As a guardian ad-Litem I am following the legislative discussions around the topic of mental health services in our public school systems. I am painfully aware of the lack of knowledge at all levels of this discourse.
Very few teachers, administrators, politicians, (our public stewards) or citizens know why school drop out rates are so high, graduation and literacy rates are so low, and so many children are in trouble with the law.
As a person who has become familiar with many children who have been removed from their homes, I know what a traumatic life a child must live before being taken from a toxic home.
By definition, children remain with their birth parents until their lives are in danger of “ imminent harm.” This is called the Imminent Harm doctrine and it defines the statutory circumstances under which a child may be removed from their home. Or, as I call it, the doctrine of “the bruised and the bleeding.”
Most people have a misconception of child abuse. I too thought I knew the nature and definition of the word before I became a guardian ad-Litem. An accurate definition of child abuse must take into account the severity and repetition of abuse that are legally necessary for a child to be removed from their home.
Child abuse redefines the way a child thinks and sees the world. Abused children have severely limited learning and coping skills. An abused child’s mental development has been arrested by an anxiety and fear that supercede the learning of other personal and social skills. Without personal and social skills, and a lessening of the anxieties and fears, Abused children fail at school, don’t make friends, and keep a terribly low self image.
This is why school drop out rates are so high, graduation and literacy rates are so low, and so many children are in trouble with the law.
Medicating children with Prozac, Ritalin, and other psychotropic medications may lessen their dangerous behaviors, but without adequate counseling and mental health therapies, their fears and anxieties will continue to interfere with their development and personal growth. Abused children will not fit into our communities. They will continue to fill our jails and be a great burden to our schools.
There are thousands of abused and neglected children in our schools with almost no mental health services (there are 49 child psychiatrists in our state) and extremely limited school counseling of any kind (900 students per counselor is the statewide average.)