Yes, We Do Know

May 6, 2008 in Guardian ad-Litem, Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children

 

Dear editor,

Today’s (5/6/08) Minneapolis Star Tribune article “Disorders are likelier in adopted teenagers” reviewing Margaret Keyes U of M research, is not helpful to children in child protection.

While the article concentrates on infant adoptions and it does state that adopted kids are 2.5 to 6 times more likely to show up for counseling than non adoptive kids, the author makes the claim that “No one understands why adopted children are more troubled, nor how often those emotional problems extend into adulthood“.

As a long time volunteer guardian ad-Litem working with children in child protection, it hurts me to see this kind of statement in print.

If there is one thing we should know about American children that have been removed from their birth homes, it is that they have suffered extended exposure to violence and deprivation.

This is the definition of the “Imminent Harm Doctrine” which is the legal statute that allows children to be removed from their family.

Extended exposure to violence and deprivation is also the World Health Organizations definition of torture. Children are not removed from their birth parents unless the home environment has endangered the life of the child. That is the law.

Of the 50 children I have advocated for over twelve years, all had experienced severe and chronic violence and neglect. Sexual abuse of children is not uncommon. Their stories would make you cry (you may listen to them on this website under the book button). 

To express wonder at why abused children develop emotional problems as they age is misleading and unfair to these children.

A child protection judge has provided me the annual psychotropic medical prescriptions taken by very young children in her courtroom. I have not seen children in child protection receive the therapy that should have accompanied the drugs. Five year old kids proscribed Prozac. Ritalin is a cocaine derivative.

I have experienced four and five year olds trying to kill themselves.

To expect these children to go to school, play well with others, and become fully functional human beings without special attention is just wrong.

MN former Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz has stated that the vast majority of children in the Juvenile Justice System have come out of the Child Protection System. Marion Wright Edelman (Children’s Defense Fund) clearly articulates the relationship between abused children and prison. Almost all criminal justice inmates have passed through the juvenile justice system.

More than half of the youth in the Juvenile Justice System have mental health problems (about half of this number have multiple and severe diagnosis).

It is clear to me that most of the three million children per year that are referred to child protection services, need and deserve much more help than they currently receive.

Children that receive inadequate help go on to lead dysfunctional lives (80% of the youth aging out of foster care are leading dysfunctional lives).

Troubled children would not go on to disrupt our classrooms and hurt our school performance (25% of U.S. high school graduates are functionally illiterate) and they would not be arrested and sent to prison (44% of the adult male African American Hennepin County residents were arrested in 2001).

Art Rolnick at the Federal Reserve has done extensive work on this issue and proven that early childhood education is a terrific return on investment for our community.

Speaking openly about children in child protection and focusing on their needs to make the economic argument for helping them, would give us safer streets, better schools, and empty jails and prisons.

We would also have happy functioning members of our community instead of the troubled youth we have today.

Today’s cost of incarceration, failing schools, and unsafe streets are exponentially greater than the costs of intervention and prevention

It is also the right thing to do.

Ignoring or misunderstating children’s issues is not helpful to them (or us).

We very much do know why adopted children are more troubled and that their emotional issues do extend into adulthood. We also know what needs to be done to help them.

I’m a child advocate. Let’s help them.

Take the time to investigate the discussion groups on this website.  It is easy to participate.

Best wishes,

the KARA TEAM                                                                                                                                                                                                          Tell us your story, comment, or perspective.  Think of someone you would like to send this to? Press the “share this” button below.

Defining Institutions by What they Create

November 15, 2007 in Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children, Mike Tikkanen, Public Policy

October Blog

 

This outstate Minnesota story bears repeating.
I have come to know this family.    They don’t drink, do drugs, or have a history of crime or violence.   John has always worked.   They love their children.   This is their side of the story.   I spent five days working with John and have come to believe him.
Mary and John and their four young children suffered a house fire that ruined part of their home last year after the birth of their last child.

John was working too much (the fire repairs made them broke) and Mary was suffering from post partum depression.

The house fire required John to make quick repairs to accomodate the family until they could adequately rebuild. The house was messy because of this and Mary’s depression.

The family is poor and did not have insurance for their fire repairs.  They were struggling with the cost of repairs to rebuild their home.

