Following up with former students and surveying them and their parents regarding the impact RVCA made upon their life, dramatic change was reported in the following areas:
- Reduction or elimination of at-risk behaviors.
- Family relationships were restored and repaired.
- Conflicts with parents were better able to be resolved.
- Communication skills were developed.
- The student increased in maturity.
- Rebellion against parents and other authority figures decreased significantly.
- Students were better able to choose healthy relationships and goals.
- Academics were improved.
- There was an overall reduction in misbehavior.
- Students grew in self-worth, and responsibility.
- Students reduced or eliminated use of inappropriate substances.
For a list of parents with students recently in our program, please request it when you contact the Admissions Department.
Modified Thesis Conducted on the River View Christian Academy
Please be aware that statistics regarding success rates can be very subjective. What is considered success? Measures of success could be based upon many different categories and these categories are vulnerable to manipulation of statistical data. It is important to follow up with good questions directed at the right source. Calling current parents and past parents who have gone through a particular program is vital for any parent to have peace of mind regarding placement of your child.
Do not be alarmed if other programs you may be exploring do not have detailed success rates and statistics. Most programs remain focused on the students currently enrolled and do not have the financial or staffing ability to invest in a time consuming process of following up with former students and parents. We were very fortunate to have a graduate student complete their Masters Thesis on our program. The goal of this Thesis was to document the need for programs like ours and to asses RVCA’s former students status.
When we are asked questions regarding our success rate we are cautious to give defined percentages. We believe that any specific percentages can be “spun” and manipulated to sway ones perception in a certain direction. The truth is that most of the credible programs will have generally the same success rates. Upon completion of the program 7% continue to do extremely well. Conversely about the same percentages of students are hardened and although most do well in the programs they revert back to prior destructive behaviors. Most program graduates, do much better upon returning home and continue to progress as time passes. They do experience up’s and downs, slips and falls, but will maintain a better relationship with their families and move away from the former destructive behavior that brought them to the program. Our experience with hundreds of students that have been through the RVCA program is that students that did the best were students that had full support and involvement of parent or guardian.
The numbers listed below regarding RVCA’s success rate is also subject to a degree of subjectivity. Following are excerpts from this Masters level thesis.
We have taken the liberty to underline certain findings that highlight our program’s success.
The following information are excerpts from a 2006 Masters level Thesis
A small meeting room is filled to capacity with parents sitting in a circle around the room. All parents are asked to introduce themselves, state how long their daughters have been at River View Christian Academy, what “level” they are on, and how their last monthly visit went. Parents take turns responding to the questions. Some state in hopeful tones that their daughter has been in the program for about a year and that while it has been hard to live without her, they are excited to see the changes that she has made. Each parent anticipates their turn of the new parents whose eyes reflect pain and fear. It is evident that their child has recently been placed in the program. With a tight fragile voice, parents convey the painful stories that led them to place their child, usually against her will, in the program. It is a familiar script to which all 40 parents in the room can relate. A flood of emotions emerges as they remember their uniquely intense pain when they were in the same position months before. They have all sat in that same seat wondering how they had arrived here, as members of this strange parenting club. How had they come to the decision to allow their daughters to be taken by escort to a therapeutic boarding school, located in a rural location on the west coast of the U.S., far from home and family?
For most, the path to enrolling their daughters in a therapeutic boarding school has been a long difficult journey filled with sleepless nights of agonizing dread and prayer. While the families’ ethnicity, culture, religion, and family structures vary, their stories are strikingly similar. Many of the teenage girls did not exhibit at-risk behavior until puberty, but change came quickly. Physical changes marked the beginning of severe emotional changes, ranging from depression and suicidal thoughts to extreme outward anger, mostly directed towards their parents. Most began to experiment with drugs, alcohol, and risky sexual behavior. School grades suddenly began to decline, as school became an unnecessary burden. Boundaries were set by parents only to be seen as a minor hurdle to be jumped over, crawled under, or sprinted around. Coming home by curfew, or at all, became optional in the teen’s mind. Running away behaviors often proved to be the proverbial “last straw” before enrollment in the boarding school.
There have been support personnel who have come alongside parents offering a variety of answers. School counselors propose behavioral explanations, suggesting contracts, rewards and discipline. Psychologists propose changes in the family dynamic and search for a missing component in the family. Psychiatrists look for organic or chemical explanations, and pastors pray for spiritual guidance and deliverance. While missing person reports are filed and police officers bring girls home, they cannot force these runaways to stay at home. Mental health laws favor the child’s rights and offer little to protect children from themselves.
