The overall consensus from these parents was that the path is difficult and the guilt is immense. If your child has ever been admitted into a residential treatment facility you know this guilt all too well. The first tip from every single parent was to expect the guilt. Let yourself feel your feelings but also remind yourself that not only are you not alone, but your strength and sacrifice is admirable. "It is a big sacrifice to have your child admitted into an inpatient facility. That is your baby and you will miss them more than anything in the world. By doing this you are showing the ultimate sign of love to your child. You are putting their needs above your own and while it may be hard to understand at first, you have nothing to be guilty of," said Smith.
What makes this process even more challenging than the emotional side of it is the fact that it often feels like a battle to get your child the care that they need. Everyone from the insurance company to the RTF may seem to put up barricades that could stand in you and your child's way. The parents we spoke to want to remind you to not be afraid to speak up. However, we understand this is easier said than done. This might be your first time trying to choose the right RTF; it can be overwhelming to say the least. If you feel like you are in over your head give our Family Support Partners (FSPs) a call, or reach out to us online. Your FSP can help give you the tools and knowledge to advocate for your family and your child, a skill that is essential to getting them the care they need.
Smith, like the other parents we spoke to, did some digging online before selecting an RTF. "I looked them up on Google and Facebook and read reviews. Some places have much better reviews than others and I think hearing from a parent whose child had already been there carried a lot of weight," said Smith. Smith explained that while you are limited to places that accept your insurance you want to make sure you get the best possible placement for your child. Early research is essential in staying informed so that you are able to advocate for you and your child. Being informed can make a huge difference because there is also a lot of misinformation out there. If you live in Pennsylvania you may have heard or Pennsylvania's Mental Health Consent Law. This law is often misunderstood by many parents, and even providers and this misinformation can seriously jeopardize your child's ability to get the care they need.
The parents we spoke to explained to us the three logistical aspects that they looked for are; the RTF's policies on restraints, visitation, and rewards. You know your child, and you know what may trigger them. Some facilities use physical restraints, and that may work for some children but may trigger past trauma in others. Ensure that any policy on restraint is one that will harbor a safe and effective environment for your child.
The visitation policy is also important to take a look at. If visitation day is Wednesday and you can't make it on Wednesdays ask them to be flexible. Don't be afraid to advocate for your family's needs. Most places are able to work with you on their visitation policy, again don't be afraid to speak up and have your voice be heard regarding visitation. Finally the reward programs vary from place to place. A mother shared with us that at her son's facility he was being rewarded with food for having productive therapy sessions and making overall progress. She mentioned that her son gained a significant amount of weight when he was there because he was eating junk food and drinking soda that he did not have access to at home. Now that he is home it is a struggle because he wants a treat on the way home from each therapy session. She would advise parents to ask about the rewards process and speak up if you are not comfortable with it.
Smith may have missed that Christmas with her daughter but she does not regret it for a second. Her daughter was able to get the help she needed and everybody is better off for it. If you are reading this while you are up to your ears in the insurance information and research, "keep your chin up," as Smith said. The number one tip that we gathered from these parents was to trust your gut because you know your child better than anybody else does.
Check back in with us next week to hear from the perspective of a child who has been through two inpatient admissions. We had the honor of sitting down with Emme Miller, from Phoenixville Pennsylvania to hear about her experiences and listen to her story about how her parent's relentless persistence is the reason she is sober and living a happy life today.
***Names have been changed. ***