Rave Radio: Offline (0/0)
Email: Password:
News (Media Awareness Project) - CN AB: Huge Gaps In Support For Families
Title:CN AB: Huge Gaps In Support For Families
Published On:2012-01-24
Source:Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Fetched On:2012-01-25 06:03:01

Addicted Teen Can Be Held Briefly, but Not Forced Into

The father who called me on the phone is in despair.

And it's easy to understand why. He, his wife and their 14-year-old
daughter moved to Alberta from the United Kingdom in 2009. The couple
adopted their daughter when she was seven. They knew her biological
mother was an addict with mental health issues. They knew their
daughter had been neglected by her birth family and abused in foster
care. Still, they were confident they could help their little girl
overcome her childhood traumas.

But within months of arriving in Canada, things started to go terribly
wrong. Their daughter started seeing an adult boyfriend, an 18yearold,
whom the father suspected was a meth addict. She started drinking,
using drugs, running away. Her family called police. They called child
welfare. They consulted psychiatrists and counsellors.

According to court records, the teen was diagnosed with mood disorder,
conduct disorder, reactive attachment disorder, fetal alcohol spectrum
disorder and borderline personality traits - an ominous list, which
explained much but solved little.

On three separate occasions, the girl was apprehended under provincial
legislation known as the Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act. A
PChAD order allows minors between 12 and 17 to be held in a secure
detox bed for up to five days at a time. But while children in such
custody are offered access to addictions treatment, the law doesn't
compel them to get treated.

And although the province amended the act in 2009 to allow children to
be held for up to 10 days, the amendment was never proclaimed -
largely because the province doesn't have enough secure beds to offer
extended treatment. According to Alberta Health Services, there are 15
such youth detox beds across the province - and last year they served
about 700 patients.

For this father's daughter (because she cannot be identified under the
terms of the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, I'll call her
Jane), repeated stints in this court-ordered detox proved futile.

Eventually, child welfare officials stepped in and got a series of
court orders to hold Jane in "secure ser-vices" - a system that
provides more extensive and high-security treatment than a
conventional group home. (In 2010-11, there were 224 children treated
under the protocol.) In court documents, child welfare officials noted
that Jane was "associating and residing with" known criminals and drug
traffickers and engaging in "high-risk behaviours."

"(Jane's) pattern is to remain manipulative and not engage in the
treatment process and then AWOL as soon as she is in an open setting,"
reads one court application to renew a secure services order.

According to Jane's father, the girl was released from her last stint
in treatment in August. His daughter, he says, moved back home for a
few days, then ran away again. Her family now has only sporadic
contact with her. Her father worries that she's living with an older,
adult boyfriend, whom he suspects may be physically abusing her.

Jane's father has written to the prime minister, to the premier, to
Human Services Minister Dave Hancock.

He's had opposition MLAs ask questions on his behalf in the legislature.

He's started a website to bring public attention to his plight.

For him, the issue is straightforward. His daughter is mentally ill
and neurologically impaired. She's 16 and an emancipated minor, but
she's still not a legal adult. Her behaviour puts her at risk. He
wants her apprehended, placed in secure care and compelled to undergo
psychiatric treatment.

"Our daughter has mental health issues and there is no distinction
between a teen who had gone off the rails for awhile and is likely to
come back to reality, and a teen with mental health problems. They are
all tarred with the same brush," her father wrote in his recent letter
to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. "Your government's legislation is
leaving vulnerable teens to the hands of sexual deviants, drug dealers
and more."

It's easy to empathize with this father's despair and feeling of helplessness.

But sadly, our overtaxed, under-resourced mental health, child welfare
and justice systems aren't well equipped to help a teenager like Jane.

She isn't psychotic or delusional or violent or acutely suicidal.
Under Alberta's mental health legislation, it would be difficult for
Jane to meet the criteria for involuntary commitment as a formal
mental patient. She hasn't been charged with a serious enough offence
to warrant extended criminal incarceration. And while child welfare
staff could apply for more secure services orders, based on Jane's
history and her age, it's hard to know how effective they would be.
Locking her up, in some way, would keep her safe. But that would
violate her legal rights - and offer little guarantee that she'd
emerge with her problems solved.

Our various "systems" don't know what to do with older teens who
display the typical symptoms of FASD - kids who have poor impulse
control, poor decision-making skills, poor judgment, who lack the
capacity to learn from their mistakes, kids scarred by abuse in utero.

Not even responsible, caring adoptive parents can "love" these
children better. Often, it's not until they end up in the criminal
justice system that they get any kind of sustained treatment.

At this point, I'm supposed to offer my solution to this problem. I
wish I had one.

I could say we need more resources for pediatric mental health
services. I could say we need our health care, child welfare and court
systems to do a better job of working together to serve young people
who have both addiction and mental health issues. I could say we
should offer families of kids with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder,
including adoptive and foster parents, more supports to manage the
immense responsibility they've shouldered.

None of those things will bring Jane home safe. But they might help to
keep the next Janes off our streets.
Member Comments
No member comments available...