What’s It Like?

What’s it like to be;

The admitting person in the psychiatric ward of a metro hospital turning away violently troubled children because there is no space? HCMC in Minneapolis averages about 900 emergency psych visits a month, many of them children.

A social worker, grandparent or guardian ad-Litem visiting a traumatized four year old child in the suicide ward of a hospital,

The first grade teacher who called City Counsel member Don Samuels asking what to do about a student trying to kill himself in her classroom,

The parent of a child with tragic mental health problems and turned away from the hospital or a son held in a cinder block cell for six days because of the no “imminent threat” excuse (when really, there’s just a lack of resources)?

Michael Swanson’s mom who lived years of terror for years trying for to find mental health services for her boy prior to his murdering two Iowa store clerks.

Six year old foster child Kendrea Johnson, who hung herself and left a sad note and the terrible reality that yes indeed, children try and occasionally succeed in killing themselves (contrary to the police and medical examiners Star Tribune statements at the time).

The hospital employees at St. John’s Hospital that were brutally attacked by a delirious patient because their facility did not have the safety features designed to protect staff members from the level of violence often seen in mentally troubled people.

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Brandon Stahl’s investigating and Safe Passage’s volunteers are changing lives

 

children down hill having funBrandon Stahl’s reporting (September 2014) on the tortured death of 4 year old Eric Dean and his  powerful Star Tribune articles about tortured children & the “catastrophic failure” of child protection in Minnesota (Governor Dayton’s words), shine light into the invisible world of child abuse that is so hard to talk about and so easy to avoid.

Rich Gehrman & Safe Passage For Children of MN worked with and reported on Governor Dayton’s Task Force On Child Protection, organized 100 volunteers to speak out and call on legislators to raise awareness and bring positive change to the 60,000 Minnesota children reported to Child Protection services each year.

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The Power of Coping Skills & Life Without Them

A sad personal email this morning from a grieving mother has caused me to reflect on friends who ended their own lives and the four, five and six year old children I have known, or known about, who tried or succeeded at suicide.

My cousin Ron Mahla (Actor and brilliant person) and my dear friend Tommy Garretson (Vietnam War Vet with a winning smile and great sense of humor) were both gentle and bright souls that were squeezed to death by sadness and a growing inability to cope with their lives.

In both deaths, I’m almost certain that neither told anyone or thought to get help to cope with the events in their lives (there were no signs of impending suicide).

Coping skills are everything. Have them and we can make it – without them, we are at risk.

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CASA guardian ad-Litem News (find your state here) August 2015

A baby is born addicted to opiates, a young child wakes up to find their parent unresponsive with a needle in their arm, siblings sit in the back seat of a car parked on a country road as their parents are shooting up heroin. LaPorte County and Indiana are experiencing an epidemic. It is drug abuse. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, epidemic is listed as affecting or tending to affect a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community or region at the same time. Certainly we can describe the current rapid spread of opiate use an epidemic.
Last year, there were 17 deaths from heroin overdoses in LaPorte County and Indiana is increasing its needle-exchange program beyond Scott County. The Indiana Department of Child Services is reporting a record-breaking year for child abuse cases. It’s only June and in LaPorte County alone, 50 children have been placed out of their homes due to abuse or neglect.

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The Sadness Of Child Protection – 2 Year Old’s Murdered by Caregivers

These past weeks have been awful for vulnerable children in MN.

Stomped on, kicked, torn liver kidney & pancreas Sophia O’Neill was violently murdered by 17 year old Cary Faran-Baum died because she wouldn’t stop crying. There’s been way too many violent child deaths in MN this past year – many of these children were known to child protection services.

Sophia was known to child protection (they didn’t investigate the case because caseloads are high and resources did not allow it).

In a family video taken before her death, Sophia explains that Faran-Baum had hit her in the face and left bruises noticible in the video. Sophia died not only of Cary Faran-Baum’s violent mindless attack. She died because there are too few crisis nurseries, inadequate daycare facilities and a general lack of concern in my community for other people’s children.

Too many of these children are known to child protection, a poorly understood and undervalued system fraught with serious problems. It’s wrong to blame the people doing the work – the problems begin with us – the people making the rules and designing the system.

As a long time volunteer Hennepin County guardian ad-Litem, it’s clear to me that my community has never cared much for the problems of young families (or their babies & 2 year olds).

