The Impact Of Family Involvement on At-Risk Youth

At-risk youth programs are designed to help young people who are struggling with a variety of issues, including behavioral problems, risk behaviors such as self-harm and substance abuse, and mental health issues. Family involvement in these programs is critical to the success of the child’s treatment and long-term recovery.

When families are actively involved in their child’s treatment, they can help to reinforce the skills and behaviors learned in the program, strengthen family relationships, increase accountability and responsibility, and enhance coping skills and resilience.

family activity

Why is it important to encourage family involvement in a child’s intervention process?

Getting family members, especially parents, engaged in the child’s therapeutic process is crucial for several reasons. Some of the ways family involvement can contribute to success include:

  • Improving outcomes: According to research by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “positive social/family support is related to long-term abstinence and recovery, whereas negative social/family support is related to an increased risk of relapse” in at-risk youth.
  • Improving communication: When working with at-risk youth, family involvement can improve communication between youth, family members, and program staff. This improved communication can help staff better understand the child’s needs, goals, and struggles, adapting treatment as needed.
  • Providing a support system: Showing up for your child can help them feel connected to and supported by their families and their community.
  • Fostering a sense of accountability: When families are involved in the treatment process, youth may feel more accountable for their progress. This sense of accountability in the process can translate into the child’s life post-treatment and may help improve academic success.
  • Developing healthy relationships: Children and teens learn how to build healthy relationships through family members and other adults in their lives. When these key role models are active in treatment, a young person can learn a great deal from their commitment to the process, leading to greater participation and commitment to the program.

Research has shown that family involvement is associated with improved outcomes for youth who have been referred to at-risk youth programs. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “both empirical and developmental research indicates that families are powerful resources for enhancing treatment and recovery success among youth.”

Adoptive family sits in a circle outside and engages in therapeutic activity. The impact of family involvement on at-risk youth.

Examples of Family Involvement At Trails Carolina

At Trails Carolina, we tailor our family involvement programming and teen intervention services to meet the particular circumstances and needs of the individual student and family. These family involvement services include:

  • Parallel Family Programming: Parents and families have the opportunity to learn new coping mechanisms, communication skills, and emotional regulation techniques alongside our students.
  • Weekly/Bi-Weekly Calls With Therapist & Family Coach: Parents speak with their child’s primary therapist and a family coach periodically throughout their child’s stay. During these calls, parents are caught up on their child’s progress and goals for the week, and provided with educational materials for their own therapeutic progress.
  • Collaborative Goal Setting: Family Coaches and Clinicians work collaboratively with students and their families to set goals and identify strategies to achieve them.
  • Parenting Education & Resources: We provide resources to help the whole family to grow before, during, and after the program. These resources include a family handbook, sibling support, mindfulness classes, parent workshop, the Common Ground Parenting Podcast, and more.
  • Alumni Support Services: This support includes two, therapist-led, parent alumni calls each month, quarterly mindfulness classes, as well as quarterly webinar presentations to families to maintain success years after their child’s stay at Trails is complete.

We recognize that each family is unique, and we prioritize involving parents and family members at every step of the way. Through our family-centered approach, we help reduce risk behaviors in students and ensure that they transition successfully back home.

Overcoming Challenges to Getting Families Engaged in At-Risk Youth Programs

Despite understanding the benefits of family involvement, there are some external factors that may prevent some families from being as involved as they would want to be in their child’s at-risk youth program. These challenges may include:

Financial Barriers

At-risk youth programs can be expensive, making it difficult for low-income families to afford participation. This can be a major barrier, as participation in these programs can often be key to a child’s success. Some families may not be able to afford the cost of the intervention services, even with financial aid.

Middle-income families may qualify for some financial assistance, but may still find it challenging to afford the costs. Even for families who are able to enroll their child, the cost can be a significant burden forcing the parent or parents to prioritize work over actively engaging in the process.

Overcoming Financial Barriers

Some at-risk youth programs may offer flexible payment plans and provide families with information on funding resources that may be available to them. Some services may offer sliding-scale fees, scholarships, or other forms of financial assistance.

At Trails Carolina, we partner with Sky’s the Limit Fund, a grant organization that provides financial assistance for wilderness therapy and coaching for the transition home to youth in crisis and their families in need.

Work and Scheduling Conflicts

Parents with multiple jobs or irregular schedules may have difficulty participating in their child’s treatment process as actively as they would like to.

Managing Work and Scheduling Conflicts

At Trails Carolina, we offer virtual Zoom calls and phone calls, which offer some flexibility for parents with busy schedules. We also offer online resources, such as the Parent Handbook, the Common Ground Parenting Podcast, and access to other educational materials, which can be accessed at any time.

