Removed; Short Painful Film About Foster Care

“Sometimes someone hurts you so bad, it stops hurting at all. Until something makes you feel again, and then it all comes back: every word, every hurt, every moment.”

Those are the first words spoken in “ReMoved” — a powerful short film, directed by Nathanael Matanick, which exposes both the bleakness and the potential hope that exists within the foster care system.

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In Defense Of People Doing The Work

It hurts me to hear destructive criticisms about how teachers are the cause of badly performing schools, social workers blamed when a baby dies a horrid death while under County supervision, and most recently an all out diatribe against the uncaring volunteer guardian ad-Litems in America.
These professions are not entered for the great wealth or social prestige that accompany the difficult work that come with the job. Educators are dealing with mental health issues, the impact of poverty, abuse, and homelessness as our society becomes less well off, and recently, less well governed. Social workers are expected to work miracles with terrifically damaged children in toxic homes, drug and violence issues, huge caseloads, and few resources to fix anything.

Volunteer guardian ad-Litems work with badly damaged children trying to guide them through a complex and bureaucratic court system in the hopes of saving them from both the system and the traumas they have suffered from.

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Tip Of The Iceberg – Medicating Six Year Olds

We forget that before Prozac, there was Thorazine and the side effects were pronounced and obvious. These new drugs are much more insidious in how side effects manifest themselves.

The underlying issues driving dangerous and emotionally charged behaviors in children must be identified and dealt with if mental health is going to be attained. Anything less fails the child and the community.

Public policy assumes that it’s economically way cheaper to provide drugs than really helping a child.

Work done by the medical community and the Federal Reserve proves that building children is much more economically viable than trying to rebuild badly broken adults. In my volunteer work within the system, I’ve seen it born out again and again.

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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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How America Treats Its Children – foster care

The last big study on foster care demonstrated that 80% of youth aging out were leading dysfunctional lives. A 2010 Casey Family study found that one in three former foster children reported being abused by an adult in the foster home. The article most of the following information comes from (and copied below) is a powerful and thorough review of how the American foster care system works.

As a long time CASA guardian ad-Litem, I have found these stories to be compelling and accurate. One of my own guardian ad-Litem boys walked home 35 miles on a ten degree MN winter night in a T shirt, because he was so poorly treated in a privatized group home.

Foster children are 12 time more likely to use psychotropic medications than other low-income children and suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as Iraqi war veterans.

33 percent of adult foster care alumni had not health care, 81% of all male foster care alumni had been arrested once, and 35% incarcerated and suffered exponentially worse in the areas of;

PTSD: 25% / 4.5%
Depression: 24.3% / 10.6%
Anxiety: 43% / 5.1%
Addiction/alcoholism: 11.1% / 2.5%
Males convicted of a crime: 60% / 10%
Homeless for more than one day: 22% / 2%.

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Fumbled Child Protection Warnings Cost Children Their LIves (thank you Brandon Stahl- Star Tribune)

Seven children died last year from abuse or neglect despite prior knowledge by Minnesota child protection agencies that their lives were at risk, records provided to the Star Tribune show.

That total is the highest in the state’s records, which go back to 2005. The Department of Human Services said it will study each case to probe whether county social workers missed chances to save the child, but an initial review has found that some counties could have done more.

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This Is Happening (KARA’s Public TV Documentary Project)

Take a moment to check out KARA at Indiegogo and share it with your friends. All the tools and perks are there. Get perks, make a contribution, or simply follow updates. If enough of us get behind it, we can make “At Risk Children’s Documentary Project with TPT TV” happen.

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/836689/emal/5177013

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Elephant In The Room (Mitch Pearlstein PAST Star Tribune)

As a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem lobbying for the removal of children from toxic homes, I saw many examples of children left in the care of drunk/drugged uncles and boyfriends while a poverty or near poverty parental caregiver went to work each day. These children are many times more likely to be abused, traumatized (and killed) than other children.

Life is better for children in “higher income two person households” and that to ”investigate and punish” moms and dads that molest and torture their children doesn’t fix the issue. The fact that many families can’t afford quality daycare, have not access to crisis nurseries or mental health services rarely gets attention – things that would have far greater impact making health families than money spent on a punishment model.

If we value children as a community, let’s become like the majority of the other industrialized nations and make crisis nurseries, adequate mental health services and quality daycare a part of our culture.

It is mean and counterproductive for an advanced nation to build a child care system that leaves 3 and 4 year old’s in the care of unstable or dangerous people because there are no other alternatives (and on top of that, blame them for the very circumstances that are hurting them).

