View Full Version : A Mom's Letter : Juvenile System, Mentally Ill Kids & the Dark Ages

06-13-07, 11:16 AM
We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today. ~Stacia Tauscher

Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see. ~John W. Whitehead, The Stealing of America, 1983

Below you will find a (very long letter) to the juvenile court and those involved in my son's future. This was shared today at a "recommendation" meeting. My son and I need a guardian angel, now more than ever. This is quite literally a battle for his life. What makes me most angry is the lack of help or even education of the courts in reference to mentally ill people especially children. So easily cast away and forgotten about. I find myself feeling the need to fight yet another battle, on larger and more desperate than any I have faced before. The meeting did go well, and I have held them accountable for not offering these services when we were in the system before. They have failed my son. I have failed him in many ways, but I have every intention of correcting that and will sacrifice whatever I can to do it. These children need someone to fight for them. Sadly there are not very many people who do, including those who should be and claim to have the best intentions of doing so.

Meeting for Recommendations for My Son June 8, 2007

My recommendations... .after a long struggle his entire life...and recent escalation that was not recognized by me until my own diagnoses was made and medications helped me to live "normally" is that my son GET HELP!

I have spent the last few days researching more than I'd like. Today June 6, 2007..I entered my son's My-Space account with his permission, to download pics of his friends. And what I discovered breaks my heart and confirms evenmore my son does desire to be better, normal..but the hopelessness and feeling of anger and being out of control has left him hopeless and with the feeling that no matter what he does he will only screw it up, so why bother.

I read through pages of his conversations with his peers and it assured me thathis feelings of wanting to die are indeed real. I know my son can pick up on things adults say about BPD,etc and use it to what he thinks is his advantage...but when you read things that your child writes, with little fear you will ever see it, and you see repeatedly the reference to hating himself, feeling worthless, and repeated conversations about trying to get it together, wanting to do the write thing, then have it followed with continual references to killing himself.
It leaves you in shock and awe.

I begin researching to convince myself that the decision I was making for him is the right one. While I feel my son needs to feel consequences for his actions, it isnot in the way I first intended it. I am completely and totally convinced now my son needs help, not incarceration in a facility that doesn't specialize in the "total" rebuilding of my son.

Mentally, spiritually, emotionally. If someone can just get in, and convince himof all the things he can do, teach him to love himself, help him to learn about his disease and that medication is something that will improve his quality of life, the one he speaks of wanting (feeling and being normal)...helping him learn respect, discipline reinforced by a positive reinforcement based earning system rather punishment, I believe he might have a chance.

The statistics of our lack of "care" in the juvenile system for kids, like my son is lacking. My best summation of the last week is that all the doctors/therapists/caseworkers, our family, and myself are all in agreement, Keenan needs to stay in Parmadale or a facility comparable to it.

This may be "literally" his last shot at some type of normal life. I truly fear for my son now. The constant thoughts that once were about him getting into trouble, now turn to him committing a brutal act against himself, before we have had timeto really help him. Then it will be too late. I have not done everything for him I can , and neither has the system.

Keenan just got diagnosed barely 3 months ago. Filled with of years of being out of control, it's a bitter sweet time in his life and for mine. We now have the answers why nothing else worked. But at the subsequently, the damage has been done has led to poor , leading to very bad habits. His extreme ODD behavior combined with the recent issue of self medicating has left him damaged, thus leading to poor relationships and choices in regards to self, family, peers and community.

After some "bad" experiences ,that even he discusses openly with his "female" peers indicates he truly has a desire to do better, get better, but is confused and doesnít know how and verbalizes he is torn within himself and each time he starts toget it together, he screws it up again. He must be afforded the chance use the tools/support that were just made available to him and our family. Before we just"throw" him away. If we give up on his now and "put" him away, my belief is it will just reinforce his feelings defeat.