If we did, there would be more crisis nurseries and daycare and children would not be left in the care of drunk uncles, violent boyfriends and child molesters.

As it is today, we only read about the dead kids. Thousands of children traumatized by violence and abuse inflicted on them by their care givers don’t make the paper (unless there is a death).

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Why CASA Guardian ad-Litem?

After years of watching and working as a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem in child protection two things have become clear to me;

1) Abused and neglected children really do need a CASA guardian ad-litem advocate &

2) The system really needs insiders to speak loudly and repeatedly about the real world of America’s child protection system. Workers within the system (besides volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litems) find it politically unwise to say things that reflect badly on the system (at the risk of losing their jobs). Volunteers have

As much as I respect the very hard work done by dedicated case workers (I mean every word of that – there is no harder work), case loads are too high, resources are too slim and few will risk their jobs to speak out about individual or system failures.

If I could change one thing in child protection today it would be the transparency, tracking and accountability that would come from the speaking out by those who witness these travesties every day.

The reason our communities don’t have crisis nurseries, quality daycare and other child friendly programs that would promote learning and coping skills and launch at risk youth into productive lives is that we don’t talk about it. When you don’t talk about it, it does not exist.

“it” being the suicide by seven year old’s on Prozac, sexual abuse and repeated horrific violence against six year old’s that we see when they finally make it into Child Protection.

The only thing the public knows about the at risk children we see every day are the kids that die when the media brings it to public attention (generally showing a glaring system failure but solving nothing).

Until Brandon Stahl and the Star Tribune made a focus on just how bad life was for poor four year old Eric Dean, media coverage about child abuse was almost non existent. It is only because of this reporters consistent and intrepid work that Governor Dayton’s “colossal failure” language formed a task force that brought public attention to absurd policies and gross negligence that desperately needed changing, that change happened.

My point is that until a thing is spoken of it does not exist and nothing is going to change. The public has a short memory and the media won’t be here for long.

If all the public knows is that eight very young children have been murdered by their parents and caregivers since Eric Dean’s death after 15 largely ignored reports of child abuse – it is a much smaller problem than the horrific stories that accompany a very large percentage of the tens of thousands of children reported to child protection in MN each year (and the 6 million children reported nationally each year).

Maybe I’m an unreasonable optimist – but if more people were aware of the cyclical nature of child abuse, the prevalence and dangers* of medicating abused children with powerful anti-psychotic drugs (instead of adequate life changing therapies), how common life threatening behaviors are to damaged children and just how costly, impactful and long lasting abuse is for the thousands of children passing through Child Protection every year – we would support programs that would save those children from the terrors they have lived with and will continue to live with (and pass onto their children and the next generation).

All adults are the protectors of all children (thank you Don Shelby)

*about one third of children in child protection systems are proscribed these drugs

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Child Abuse – Society Is Paying For This (Hank Marotske today’s Star Tribune)

Truer words were never spoken.

I am encouraged by Abby Simmons Star Trib reporting today on the MN Child Abuse Task Force 11 point plan to make child protection a priority in Minnesota. That a bipartisan group of lawmakers are able to agree that keeping children out of harms way is the least we can do for them gives hope to the possibility of crisis nurseries, day care, and mental health services*.

If adopted, counties can no longer screen out 90% of child abuse reports, reported cases will be shared with police, assessments will be used only when safety of the child is not an issue, and the use of prior child abuse reports will become part of the investigation instead of off limits. Well done MN Task Force On Child Abuse.

The task force needs to stay on the job for another year to keep these critical issues in front of the public (right where it needs to be). Children removed from toxic homes can be helped to deal with the traumas of abuse and neglect and go on to do well in school and life. As CASA volunteer guardian ad-Litem dealing with many children over many years I’ve come to know the high cost of abused children falling through the cracks going on to lead dysfunctional lives and their own families of dysfunctional children.

Healing from trauma and abuse, parenting and coping skills do not come from the stork. We can save children as well as our society with sound child protection in Minnesota (and show the nation how it ought to be done**.

Keeping children out of harm’s way is the least we can do for them. Let’s show the nation that Minnesota values children.

*It was pointed out to me recently by Steve Lepinske at the Washburn Center for Children that while there are 3 children’s hospitals in the metro, there are no children’s mental health hospitals. The treatment of traumatized children is a public health/mental health issue.

