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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Drugging Our Kids

This series of videos report on the dramatic increase in the forced use of psychotropic medications by children in California’s foster care system. It very well may be an epidemic in every state.

I have personally watched the explosive use of these drugs over the past twenty years and talked with professionals (including judges, educators, families & service providers) who are very concerned with the dangers of using these powerful anti-psychotic medications in place of mental health treatments for abused and neglected children.

Prior reporting on the topic; A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, and here’s the

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“Police & Sheriffs More Concerned About People’s Mental Health Than Advocates Are” (thank you Senator Barb Goodwin)

I’m always pleased to find outspoken observers in the mental health discussion.  Today’s Star Tribune article begins to articulate the gaping hole in our communities (and the nation’s) approach to mental health.  Much like child suicide and child sex abuse, we have avoided the mental health topic leading to the worst case of overbuilt prisons, unsafe…

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Minnesota’s Chance To Invest In Children & Families (from Governor Mark Dayton’s office)

Free, Full-Day PreK for Every Four-Year-Old – The Governor’s budget would invest $343 million to provide every four-year-old (47,000 kids) access to free, full-day pre-kindergarten learning opportunities statewide.
More Funding for Every School – The Governor’s budget would invest in K-12 schools statewide, increasing the per-pupil funding formula to $5,948 by 2017, and putting additional funding into the special education formula. These new resources would give local school districts the flexibility to meet the needs of their students and classrooms – from lowering class sizes, hiring new counselors, investing in technology, or providing other need programs and services.
Tackling the Achievement Gap – The Governor’s proposal would invest in a multi-layered approach to narrow the state’s achievement gap. It would eliminate the current Head Start waiting list, provide support to help all students read well, target educational support to parents of at-risk children ages 0-8, and more.
Healthy Students – The Governor’s budget would provide free breakfasts for pre-K-3 students, fund in-school programs to improve student behavior, and support parents of at-risk children.
Investing in Higher Education – The Governor’s budget would invest $288 million to freeze tuition at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), expand the State Grant Program, return the University of Minnesota Medical School to national prominence, and make other needed improvements to higher education.

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Cars With 3 Wheels (From Our Friends At Safe Passage For Children Of Minnesota)

A car with three wheels is not 75% as good as one with four. There is a minimum set of features without which a car won’t move at all.

This principle applies to child welfare because elected officials have frequently given this program much less than managers request, and assumed they somehow will make things work. But if the system has, for example, adequate staffing but poor training, or lacks a quality assurance program, it is like a 3-wheeled car. It simply won’t run.

Minnesota has an historic opportunity to rebuild its child welfare program. To accomplish this the legislature must step up to approve the $50 million that the Governor has put in his budget, so state and county managers have the tools they need to do the job.

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Where Bad Laws Come From (& why it’s not fair to blame the worker bees)

Brandon Stahl’s article in the Star Tribune today suggests that Minnesota is probably the only state in the nation to have forbidden social workers from considering past screened out cases of child abuse in evaluating new reports. Pressured to put a consistent policy in place by a state auditor, DHS institutionalized a policy that would lead to untold suffering and death of abused children for four years (it ended today with the Governor’s signing of the reversal of that bill.

That is just the tip of the iceberg that the Governor’s Task Force is working on. Perhaps with the added attention to the Task Force and Brandon Stahl’s continued reporting we can move up a few notches among the states in what we spend on child protection in MN (we rank 47th currently).

It befuddles me that the studies completed by the Federal Reserve Bank by Art Rolnick and Rob Grunewald have not brought the larger business community into appreciating the fundamental issues underlying a productive work force. It may be that the arguments should be made in terms of cost instead of savings. I think it would scare people to know how expensive ignored at risk youth are to our community. A single boy in my caseload cost this county at least 3 million dollars by the time he aged out of child protection (not including the awful things he has done to people).

By any measure, taking care of vulnerable children is duty of all of us and to make you feel better, saves you money and is the right thing to do.

