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What to Look for in an Educational Consultant

by Dore Frances, IEC, founder of Horizon Family Solutions, LLC
Parents of adolescents are hiring educational consultants to help them navigate the difficult choices when it comes to needing a program or school that specializes in addiction treatment, eating disorders, emotional growth programs and more.

After Benecia County father Ron B. and his wife decided to send their daughter to a residential program, they started doing research on the dozens of choices they found. They gained impressions of the schools they looked at on the Internet-but weren't sure their perceptions were right. They decided to call in a professional, an education consultant knowledgeable about residential programs, to help them navigate the process in what seemed like a tricky decision. "She was a good sounding board," Ron says of the consultant his family hired. "Even though we learned a lot on our own, it was helpful to talk with someone who knew the schools and could give us insights that we couldn't get from reading a brochure or looking at their website." Educational consultants have been around for decades to advise parents on where their children should go to high school and college. Now increasing numbers of families are turning to these experts to help them find the right therapeutic program or specialized boarding school.

These consultants offer a range of advice and services. They provide insight into the character, mission, and environment of schools; and help families determine which schools are the best match for their adolescent. After all, who doesn't want their kid to have the best shot at life?

One Colorado mother says that soon after her son started a therapeutic boarding school last summer, two different parents asked her which consultant she had used: "I thought, 'consultant? Was I supposed to use a consultant?' " A growing number of parents think so.

The number of educational consultants working with wilderness programs, addiction treatment centers and boarding schools, just to name a few, has been increasing at a very steep rate over the last five to seven years. Some of the parents interviewed for this story, worried about how their use of an educational consultant would be perceived by others in their community, church and even within their own family, and agreed to talk only if their names were not used.

However, consultants say families thinking about clinical boarding schools need to approach the decision as they would any other major family or household issue.

One Connecticut mother who has twins in an eating disorder program, thought she and her husband, both clinicians, could easily manage the search process. But the mother says she discovered a "whole subculture" to the Internet scene for which she and her husband felt unprepared. She believes it would have been shortsighted to invest in this type of specialized treatment for their twins - the tuition and emotional investment - without spending a comparatively small amount to get expert advice. The process can, in fact, be daunting. Some schools require student testing prior to admissions or a wilderness therapy program. "I was feeling overwhelmed at the thought of scheduling all the school visits in order to make a decision, and the fact that my daughter had to go through testing and a wilderness program," says a Delaware father of a fourteen-year-old girl who hired a consultant a year ago. The consultant shocked him by advising that his daughter would be out of state. "She told us not to even bother looking in our state because our daughter was such a high risk runner and very street smart," says the Delaware dad. He followed the consultant's advice. A Florida couple turned to a consultant after making what they felt was a bad decision on their own.

They had paid the first four month's tuition at a Christian Boarding School and attended a new-parent seminar when they started feeling the school they'd selected for their then-fourteen-year-old son was somehow wrong. They hired a consultant to help them sort out what it was they were looking for. "Talking with our consultant helped us to organize our thoughts and listen to our hearts to hear the common threads that kept coming up again and again - a therapeutic Christian education - disciplined structure - a solid Christian based program," said the mother. Before the end of the first month, they moved their son to another program in another state.

Their son has been successful and the parents attribute that success to the focus on the guidance they received. Consultants-good ones-can guide families to programs and schools that are right for them.

Consultants, like emotional growth programs and residential schools, aren't cheap. Prices depend on the consultant and the services chosen. A general one-time consult that lasts at least two hours can cost several hundred dollars. An ongoing relationship that involves compiling information for several choices and following up with programs and schools after the adolescent has been admitted can cost several thousand dollars. It a teen is involved in the juvenile justice system, it can be even more. Even if parents hire an educational consultant, they should not put the ultimate decision in that person's hands.

"The recommendations can't compare with the first-person experience parents gain by visiting each recommended program or school personally, whenever possible."

What To Look For in a Consultant

Not all consultants are alike in their approach and passion for working with at-risk adolescents. Like programs and schools, each has her or his own attitude, dedication and quality of work about the process. When looking for a consultant, ask questions that go beyond educational background. Find out how much time a consultant spends traveling to visit programs and schools. How long have they been an educational consultant? What did they do before? Here are other ways to help find a consultant who is qualified and will work well with your family:

  • Spend five to ten minutes on the phone with each consultant you're considering to get a sense of whether they share your approach to the process.
  • Ask about the consultants background and other areas of expertise. An educational consultant doesn't need any particular education, training, or licensing to hang out a shingle. Ask what professional associations they belong to and always ask for references.
  • Find out how often they visit programs and schools and in which states. Ask if they have visited the program you're considering and when was the last time they visited. It's a good question to ask because schools' curricula can change from year to year. By keeping current on schools, consultants can provide insights that parents don't always get from a website, brochure or a chat with the school's director.
  • Ask how they stay current on trends and research in education and other areas that may pertain to your adolescent (ADD/ADHD, eating disorders, learning disabilities, mood disorders, etc.)
  • Ask how often they work with adolescents the same age as your adolescent and with the same needs.
  • Find out if they provide both one-time and ongoing consultation services. What comes with each type of arrangement, and what will it cost?

Dore Frances, IEC, is an educcational consultant, childs right advocate, parent coach, specializing in working with troubled teens and their families in the United States, Canda, and abroad. See her site at: www.guidingteens.com or contact her by phone at:(541) 312-4422, or email at:Dore@DoreFrances.com.
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Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.

 

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