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Powerful Video Expose On Drugging 5 & 10 Year Old State Ward Children

parasailingThis video from Mercury News is the most comprehensive and powerful discussion I have seen on the topic of forcing abused and neglected children to take psychotropic medications.  Remember, state ward children have no voice in this discussion.  These decisions are made for them by a closed system that rarely shares information and by and large fears discussion on the topic of mental health.

These children’s stories mirror my experience as a volunteer guardian ad-Litem in child protection services and make me wonder how it is possible that this topic still remains under the radar.

Drugging decisions are made often because of fear and cost*, not effectiveness.  The traumas of child abuse can be dealt with if met head on and early but spiral into dysfunctional lifestyles if left untreated.  80% of youth aging out of foster care lead dysfunctional lives.

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On The Death Of 6 Year Old Kendrea Johnson (another perspective)

Strangled dead tangled in a jump rope is not something that happens to six year old children (Star Tribune today) Thank you Star Tribune for giving voice to the voiceless children of Minnesota.

As a Hennepin County CASA volunteer guardian ad-Litem, I watched abused and neglected children, traumatized children, whether they be two, four, or six years old, do terribly destructive things and try to kill themselves. My first visit to a four year old CASA case girl was at the suicide ward of Fairview hospital. She had watched the beatings and rape of her mother and sister (who was three years older than her) for most of her four years on earth. Think of the terror going through a child’s mind watching drug crazed, violent, and sexual abuse of your mom and sister. It changes a person.

I’ve written about the seven year old foster boy who hung himself and left a note about how he hated being forced to take Prozac. Children in foster care are often medicated to keep them from hurting themselves and others. You really don’t get into foster care unless you have been traumatized and behavioral issues are endemic to trauma victims. A very real side effect of psychotropic medications is suicidal ideation (fully formed thoughts of killing yourself, delivered by your brain – like a daytime nightmare).
The article in the Tribune makes Kendrea’s death sound like a pretty normal young child accident (Wow). Her younger brother was born drug addicted (the womb has no barrier to protect an infant from drugs and alcohol). Kendrea had been in a number of foster homes (one of my CASA case boys had been in 29 foster placements when he aged out of child protection). This death was not normal. Traumatized children need our help. Tens of thousands of MN children are victims of the kind of abuse Kendrea lived with all of her young life. Very few of them find the help they need to live a normal life. It would be the right thing to do to deliver these children the help they need to make sure they do not injure themselves or others with dangerous behaviors.

Remember friends, we only read about the children that die.

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Tuesday, June 17 6pm KARA Brooklyn Park Think Again Presentation, Pizza, and Social

Early Childhood Education Boosts
Academic Achievement and Career Success

Tuesday, June 17               6 p.m. Pizza and Social           6:30 p.m. Program

Brooklyn Park Council Chambers, 5200 85th Avenue N

Please RSVP and Share on Facebook
or to

Carol Woehrer, carolwoehrer@usfamily.net

A question and answer session will follow the presentations.

Sponsored by the Maple Grove, Osseo, Brooklyn Park, and Brooklyn Center Chapter of the League of Women Voters; Kids at Risk Action , KARA; Think Again MN ; and the BrooklynPark Diversity Team.

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Speaking For The Weakest & Most Vulnerable Among Us – Star Tribune Articles

It hurts me to see people in high positions who are responsible for child protection make claims that there’s nothing to see here, things are just fine, child protection is working as it needs to (“Counties are committed to safety of kids,” April 25).

There is very little fine about it, and by accident or by design, information about it is hard to find and rarely published. By almost any measure and from my perspective over many years as a volunteer guardian ad litem within the system, there are not enough resources, record keeping is poor, child protection cases need to be over the top to get into the system, and children stand only a small chance of getting what they need to recover from the years of abuse and neglect they have suffered.

Things have gotten worse since Minnesota went from screening out one-third of the cases to screening out two-thirds. Screening out 90 percent of cases (as four Minnesota counties do) is a very big deal.

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Another Happy CASA Story

A couple of weeks ago at an “Everyday Courage” event sponsored by the California Endowment I met a very caring and compassionate woman named Rosa Arevalo. Rosa works for CASA of Los Angeles a non-profit organization that recruits, trains, and supports CASA volunteers(Court Appointed Special Advocates) to transform the lives of abused and neglected children. It is the only organization in Los Angeles County providing court-assigned volunteer advocates serving foster children in the dependency court.