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Four Year Key’Ontay Miller-Peterson Murdered – Two & Three Year Old’s Starved (2 families reported by the Star Tribune today)

I hope that the task force is working fast and that it’s efforts will lead to a reduction in the number of murdered, tortured, and suicidal very young children in Minnesota.

Today’s Star Tribune indicates the “colossal failure” (Governor Dayton’s words) of child protection in the death of Eric Dean after fifteen reports of child abuse by mandated reporters is still causing torture and death to Minnesota children today.

Just a few months ago, six year old Kendrea Johnson’s social worker was unaware of her suicidal and homicidal talk before she died by hanging herself with jump rope. Today’s Star Tribune has two disturbing accounts of worst case abuse suffered by two, three, and four year old Minnesota children.

Four year old Key’Ontay Miller-Peterson’s mother found guilty in the repeated assaults and eventual murder of her son Key’Ontay Miller-Peterson.

The two year old and three year old children of Michael Gunderson of Princeton were starved to the point of eating feces when discovered by the Sheriff’s Department.

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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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SMART JUSTICE – Mental Health Police in Texas

A friend sent me this today and I think it would solve many of our nations troubles and is worth sharing (widely). San Antonio Texas and Bexar County have saved 50 Million dollars and made life safer, more just, and much kinder for their citizens. The jails aren’t full today because the officers are dealing with the mental health issues that are getting people shot and beat up by other police departments.

Instead of facing more awful stories about how police departments are causing their communities to fear them, this department has recognized that jail is ineffective in treating mentally unhealthy people involved in low level crime and they came up with a better way. Read the whole story below (with audio).

Watch & Share these 2 minute trailers from KARA’s TV documentary project (help us BUILD KARA & spread the word)

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

The 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…

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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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Common books Symposium Century College (KARA 1 of 5 panel members) 2.25.15 10 am (free)

1) Ernie Boswell, psychology, speaking on Vets Issues

2) Dick Kotasek, addiction counseling instructor, speaking on

how counseling the addicted has changed.

3) Eve Bergmann, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and addiction

counseling, speaking on her 30 years of practice.

4) Justin Martin, psychologist, speaking on GLBT Issues

5) Mike Tikkanen, Kids at Risk Action, speaking on rights and

awareness of abused and neglected children.

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How We Treat Women and Children in America

Seriously mentally ill, Jose Guadalupe was beaten unconscious in his solitary confinement cell by correction officers on September 2.   2 months later, Tracy Johnson, IQ of 65, was pepper sprayed in the face and beaten hard enough to break his eye socket bone.  This is Rikers Island, one of America’s largest correctional institutions. Throughout…

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KARA Talk – March 1, Mike & Tiffini -Pilgrim House 10:15 Arden Hills

Join us at Pilgrim House Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 1212 W Highway 96, Arden Hills MN 55112

Mike Tikkanen & Tiffini Flynn Forslund are board members at KARA, Kids At Risk Action working to bring attention and support for the people, policies, and programs that improve the lives of to at risk youth.

have been a volunteer county guardian ad-Litems since 1996. He is also a CASAMN board member & founder of KARA, Kids At Risk Action with a mission to speak for the rights and awareness of abused and neglected children. KARA’s current project is a television documentary/expose with TPT. By generating conversation and exposing facts that many are afraid or unable to speak about, Mike brings attention to the critical issues facing abused & neglected children. Mike and Tiffini identify the problems children, schools, and neighborhoods face daily because of poor public policy and the dysfunction created by lack of awareness within our community. The KARA website is https://www.invisiblechildren.org.

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KARA Conversation With A Minnesota Police Chief

My conversation with a Minnesota police chief today was eye opening.

He spoke of how city leaders don’t take his repeated warning about the growing body of experience his community is having with troubled children & families. These leaders debate his stated daily reality for his police officers as if it were a small thing.

Like the growing bloc of dysfunctional families with serious mental health and coping problems and how this population is stressing the police force, courts and public welfare systems and how that added stress flows into the daily lives of the city/county workers themselves leading to serious problems of failure in school and failure of child protection systems and the high rate of worker turnover in education and social work. And then there’s the costs to the County and diminished quality of life to the citizens.