Mary called child services to get help.

Instead, the county removed their children from them a few weeks before Christmas (putting them in separate homes), and then fought with John and Mary for months to keep the children from returning home.   When the children were returned, it was one child at a time, visitation was made very difficult, and instead of helping the family get back on its feet, charged them $6000 in court costs.

The trauma experienced by these children during this process was terrible and it is still with them.

As a guardian ad-Litem, I have experienced this fear first hand. There is nothing more frightening to a child than to believe that mommy and daddy are gone. Young children do not understand court procedures and words don’t comfort.

Children experience real and long term pain and suffering as a result of this trauma. Removal from the birth home should never be taken lightly and children should receive professional help to deal with their trauma during and afterwards.

This family reached out for help to overcome a personal disaster and depression. Instead they were treated very badly.

In the end, the presiding judge reversed the aggressive position of the social workers with hard words to the department.

This process did nothing for the benefit of the children or the home they live in. In fact, the $6000 court costs have set the family back even more, and the children will carry their PTSD type fears for years to come.

In my twelve years as a guardian ad-Litem I have worked with about fifty children and have never met a social worker that meant to hurt anyone, or act out of meanness.

Social work is complicated business that involves a great deal of knowledge across a broad spectrum of factors. Training and public policy are critical to the adminidstration of programs and methods that are meant to protect children.

Depression and poverty are a part of many lives in this nation and every nation.

Punishing people for human problems serves no one.   Calling what happened to this family child protection is a misnomer.   Child protection would have been to help this family solve it’s problems (not add to them).

“Defining our institutions by what they actually create instead of what they were designed to create“* would be the first step in making the changes necessary to fix our poorly understood and vastly under-resourced system.

It is only “We The People” that will bring attention to our dissatisfaction with public policies that need redirection and resources.

Not calling your state representatives and not voting won’t help.

Please submit your own stories to me and I will post those that fit on this website.

Get Active

*Quote from Kathleen Long, Author of Demons and Dragons

Consider starting or joining an online action/discussion group on this website to bring this dialogue into your community.

By Definition

July 4, 2007 in Crime and Courts, Guardian ad-Litem, Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Politics and Funding, Public Policy

Definitions  

If institutions are to be defined by what they create instead of what they were designed to create, Kathleen Long Angels and Demons what would an objective analysis tell us today?

How are our schools functioning, what are the results from foster care, is juvenile justice serving its purpose, do the courts work, and how successful is our prison system?

Internationally, our high school performance has fallen from world leader to trailing in almost every category. We now compare ourselves to “emerging nations” so that we are 43rd out of 121 emerging countries instead of 21st out of the 24 industrialized nations in language, math, history, physics, and most other subjects.

25% of America’s high school graduates are functionally illiterate upon graduation; one out of three of them could not find Florida on a recent map test. In Minneapolis, the sister school (Roosevelt) to the one I attended (Edison) has graduated under 30% of its students over the last three years, the city average graduation rate is just over 55%.

Former MN Supreme Court Justice Kathleen Blatz stated that 90% of the youth in the juvenile justice system had come through the state’s child protection system (almost all criminal justice inmates come out of the juvenile justice system). Nationally, almost 25% of juveniles are tried as adults in the U.S. and a growing number of states allow children 13 and 14 years old to be tried in adult courts.

A recent study indicates that up to 80% of children aging out of foster care are leading dysfunctional lives. A Minnesota judge has provided me the Prozac, Ritalin, and other psychotropic medication prescriptions taken by children in her courtroom (most of them under ten years old) and it points at one of the key issues thay might explain why so many youth leaving the foster care program find it hard to cope with life.

In my experience in the child protection system as a guardian ad-Litem, it is a rare state ward that has found adequate mental health services (many of them are proscribed psychotropic medications with minimal professional help). Traumas experienced in the birth home and the following court process of removal leave permanent and painful scars. To treat these traumas with psychotropic medications and no long term / consistent therapy leaves children with problem behaviors and poor coping skills for the rest of their lives.

America has more people in prison per capita than any other nation. We also have more criminals and violent crime than any other industrialized nation. Nationally, 13% of Black men can’t vote because they are felons. In Minneapolis, 44% of African American men were arrested in 2001 (no duplicate arrests) African American Men’s Study

If we are to define our criminal justice system by what it creates, it is successful in building more prisons than any other nation, maintaining terrifically high recidivism rates, keeping inmates in longer, and capturing huge percentages of African American men in the process. 

