Today’s Star Tribune about the closing of St Cloud’s Children’s Treatment Home on the front page of the paper is a very big deal (thank you Chris Serres and Star Tribune for excellence in reporting).

It really is front page news that children at this institution were allowed to bang their heads against walls until they had concussions, facial injuries and head trauma.  These young troubled children had sex on the facility grounds, forced sex and sex in the presence of staff.

All Adults Are the Protectors of All Children

There were many violations over many years.

As a Hennepin County CASA guardian ad Litem, I have never seen a group home able to handle the severity of mental health issues of the children I brought to them.  I have witnessed a great many well-meaning and under-trained staff fail to manage badly behaving traumatized children.

Children that have been removed from their birth family have endured trauma.  Trauma is torture as defined by the World Health Organization; “Extended exposure to violence and deprivation”.

Trauma and torture impact the biological development of a child in profound ways that make severe behavioral problems common and leading a normal life so much harder.  How would you un-teach sexual or drug using behavior to a 9 year old that grew up with it?

This article is not about the quality of services offered by Washburn Center for Children, the Wilder Foundation or any of the other high quality providers that practice comprehensive effective programs that are getting great results.  These institutions are the answer to our problems.

This is also not about the decent and dedicated people doing the work inside of the group homes that are not working in my state today.

It’s about the 800 to 1000 emergency psychiatric visits each month at HCMC (note; this is just one metro hospital) and the giant shortage of psychiatric beds that exist in this state today.  It’s about 19 facilities in my state with 744 beds that so underserve the population of suicidal and traumatized children I’ve come to know because they are  simply unable to provide the services they could provide because the waiting list is so long to get in**.

This is about failed band aid initiatives and lawmakers ignoring the severe mental health problems of at risk children that long ago escalated to where teachers can’t teach and schools fail, social workers can’t save the children they work with and law enforcement’s biggest job is managing mentally unhealthy people in their squad cars and jail cells.

Employee turnover in teaching and social work is extremely high and law enforcement is now being forced to manage more and more of this community’s problems.

It takes extraordinary talent and commitment to enter these professions and these hard working and committed people will not succeed until the rest of us appreciate the value of the work they do and the need for our community’s support of the necessary services that are missing for the people they work with.

Dear state and federal lawmaker,

It’s nice to have investments in new stadiums, transportation systems and shiny new buildings but do you really think that those public dollars offer a return on investment anywhere near the *investment  in at risk children will return? 

Children with needs that keep them from being contributing members of our community have a cost that today is outside the understanding of the majority of lawmakers I have come to know.

Too many of my volunteer guardian state ward children never became contributing members of my community and many of them have been state wards (an expense to the community) all their lives.

One boy cost the state over 3 million dollars by the time he aged out of foster care not including the teacher he beat up, the people he stabbed and the terrible things he did to the 29 foster families that tried to save him.

My young friend (Alex) has been a police officer’s problem too many times and in too many squad cars for his awful behaviors.  He has AIDS today and is on the most expensive drug treatment that there is.  I have many other CASA guardian ad litem case history examples like his.

Alex will most likely remain a cost to this community for many years to come as will the preteen moms who lack parenting skills and the life skills necessary to bring healthy children into our community (and there will be five children in her family).

Too many of us think we are special and quick to believe we could never be like Alex or my preteen mom friends.

Imagine yourself at four years old (or your precious child or grandchild) tied to a bed, left alone in a tiny apartment for days at a time, starved, beaten and sexually abuse (for four years) as Alex was.

It’s hard to imagine that you or anyone could behave any differently than he does.  The mental health issues that accompany torture and trauma are biological (brain development) as well as environmental.

We become our environment.  How could a four year old know or be any different?

Without outside guidance, and in severe cases like this, real professional help, we are doomed to a lifetime as a state ward (preteen moms and juvenile felons without reading or living skills).

This beautifully made film demonstrates how children in Florida’s privatized group homes live.

https://vimeo.com/139417634

The password is foster

*Art Rolnick Federal Reserve Bank Study 2003

**I’ve been on a plane that delivered a suicidal (my caseload) child to a facility that had space but the organization was completely unfit to offer this suicidal child the help he needed.  It was an awful experience for everyone.

To fully appreciate the mental health issues addressed in this article watch this 3 minute ACEs video; ACE study preview

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