Thinking about a Summer Transition Home

By Dr. Bob Burroughs

Before joining Calo as its Academic Director, I was an educational consultant advising families on residential treatment. In general, families favored a treatment cycle that matched the traditional school calendar. If a student entered treatment in October, then typically parents hoped for a June or August transition back home, so that their son or daughter could rejoin school in September. All things being equal, this always seemed a reasonable plan.
The problem is that all things were rarely equal. First, for most parents residential treatment is a wholly unknown phenomenon. Most parents don’t even know that residential treatment centers exist until they have a child that needs one. School, by contrast, is an institution well known by every parent. Moreover, parents know the value and the importance of school success and understandably want that for their children. So, it is not surprising that parents see residential treatment through the lens of the school calendar.
But treatment is not school. Each child responds to treatment differently and at his own pace. Much as we might want his pace to coordinate with a traditional school schedule, it doesn’t always do so. To force treatment into this mold or to truncate treatment so that a child may enroll in school on a specific date is a risky plan. For our students at Calo school is often a difficult undertaking anyway. To rush back to a traditional school before your child is ready only compounds the risk.
But even if a child is ready, summer can be a tricky time to transition home. First, there is the problem of structure. Calo is a structured environment in which students’ days are very heavily scheduled. Therapy sessions, canine training sessions, and academic classes are just some of the blocks of time that are scheduled for students. The result is students are used to having their time structured for them. For many families, however, summer is a relatively unstructured time: no school, no homework, no after school programs or athletics. That is a lot of time to fill with other planned activities.
Second, there is the problem of supervision. Because time during the summer has to be more actively scheduled by parents, it also has to be more actively monitored by parents. Family vacations can provide both structure and supervision, but few families can afford to take a summer-long vacation.
Finally, there is the problem of parental stamina. Planning and supervising summer activities can take a toll on parents as well. Much of the work that Calo has facilitated between parents and teens has stressed healthy relationships. Suddenly being a parent back in that constant role of supervising and scrutinizing your child’s summer time and behavior can stress even the healthiest of relationships.
So, does this mean that a summer transition is never indicated? Of course not, but please make sure you’ve thought through the problems of structure, supervision, and relationship.