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CASA Guardian ad-Litem Distinctions (clarity on different kinds of guardian ad-Litems)

There are three very different kinds of guardian ad-Litem; Volunteer, Staff, and Lawyer.

1) Volunteer CASA GALs generally take just a few cases and get to know the families and children in the court proceedings very well. CASA stands for, Court Appointed Special Advocate. as a CASA GAL, I had fifty children in my case load over twelve years. Some of those children stayed with me over the entire twelve years. I knew them and their families very well.

2) Staff GALs are given case loads similar to case loads that social workers are given. In my experience, staff GALs have more cases and less time per child/case.

3) Attorneys are paid by the County or by the parent depending on the state. In my experience, attorneys rarely visit the family, and generally meet the child for the first time at court.

Feel free to add clarifications to this posting if I’ve missed something or you disagree with me.

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Making Children Whole (with the help of the community)

Think what you might about the unborn, it seems only fair that a living breathing baby should have the right to basic health care (if only to continue breathing).

It is terrifically expensive to treat the chronic illness and behavioral problems that blossom out of children born into toxic and unhealthy circumstances where mom’s without parenting skills, or coping skills, eat poorly, drink excessively and often have serious mental health issues. Many of the moms I’ve known from child protection were the fourth or fifth generation of abused girls having their own families of abused children. Without help from the community, their children never break out of toxic birth home environments and never learn the skills they need to live a productive life.

Crisis nurseries and subsidized quality daycare make up for some of the problems these children live with in the home. Coping skills are not delivered by the stork but they can be gleaned from other care providers (if the community reaches out).

In my lengthy Protestant upbringing, I can only remember a Jesus that wanted to provide for the weakest and most vulnerable among us – especially children.

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KARA TV Interview Mike & Tiffini

KARA board members Tiffini Flynn Forsland & Mike Tikkanen were Interviewed on Catherine Hoaglund’s Metro Cable Network Channel 6, Catherine’s Crossing to bring attention to key issues facing abused and neglected children. Catherine asked powerful questions about the brutal truths faced by at risk children and what our community could do to help children in toxic homes develop the coping skills necessary for leading a normal life.

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Thank You Ruben Rosario (for today’s powerful Pioneer Press article supporting our Invisible Children Petition)

“In the spirit of a) enlightened self-interest and b) in order to form a more perfect union, we the people of Minnesota declare that all children have an equal right to preventative health care (the right to see a doctor before they are sick) including prenatal care and to quality early learning (pre-K) programs,” the petition states.

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Sign Our Petition For Child Rights, Safety, and Healthcare

Help KARA make a better world for America’s children and sign our petition for basic rights, health care, and safety (even if you’re not from MN)

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/childrens-civil-human?source=c.em.mt&r_by=6732677

Every signature helps.

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In Whose Best Interest (MN courts returned this child to an abusive father 6 times)

The number of Minnesota foster children removed from their homes after being reunited with their parents, known as the “re-entry rate,” has increased in recent years and is now nearly three times the federal standard. Thomas Stone is trying to find stability after more than a decade of turmoil in Minnesota’s child foster care system. He was returned to his abusive father a half-dozen times.

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Big Pharma – Who Do We Blame?

The root of the problem is that each and every (almost) abused and neglected child in the system has severe mental health issues and there are almost no useful alternative medical systems in place to address this – instead we use drugs.

The World Health Organization defines torture as “Extended exposure to violence and deprivation”. Every child I worked with as a CASA guardian ad-Litem (about 50) experienced extended exposure to violence and deprivation.

Only the worst of the worst cases make it into the system. When I started in 1996, 2/3’s of the reports were investigated. Today because of budget cuts, 1/3 are being investigated.

Half the kids in my case load had been sexually abused. That is a trauma that no five or ten year old gets over without professional help. When they come of age, they get into trouble because they can’t cope. They did not learn how to read, play well with others, or learn to sit quietly in a room – they have been traumatized.

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Other Losses Foster Children Face

As a guardian ad-Litem for an 11 year old girl, I was appalled when the care agency threw away all of her possessions because she was messy.

Think about it. Removed from her birth family (where she was sexually abused and terribly beaten), forced to live away from her siblings, among many other severely damaged children in a chaotic environment, no love, no freedom, and with about three things in her room tying her to her past. One of which was a photo that she cherished deeply.

Everything this poor child owned was thrown away because nothing in her life mattered to the person (a low skilled and low paid helper) ruling her life and making those decisions.

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