Leaving him to truly believe despite some of the positive things he has expressed wanting to do and even tried, he will never get it right, and that everyone has truly given up on him. I believe the only way he can is to be in a facility like Parmadale. Not home, at least not for awhile. I believe this is going to require the intensive care provided there, and in no less than 60 days. I believe this will benefit him, especially since we havenít even had the chance to try this approach or half of the services we were just made aware of.
His last case involving legal system was the beginning of the end of "sanity' for Keenan. With the hardships of hormones, peer pressure and being undiagnosed for 15 years, it was all just too much. We had just started services with another agency but before it even got started he was charged with his first crime.

We only had a short time with them and then went through the normal legal channels, and barely made it. Then the escalation of his Bipolar systems worsened. These symptoms exasperated by the traumatic ending of a "long" term teenage relationship that included the termination of a pregnancy. Within days of the relationship ending, he spiraling begin, and within a month he was out of control. I was at a lost as to what to do, as I have been most of my own life in regards to my own diagnoses and fault out from them, and his. I would also like the opportunity to learn how to be a better parent for him through the intensive services that include family therapy provided at provided by Parmadale.

As a result of my own struggles with Bipolar and the fall out that can occur from severe depression/hypomania, I have failed Keenan in many ways, and take responsibility for my failures as a parent.

I started this legal process and I was ready to write him off because I just didnít know what to do anymore. Until, I found out why he is the way he is, and that there are many other things out there we can do first.

After finally getting diagnosed and treated for my own Bipolar, I begin to notice the Strikingly similar issues/symptoms in Keenan that I had myself.I immediately scheduled an appointment to get him reevaluated. He was resistant to anyhelp, and in the height of his anger, hurt and rebellion. It took us going to court to get the diagnoses escalated. After he was put on probation for the unruly charges and still struggled meeting most of his court orders, I was finally made aware of services for kids like Keenan. Services that have been existing for some time, that I was NEVER made aware of before. And for the first time in years I felt hope he might have a shot at getting better.

Unfortunately, the rebellion, hypomania, depression, and his new relationships with other troubled teens who introduced him to the "fun" and escape of "self- medication, he continued to drift further away. Finally, after a series of traumatic events, most self-inflicted , Keenan had the beginning of an "awakening" after his continued issues with his substance abuse (which he mentions as being an issue, but also an escape the hurt)and one blow out after another, including a self -inflicted injury that landed him in the Physic ward, he started showing signs of coming around. Slowly, but there all the same.

He cooperated with his new case manager and program, he didnít fight going to his appointments, started taking meds, his drinking stopped for 10days with the exception of 2 slips he admitted to, including the night he committed the next criminal act. He even started weeding out his own "trouble" making friends. He started making more of an effort to discuss issues with me, and although this seems small to some, even would greet me in the mornings with a kiss on the cheek. Something he has not done for years.

He made conscious efforts to channel his anger in more positive ways, like the punching bag, talking to me to vent, and ride his bike , rather than drinking, havingdestructive fits, or fights and how to channel his anger. Then after a very stressful court date, to determine what would happen after he continued to violate probation, the bottom fell out.

And I believe after reading his peer (below are exerpts of some of the responses from him) messages, even though the judge gave him a short reprieve, he truly believed he was going to jail anyway. This would be overwhelming for a normal child , but for him, it was enough to yank him off the path and spiral him again.His next felony occurred. He is confused, and angry at himself.

(my son's real my space has been changed has been changed to protect his privacy)

From: my son
Date: May 30, 2007 2:43 PM

no i don't want to hurt anyone else just my self everything thats going on is all my fault so why should i give my self another chance to **** up just to put everyone through the same thing

From: my son
Date: May 30, 2007 2:28 PM

i don't care if i'm ur homie i mean i do but i don't deserve to live so just do it or i will go to the east side and get killed my own way

From: my son
Date: May 29, 2007 6:32 PM
i know at least u do but i think i'm gonna just kill myself and get it over

From:my son
Date: May 29, 2007 6:27 PM
i don't know why buti don't care i won't be here long so it dosn't matter

From:my son

Date: May 29, 2007 6:36 PM
it just seems like i ****ed everybodys life up

From:my son
Date: May 29, 2007 6:40 PM

yea i do but i don't know wut to do

i just don't know wut to do i screwed everythign up for me i'm just scattered in my head and confused

These are examples of a child in crisis. These are conversations that parents often don't hear, and never want to.