We both see that there is far too much training that goes into the difficult work of teaching and social work to see turnover rates growing as fast as they are. No one likes poor graduation rates or high crime rates. Unsafe neighborhoods are no good for anyone.

His view is that the elasticity of our systems is not limitless – it will break at a point and become a major social ill impacting our entire civil society making life painful for all of us.

It is precisely the functionality of our institutions that have made life in this nation as attractive as it has been.

For a growing number of people conditions are getting worse and this includes working people forced to deal with a more problematic and behaviorally challenged population.

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Nothing Just Fine About It

At the end of a recent KARA presentation about child abuse and child protection in our community at a metro Kiwanis, a University Professor argued strongly that child protection was working “just fine” from his perspective.

This after I had just pointed out the lack of support, training, and resources for the courts and social workers and the terrible stories and results MN is currently experiencing. Governor Dayton called child protection in the death of 4 year old Eric Dean (after 15 ignored reports of child abuse) a “colossal failure”, MN ranks 47th in what we spend on child protection, and this professor lived just a few miles where a very young child was raped and murdered (18 month old Maplewood girl).

He did not seem to know that day care workers are paid less than food service workers in America and in the rest of the industrialized world day care workers are are required to have advanced degrees that include mental health training (and are paid better because of their training). He did not agree that more attention needed to be focused on at risk youth.

“Just fine” for him perhaps, not having to meet or deal with the traumatized two year old’s, and the never ending string of abused and neglected children that social workers and court personnel see day after day and year after year with too little resources and too big of a case load.

There is nothing fine about the statistical reality of state wards in child protection becoming state wards in juvenile justice and then state wards in criminal justice. There is nothing just fine about the amount of psychotropic medications being used on children and juveniles in the system, or the problems foster and adoptive parents must face everyday with the behavioral problems these kids bring with them into their homes and school.

The professors thinking goes a long way in explaining the absence of crisis nurseries, therapeutic day care, and other programs that would give kids safety and coping skills necessary for success in school and in life.

It saddens me greatly that an educated segment of our community knows so little about the sadness that exists for so many involved in child-well being and child protection that they are unable to identify and support the programs and policies that could address the problems and make life better for children, our schools, and communities.

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News From Safe Passage For Children of Minnesota & The Child Protection Task Force

Follow Governor Dayton’s Budget and Child Protection Task Force News at Safe Passage for Children of MN links below;

Performance Mode

Work Group Meetings Update

Governor Dayton’s Child Protection Budget

Report on Governor’s Task Force and Work Group Meetings (Jan 14)

While I’m optimistic that these concerned people are working on improving services and strategies for abused and neglected children of Minnesota, it is painful to read the continuing sad news being reported about overwhelmed social workers, class action lawsuits, inadequate safeguards, and growing caseloads. It frightens me to think about how much (or how little) can be changed by one task force in one year within a system that handles sixty thousand children annually on a limited budget and imperfect systems. What happens next year?

If we valued children or even just understood the economic impact of under-served abused and neglected children passing through our schools, communities, courts, and in the end, juvenile and criminal justice systems, things would be different. Basic math proves the extraordinary costs to communities of failed schools and children unable to graduate on a trajectory to dysfunctional lifestyles and another generation of troubled families with more abuse and neglect.

Early childhood programs are a great investment in our communities and our children. Both the kids and our communities deserve better. Support the CASA guardian ad-Litems in your community & give children a voice.

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Overwhelmed Child Protection Workers (redefining what is manageable)

Quoting Jodi Wentland (Olmsted County’s child and family services director) in Brandon Stahl’s Star Tribune front page article today, turnover is too high, inexperienced social workers are taking cases “before they are fully trained… with excessive case loads…, & they often leave”. To no one’s benefit I might add. It is costly to the state to trained employees that leave the field quickly, disruptive to the children and families that experience multiple and inexperienced child protection workers, and adds to the awful news we are seeing more of in our newspapers and on TV (think Eric Dean and Kendrea Johnson).