The literary landscape is littered with parenting books and advice, psychological labels, and pharmaceutical options. The search for causes and solutions has left parents frantically running, second-guessing, and feeling deep shame. Teenage rebellion takes an emotional and physical toll on each parent, sibling, and family relationship. The search for answers and remediation leaves most family members angry, hurt, scared, and confused.
43.3% had consumed alcohol; 20.2% had used marijuana; 18.5% had carried a weapon; and 9.9% had driven a car while intoxicated. In addition, during the 12 months preceding the survey, 35.9% of high school students had been in a physical fight and 8.4% had attempted suicide.
Few, if any, academic studies have been conducted to evaluate the outcomes of therapeutic boarding schools.
The purpose of this research is to add to this body of work in order to evaluate the effectiveness of residential placement for at-risk children. This study will evaluate the effectiveness of one private residential program (River View Christian Academy aka: RVCA) on the lives of its graduates into adulthood.
Research Question and Hypothesis
This study is designed to answer several research questions including:
- Do schools like River View Christian Academy, here after referred by the acronym RVCA, effectively change the behavior of at-risk teenagers in the short and long term?
- If so, from the student’s perspective, what about RVCA precipitated this change?
- Do RVCA graduates recommend this type of intervention? Why or why not?
- Do programs like RVCA help to repair family relationships?
The researcher hypothesizes that, as reported in existing research, the residential treatment provided by River View Christian Academy will prove to be initially effective. Since RVCA’s treatment relies primarily on behaviorist strategies to illicit behavioral change, it is believed that its effectiveness will diminish following graduation from the program. The student will then have to make an active decision to disengage in at-risk behaviors apart from artificial controls. The researcher hypothesizes that most of the participants will fall back on their experiences and learning at RVCA and at-risk behaviors will continue to be reduced.
In addition, researcher hypothesizes that RVCA students will continue to benefit from better communication with their parents. While RVCA will prove to be a difficult experience for the graduates, the researcher believes that the majority will report that it was instrumental in helping them to change their behavior and report satisfaction with the program.
This quantitative study utilizes a survey design to contact and survey previous RVCA students to determine overall program satisfaction, and whether, from their perspective, their boarding school experience was effective in reducing or eliminating the at-risk behaviors that led to their initial placement in the program. In addition, the survey will attempt to identify which components of the program they felt led to a change in their behavior.
The young women who attend RVCA are placed in the program by their parents after having a history of rebellion, drug or alcohol use, cutting themselves, eating disorders, sexual promiscuity, running away, failure in school and/ or verbal/physical abuse toward their parents, and other behaviors a psychologist would consider indicative a mood or anxiety disorder. Most of the families have sought counseling and tried a variety of behavioral and chemical interventions prior to placement.
The participants in the study are women over the age of 18 who were legally able to give informed consent and who attended River View Christian Academy during the last 10 years.
The average age of the respondent was 19.8 years and their completion of the program ranged from 8 to 1.5 years ago. Seventy-seven percent of the subjects stated that they completed the program while 23% were either removed early or left the program once they turned 18 years old. The average length of stay was 16 months.
No questions were asked about social economic status; however, the reader should note that RVCA is a tuition-based program with treatment lasting approximately 16 months, including an additional six months of aftercare. A limited number of scholarships are available. Fifty-four percent of the participants reported that their parents were married at the time of their enrollment and 46% of responders indicating that their parents were no longer living together due to separation, divorce, or death. Forty-six percent of the graduates stated that they participated in regular church attendance, with 54% stating that their family attended church less that one time per month or had no religious affiliation. The birth order of the respondents was diverse: 32% were the oldest child in the family, 23% middle children, 32% were the youngest child, and 14% were only children. Three of the respondents (14%) were adopted. This is a disproportionate number of adopted adolescents in that only 8% of the general US population is adopted (US Census data, cited in 2002). Thirty percent of the graduates stated that they had been physically abused and 45% had experienced sexual abuse prior to their admission to RVCA. Thirty-five percent indicated that they had been a victim of verbal/emotional abuse. The majority (68%) of the young women reported no history of drug/alcohol abuse in the family home.
In addition, 55% of them ranked their relationship with their mother at the time of admission to RVCA as negative and unsupportive, 32% ranked it as poor, 5% stated it was fair, 9% ranked it as good, and none reported having a positive relationship with their mother (question number 6). Questionnaire item number 21 and 23 asked them to rank their parental relationships when they returned home and at the present time. Upon returning home 45% stated their relationship with their mother was good or positive, 23% ranked it as fair, and 9% stated it was poor and negative respectively. They were then asked to rank their current relationship with their mother (at the time of the completion of the questionnaire). Seventy seven percent stated their relationship was good or positive/supportive, 18% stated it was fair, 9% stated it was poor, and none stated that it was currently negative. See Figure 3.