 

Similarly, if we define the our child protection and juvenile justice systems by what they create, most of the inmates in criminal justice come from juvenile justice, and almost all of the youth in juvenile justice (in Minnesota) come from child protection services. It follows that children in child protection have a terrific potential for entering the criminal justice system.

It is painful for me as a citizen/guardian ad-Litem to watch the impact of mistreated (in their birth homes and as state wards) children passing through the system, failing in school, and aging out of foster care going onto lead dysfunctional lives.

What will it take for our communities to recognize that by abandoning the weakest and most vulnerable among us we not only destroy children’s lives but perpetuate chaos and dysfunction in our communities?

Would we care more if we knew the cost to society for thirty to fifty years of institutionalization plus the cost of youth crimes and 14 year old girls having babies?

It is not the people working in these fields that are to be blamed*.

There are millions of educators, foster & adoptive parents, social workers, court and justice personnel and others putting great effort into making life better for struggling children and families.   I am one of them. 

Our schools, courts/justice, child protection systems, and our health systems will not sustain our nation without a commitment to support from our communities and policy makers to do the right thing.

Investing in children is the best investment this nation can make today.   It’s what we are not doing that is expensive. The longer we wait, the more lives will be damaged, and the more it will cost us as a society.   Pass it on.  Consider starting a conversation on this topic in your community.  Join or start a discussion group on this website to begin.

*Blaming teachers (as many politicians do around election time) is not fair or productive.   Teachers don’t teach for fame or wealth, they chose this field because they care about kids, learning, and community.   Teaching is hard work at modest pay (the same can be said for social and  justice workers).

More reading; Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Art Rolnick’s Federal Reserve Board Article
Best wishes,
tu amigos the KARA team

Saving Ourselves From the Next Virginia Tech

April 25, 2007 in Crime and Courts, Health and Mental Health, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Public Policy

24 months ago in a small Minnesota town, a mentally unstable student murdered and wounded 14 students before killing himself (my April 2005 weblog posting).

Jeff Weise also kept an outrageous website openly referencing homicide and suicide. Jeff was also denied treatment and prescribed Prozac*. After the carnage, Red Lake community found the money for a mental health family center to counsel troubled youth.

At that time in Minnesota there were 15 child psychiatrists in the entire state (population about 4 million) and the student to counselor ratio in MN high schools was 900 to 1.

As a child advocate (long time guardian ad Litem) I strongly feel the need for mental health therapy for those who need it. The children I work with have been severely traumatized and need adequate attention paid to their needs.

In my many years as a guardian ad-Litem it has been my experience that at risk children don’t get help until after their behaviors have become unmanageable and dangerous. Often the help they get comes in the form of a pill and not the personal professional counselling that they really need.

A Hennepin county judge has shared with me the psychotropic drug medications being taken by children in her courtroom. It is truely unbelievable how many disturbed and undertreated youth walk among us.

When attention to mental health services comes earlier, our communities can save themselves from the immense suffering that follows these horrific events.

* Not too many years from now it is my hope that we will recognize the repercussions of legally drugging children with psychotropic medications without adequate mental health services. Today we can only read about these consequences in the newspaper.

Day Care; The Bargain

February 8, 2007 in Guardian ad-Litem, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Mike Tikkanen, Public Policy

Because the waiting list for subsidized daycare is one year into the future for the father of the children I represent (as a county guardian ad-Litem) there is a good chance that his two small children will be taken from him by the county and adopted by someone he has never met.    

It is also possible that he may not be able to visit his children if they are adopted.

John (not his real name) is an ex felon that has turned his life around and is now there for his children when their mother has lost custody due to her severe problems with substance abuse and failure to keep her children safe from harm.

John’s efforts have been remarkable. He works hard, means well, and loves his children. His job gives him a great sense of meaning and is very important to him.

His choice today is to quit his job and go on welfare and care for his children or keep working and face losing the children to adoption. Minnesota used to be the fifth best state for providing day care. Today it ranks 29th.

