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

Richard Ross Juvenile In JusticePhoto courtesy of Richard Ross   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 →