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Who “Owns” the client?

By Stephen C. Schultz

(Editors Note: This is the written version of remarks and training I did as part of a workshop that included our residential, clinical and academic leadership. I work with a group of therapeutic residential programs. I thought it would be nice to share some of these thoughts with those who happen to view my blog. I hope this is helpful in some way.)

There is a trend in business where the latest language around customer satisfaction and word of mouth referrals is the term “Advocacy”. This is where a customer actually advocates for the organization they are doing business with.

I have chosen a career that specializes in teen residential treatment. Our clients include the student, their family, their therapists, their school educators and counselors and often many others just to name a few. The majority of our clients demonstrate this principle of “Advocacy” in one way or another.

We see this principle in different forms at all of our treatment programs. It comes in the form parents at Redcliff Ascent sending letters, money and friends to the program. At Oxbow Academy, parents come back to family seminars to support others and advocate for the program. Discovery Ranch for Girls had Rachel Patten come visit the girls because of a parent's influence. All of our programs have “parent lists”. These are lists of parents who volunteer to have new parents speak with them prior to admission. This is standard practice. It happens at all of our programs on a regular basis. Is this advocacy happenstance? Not a chance!

It all starts with a strong alignment between what we say we do as a treatment program and the delivery of that promise. The reality is that kids and families do make progress and heal within our individual programs.

Each of our individual programs is a part of an organization that offers a continuum of care. There is the ability for each family to experience both clinical and financial benefits from this arrangement. As their son or daughter makes progress at one program, there is the potential for them to transition to a level of care that matches their progress. So, doesn’t it make sense that all of our programs communicate, collaborate and support one another in these clinically appropriate transitions that are in the best interest of the family and their teen?

Below is a quote from an executive at a company that manufactures engines. I found the principle behind her statement applicable in our “industry” as well as hers.

"When we have the mindset that everyone 'owns' the customer and stop being territorial, the customer can benefit. In the end, the customer is surrounded by multiple departments and they feel that support and connection, making them more willing to be advocates."
--Heather Foeh, Director of Customer Advocacy at Lattice Engines

As we think about the process of a student transitioning from one level of care to another, it is not as easy to accomplish as it is to talk about. There are therapeutic alliances developed with the teen and the family at the current placement. Some parents worry that a “change” will disrupt any progress their son or daughter has made or create a therapeutic setback. Below are some questions that it would be wise to consider whether we are parents or treatment providers.

  1. Are the strength based transitional skills learned and practiced with the students, used in their clinical or scholastic “transition”?     
  2. How do we measure or determine if those skills have been learned?
  3. How do we know when a student is clinically ready for a transition to a different level of care?
  4. Is there a specific clinical criterion to help us decide? If so...what is it?
  5. Who decides when a student has met the criteria?
  6. What is the process for deciding where a student transitions to next?
  7. What can a receiving facility do to help the process be seamless?
  8. What can a sending facility do to help the process be seamless?
  9. How do we prepare families for an inevitable “change” in level of care?

Here is one more quote that is important for us to always remember as we are working with families. It’s from Simon Sinek, a Ted Talk presenter:

“A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.”


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