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Reclaiming Family Life, Discipline and Structure

Parents are constantly being called to accountability. There are countless stories of parents not parenting and/or acting responsibly as it relates to their children.
Although there are a growing number of attentive parents ...

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Parents are constantly being called to accountability. There are countless stories of parents not parenting and/or acting responsibly as it relates to their children.

Although there are a growing number of attentive parents doing everything humanly possible to keep their children on task, hold them responsible and accountable, the system is setting them and their children up for failure.

Mrs. K has been wrestling with her seventeen year old daughter, T's out of control behavior for the past four years. When T was fourteen, she was smoking pot, drinking, cutting school days at a time and staying out all night. When confronted, T saw nothing wrong with any of her behavior.

After conferring with the school and the family doctor, counseling was strongly recommended. Needless to say, T was less than thrilled. She resisted every which way she could. Under pressure, she reluctantly agreed to go, but refused to speak to the counselor.

The counselor made a valiant effort for close to a month to connect with T, but she was clearly non-cooperative. The counselor suggested that T's single Mom file a PINS petition (Person In Need of Supervision) with the Family Court system. Mrs. K was petrified, but felt she had no other choice. T was dangerously out of control.

Ideally, the PINS process is supposed to be a mechanism of support for families and children who are going through hard times. It is an attempt to be a tool for parents and children to use to reclaim family life, discipline and structure. It is not a punitive tool but rather a positive tool for change and growth.

Too often the process seems to be an exercise in futility. Usually when that occurs, it is due to the breakdown of the system. The Family Court and the Probation Department are scandalously overburdened and understaffed. They do not have the appropriate personnel to make the process work. They lack the therapeutic resources necessary to support the change that is imperative in so many of the cases that come their way. Thus, they set teenagers at risk and their families up for failure.

Clearly, in our larger community, a growing number of teenagers engaged in at risk behaviors are getting a mixed message. Too many believe that the process is a joke and that they can get over on the system. The frightening truth is that they can and they do - and it is potentially lethal.

Mrs. K has been fighting the system for years. Her daughter has effectively beaten the system and avoided treatment. Now on the threshold of adulthood, T is uneducated, addicted and violently out of control. The system is still enabling this young woman to get sicker.

At fourteen, T was engaged in the PINS process. She was evaluated and assessed, both privately and under the auspices of the government. Every assessment agreed that this young woman needed help. They all focused on her drug and alcohol use. Residential treatment was recommended and she was placed. T ran and hid. She was found, but continued to manipulate her way around the system.

After tremendous efforts on her mother's part, she again went before a Family Court judge. That almost did not happen because she was aging out of the system. She almost became just another number that fell into the cracks. Due to her mother's relentless efforts to save her daughter, the court was forced to address the concerns around T's behavior.

Unfortunately, T, being very manipulative, sought refuge with another family and the assistance of her birth father with whom she had little or no relationship. He came in as "Prince Charming" and convinced the court that he could save his daughter from ruin.

With no investigation except to confirm that he was the birth father and not a convicted felon, he was granted temporary custody. He was ordered to register her in a city school and seek drug and alcohol counseling for her.

Unfortunately, he did neither. He just gave her money. She was never registered in school. Counseling was never pursued. She basically stayed living in a home her mother objected to because there was little to no parental supervision.

Mrs. K protested. Now there were two different jurisdictions involved who didn't communicate with each other. T very effectively did not go to school, continued living at a friend's on the Island and basically did as she pleased.

Her Mom continued to press the system to be accountable for the sake of her daughter. Although by some people's standards, Mrs. K took some very hard line positions, they were always grounded in unconditional love for her daughter. Her only hope was to empower her daughter to wellness.

No thanks to the system, some three years later, T came home. For a time, she was willing to live by family rules, abstain from drug and alcohol use, go to counseling and finish her education. The honeymoon was very brief. Days after returning home, she began picking and choosing the rules that she would comply with.

A major confrontation erupted when her Mom was going away for the weekend. T protested and wanted to stay at home. Her Mom objected. They went back and forth. Finally her Mom conceded and allowed T to stay at a friend's house. However, she was not to be in her own house at all.

Mrs. K left for upstate. She suspected that T would break in and be up to no good. Sure enough, Mrs. K turned around, went back to her home and found her daughter inside. That encounter led to a violent confrontation. T assaulted her Mom and was arrested.

Now they were in Criminal Court. An order of protection was issued and T was charged with assault. As a predisposition to the case, she was ordered to undergo all kinds of evaluations. Mrs. K indicated that there already existed an extensive body of assessments and evaluations. The system elected to look at nothing. They determined, in isolation, that the issue here was abuse and that T needed to attend anger management classes, rather than look at her case from a comprehensive perspective. This young woman has a serious addiction problem. She needs more than a class.

The human resources we have are scare to start with. It is unconscionable to waste them and repeat procedures that have already been done.

We need to learn how to network and respect the competence of other systems for the sake of not only our young who tend to be voiceless, but on behalf of all people.