What benefit does our community reap by giving him this choice? Do we save that much money? The cost of welfare and daycare are both about the same (so money isn’t the issue).

I’m in touch with the children’s suffering and I know how much it will hurt them if dad chooses to keep his job and give up his children.

It’s been a brutal year for these children as they’ve watched their mother struggle with substance abuse as they were moved a foster family while dad and mom have fought to create a home that the children are safe in.

I appreciate the argument that “if we were talking about mom” the assumption would be that mom quit her job (go on welfare) and care for her children. Is it useful to our community to force either mom or dad to quit their jobs and go on welfare because they can’t afford childcare?

What higher purpose is served by taking children from poor people that have to fight so hard just to live among us?

The sadness that I’ve witnessed this family live through this past year is terrific.

Daycare for poor working class people is not an extravagance if it can keep families together and mom or dad working. It is a bargain.

Respond to a KARA blog, or join or start a discussion or group to start a dialogue in your community.

Let’s help our neighbors

the KARA team

 

 

Happy Holidays To All

December 31, 2006 in Guardian ad-Litem, Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Public Policy

Being warm and fuzzy about friends and family during the holiday season is the point of it all. Expectations created by our frenzied gift giving and guilt making culture make it difficult. No pointers here, just observations.

I was knocked out of my warm and fuzzy state by a neighbor of my most favorite in laws on our holiday trip this year. This neighbor (foster family) had worked hard to make a loving home for abused children that they hoped to make a permanent life with.

This family was stopped in their adoption by a single social worker. Instead the children went from their familiar and loving home to strangers. Based only on the decision of a single worker. My family members made several attempts to provide character reference and a good word for the family but were told that it wasn’t their business and to stay out of it. My brother in law was frustrated that there was nothing that could be done to influence the lives of these children that they had watched thriving in a good home.

 

There was no guardian ad-Litem or outside observer to give the judge another perspective. The children were not allowed to voice their observations or desires. Outside support for the family was not allowed. There were no checks and balances to counteract mistakes or bad decisions.  

We all know how critical it is for children to bond and begin the process of making a whole new self out of new surroundings.

For a child there is nothing more traumatic (aside from death) than being removed from your birth family.

Healing can only come from the rebuilding of broken emotional attachments and the redefinition of self that comes from family.

I compare removing children from a long term foster care home unnecessarily to re-breaking a bone after it has set. 

 

Have we not discovered the mental dynamics of the healing process a child goes through to become a functioning member of our society? Do we know what doesn’t work?

In a recent national study, 80% of children aging out of foster homes go on to lead dysfunctional lives (drugs, alcoholism, mental illness, crime, no job). In Michigan (where this family lived) the governor stated that 90% of children that have aged out of foster homes were in jail or prison.

Our nation suffers from a great disparity in the quality and integrity of services and providers of child protection. There is a great cost in resources and lives by not caring enough about what happens to the millions of children that are placed in Child Protective services each year.

It is awful for a child to be removed from a birth home. But when it happens it should be the lesser of two evils. It is criminal for a county to unnecessarily break the bond a child has established in a new home because of a poorly designed Child Protection system.

I am an outspoken advocate for the guardian ad-Litem program. Give children a voice in their own childhood. It will go a long way in improving their lives and the dismal statistics that are so pervasive today.

How is your state handling children in need of child protection? 
Pass this story on to others and send me your own best and worst stories on your experiences with the child protection system.
Join or start an one of our online groups/discussions on this website to carry this discussion into your community.
Best wishes,
the KARA team

The Longest Day

April 2, 2006 in Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Politics and Funding, Public Policy, The States

remarkable chinese iconThe longest day.

8am to 9pm last Friday Reassessing the Past, Present, and Future Role of Children and Their Participation in American Law. Hamline University 4/1/06

From a legal perspective the most under-protected persons in America are sexually abused children.

One study indicated that 11% of judges and 51% of prosecuting attorneys admitted that they had deliberately confused the child (witness) during the proceedings.

What this means in practice, is that the nine-year old girl sitting on the stand in the courtroom is being bullied by intense and deliberately confusing cross-examination about her abuse.