Likewise, question number 7, 23, and 24 inquired about the quality of the paternal relationship. Twenty-seven percent of the women indicated they did not have a relationship with their father, 38% ranked their relationship with their father at the time of admission to RVCA as negative/unsupported, 5% percent ranked it as poor, 23% ranked it as fair and 5% stated their relationship was positive. Those who had no relationship with their father were not able to report a change, therefore the figure stayed the same over time at 27%. Those who did have a relationship to work on reported that when they returned home 32% had a good or supportive relationship, 14% fair, 23% poor, and 5% had a negative relationship. When asked about their present relationship with their father, 50% of those who had a relationship with their father stated it was positive and supportive, none described their relationship as fair, 14% stated poor, and 9 % maintained a negative/unsupportive relationship. See Figure 4.
One specific goal of the program is to teach the students to communicate effectively during times of conflict with their parents and others. When asked whether they were able to communicate more effectively with their parents after their graduation, 70% responded with some degree of agreement. Fifty-five percent agreed or strongly agreed and 14% somewhat agreed. Thirty two percent of the women disagreed that the program helped them with communication.
Questionnaire item number 35 asked the respondents if they felt they have healthy relationships with others. The majority of the alumni (86%) considered themselves to have healthy relationships with others after graduation. Five percent stated that they did not have healthy relationships and 9% wrote in the response of “sometimes” and “yes and no”.
As stated previously, RVCA is a Christian boarding school and as such adheres to the belief that true-life change is facilitated and strengthened through a spiritual and personal relationship with God. This relationship is encouraged but not forced. The director of the program has stated that their goal is to respect the individual’s beliefs and to provide an opportunity rather than a demand for spiritual formation. Thirty-two percent of the families that sent their daughter to RVCA do not attend religious services regularly and 23% state that they have no religious affiliation. Forty-six percent of the families attended church on a regular basis.
Questionnaire item number 37 asked the respondents to reflect and determine if they considered themselves a person of faith. The majority (68%) stated that they were a person of faith. Of the 15 women who stated that they have a faith in God, 7 came from families with this belief and 8 reported that their families have little or no religious affiliation. Fourteen percent of the respondents said that they did not have a religious faith. Of these three women, two came from families of faith and one did not. Eighteen percent of the participants stated that they were uncertain. Forty-six percent stated that they attended church regularly.
Fifty-nine percent of the respondents reported failing in school as one of the factors leading to their placement at RVCA. On a separate question, 68% stated that they were below grade level in school with 20% stating that they were very behind. In addition to their academic performance, 50% stated that they had been suspended from school. See Figure 5.
According to the responses to questionnaire item 25, 14% of the students did not graduate from high school but the majority of the RVCA graduates (86%) did graduate from high school and 59% continued on to acquire some college education. Since the average age of the responders was 19.8 years, most have not had the opportunity to complete their college career. This is surprisingly positive finding given the students’ educational status at the time of entry.
Sixty-five percent of the respondents reported depression as a factor leading to their placement at RVCA and 36% reported cutting or other self-injurious behaviors. Following treatment only 6 responders (27%) stated that they have subsequently suffered from depression. This study found that the majority of the students have not been prescribed medication (73%), and have not obtained a mental health diagnosis (59%). A total of nine of the respondents (41%) stated that they had been diagnosed with a psychiatric illness. Three stated that they had been diagnosed as bipolar, and one reported social anxiety disorder. None of the respondents have been re-admitted into a psychiatric hospital but one stated that she was placed in a rehabilitation center for substance abuse.
Unlike most public residential facilities that have a high population of students who have had legal programs and/or arrests, in response to questionnaire number 1, the majority of the respondents (64%) had not had previous trouble with the law. In a related question, item number 1, however, forty-four percent stated that they had participated in theft and that this was a factor that they felt lead to their placement at RVCA. Questionnaire item number 27 asked about law enforcement Following placement, 6 respondents (27%) stated that they had been arrested. Three of the six graduates stated they were arrested on drug possession, one was due to running away, one for engaging sexual relationships with an adult, and one failed to state the reason. Of the 35% who reported having trouble with the law at placement, 72% of them remained free of legal involvements after placement.
