Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 1219–1229 | Cite as

Psychiatric Residential Treatment Centers for Children and Adolescents: Modeling Variation in Facility Definition Type

  • Sean E. Lynch
  • Judith L. Teich
  • Kelley E. Smith
Original Paper


A national picture of residential treatment centers (RTCs) for children is lacking and this situation may be complicated by differences between facilities in how RTCs are defined. This study uses data from a national survey of mental health facilities to supplement current knowledge about variation in the definition of RTCs nationwide. Descriptive analyses using 2012 National Mental Health Services Survey (N-MHSS) data were conducted on a standard definition of an RTC from the research literature and three different variations of it. Cohen’s h was calculated to assess whether differences in proportions were meaningful. While nearly two-thirds of RTCs that serve children define themselves following a standard definition in the research literature, nearly a quarter served adults, 9% did not require that residents have a diagnosis of serious emotional disturbance (SED), and a small proportion offered inpatient care in addition to residential care. Of the 9% of RTCs that did not require an SED diagnosis, the majority of these facilities were located in the West. This finding suggests that some of these RTCs may be wilderness programs, and it may also be an indicator of lack of RTC availability. Lack of consensus in the research literature and in the field regarding the definition of an RTC makes it difficult to compare different RTC study findings with each other. Development of a consensus definition of RTCs is a necessary first step to collecting comprehensive data and assessing the current state of this important component of the mental health delivery system.


Residential treatment centers Children Adolescents Mental health 



The authors would like to thank Albert Woodward, Ryan Mutter, and Gary Blau for their comments on previous versions of this manuscript.


The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

The National Mental Health Service Survey (N-MHSS) was approved by the Office of Management & Budget (OMB).

Informed Consent

Respondents were assured that the information they provide would be protected to the fullest extent allowable under Section 501(n) of the Public Health Service Act (42 USC 290aa(n)).

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York (outside the USA) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sean E. Lynch
    • 1
  • Judith L. Teich
    • 1
  • Kelley E. Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.U.S. Department of Health & Human ServicesSubstance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics & QualityRockvilleUSA

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