Acting Outside The Box

If you ever want a real education in justice and compassion, spend a day in Family Court in Central Islip. Every day, these judges deal with horrific situations. They are constantly looking for creative ways ...

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If you ever want a real education in justice and compassion, spend a day in Family Court in Central Islip. Every day, these judges deal with horrific situations. They are constantly looking for creative ways to respond to the growing number of teenagers who are out of control and the growing number of families that are falling apart. It is amazing that this arm of our criminal justice system is so open to thinking and acting outside the box. In large measure, that attitude exists because of the administrative judge in charge-the Honorable David Freundlich.

For more than a decade, Judge Freundlich has been a leading voice on behalf of young people at risk. He and his fellow judges treat the young people before them as human beings and make every effort to help them reclaim their lives. Unfortunately, some young people choose not to do so and their parents reinforce their destructive decision-making.

Last April, thanks to the support and leadership of Judge Freundlich, the affirmation of the Commissioner of Social Services and the County Executive, a new program for young people at risk was born. Montfort Therapeutic Residence is a residential, intensive treatment program with a unique model. Hopefully it will empower its' residents to reclaim their lives in a more expedient manner and reintegrate them back home as productive citizens. Presently, this program stands to save Suffolk County Government millions of dollars and at the same time make a profound difference in the lives of some very troubled adolescents.

The program has three important components. Component one is the residential phase which is three months of intensive psychotherapy. All treatment is done on site. During this phase, the young people attend a campus school - that is component number two. Besides academic subjects, and preparation for the regents, character education is a major focus. To everyone's shock, every student has passed his or her regents and/or their RCT requirements.

Component number three involves transitioning the young person back home with intensive supervision and therapeutic support. During this phase, the young person and his parents return to the campus for treatment, as well as meet with a social worker at home.

The major focus during these three months is to help the young person and his parents appropriately problem solve, resolve conflict and work on strengthening their mutual communication skills.

An interesting statistic: presently, more than 70% of the young people placed are successfully managing at home and at school. Out of all the young people placed in long-term upstate programs with similar profiles, 80% of those young people fail and commit additional crimes.

Thus far, it seems that this new model of treatment is working. The state allegedly is so impressed that they are looking to use this model born in Suffolk County around the state. Presently, we have 10 beds in Suffolk County. If the truth be told, we probably could fill more than 50 beds tomorrow.

Unfortunately, the need is epidemic and growing exponentially on a daily basis. We do not have enough resources in our county to address these critical life issues. A growing number of young people who are out of control seem to be falling into the cracks. That there are fewer and fewer access points for families at risk is very troubling.

Too many of our schools turn a blind eye and deaf ear to young people in crisis. They do not have the staff or personnel to address the growing number of young people in trouble. If a young person is in trouble, it would be our hope that there would be resources that parents could access for assistance.

Unfortunately, there are very few resources readily available for young people in trouble, even if you have good insurance and a lot of money. Remember, children and teenagers are a part of the voiceless, no one represents them. Look at all the candidates running for president, not one candidate has the plight of troubled young people and troubled families on his or her agenda. Let's be honest, most families that are in crisis, no matter what their politics or economics are, don't vote.

In the last number of years, what few resources did exist has been substantially reduced. Very few insurance plans cover extensive mental health treatment for children and adolescents. Few to none cover any kind of inpatient treatment. If they do, usually, the patient has had to try outpatient treatment and fail first. The tragedy of that approach is that the failure could cost a life. Having worked with insurance companies over the years, honestly, I don't think they care.

Most of us raising children don't think of these issues until we're faced with them. Then we realize what an upward flight we have. Think for a moment, if you had an out-of-control teenage son or daughter, you tried every resource you could think of and nothing worked. You decided to try counseling. You checked your insurance plan and there was little or nothing available-or maybe you had no insurance at all. So you took some referrals from some friends and began calling the psychotherapists. Most of them had waiting lists, and the fee for service was between $60 and $125. You never realized that mental health services were so expensive! You decided to at least go for a consultation. The financial commitment became overwhelming, especially when the therapist outlined the treatment plan and also indicated that unless your son or daughter was open to the process, it could be a total waste of your money.

Your son or daughter in crisis was resistant to any kind of therapeutic intervention. As a parent, you felt like you were between a rock and a hard place! There were no support mechanisms in place to provide you with any kind of assistance. Short of your son or daughter getting in trouble with the law, there was little that you could do.

The one tool available is PINS Diversion (Person in Need of Supervision). Unfortunately, because of numbers and the lack of staff, for growing number of parents, it is a frustrating and non-helpful process.

So where do you go? We say on paper, that our children are our national treasure but our actions do not support that. We are doing less for young people at risk than we have done in the last 25 years. There are fewer resources available and no hope for an increase of services in the near future.

Our schools are reducing or eliminating support services for students at risk because of budgetary restraints. Unfortunately, parents aren't fighting for the services. More and more young adults and adolescents are struggling with addiction issues. There are few to no resources readily accessible to those who need them. Even if you can pay, there are very few resources to address the needs of teenagers. And, if you can't pay anything, what do you do? I know of only one mental health center that has a fee-for-service beginning with zero. Most centers start with $25, and the scale goes upward. If you are a single parent on a limited income and have to pay for babysitting and a cab ride, you have probably spent more than $25 before you've walked through the door of the counseling center. The average working poor parent cannot afford that expense on a weekly basis. Even most middle-class families would find that kind of expense a strain on their weekly budget.

If we really care about kids and families at risk, we must do something now!