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Mental Health Treatment (Inpatient) for Children and Teens

What is inpatient treatment?

Treatment in a psychiatric hospital or residential treatment program may be necessary when children pose a danger to themselves or others. Your child may be admitted if other kinds of treatment are not available or would not work well for the child.

In this type of program, your child receives 24-hour care by mental health professionals and healthcare providers. Children are treated in a secure (locked) facility. Hospitals generally have separate units for children (preschool to about age 12) and teens (12 to 18). Both units are generally separate from mentally ill adults.

Inpatient psychiatric treatment may be voluntary if the parent or guardian agrees. It may also be ordered by the court if a mental health professional certifies that the child needs treatment.

What happens to my child when they are at an inpatient psychiatric facility?

The main role of inpatient treatment is to provide a safe place where your child can be assessed and treated.

Assessment may include asking you about your child's:

  • Abuse history. (Has the child ever been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused?)
  • Developmental history. (When did your child begin to walk and talk?)
  • Educational history. (Has your child had any problems with school?)
  • Family history. (Is there any history of mental illness in relatives? What about drug or alcohol use by family members? Does the child live with domestic violence?)
  • Legal history. (Has the child committed any crimes?)
  • Psychiatric history. (What behaviors caused the child to become hospitalized? Has the child ever tried to kill anyone or commit suicide? Has the child ever been in therapy?)

Once your child's mental health problems have been diagnosed they can be treated. Treatment may include:

  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Medical care
  • Medicines

What can I do to help my child?

You can help make your child's treatment more effective. Asking the following questions may help you feel more comfortable:

  • What does the program include?
  • Is this treatment program specifically for children and teens?
  • Does my child need this level of treatment or will a less restrictive setting work?
  • What are the credentials and experience of the members of the treatment team?
  • How will my child be able to keep up with schoolwork?
  • How long will my child be in the hospital?
  • Does my child have other psychiatric problems or substance abuse problems? If so, will these also be treated?
  • How often will my child see an individual therapist?
  • What will treatment cost? Are the costs covered by my insurance or health plan?
  • What happens if I can't afford the treatment my child needs?
  • What can family members do to make the child's treatment successful?
  • How will you decide when inpatient treatment is complete?
  • What types of ongoing treatment will be necessary, how often, and for how long?

How long will my child stay at an inpatient facility?

Your child's length of stay depends on the severity of your child's behaviors and symptoms and how they respond to treatment. Your child may be in the hospital for only 2 to 3 days or may need to stay 7 to 10 days. Some children may need to stay in the hospital even longer.

What is the family's role?

Family patterns often need to change. This helps make sure that children remain stable when they return home. You may also be asked to:

  • Go to family therapy.
  • Take parenting classes.
  • Enroll your child in a special program (such as day treatment) where the child receives therapy as well as education.
  • Learn all you can. Read, join support groups, and network with others who are dealing with similar mental health problems so that you do not feel alone.
  • Make sure your child takes any prescribed medicines every day, even if feeling well. Stopping medicines too soon is likely to bring back dangerous behaviors and symptoms.
  • Watch your child for any serious symptoms or dangerous behaviors. Ask others, such as school counselors or teachers, to also watch closely.
  • Make sure your child gets enough sleep and exercise every day.
  • Check with your healthcare provider before the child takes any other medicines to make sure there is no conflict with psychiatric medicines.

Contact organizations such as:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-10-30
Last reviewed: 2011-09-08
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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