About Free Programs for Troubled Teens

by Anne Kinsey ; Updated November 18, 2017

Teenage girl receiving counseling.

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The teen years are full of great change for everyone, but some kids struggle more than others. Thankfully, even if you don't have the resources for expensive care, several free programs are available to help troubled teens recover and claim a bright future. Many organizations specialize in certain issues regarding teens. The right program can help you claim hope and a future for your child.

Trauma-Informed Care

Teens who have lived through trauma – such as a parent's incarceration, household violence or several moves – are more susceptible to behavioral and health challenges. Trauma-informed care takes these dynamics into consideration and equips teens with the tools they need to better manage the physical, emotional and mental health effects of their trauma.

When contacting any program or service, be sure to mention your teen's background of trauma, and ask if the provider is trauma-informed as well as where she received her training. The Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute offers free trauma-recovery services, as well as referrals to other service providers. To more fully assess the likelihood that trauma is impacting your teen, complete the Adverse Childhood Experiences questionnaire and record your child's score to share with helping professionals.

Substance Abuse Programs

Drug and alcohol addiction can happen due to peer pressure or environment or as a maladaptive coping strategy for handling intense emotions. Teen Challenge offers free residential and nonresidential treatment programs across the country where your teen can learn skills for emotional management, living, coping and sober living. United Way 2-1-1 maintains a list of other free substance abuse treatment programs in your local area. Many programs are nonprofit organizations supported by donors and federal funding. Some programs are faith-based, while others operate using a more secular model for recovery.

Human Trafficking

One in six runaway children ends up trafficked. If you believe your teen is being trafficked, the National Human Trafficking Hotline can take a case report and connect you with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Operation Underground Railroad often assists in rescues, led by local law enforcement or the FBI. Several safe homes for teens are listed in the Referral Directory maintained by the National Human Trafficking Hotline. When safe home beds are full, therapeutic foster homes are another option that your local social service agency can help you explore. While most trafficking safe homes are for girls, Restore One has started the first safe home specifically for trafficked teen boys.

Teen Pregnancy

Teenage pregnancy is a time of great change during an already trying time of life, but support is available. Most health departments offer pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and other prenatal care to teen moms. Maternity homes offer a safe place to live, go to school and learn parenting and life skills. They are equipped to help young mothers make decisions about whether or not to pursue adoption, and they often allow mother and baby to stay for a period of time following the birth. United Way 2-1-1 maintains a list of free maternity homes in your area to give you a starting place.

Mental Health Services

Sometimes a troubled teen is able to remain in the home but needs extra support with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health concerns. The Trauma Center at Justice Resource International offers free mental health services to eligible teens, as well as referrals to providers in other parts of the country. Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities and local churches often offer free mental health services or sliding-scale services to low-income clients. United Way 2-1-1 maintains a list of local providers and support groups. Alateen groups provide free support for kids who struggle with having an alcoholic family member or friend, while many other 12-step groups open their doors for teen members.

Education and Career

Teens often struggle with wondering what their future will look like once they leave home. Several programs offer educational support and career training. The Boys and Girls Club operates several programs, such as a UPS-sponsored driving program, career preparation programs, college preparatory programs and creative expression programs. When a child has dropped out of school, the National Guard Youth Challenge offers a residential option with mentoring to help kids get back on track. Youth Build USA equips teens with construction skills while they help build low-income housing, while Job Corps provides residential education and career preparation.

Photo Credits

  • Lisa F. Young/iStock/Getty Images

About the Author

Anne Kinsey is a writer, business woman, minister and coach who is passionate about inspiring others to walk out their career dreams and believe in possibilities. She resides in rural North Carolina with her husband and three children, where they enjoy the great outdoors and serve at-risk youth together.