Insider’s Guide: How to Pay for Therapeutic Boarding School (2017 UPDATE)

Before we dive into understanding the options for paying for a Therapeutic Boarding School, let’s quickly review what they are.

The Rise of Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Image result for boarding schoolAs public schools across the country have slowly been pruned back by state legislatures, funding for behavioral, emotional and academic support within schools have nearly dried up while public money is increasingly being used for private charter schools. Therefore, it’s not surprising private institutions that offer therapeutic (or quasi-therapeutic) environments like boarding schools and private schools have exploded. One of the fastest growing kinds of boarding schools is what’s called a Therapeutic Boarding School. Therapeutic boarding schools maintain the advantages of traditional boarding schools such as intimate class sizes, individual attention, great academics, developing student self-reliance, and the fun of living with peers in a completely “child-friendly” environment.

Some therapeutic boarding schools specialize in helping teens overcome certain psychological problems such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Bipolar, Asperger’s and even Depression. Others have programs for overcoming substance abuse problems or achieving weight loss. Some specialize in helping students who lack motivation get a fresh start in a nurturing environment. Most have some sort of family or parent involvement piece to ensure a team approach (ie. Weekly family therapy via phone or Skype).

While this all may sound great, there are definitely some risks and downsides (beyond the financial cost) of sending a kiddo off to therapeutic boarding school. I address those issues in great detail in another blog post. For now, let’s revisit the financial aspects…

Expense or Investment?

Parents often find themselves in a desperate situation with a troubled teenager. Their daughter runs away from home again, gets caught with the dealer down the street, crashes another car, and has yet another arrest. Parents become afraid for their teen’s lives as their teen’s risk-taking and lifestyle keeps becoming more extreme as the parents’ ability to set boundaries and expectations seemingly erodes.

It’s hard to think clearly and find solutions at times like this. Therapeutic boarding schools and therapeutic wilderness programs can provide answers, but they come at a price, with some programs running upwards of $50,000 a year.

But cost doesn’t have to be an insurmountable obstacle in getting your teen the help they need. We have helped countless parents in similar situations come up with creative ways to finance therapeutic boarding school, knowing that their child desperately needs an intervention. Therapeutic boarding schools are no longer exclusively the domain of the wealthy.

Top 10 Ways to Pay for Therapeutic Boarding School

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Here are 10 ways families just like yours found to finance their teen’s therapeutic program:

1.   Hire a Consultant: Say what? More money? Yes, but trust me, this really will have super high ROI. Also referred to as case managers, therapeutic placement consultants or educational consultants, a good one is worth their weight in gold (a bad one is expensive and makes bad treatment recommendations). Make sure they are UNAFFILIATED with any program and have the clinical expertise to help advise and guide your family through the whole process. Some clinical educational consultants that specialize are able to handle this. A great case manager will be able to create a treatment plan, explain the process for getting a comprehensive psychological evaluation, walk with you through the intake process, support you while your teen is in the therapeutic boarding school, and coordinate discharge planning to ensure a seamless transition back to home or college. The last piece is essential – making sure your teen has everything they need to succeed after they return. Great case managers also know how to secure reimbursement from insurance providers for teens that attend therapeutic boarding schools. There are definitely some tricks (eg. Hire a case manager that’s also a licensed professional counselor and much of their work could be paid for by insurance) and inside knowledge necessary to make this happen.

Typical cost: $95 – 350/hr (some charge a flat fee of several thousand). 

2. Find the Program’s Financial Aid Officer: The private school or wilderness program should have a financial aid officer who can advise you about how to finance your child’s education. You should ask this person what programs, loans, discounts, or financial aid the school offers. Find out exactly what is included in the tuition and board bills, and if there are additional expenses such as buying uniforms or paying special fees for sports.

Typical Cost: Nothing – programs provide this to try to entice you into signing up. Beware of anything that sounds too good to be true – verify any claims they make about coverage from insurance, student grants/scholarships or loans. 

3.  Public School Funding: You may qualify for a loan through a kindergarten through 12th grade educational loan program. These loans work the same way as college loans, in that you pay what you can while your child is enrolled in the private school, and pay the rest off later. The terms of some loans let you spread out payments over 10 or 20 years. Your credit history will be a factor in securing a loan. Your school’s financial aid officer should be able to help you find such a loan.

Typical Cost: Your sanity – they will drive you crazy with the bureaucracy and take loads of time during your work day since everything in public school shuts down by 3:30pm. 

4.  Discounts for Upfront Payment: Some schools offer discounts if you pay by the year, instead of by the month. The average student stays at a therapeutic boarding school for less than two years, and wilderness programs are even shorter. A good therapeutic placement consultant/educational consultant will save you thousands of dollars by negotiating these discounts.

Typical Cost: More money upfront but no other associated costs. 

5. Tap 529: Consider using your child’s college fund first. Think of the therapeutic program as a way to get your child back on the right path toward college. Without intervention, she won’t have the grades or motivation to get through college and use her fund.

Typical Cost: Make sure there are no withdrawal penalties for use for therapeutic boarding school. 

6. Put it On Plastic: When you enroll your child in these therapeutic programs, there will be upfront expenses such as processing fees and deposits. Some parents borrow these initial payments from credit cards, especially ones that offer “frequent flier” miles. This way their child is immediately enrolled. They use their free mileage for transportation to and from the school.

Typical Cost: Beware of high interest rates if you don’t pay off your balance in full. 

7. Angel Investing: Some parents borrow the necessary funds from employers or relatives, and pay them back after securing educational loans or home equity loans.

Typical Cost: If you go through a peer-to-peer or crowdfunding site like The Lending Club or Kickstarter, count on a 5% fee for total amount funded. 

8. Health Insurance Reimbursement: Your health insurance policy may cover part of the cost of a therapeutic program as a medical expense. When you hire a case manager, they will be able to tell you how to file the paperwork and what you need from the program to ensure a speedy reimbursement.

Typical Cost: Sanity… totally lost if your insurer are jerks that don’t reimburse when and how they should. You are attempting to pull money from their cold, dead hands. Expect a fight.

9. Consult Your CPA: Some expenses for therapeutic schools and wilderness programs can be deducted from your income tax return as medical expenses. If you own your own business, you likely have WAY more creative options for deducting medical expenses.

Typical Cost: $200/hr for a good CPA to walk you through if and how to deduct from taxes.

10. Tap Home Equity: Parents have taken out second mortgages or home equity loans and then deducted their interest payments on their income tax returns.

Typical Cost: Fees, closing costs total 2-6%. It also bumps the timeframe for paying off that home back several years.

11. Public School Funding: We lied – there turns out to be 11 ways to pay for therapeutic boarding school. Is your child enrolled in public special education classes because of problems like attention deficit disorder and learning disabilities? Does your child have an “Individual Education Plan” at a public school? Do you suspect your child has learning problems that the public school cannot address? In certain cases, public school districts have to reimburse parents for private school tuitions. The Supreme Court ruled on June 22, 2009, that an Oregon school district had to reimburse a family for private school costs because the child in question could not achieve a free and appropriate education within the district. The child had not been enrolled in special education classes but was diagnosed later with attention deficit disorder.

When it comes to what matters most parents are unstoppable in finding ways to get the services and support they need. Don’t let cost be the determining factor. If your teen needs help, speak with a case manager, your trusted CPA as well as a therapeutic boarding school you’re considering and work together to find a way to get your teen back on track.