Resistance to Participation

Some family members may be resistant to participation in the program, either due to a lack of awareness or understanding of the benefits of family involvement, or cultural or personal beliefs. Some families may not be aware of the benefits of family involvement in an at-risk youth program, or may not fully understand how their participation can impact their child’s success. This can lead to a lack of motivation to participate or even active resistance to the program. Cultural or personal beliefs that conflict with the program’s approach may also be a challenge.

Overcoming Resistance to Participation

At Trails, we are committed to providing culturally-sensitive outreach and education to each family and working with families to address concerns or barriers to participation. By providing outreach and education that is tailored to the specific cultural and personal beliefs of each family, programs can help families overcome resistance to participation and support their child’s success.

2022 Alumni series

Sustaining Family Involvement Beyond the At-Risk Youth Program

We know that family involvement in at-risk youth programs is crucial for the success of the child during treatment. However, it is also important to sustain family involvement beyond the program. Here are some strategies to help families stay involved:

Ongoing Support and Communication

  • Our Alumni Support Services lend continued support to families even after the program is complete.
  • Regular check-ins, meetings, and updates can help to ensure that families are still actively involved in their child’s progress and can provide additional support and guidance as needed.

Continuing Family Therapy

  • Coaching services are available from Trails to families post-graduation and include a mentor who works with the child or adolescent. 
  • Some at-risk youth programs offer ongoing family therapy sessions to help families continue to work through challenges and build stronger relationships.
  • Family therapy can help to reinforce the skills and behaviors learned in the program and provide ongoing support to the family as a whole.

Continuing Education and Training

  • Our Alumni Support Services include quarterly webinars and mindfulness classes that offer continuing education and training opportunities for families to learn more about the issues their child is facing and how to provide ongoing support.

Peer Support Groups

  • Alumni families benefit from community support through our Alumni Support Services. These groups can provide a safe and supportive space for families to share their struggles, ask for advice, and receive support and encouragement.

Examples of How Families Can Continue to Support Their Child’s Success at Home

  • Encourage open and honest communication with your child.
  • Continue to reinforce the skills and behaviors learned in the program at home.
  • Seek out additional resources and support as needed, such as therapy, support groups, or educational resources.

Resources for Families to Get Involved in At-Risk Youth Programs

Getting involved in an at-risk youth program can be a daunting experience for families, but it is an important step towards helping their child overcome their challenges and develop healthy habits. Here are some resources and tips to help families get involved:

Finding the Right Program

  • Research different at-risk youth programs to find one that fits your family’s needs and preferences.
  • Look for programs that offer family involvement and support, as well as evidence-based treatment options.
  • Understand if the program has outcome data that is evidence-based and proves the program works.

Accessing Support and Resources

  • Our program staff is always available to help you learn more about how to get involved and what resources are available to families.
  • Ask for help and guidance when needed, and don’t be afraid to seek out additional resources and support outside of the program.

Participating in Family Therapy

  • Take an active role in your child’s program, and be open to learning new skills and strategies to support their progress.
  • Be willing to communicate openly and honestly with your child and their primary therapist.

Getting Involved in Support Groups

  • Seek out peer support groups for families of at-risk youth to connect with others who are going through similar experiences. We’ve created a network with our alumni families to provide this kind of support.

Trails Carolina Uses a Family-Centered Approach To At-Risk Treatment

At Trails Carolina, we believe in the power of family involvement in the treatment process. Our team of experienced clinicians and staff work closely with families to develop personalized treatment plans that address each child’s unique needs and challenges. Our independently-verified outcome research demonstrates that our program works.

If you have a child who is struggling with behavioral issues or mental health concerns, we encourage you to reach out to us to learn more about our at-risk youth programs and how we can help. Hear what our students and families are saying about our programs for at-risk youth to learn more.

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Avatar of Jeremy Whitworth

Jeremy Whitworth

As Executive Director at Trails Carolina, a leading wilderness therapy program for youth and teens, I oversee operations and collaborate with our leadership team. Since 2022, I've also hosted the Common Ground Podcast for parents: With a background in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education, I've managed adventure-based therapeutic programs across the US and Canada. My experiences in competitive athletics and adventure sports have honed my leadership, risk assessment, and decision-making skills, which I apply to running a successful business like Trails Carolina.

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Trails saved my daughter’s life. Amanda is an amazing human and a brilliant therapist. I am so grateful to her, Science Steve, and the other wonderful people who could reach my daughter at a time when I could not.

Margot Lowman August 2022

Great life changing experience for our son. After becoming addicted to gaming during covid he was very depressed. At Trails he experienced the wilderness, Science Steve, learning survival skills and top notch therapy and support etc… I highly recommend! This gave our son and our family a renewed family bond full of love and excitement about his bright future.

Winnifred Wilson July 2022


Outstanding clinical work and superb staff! There’s a great culture at this company and it shows with how they engage with families/clients.

Kristin Brace June 2022


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