As a guardian ad-Litem, one of my first hospital visits was to a four year old in a suicide ward.

Judge Heidi Schellhas shared with me the Prozac, Ritalin, and other psychotropic medications being taken by 6, 7, and 8 year old children in her Child Protection courtroom (mostly with sporadic or non existent mental health therapies).

Other children I cared for tried to kill themselves through extremely dangerous behaviors. I’ve written about the seven children in one school district that took their own lives and the seven year old foster child who hung himself and left a note.

Misha Zubarev’s video on aging out of foster care had a great impact on me;

Most of us would agree that caring for vulnerable children is a worthwhile endeavor.

What can we do to make suicide less of an option for abused and neglected children?

Files Released On Foster Teen Who Committed Suicide

Former Foster Teen Died In September

HONOLULU — In a rare move, on Thursday the state Department of Human Services publicly released confidential documents about a young man who went through the state’s foster care system and later committed suicide at age 19.

The files were released by the Department of Human Services to ensure transparency and accountability but really to dispute claims that the state’s foster care program failed this young man who had aged out of the system.

Erwin Celes, whose friends nicknamed him “Smiling Star,” committed suicide in September.

His difficult life is revealed in the state’s files: how Celes didn’t start school until he was 6 years old; how he and his siblings were split up at an early age because they were being neglected by a mother addicted to crystal methamphetamine; how he was bounced around to several foster homes.

But Child Protective Services administrator John Walters said what he couldn’t find in the documents is a lack of support from the state’s child welfare system — something friends of Celes said is what led to him taking his life.

“I didn’t see when I went through (the files), anything that would lead me to look for a catastrophic event like what happened,” said Walters. “I don’t think the state failed him. I think the state backed him up every step of the way and tried to help him realize his dream.”

At the time of his death, Celes was in an independent living program, was enrolled in Youth Challenge and was planning on going into the military.

The state said currently there’s an average of 1,350 children in foster care statewide. About 54 are about to turn 18.

Foster care advocates have said more needs to be done to help youth about to age out of the system.

“I think the community needs to know that these kids are in crisis and that they exist,” said David Louis, the director of Heart Gallery Hawaii and a former foster child himself.

“Every time we add another sponsor, another layer of support, they thrive and that’s kind of what Erwin needed,” said Louis.

Human services officials said they know the child welfare system isn’t perfect, but in Celes’ case, they may never know how they could have helped him more.

“If we learn something from this, and I hope we do, that we can change or we can improve, we’ll do it,” said Walters. “We’ll do it in a heartbeat.”

A legislative briefing is being held Friday at the state Capitol to discuss Celes’ case.

This is only the third time in the last five years the state has released it’s confidential case files.

A link to Celes’ files

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  1. How sad to note that it takes a tragedy in order for the difficult lives and problems of children in foster care to seem important enough to matter…..Children and teens who not only consider suicide, but actually commit it, are desperate, feel hopeless and can’t see any other way out. It’s not only shameful, but criminal that in this century don’t have better protection systems in place. Sometimes, we think we’ve done enough, and don’t really listen to the children (behavior as well as language) who tell us differently.

  2. The suicides I have witnessed is at the adult age – when they are having difficulty dealing with the effects of thier child abuse issues. I have been fortunate enough to not have to deal with a child’s suicide however, they have come to us as a result of trying to or planning to do so. The behavior issues of the children I see frequently are as a result of the abuse (physical, sexual, and/or neglect). Education to prevent and recognize is the key as it is in all health care. If you see self destructive action (mutilation, acts of dangerousness, etc.) be aware of all events in the child’s life. Pry, observe, seek professional assistance, but do not do nothing!!!! We all need to be more involved. Every state should have an Erin’s Law enacted as we have Jessica’s Law (Jessica Lunsford of Florida who was buried alive after a week of abuse) and the Amber Alert system as well as other laws and yet it continues…..

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