Preparing Troubled Teens to Transition Home

An Interview with Dayna Rust, Program Director of Pine Ridge Academy

Pine Ridge Academy is a residential treatment facility for adolescents and teenagers who have been struggling with a range of issues and challenges, including the following:

  1. Depression
  2. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  3. Self-Destructive Behavior
  4. Physical and Sexual Abuse
  5. Social Withdrawal
  6. Learning Disabilities
  7. Thought Disorders
  8. Substance Abuse

Designed to help students make the transition from prior placement back to their homes, Pine Ridge Academy occupies a unique and important place within the treatment continuum.

The academy's program director, Dayna Rust, recently answered a range of questions about the ways that Pine Ridge prepares both students and families to achieve the brighter futures that they have been working toward:

What type of student is Pine Ridge Academy designed to serve?

At Pine Ridge Academy, we accept students ages 11 to 18 who have had emotional, behavioral or academic difficulties.

The academy is designed for students who have successfully completed another program, who are able to identify some of their issues and who are at a point where they're willing to work on those issues.

The ideal Pine Ridge student has been in placement before, is less resistant to treatment and who just needs a bit more time to practice the skills they need to be successful.

How do students benefit from their time at Pine Ridge Academy?

Pine Ridge Academy gives students the time and the structure to strengthen their emotional muscles to become better prepared for the challenges that they'll encounter when they return home. These could be issues with their peers, issues within their own family dynamics or personal matters that they're not quite ready to face on their own.

Let's face it: the world can be a scary place. It's one thing to learn the concepts, but if you don't have a safe place to practice, kids who really want to do well return home and find themselves swimming in currents that they're not strong enough for yet.

Also, we're a small program, so our students have the additional benefit of receiving highly personalized care in a home-like environment that emphasizes healthy interactions and positive relationships.

Does Pine Ridge Academy accept students who have had substance abuse problems?

Substance abuse is a common issue among Pine Ridge students. The program isn't set up only for kids with substance abuse problems, but we are definitely ready and able to help kids who have had struggles with alcohol or other drugs.

Our staff members take students to off-campus AA meetings, we help them work through the 12 Steps, and we provide whatever additional support is necessary to help our students overcome their substance abuse issues and prepare themselves for lifelong recovery.

How long do students spend at Pine Ridge Academy?

Our minimum stay at Pine Ridge is three months. The average is about seven to eight months, but some kids may be with us for as long as a year.

Enrollment at Pine Ridge Academy is open-ended depending upon what the kid needs and what the family needs.

What type of family involvement occurs at Pine Ridge?

Parent involvement is a very important part of the Pine Ridge experience.

The students and their parents participate in family phone therapy sessions every week, and the kids also make informal phone calls home twice a week.

In addition to phone contact, regular home visits are an important part of our program. Initially the students might go home for three days, and as they're successful the visits may extend up to 10 days at home.

We talk to the parents before the home visit to set goals, and we're on the phone with them after the visit to talk about how things went.

When the students return from a home visit, they also sit down with their therapist to process what happened during the visit -- good and bad -- and work on ways that they can handle things better and work together more effectively.

Also, for families who are able to relocate here to Utah for the duration of their child's treatment, we offer a day treatment program. Day treatment students spend their days here at Pine Ridge, then spend evenings and weekends with their families.

How does Pine Ridge help kids develop accountability and responsibility?

We operate as a self-governing program. It's not about point systems or level systems.

We tell our students, "You've successfully completed one program, and you still have more that you need to work on, but we're going to back down and see what you can do when you need to make decisions on your own."

We're always there to teach, support, advise and coach our students -- but they need to understand that the motivation to do well has to come from within.

We teach our students that when they choose their actions, they also choose the consequences that result from those actions. We give them a lot of leeway, but of course won't let them do anything that's harmful or detrimental to their health or safety.

The way we measure success isn't that our students don't have any problems, but that they're able to encounter problems and deal with them in new and more effective ways.

Ultimately, we want our students to be able to leave Pine Ridge, return home, and find success and happiness within their families, schools and communities.