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KARA’s Brandon Stahl Reader (compiled and annotated Star Tribune articles by Brandon Stahl on child abuse & child protection for the record)

For many months now, the Star Tribune’s intrepid reporter Brandon Stahl has been researching and writing about the depth and scope of problems facing MN’s abused and neglected children.

This page is dedicated to Brandon’s work and the thousands of children that pass through child protection services each year in MN (and the thousands of abused/traumatized children that need help but are ignored).

Most of the disturbing information Brandon uncovered in his reporting is hidden and would never have been known without his persistence and hard work. Our child protection systems are practiced in not making information easy to find.

I have spent many years as a volunteer in the field of child protection looking for this kind of information and been unable to discover even a fraction of what Brandon Stahl has made public by his reporting.

This CASA guardian ad-Litem is cautiously optimistic that Governor Dayton (and other public figures) are speaking out* about the lack of public awareness, poor public policy, and resulting institutional failures that are ruining so many lives and so directly contributing to trouble in our schools and on our streets (and the racial disparity this state is so well known for).

For the first time in my memory, the important issues of child abuse and child protection have become serious front page news and there is a possibility that Governor Dayton’s task force will ultimately bring about critical changes needed to improve the lives of children born into toxic homes.

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Nancy Zupfer Has It Right (Governor’s task force should represent children – not agencies and parents)

Nancy Zupfer Has It Right (Governor’s task force should represent children – not agencies and parents)

Star Tribune Today, Nancy’s observations that child protection protects state and county agencies, and parents and abused and negelcted children “seem to be collateral” has been my experience as a long-time volunteer guardian ad-Litem.

It has always hurt me to see the physical reality of traumatized children in yet another foster home (29 placements for one boy) or failing to make an adoption work or painfully waiting for life to improve as she sits at St Joe’s Home For Children or other short term care facility.

The problems facing these kids are real and require significant resources and thinking to improve their lives. That our complicated overwrought institutions give these kids very little voice, no rights, and protect agencies and parents over the well-being of children is a real poke in the eye to youth that have already been dragged through often unspeakable experiences (generally over years).

As our televised interviews with adoptive parents move forward, we are hearing more stories and seeing more and more examples of hammer wielding agencies using harsh and abusive tactics to protect their reputations instead of recognizing and providing for the serious issues facing families that adopt traumatized youth.
Do we value children as a community? If we did, we would have more crisis nurseries, subsidized daycare, and a more transparent and robust child protection system that focused on the needs of the child.

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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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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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Minneapolis 6 Year (Kendrea Johnson) Old Hangs Herself? (police left to ponder – I don’t) Star Tribune Today

Thank you Brandon Stahl (& David Chanen) at the Star Tribune for writing an article giving voice to the elephant in the room that is the dangerous and suicidal behavior of children in child protection. No one wants to hear it and no one wants to address this, but it is a very real problem of great consequence to our communities.

As painful as this conversation is, without it, dangerous and suicidal behaviors will continue to be an issue for abused and neglected children in need of protection (in & out of the system).

As a CASA guardian ad-Litem, I see this awful suicide as the tip of the iceberg that is the under-treatment (resources/response/coordination/services) provided to the poor young souls unlucky enough to be born into a dangerous and dysfunctional family.

Children traumatized severely enough to be removed from their birth home don’t have coping skills to mend themselves or manage the behavioral problems that follow from what has been done to them.

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Child Protection, Kendrea Johnson & The Information War

Kendrea Johnson’s social worker was unaware that Kendrea’s mental health provider knew this six year old girl was severely mentally ill and having daily thoughts of suicide and homicide.

Tannise Nawaqavou, Kendrea’s foster mother didn’t know either. No one told anyone that this six year old girl wanted to kill herself (and others – she had twice threatened to kill her foster mother with a screwdriver).

As a long time Hennepin County CASA guardian ad-Litem, it hurts me to see policies in place that insure not the best interests of the child, but the best chance that people will never know about the terrible things going on in the lives of abused and neglected children. We do this to foster and adoptive parents all the time and it has to stop (it is dishonest). The intensive therapy needed by traumatized children is simply beyond the ability of average people (most foster/adoptive parents – note the privacy laws referred to by child protection in Brandon’s article above).

People (like the psychologist from Pennsylvania (below in read more) quoted in today’s article*) that don’t believe suicide happens to six year old’s just don’t have a clue.

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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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The State Of Child Protection in Texas (655 under-reported deaths of abused children)

With one of the nation’s largest child abuse agencies, 2.5 billion dollar budget, & 8000 employee, Texas struggles to keep up with the increase in child protection cases, not enough quality foster and adoption families, and cases that stay in the system far too long (federal lawsuit).