The fight has continued behind the scenes for the last few days. Intensity to get things in order in hopes to have one last chance to save my son and give him a chance at the life he longs for. With all of us in agreement. Doctors, therapists, case worker and I , coming to the same recommendation,.ODYS is not where he needs to be. He needs to have "freedom" and privilege removed. Not having the comforts of home, no mom, no phone,computer, friends these are difficult consequences he "feels" and will continue to feel as a result of his poor judgment. But during that time, when he is away from the "drinking" , problem peers, leaves anger management and given the tools he needs to say no and not be so impulsive, has time to level on medications that have been proven to make people with bipolar functioning members of society, his chances of being a repeat offender are greatly reduced. He needs structure and time that has not been afforded him in light of all the serious issues, and new diagnoses. He needs intensive counseling, structure, and treatment rather than "strict punishment".

The Mental Illness statistics: The statistics below are staggering. Below is a summary from different sources that are specialized in their particular areas, and again itís both scary really unbelievable what I have found.

Every year 17-20 million Americans developed some type of depression. As many 1 in every 33 children and 1 in 8 adolescents may have depression. In 1998 283,800 people with mental illness were incarcerated in American prisons and jails. This is 4 times the number of people in state mental hospitals.5 to 9 percent of children in the US has a serious emotional disturbances.And out of those only 21% of them receive treatment. Nearly 90% of those who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder at the time of their death. And suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds in the US. There are 50 to 100 suicide attempts for every suicide attempt by teens.(source Genesis Behavioral Health Mental Illness Statistics)

Every 4 hours a child or youth commits suicide.

Of these the statistics show out of the 3.4 million thought about it, 3.3 had a plan, 1.8 attempted 606,500 needed medical attention as a result of the attempt.63% of teens show psychiatric symptoms at least 12 months prior to their deaths. 2.2 million teens 12-17 have at least one major depressive episode in the last year of which 60-80% go untreated and adolescent depression direct-indirectly results in 1,700 suicides per year.

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, APA & Family Education also add their list of common warning signs, all again my son possess.

Depressed moods

Substance Abuse

Impulsive, aggressive or rebellious behavior

Expressions of suicidal thoughts or talk of death

Giving away of personal treasures

Change in eating or sleeping habits

Unusual neglect of personal appearance/hygiene

Suffer a major loss or life change

Frequent episodes of running away or being incarcerated

Persistent boredom/mood swings.

Further statistics in reference to treatments, juvenile facilities, lack of knowledge, staff funding etc (references OJJDP Bulletin, for my son Child & Adolescent Foundation, NIHM, NMHA, CABF)

Youth in juvenile justice systems are at high risk for mental health problems that may have contributed to their criminal behavior and that are likely to interfere with the rehabilitation. Emotionally impairment due to an untreated mental disorder may contribute to an adverse reaction to confinement, which may in turn result in poor adjustment to incarceration. Poor adjustment can have a negative impact on behavioral, discipline, and on a youth's ability to participate in available program components designed to address mental health, emotional, physical, and academic needs. Together all of these factors may increase the risk of recidivism.34 studies on mental health needs and services in the juvenile justice system (Otto and colleagues 1992) found that rates of mental disorders were substantially higher amount of youth involved in the justice system than among youth in the general population. They also found that the rates of the disorder were higher in studiesthat assessed youth in person rather than those assessed by a chart review.

These authors suggested that existing studies of mental disorders among youth in the juvenile system were limited by the use of instruments with inadequate psychometrics, the failure to consider co morbidity, problems with identifying sample characteristics, and a lack of information regarding when the assessments were done. They note previous studies often did not define the timeframe for symptoms.

