Caring for Your Child, “in loco parentis”

By Daryn Reiner, Deschutes Admissions Director

I have been in the mental health field for about 18 years now, and my greatest honor in all these years has been the opportunity to live up to the immense trust parents place in us when enrolling their child. I started as a front-line worker, in direct care with other people’s children day in and day out. I have been a residential treatment program director, responsible for hiring and training all the people whose roles and responsibilities are critical in the lives of other people’s children. And I have spent the last eight years in school and wilderness admissions, helping families find the life-saving treatment their child and their family needs. In each and every one of these roles, the ultimate responsibility is the same – caring for someone else’s child. As anyone who loves a child or has experienced love as a child knows, there is nothing more important, nothing more precious, than our children. There is nothing we, as parents, try to protect more than our children’s health, safety, and well-being. And there is nothing we find ourselves more inadequately prepared to do than fully protecting our children from harm. When a family decides to place their child in treatment, they are trusting us with their child’s safety and their entire family’s future. But most importantly, they are trusting us with what the legal system calls in loco parentis, Latin for “in place of a parent.” Parents trust us to care for their child not simply as well as parents would, but to care for their child as they would. I truly feel no greater trust can be given than this. The in loco parentis as an essential concept is often not explicitly trained or engrained enough. Allow me to go deeper here. I enjoy many activities where I rely on my partner to literally hold my life in their hands. I am careful about who I trust to do this, but over the years I have probably trusted at least fifty different people in this capacity throughout my life. In stark contrast, I have only ever trusted four people to babysit my children; two of them are grandparents. The trust in loco parentis is a higher bar than even our own lives. Let that sink in.

Now, how do we ensure that we are living up to this responsibility and this promise in your child’s treatment? Every treatment program trains on safety, best practices, treatment modalities, and emergency response protocols. But how do you train in loco parentis? How do you define it in a treatment context? At Deschutes, we introduce this through the CASA model, teaching and training on demonstrating Commitment, Acceptance, Security, and Attunement through therapeutic relationships.

  • Commitment- Showing up for others or yourself. How can you be present in the family, with your partner, or with yourself?
  • Acceptance- Of the person, not the behavior. Where do you struggle to accept a person? How do you step into acceptance when values differ?
  • Security- Creating healthy boundaries, establishing personal boundaries, and how to uphold them to create safety in self and in relationships.
  • Attunement- Being with self, being with loved ones, feeling with your loved one without fixing or changing

A beautiful thing happens when you care for other people’s children as you would your own; you take care of the parents too. I’m not talking about the care that happens through extensive family engagement. But rather, the care that intrinsically occurs when parents know their child is deeply cared for, and they, as parents, can relax their vigilance and begin to heal themselves. Children are an extension of ourselves (I know the hope is that we individuate, but still), our children are a piece of our hearts, and few things can give us more peace than knowing our child is safe and truly, deeply cared for. At Deschutes, I know I can come to work every day and tell a parent their child is safe tonight.