Substance abuse was a leading cause of placement for 80% of the young women place at RVCA and continued to be a challenge after placement. According to the women’s report on questionnaire item number 28, 86% had used illegal drugs within the first two years after completing their program. This figure diminished to 68% in response to drug use within the last three years (question number 29). In response to questionnaire item number 30 and 31, sixty-four percent stated that they had abused alcohol within the first two years after completing the program and this figure also diminished to 50% in response to alcohol abuse within the past three years . The questions did not ask the extent of the drug/alcohol usage.
One goal of this research was to determine from the participants’ perspective what aspect of the program benefited them. The respondents were asked to check all aspects of the program that benefited them on questionnaire item number 17. (See Appendix E). Many of the interventions could be classified as environmental controls that allowed the residents to live in a protective environment while receiving treatment. These types of intervention were marked as a positive aspect by a high percentage of the responders. Seventy-seven percent of the responders felt that separation from friends and/or boyfriend was a benefit to them. The next highest ranked aspect of the intervention (with 68%) was “no access to drugs.” Fifty-nine percent of the respondents selected “no access to alcohol” as a benefit.
One of the program’s goals is to replace negative and self-centered behaviors with a sense of accomplishment and responsibility. Sixty-four percent of the respondents reported that the increased responsibility and accountability was beneficial to them. A relatively even percentage of the students (50-55% of the students) felt that the programs “level system”, counseling/conversations with staff, being in a protective environment, and the ability to focus on their issues were of benefit to them. Forty-five percent of the respondents felt that separation from their parents was beneficial and forty-one percent found the spiritual instruction helpful.
A large number of participants wrote in comments about the RVCA staff indicating that the relationship with staff was important to them. One student wrote, “The staff’s great attitude and positive outlook helped us all to relax and be happy for a change.” One stated that, “They (staff) pour everything they have into the girls.” Another stated, “They disciplined in love and not anger.” Still another wrote, “ Staff play an important part at RVCA before and after. I appreciated their support, knowledge, and patience”. Several respondents mentioned that it is a “loving and caring environment.”
The participants in the study seemed to indicate that the restricted environment was helpful to get them back on track and to give them time to think through their issues. One participant stated, “ It gave me time to work through my problems with the staff’s help. I had to talk to my parents about things that I had never done before.” However, an additional theme that arose in the graduates’ open-ended responses was that when returning home, it was up the individual to desire to maintain the change in their behavior. One young women wrote, “I do believe in the program, although it was been my experience that the child has to want to change!” Another women wrote, “I think the staff did a good job but really it is all up to the person after they leave the program. I honestly believe that when you graduate you have to be involved in some sort of structured environment.”
The results of the questionnaire indicate that, as in previous studies, the behavioral treatment that at-risk teens received at River View Christian Academy did result in a reduction of many at-risk behaviors. In addition, contrary to popular expectations, placement by their parents into a rigid and protective environment did not further damage the parent-child relationship, but rather most family relationships seemed to improve after treatment.
In the spiritual area, it is interesting to note that the percentage of families who attended church regularly and the percentage of young people who attend regularly after graduation was the same. Since 100% of the young women prior to treatment were rebelling against parental authority and the core values of the family, it appears significant that a 68% of them would return to their familial faith.
The results of this study were consistent with other research (Hooper, 2000; Larzelere et al, 2001; Russell, 2003; Russell, 2005; Thompson, 2005) in that the majority of the participants continued to maintain the behavioral change in educational, legal, and interpersonal domains following placement. Consistent with Russell’s 2002 study, this study also showed that family relationship continued to improve even after discharge and a period of living at home.
According to the participants of this study, there is a time when a protective and loving environment may give a teen the space and time they need to sort out issues and mature. This “time out” from parental conflict may in fact begin to heal a strained parental relationship and improve it drastically. Ten respondents wrote in positive statements about the staff indicating that caring relationships with staff played an important role in behavioral change.
It is significant that, despite the fact that adolescents are placed in the program against their will and attest that the program is difficult, the majority indicated a level of appreciation with the program. Comments such as “The program saved my life”, and “[RVCA] has given me a second chance in life” were voiced by 30% of the respondents.
Individuals in the study alluded to coming to a crossroad after their completion of the program, to having a period of regression following the program, and to then making an active decision to remain free of negative or harmful behaviors. Many stated that it was during the period of regression that they made the active decision to internalize the values and habits taught to them in the program, and returned to more healthy behaviors. A qualitative study to explore this pattern may assist us in understanding individuals’ long-term road to recovery and to better tailoring an aftercare program to meet the individual’s needs.
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