However, distinguishing between lifetime and current symptoms is important not onlyfor the determining the prevalence of disorders, but also in planning for immediate service needs

CABF Legal Issues of Pediatric Bipolar Disorder: If your child is prone to impulsive or aggressive traits, you should be prepared to encounter law enforcement. Teens with Bipolar disorder at times lose control and break the law, especially when they refuse to take medications, use street drugs/alcohol, have a co-morbid conduct disorder (Keenan ADD/ODD) become unstable and use poor judgment. Some parents (as in myself) resort to filing charges against their children in hope it will change the out of control behavior. CABF doesn't advocate this approach.

Until a child or teen is receiving appropriate medical treatment, punitive approaches have little effect or negative effects on the child's behavior.Once in the juvenile system the child is more likely to receive punishment rather than treatment.

"Sentencing & Right to Treatment"

Some minors accused of criminal violations may be eligible for a court diversion program. For a child with Bipolar , a diversion program requires treatment that maybe especially appropriate and beneficial. When the juvenile completes the program successfully the pending changes may be dismissed.

Not all treatment centers are helpful to these kids. Survival or military camp methods may not be appropriate for children with behavior outbursts caused by BPD, epilepsy,diabetes and other biochemical imbalances. Behavior modification programs that use punishment for undesired behavior have not proven to be effective in treating children with BPD and may be harmful (SEE Story on Rainey Watkins "Casualty of the State". APPROPRAIATE treatment for children with BPD should include psychopharmacology combined with cognitive / supportive therapy.

Suggestions for workers in Juvenile Justice System (all of them)
1. Learn how to recognize symptoms of BPD. Request full psychiatric work ups.
2. UNDERSTAND that the childís behavior may not be DELIBERATE or MALICIOUS, but instead be a symptom of the disorder.
3. Be aware the childís negative behavior may become exacerbated under the stress of being in the system.
4. WHEN CONSIDERING SENTENCING recommendations, understand that placement in a JAIL or DETENTION CENTER in not in the BEST INTEREST of a child with BPD. In fact, many psychiatrists believe this type of punishment is inhumane. A child with BPD needs TREATMENT & CARE, rather than PUNISHMENT.
5. Keep in the mind the "one size" fits all probation requirements often don't work with youths with BPD. This is especially true when the requirements involve academic performance. Probation requirements need to be customized for each child.
6. If the child is taking meds, be aware of the need to continue that medication while incarcerated.
7. Be selective in your treatment & facility recommendations for BPD kids.

Options such as behavioral modification and survival camps, even if successful in altering behavior of other juveniles, may not be effective with, and may be quite harmful to children with BPD.
These children often need their condition stabilized with a combination of several medications and cognitive therapy.

*As of my visit yesterday (June 8), I continue to state for the record I believe my son should be in a facility like Parmadale. And I believe he needs to be there for as long as possible. In talking to him yesterday about my own recommendations, min of 90days, he stated no mom I need longer. His fear to is without the extensive help for a longer time, he will fill be more likely to fall into old habits. He wants to find the way to deal with things like others who have been like him do. Like I have. I donít believe we have done all we can for my son. I believe had this have been caught earlier, had I had my own earlier, and been offered these services including help and support for my parenting skills, this would have never happened at all. Or if we had , had this after the first time, there would have been a much greater chance this would have never happened again. I donít want my son in ODYS. I want intensive residential treatment center with trained staff who can handle phsyc risks, who are there 24/7 and offer support for all areas of his life. Then setup intensive home And follow up for him and the rest of the family for as long as it takes. And until that happens or if itís not allowed, I will believe we have all failed him.

06-13-07, 12:44 PM
What a moving post, Hope! You have obviously carefully researched this subject and presented it in a very organized fashion. It is wonderful that your son has such a strong advocate. I think all of us on this forum need to be able to advocate for our children, families and for ourselves. You have been a tremendous inspiration for me with my own bipolar dx which came in Feb 2007, and at the age of 53. Earlier diagnosis for me would have been better, but now I have more tools and support with the diagnosis than I would have had years ago. So maybe the timing was right after all. Thank you Hope for being an inspiration, and thank you ADHD Forum for being there to allow us to support each other and to learn more about our conditions.