Even when Child Protection Agencies reported they could always handle the the workload, that’s not always a sign of stability. One county, for example, reported a 25 percent annual turnover rate was reasonable. This striking comment (again from today’s Brandon Stahl article) from Traci LaLiberte* about child protection providers prompted my title for this article today and is worthy of repetition, “These systems have been so stressed for so long that they’ve redefined what’s manageable”.

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Are Class Action Lawsuits The Future For Child Protection? (Just filed in Arizona)

Note, this article is not about blaming people doing the work – it’s about legislators that are unaware of the dire straits abused and neglected children are facing and their slow and inadequate reaction to the conditions existing in our most important institutions today.

Many states are failing their most vulnerable citizens in the most tortured and traumatizing ways. National Disgrace (Star Tribune) & Colossal Failure are the words being used across America describing child protection in state after state. Four and five year old children are dying by homicide and suicide.

Two days ago, a lawsuit was filed against the AZ Department of Child Safety alleging “severe shortage of mental and physical health services”, “failure to conduct timely investigations of child abuse reports”, and a widespread failure of the State to help troubled children maintain family relationships.

If lawmakers do not make and allocate funding for policies that keep children safe, this nation resorts to lawsuits that pay damages and fines for such failures. Sometimes, the court includes very expensive punitive awards to make it explicit that the state needs to function better for children. It’s an expensive way of creating policy and children have to suffer greatly before that happens.

From my perspective as a longtime volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem, it is far less costly, and way more ethical and productive for legislators to fund programs and address problems than it is to obfuscate, ignore, and watch the slow torture of abused and neglected children evolve into class action lawsuits and the next generation of abused and neglected children becoming parents of another generation of abused and neglected children. We are costing this nation its quality of life by trading at risk children and young families for failed schools, unsafe streets, a giant prison system, and monstrous pharmaceutical industry (and million of children reported to child protection each year).

Every five years a new generation of abused and neglected children enter our schools and communities.

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Toddler Shoots Both Parents (becoming a commonplace event)

A three year old Albuquerque NM boy shot and wounded both his parents with his pregnant mothers loaded hand gun last Saturday. His two year old sister was uninjured. Below are recent articles concerning guns and American toddlers.

Three People Shot In One Week By Toddlers

More Americans Shot By Toddlers Than Terrorists

Two Year Old Shoots Florida Mother To Death (a state that fines doctors for telling mothers to lock up their guns).

100 Children Killed by Gunfire Since Newtown (June 2014)

America has about ten times the rate of gunfire death than the rest of the industrialized world.

Guns kill more infants & toddlers than police officers in the line of duty.

A gun in the home increases the risk of suicide by 3 to 5 times, homicide by 3 times, and accidental death by 400 percent.

Since 1963, three times as many American children and teens have been shot dead than soldiers killed abroad – in 2010, five times more children and teens were shot dead than soldiers killed in Iraq and Afgghanistan.

Gun violence kills more black youth (from one to nineteen years old) every year except for car accidents. Below are stunning graphs that demonstrate these facts (courtesy of ScienceBlogs.com (the pump handle)

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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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Sad Stories; How America Values Its Children (a national disgrace)

“National Disgrace” is the headline in the Wednesday Star Tribune report on the Federal Government’s failure to enforce child protection laws, and the many children dying of abuse and neglect in plain view of child protection workers.

“Colossal Failure” were the words of MN Governor Mark Dayton when speaking about his state’s failure to provide child protection services to 4 year old Eric Dean after 15 ignored reports (by mandated reporters) of the bite marks and broken bones prior to his murder this year. The photos and the stories presented by journalist Brandon Stahl at the Star Tribune were horrific and caused the Governor to create a task force to stop the awful happenings in Child Protective Services.

Mark Dayton’s task force is recommending transparency and changing the awful laws and practices that currently make keeping children safe next to impossible.

Minnesota was a leader in child protection services twenty five years ago (as was California). Today, our state spends less on child protection than 46 other states and the results are in; Racial disparity, very troubled schools, and horrific child protection failures.

Don’t use my words to blame service providers. It’s not them it’s us.

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