For a long time now, Texas has ranked last or near last among the states for prenatal care (50th), low birth weight babies, health care expenditure (48th), spending on mental health (49th) graduation rates (45th), SAT scores, child abuse deaths, uninsured children, births to teen moms, WIC benefits per person (50th), 4th highest in women living in poverty, and 6th highest in child poverty (2013 Texas Legislative Study Group/83rd Regular Session of the Texas Legislature).

Texas is also first in executions, 2nd in larceny, theft, and property crime rate, 4th in rate of incarceration, and personal bankruptcy filings, (March 2013).

Nearly half of the 655 under-reported child deaths occurred to children on CPS radar. That’s what happens with extraordinarily high caseloads, too few resources for existing cases, lack of transparency & reporting.

Each year, over 100,000 Texas children between the ages of 7 & 17 go missing, many of them while in child protective services.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 60% of children likely to be victims of sex trafficking have fun away from foster care or group homes.

The high turnover in child protection workers and broken foster care and daycare system are just the tip of the iceberg of at risk children in the state.

Child protection workers and children did not make the mess and they can do little to fix it. Lawmakers, voters, and concerned citizens need to look to other states and nations to find solutions.

26% of Texas population (1.7 million Texas children) live below the federal poverty level & Of the 804 Child fatalities reported in 2013, 156 were related to child abuse or neglect according to Child Protective Services.

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Dear State Representative Lohmer

Dear Representative Lohmer,

Responding to your note to me below (decrying the cost of early childhood programs being recommended by Governor Mark Dayton), I’ve been a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem for almost 20 years and watched what short changing MN children does to our schools, city streets, and state budget.

One of (I have 50 stories)my case load boys cost the county between 2 and 3 million dollars and that does not include the people he has stabbed, teacher he beat up, or hundreds of others he has caused great suffering to in his young life.

He’s in his early 20’s today and recently aged out of foster care (I met him in 1996 when he was 7) today, he has AIDS, is on the most expensive medicines in the nation, has always been a state ward, and I expect will always be a state ward.

To not support programs that could have helped him lead a normal life is fiscally irresponsible and morally reprehensible.

If I were to describe to you the costs some of the other fifty children I have worked with (as a volunteer) in child protection, you would make better decisions concerning early childhood programs.

We launch a new generation of abused and neglected children with or without coping skills every five years (by five a child is able to cope with his or her environment, go on to school and succeed or Not). It hurts me to meet people that don’t understand this. Quit thinking of a generation as 20 years. It is not. It is five years for the children we are talking about.

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1% of U.S. Family Courts Are Safe Baby Courts

This article from the ACEsTooHigh website is a comprehensive article about the difference between traditional family courts and emerging early childhood courts is striking and worth reading in its entirety. In safe baby courts, kids don’t suffer more abuse (and that is very different than the data coming from traditional family courts. The compelling build-up of evidence isn’t just in the data. It’s also stories like this: One mother in Mississippi whose baby was born with crack cocaine in his system went into rehab, was allowed only supervised visitation while the baby remained with his grandparents, complied with the service agreement and achieved unsupervised visitation within four months and custody within six months. She went back to school and eventually received a master’s in social work, married and has a second child.

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Important Points By Brandon Stahl (Star Tribune) Today On Pope County

Pensive ParakeetThe following quotes from Brandon Stahl’s reporting today in the Star Tribune indicate the depth and scope of child protection troubles in MN.  That Governor Dayton used “Colossal Failure” language and created a task force to investigate the sad tortured death of 4 year old Eric Dean is to be commended.  Awful things happening to 4 year old children are not always addressed in helpful ways by politicians in other states (see other states in “read more” below).

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Hiding Child Suicide Hurts Everyone (until it exists – nothing will change)

Six weeks ago, Brandon Stahl’s Star Tribune article about the death of six year old Kendrea Johnson by apparent suicide, pointed out just how misinformed (or misdirected) our community is when it comes to the impact of trauma on children.

An unnamed Hennepin County Medical examiner was quoted in the article, “the decision to carry out such an act (suicide) is outside what a normal six year old could think about”.

This statement should have been, that all children in foster homes have been traumatized and normal does not exist for most of the six million children reported to child protection in this nation every year and that suicidal thoughts are not uncommon to traumatized children.

Awful things happened to these children or they would not have been taken from their home and placed in foster care.

Being removed from your birth home is traumatizing in and of itself. What happened before changes the way a child reacts to life – literally, it changes the way the brain responds to “normal” events for a child. Then, we add psychotropic medications that trigger thoughts of suicide (just read the package). Judge Heidi Schellhas shared her list of very young children taking Prozac, Ritalin, and other mind altering medications with me. Six year olds were on the list.

My first visit to a four year old girl in my CASA guardian ad-Litem work was at the suicide ward of Fairview Hospital.