06-13-07, 01:14 PM
You are welcome Jeanie, and the same to you are often an inspiration to me as well. And always checking on me when I "disappear" reminding me someone cares! This place is wonderful and has given me a be able to help others with where I have been, and to receive help in the same way and given me stepping stones to become educated.

If we don't advocate for ourselves, our loved ones , especially our children...I assure you very few will, and both surprisingly and's the people you think would or should the most.......but I can tell you that part of surviving these things is not going to come from sitting on your duff crying about it or getting angry. If you don't take that anguish and anger and use it to drive yourself to get educated...and fight, you will lose and blame yourself forever.

I can repeat it now, and will forever...if I had not been on my medication, if I had not had the support of this group and my family...and learned how to turn anger into a driving force to try to do something good, I would have cracked and given up...and I mean literally...

As of June 12, son was charged with 6 felonies. 4 of which I am positive he is not guilty of. I am sure because my son is ADD and not able to remember his lies. He has told the same story wihtout a change since the beginning. NO changes...this means it's true. I also know the kids involved would like little more than skate off leaving him holding the bag, which is not going to I am already gathering a group of witnesses who heard them brag about all they had to do with it and this was not the first time. My son has pleaded Not Guilty and is going to trial on June 28. If he was to be proven guilty of these charges the next time I would see my son out of four closed walls would be when he is 18. This is not something I am willing to deal with knowing that part of the reason he is there is because there are steps we missed, and because there are other chicken sh#@s involved...

The judge actually made the comment after hearing all the good reports of how my son is doing in this facility... he had read about BPD kids recently...and the fact there are so many people out there who can do good if they take their meds and do what he is doing. He said if you keep doing what you are doing now, I will be more inclined to let you go home while awaiting trial. And after.

I see the glimmer of hope for him. 2 weeks 100mg of Lamictal in...100 mg of Seroquel, calm environment, and people around him holding him up and pushing him along have made changes in my son's apperance and his we fight.

03-20-08, 12:29 PM
Thanks for your post-- I am going to read it again- my son is facing criminal charges in a juevenile court early April... hopefully, they will be merciful & not want to send him anywhere -- like you said, kids w/adhd or bipolar or both need to be treated as a whole person... my heart goes out to you.

03-22-08, 11:53 AM
re: "criminalization of mental illness"

The United States has (IIRC), *the* highest incarceration rate in the West: 1% of the total population is behind bars.

Canada is NOT far behind. :S

It seems to be the MAIN strategy in North America, for controlling social problems, doesn't it?!

It really *is* the "Dark Ages", as you say.


re: custodial sentences
It's 'warehousing', as prison critics say.


Sadly, Canada's current right-wing government is wanting to follow in these for-profit prison building footsteps. (e.g. building private SUPER JAILS ['prison cities'] for 2,500 inmates, etc).

I have been reading about it b/c a HUGE SUPER JAIL is being proposed for my old HOMETOWN of Kingston, ON. Currently, there, the City is already have to deal with seriously high-risk repeat sex offenders who are constantly being released after pathetic little sentences.

In some ways, I wish they'd do a social experiment where they'd take that $80000/yr in correctional money, and put a kid in a private school where they had heavy structure (great for ADD kids), GOOD role models and calmness and tonnes of sports to 'burn off steam'.

06-08-11, 12:05 PM
I can empathize with you and your situation. My son has been diagnosed ADHD/Bipolar as well and we've been going through intensive therapy. Yesterday he assaulted his teacher at his Day Treatment School and charges have been filed. His court date is to be determined and I'm attempted to prepare. I'm not exactly sure what to expect. He was directing his anger towards another student on her and broke her nose. I want to defend him, as the issue is a symptom of his disorder and not malicious. Any advice would be graciously taken and welcomed.

I don't want him to become another statistic in the juvenile courts, he needs therapy and has great potential in life. He's an excellent student, but really angry. I'm not sure if his medication needs changing or not. He's taking Concerta, Abilify and Ritalin. I've heard Abilify isn't for teens, but he's been taking it for a couple of years. Does anyone know of another medication to control impulsive behavior for teens?