Everyone at the sysmposium agreed that children are not mentally capable of undergoing adult type cross examination, but it is clear that this still happens in many cases. Read the rest of this entry →

Intelligent Design

June 5, 2005 in Crime and Courts, Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Public Policy

cropped-default-header.pngAs a guardian ad-Litem speaking for voiceless children born into toxic and violent homes, placed in overburdened child protection systems, and finally into court systems and prisons, I have been thinking about public policy making.  Designing public policy to accomplish certain goals is an important and difficult process that needs public discourse. Institutions are defined by what they actually do (as opposed to what we claim they do.) We the people, as in the voting citizenry need to appreciate our role in the political process that creates public policy. Read the rest of this entry →

Post Memorial Day blog

May 30, 2005 in Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Public Policy

KoalaI have just finished reading about the Harvard study on the relationship between foster children and soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome.  According to the Harvard study, foster children are twice as likely to suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome as soldiers returning from Iraq are.  As a guardian ad-Litem observing children removed from frightening and toxic birth homes, I understand the correlation between living in a war zone and living in a dangerous home.   Read the rest of this entry →

Abused Children and Crime

May 24, 2005 in Crime and Courts, Guardian ad-Litem, Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Mike Tikkanen, Public Policy

guatemalan boy 2Unlearning Child Abuse (or go to prison)   Children are not aware of the rightness or wrongness of their own abuse. They do not know that abuse is abnormal, or even that it is wrong. To a five-year-old, no matter how painful and frightening her life is, her life is normal. A sad and lasting fact of child abuse is that children blame themselves for the abuse they receive.

How can sex, drugs, and violence be unlearned by a ten year old child whose entire life has been just that? It takes years of therapy to change a child’s perception of an abusive past. It takes a great deal longer for an abused child to develop a healthy view of the world and a positive self-image. Our child protection systems don’t provide much therapy. Read the rest of this entry →

Tasers and School Children

May 18, 2005 in Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Politics and Funding, Public Policy

default-header Today’s Star Tribune article on St. Paul schools new policy on Taser use, (B2, James Walsh, St. Paul schools OK policy on Taser use, May 18, 2005) draws attention to the growing violence in our public schools. Teaching can be a dangerous profession for educators faced with unmanageable children or chaotic classroom environments.

Prozac, Ritalin, and a host of other psychotropic medications have taken the place of mental health counseling for children as young as six and seven years old. Behavior modification is now often a function of “if they took their meds.” Read the rest of this entry →

Unhappy Schools

May 12, 2005 in Guardian ad-Litem, Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Politics and Funding, Public Policy

coneflowersA snapshot of our schools and community: 28% of the class at Minneapolis Roosevelt High school graduated last year. The Minneapolis school system had an overall 53% graduation rate.  Blaming teachers for failing schools is wrong. Teachers teach because they love learning and children. It is a political vote getter to blame educators for our larger institutional failures. The system needs to make learning possible. Politicians are missing the core issues.  Read the rest of this entry →

What we do to our children

May 3, 2005 in Invisible Children, Politics and Funding, Public Policy

mn panorama leaves turned 2“What we do to our children they will do to society”   Pliny the Elder    I met with State Senator Mee Moua recently. I am a guardian ad-Litem concerned with the twice-abused children I know through County Child Protection.  Senator Moua is the first State legislator to speak to me with a genuine interest in creating a public dialogue around Children’s mental health issues after many tries.

We agree that a significant part of the problem with failing schools is the big numbers of traumatized children being warehoused in classrooms.
Teachers are in the terrible position of being responsible for educating students and managing traumatized children at the same time.

Because it is a complicated issue with no simple answers, legislators avoid the topic and don’t provide useful solutions. Read the rest of this entry →

talk of suicide

March 31, 2005 in Kids At Risk Action (KARA)

remarkable chinese iconJeff Weise resembles many of the children in Child Protection I know.  A mother that hated him, Psychotropic medications, repeated examples of self-loathing, talk of suicide and homicide.  Working with neglected and abused children has shown me a part of human development that I could not have otherwise become familiar with.

Normal children overcome feelings of self-hate and inadequacy with the help of parents, teachers, and other adults in their lives.  Abused children can’t trust the adults in their lives. Their own abuse has come from the trusted adults in their lives. These children often resent or hate authority figures as a result of the suffering adults have visited upon them. Read the rest of this entry →