I’ve written about seven year old Gabriel Meyers who hung himself and left a note about how he hated Prozac.

KARA’s interviewing for our child protection television expose includes past volunteer guardian ad-Litem and former mayoral candidate Don Samuels telling his story of a teacher calling him and asking for help with a five year old suicidal boy.

I’ve been on an airplane delivering a twelve year old suicidal boy to an out-state suicide prevention group home because all the metro suicide beds were taken – there are 800 to 1000 emergency psychiatric visits to HCMC every month (and many of them are children). Remember, this is just a single metro hospital. There are 3 children’s hospitals in the metro and zero children’s mental health hospitals.

While it is true that most five and six year old children fail in their suicidal attempts, their lives often remain self destructive and lead to early death. It hurts me that if not for the reporting of Brandon Stahl at the Star Tribune, no one would know that Kendrea killed herself, except her therapist and other service providers that knew she was having daily thoughts of suicide.

It is an awful condemnation of our values and community that abused and neglected children suffer this much with so little meaningful help from the rest of us. This speaks volumes about how we value children.

She is out of the news cycle now and probably not going to get much more attention. We should all feel some sorrow and empathy for the six year old girl that had to think about how she was going to end her life and then doing it. It should be much bigger news.

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Psych Drugs Action Campaign (from the National Center for Youth Law)

On April 14th four bills will be heard before the Health and Human Services Committee of the California State Legislature that improve oversight and monitoring of psychotropic medication treatment for children in foster care. We are writing to request your support. Will you or your organization help? Please send your support letters by end of…

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Help KARA Do Something About Drugging Foster Kids (invitation to action)

Invisible Children readers know that psychotropic medications, especially “antipsychotics,” often are used to sedate and restrain problematic people, children especially—and not just any children, but foster children particularly, and most of all, foster children in so-called “group homes.”

Agreement is widespread that foster kids are over-medicated: too many, too young, too many drugs per child, on dosages that are too high and are maintained too long, often for years on end.

The PsychDrugs Action Campaign of the National Center for Youth Law invites you to help make positive changes now. Our contact information is at the bottom of this message.

Why Foster Children?

Foster children are a lucrative market for psychotropic drug sales. Unlike adults, they can’t say “no, I won’t take any more.” Their parents are in no position to object. Responsibility for prescribing is diffused confusingly among foster parents, caseworkers, child welfare supervisors, group home administrators, and prescribers. All are involved, but their roles in medication decisions are overlapping and ill-defined. It is easy for each to say, “it wasn’t my decision.”

One of the consequences is that in some states about half of children in group homes are medicated with psychotropic drugs. Many foster children are dozing through their childhoods and teenage years in a semi-sedated fog, a fog that is profitable for the drug industry and convenient for those administrators, staff, and foster parents who prefer to minimize demands on their time and attention.

The losers are the kids. A dozen years in a chemical straitjacket is no preparation for adult independence.

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Child Suicide, Prozac, Child Protection, and Foster Care (and how are they related?)

More American children (especially low-income and foster care kids) are on antipsychotics than in any other country (Governing magazine March issue).

Brandon Stahl’s March 27th Star Tribune article graphically explains how child protection was unable to deal with mental health, medications, and child safety be in the suicidal hanging

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92% of Foster Care Kids Using Psychotropic Meds Get Them For Unaccepted Reasons (this is drug fraud)

From the Washington Post yesterday, most foster care children on antipsychoctic drugs get them for far too long and without medical justification. 2/3 of the nearly 700 claims studied raised high-risk “quality of care” issues. As a long time CASA volunteer guardian ad-Litem, many of my case kids were on multiple drugs simultaneously and many of them hated being forced to use them. Some kids threw the drugs away.

In Minneapolis, I would like to know (there should be more transparency) if six year old Kendrea Johnson’s suicide by hanging involved psychotropic medications. She was a very troubled foster child, in therapy and had talked about homicide and suicide. When Jeff Weise killed himself, his grandfather and 14 others he had talked about suicide and homicide and was taking Prozac.

7 year old foster child Gabriel Myers hung himself and left a note about how he hated Prozac. KARA’s video interviews include families, a City Councilman, and other professionals talking about antipsychotic medications, very young children and suicide. This subject needs our attention now. It is cruel punishment for a child suffering from the traumas of abuse and removal from a birth home to be dealt with.

There are 3 children’s hospitals in the metro area and NO children’s mental health hospitals and there are 800 to 1000 emergency psychiatric visits at HCMC every month (many of them children).

This conversation is overdue.

What we don’t know cannot be dealt with and will not be improved. Let’s stop the next awful six year old suicide.

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