Access to Mental Health Services for our Son – A Mental Health Week Blog

Date: May 1, 2017 Author: Communications Contract Staff Coordinator Categories: Events | Guest Blogger | Mental Health | Parent Perspective | Special Needs

Written by: a Family Formed Through Adoption.

05-may-01-mentalhealthweek.pngInevitably, an entirely preventable tragedy will strike our anger-driven, drug-addicted 16-year-old son, at which point the horrified status quo will ask en mass, “Where were the parents?”

They won’t know that we’ve been there all along. Class trips, school concerts, hockey, and football games, Cadets. When Beavers required a parent to attend due to his behaviour, we did that too.

We taught him ways to manage his feelings, like writing his “angers” down on raw eggs and throwing them at the fence, symbolically taking control and getting rid of them. We participated in support groups, counselling, and volunteered our time to role model empathy.

We dead bolted our bedroom doors to prevent him from stealing money, medication, anything he could sell for drugs. He’d sneak out late at night leaving doors wide open, putting our safety at risk while we slept. Countless missing person reports. Spying on drug dealers at the skate park in hopes of finding him alive. Exhaustion permeated our lives. From the emotional toll, to falling asleep at work, to keeping life relatively sane for our other two kids.

Push came to shove one sunny afternoon while waiting to cross the street. Aggressive and intimidating, my son demanded to know where I’d parked so he could slash my tires. All because I said he’d have to wait for his birthday – a week away – to get the present I’d just bought him. When the light turned green, bystanders bolted across the pedestrian crosswalk, leaving me in their dust. Not one made eye contact, asked if I was OK, or called police. And I just stood there, frozen in shock.

Those who boast, “I’d never let my child...” only add to those feelings of isolation, as do people who think kids don’t run away from good homes. They do.

His probation officer commented he has a lot of repeat clients. Isn’t that evidence the system isn’t working?

We lied to our son to get him to hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. No psychiatrist was on duty, so they asked us to return the next morning. By then, he was missing again. Next time we tried, he jumped out of the moving vehicle. After that, in fear he was putting himself in imminent danger with his drug use and violence toward others, his family doctor completed a Form 1 (Application for Psychiatric Assessment). We took the Form 1 to our local precinct, which ordered police to apprehend our son and bring him to hospital for psychiatric evaluation.

Refusing to take him home from hospital was the only way to get him help, we were told.

So we got CAS involved, but they refused to intervene unless we signed over our parental rights.

Yes, you read that right. Unless we made our child a Crown Ward, CAS wouldn’t help our son.

We refused. Back to Square 1.

The hospital-appointed Community Care Access Centre nurse monitored his medications on discharge, which was pointless, since he wasn’t taking any. Kinark Crisis Services followed him briefly. They told me he was respectful and engaging. I don’t know how to take that. Did we teach him something right, even if he only shows it outside the parameters of our home? Or is he just so intelligent he’s even got me fooled? Maybe. Either way, once he figured out the Kinark Crisis Worker couldn’t make him go back to hospital, he stopped showing up for scheduled visits.

We qualified for the MultiSystemic Program, specifically designed for families whose kids don’t engage in counselling. It was postponed for a time, as he was missing and their criteria is that he live at home.

Research shows that if positive change isn’t seen in X number of sessions, further intervention won’t yield any improvement either. So they cut us off. We get it. There’s budgets, fiscal responsibilities, policies and procedures. But it feels an awful lot like being abandoned.

Yes, you read that right. Unless we made our child a Crown Ward, CAS wouldn’t help our son.

Social workers nudged us to access mental health services through the judicial system, acknowledging that, “you’re not supposed to, but...” So when our son brought home his backpack smelling of skunk, we called police. Hindsight being 20/20, this was potentially our worst mistake. Since then, he’s learned that he can get away with pretty much anything. Not exactly what we hoped to teach him.

On the bright side, he was forced to undergo psychiatric and psychological assessments, leading to his diagnosis of oppositional defiance disorder. His refusal to engage in therapy or take medication means he’s not being treated. But we feel validated with proof that it’s not just teenage angst, as so many people judgmentally suggest, and it helps with our understanding and approach.

Inconsistent attendance at addictions counselling (John Howard Society) and anger management (Canadian Mental Health Association) demonstrated he didn’t value intervention, but it let him know there are people who care about his well-being outside his immediate family and influential peer group.

Unable to self-regulate, he pushes limits, subconsciously seeking boundaries. We’re failing him.

In need of safety and security, he’s finding instead a world full of self-destructive possibilities. It doesn’t matter that he lacks the mental capacity to make informed decisions - he has that right.

He has yet to encounter meaningful consequences. And would they make a difference anyway? At school, the attendance counsellor informed him the law says he has to go to school, but she doesn’t have the resources to enforce it. When he neglected to get the tox screen requested by his psychiatrist, there was no follow-up. 

The time he was awarded court diversion for breaking and entering, he was living at home, going to school, working, seeing a psychiatrist and taking Abilify for anger management. Six months later, he wasn’t doing any of those things anymore. Not one. Yet his charge was dismissed, because his probation officer and youth worker helped him write an apology letter and essay, and someone else paid his restitution, undermining our attempt to teach him responsibility. Effectively, the judge rewarded him for his lack of effort and downward spiral. And his attitude toward his family took a grave turn for the worse.

We believe kids are empowered by accepting responsibility. Yet New Path Youth and Family Services encouraged our son’s application for Ontario Works. Government-funded drug deals. He was denied. Instead of working toward family conflict resolution, New Path supported his independent choice to live where there’s underage drinking, illegal drugs, and little hope.

Worse, without consulting us or considering the impact on his biological siblings, who we also adopted, New Path delved into helping our son seek out his birth family history in isolation

Almost every single day he breaches his probation conditions without consequence: live at home, go to school, don’t do drugs, keep the peace. He wasn’t breached for his latest assault only because the victim chose not to press charges.

His probation officer commented he has a lot of repeat clients. Isn’t that evidence the system isn’t working?

Yet, from a 16-year-old perspective, our son has it made. No-one tells him what to do. He doesn’t have to go to school or work. He sleeps with his girlfriend, has food to eat, and all the brand-name clothing he can steal. This isn’t sustainable, but he doesn’t have the foresight to see that.

For CAMH Mental Health Week, we have been asked to ‘learn, talk, reflect and engage others on issues related to mental health and mental illness.’ As we reflected on our family’s story, and barriers to accessing mental health services for our son, we decided to share our journey with you.

This is our system, and it’s failing kids and families. Miserably. So instead of pointing fingers at parents, let’s ask what we can all do to change this. Right here. Right now. Before it’s too late.

#GetLoud about Mental Health

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