Transporting Troubled Teens Into a Treatment Program

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What are the options when there are concerns about transporting a resistant teen to a program that could help them? Perhaps you've found a treatment program to provide the help your troubled teen desperately needs, but your teen refuses to go and threatens to run away if you try to force them. Or perhaps you have fears your teen may try to physically harm themselves or someone else if you transport them to the program, especially if it's far away. In these situations hiring teen transport or escort service provides a possible solution. 

What Is a Teen Transport Service?

Emotions often run high in arranging for a teen to leave home to go into a treatment program. Teen transport services are designed to help by providing safe transportation and a therapeutic transition to programs such as wilderness therapy, residential treatment centers (RTC) or residential drug treatment.

The staff who work for these services anticipate resistance from the teens they transport, so they are trained to look for signs of anxiety or attempts to run and have a plan for how to respond. In most cases two agents or interventionists pick your teen up, catching them by surprise if needed, and take them to the program. The goals are to ensure safety during the transport and to educate and support the teen emotionally to make the transition from home to being in a treatment program.

What Happens When a Teen Is Transported?

Escort services vary in their specific approaches and procedures, but most share a similar overall strategy that takes place during five primary steps:

  • Initial contact. You as parents develop a plan with the staff of the transport service that takes into account where your teen is going, concerns about getting them there and any special medical or emotional needs.
  • Initial team arrival. You meet the team at the front door or outside the house to provide information about your teen's current status, give the team items needed for your teen's trip and describe the layout of the home, including potential escape routes.
  • Intervention. This is usually the most difficult time for both teens and parents. You go into your teen's room, wake them up if needed, introduce the team by name and provide a simple explanation that they are here to make sure your teen gets to the program safely. You then leave the room to reduce the opportunities for your teen to be verbally abusive or attempt to manipulate you and let the team take over. The transport team will firmly establish they are in charge and escort your teen to the transport vehicle.
  • Transportation. The team sets boundaries for your teen and explains what behavior is acceptable and what is not. The team may be driving to the program or taking your teen to the airport, where one or both of the team members will accompany your teen on the plane. At this point, your teen will need to be calm and cooperative enough to fly. If not, the rest of the trip will need to be continued in the transport vehicle.
  • Transition to the treatment program. As soon as your teen is in the vehicle, the staff starts preparing them for the treatment program that they will soon be entering by trying to decrease their anxiety, answering questions, providing information about what to expect and encouraging your teen to be open to giving the program a chance. The team stays with your teen until they are physically transitioned into the treatment program

Does the Transport Team Come in the Middle of the Night?

Sometimes they do and this is the image most parents have of teen escort services, but it is not the only option. In some cases taking a teen by surprise and getting them moving while too groggy to resist makes sense, but a good company will strategize with you to develop an intervention that happens where and when it will be in the best interest of your teen.

Are Physical Restraints Used to Transport Teens?

These services have somewhat of a reputation for handling teens aggressively, but this appears to be the exception rather than the rule. Initially, these companies were set up to handle only potentially combative or difficult teens, but now these services have expanded to be more supportive of both teens and parents. This shift in philosophy has also changed how most companies facilitate the transition.

Interventionists or agents are trained to treat teens with respect, to verbally de-escalate aggressive and resistant behavior and to keep your teen safe through verbal means, resorting to physical restraint only when absolutely necessary. Most agents do carry plastic restraints or handcuffs to use if needed. No legitimate company uses pepper spray or other aggressive methods for teens.

When Is Using a Teen Transportation Service Appropriate?

The decision to use transport services to get a teen into a treatment program has to be made carefully by a parent, based on knowing your teen and learning about the services available.

There are no firm guidelines for when to use or not use this service, but in most cases, this type of intervention is best suited for teens who are mean, aggressive, defiant, manipulative, angry or hostile. Other candidates for being escorted are teens who are abusing substances, or have a history of illegal behavior or running away. For teens who are depressed, cutting or have an eating or mood disorder, parents are advised to be careful in making this choice and to only consider using a service that is focused on transporting teens in a positive manner, as it could do more harm than good in these cases.

Hiring a therapeutic teen transport service is often a last resort but it doesn't need to be a negative experience and many times may be the only way to get a troubled teen the help they desperately need. This option is most often used for potentially volatile teens, but should also be considered for teens in need of extra support or when there is uncertainty about how a teen may react.

By Kathryn Rudlin, LCSW
Kathyrn Rudlin, LCSW, a writer and therapist in California specializes in counseling and education for teenagers with mothers who are emotionally disconnected.