The need for human services is becoming more and more epidemic. The availability of these human services is becoming more and more scarce. The new administration in Washington talks the rhetoric of compassion with its' Faith Based Initiative. However, the delivery of more comprehensive, accessible resources is non-existent and the plan to improve these human services is even more muddled in political nonsense. (This is stated from the perspective of someone who was appointed to be a part of the first summit on Faith Based Initiatives in Washington, D.C. Candidly, it was a very expensive exercise in futility.)
In our own county, the concerns for human services and social welfare are critical and life threatening.
It is no secret that a growing number of teenagers are out of control. Those parents that are not living in denial, who are actually trying to get help for their sons and daughters, are fighting an uphill battle.
Those families that have insurance are being victimized by managed care, when it comes to mental health services. Many insurance plans have little or no coverage for the counseling of children, never mind if you need a psychiatric evaluation.
Psychiatrists who specialize in teenagers are few and far between. If you find one whose practice is open, you will probably have to wait six or eight weeks (and that's a good waiting list). However, what if you have an emergency? Your only real option is to go to the emergency room of your local hospital or to the State University of Stony Brook, which will probably only further your frustration and ultimately provide you with little relief or support.
This is the general picture for families with insurance and the reasonable capacity to pay. What about the growing number of families who are barely making ends meet. What about the family that is living paycheck to paycheck? Can they afford to pay $250 for one visit to a psychiatrist's office? Or if on-going counseling is recommended, can they afford $50 a visit, which is the moderate fee for services? Those mental health centers that have a sliding scale usually begin at $25 a visit and work up.
The clinics and mental health centers that have emerged to help the working poor and needy are woefully overburdened, understaffed and under-financed. The referrals are coming in record numbers and the waiting lists are escalating. Families and teenagers in crisis are not seeing much relief or on-going support.
Counseling has become the "cure-all" and band-aid for every social problem imaginable. In principle, it is an excellent tool, if the people who access the experience are genuinely open to using the experience in a positive way.
After almost twenty-five years of counseling teenagers and families in crisis, it is clear to me that if all involved in the process are not invested and motivated to use the experience in a positive way, it is for the most part a waste of time and effort, even if people go through the motions for a few months at a time.
Probably the most disturbing part of this story is the lack of vital resources available for families in crisis and the lack of collaboration to best utilize the little we have. Too often, it seems that the system just sets people up for failure. The right hand never seems to know what the left hand is doing. Unfortunately, the young person in question is victimized by the system that is supposed to be helpful.
In our county, there are a growing number of crises regarding people and human services. In recent months, we have seen a record number of homeless families trapped in less than appropriate conditions with children of school age who are not being cared for appropriately. The money being spent is unbelievable.
We have a men's shelter that for ten years has tried to do more than just warehouse people. It has been very effective in placing very disturbed people in long term appropriate settings, constantly fighting with the bureaucracy to get those in need the appropriate services they need.
For ten years, this same shelter has urged the system to care for homelessness differently, to create a plan that is long term, comprehensive and will empower homeless people to be self-reliant and independent. Yes, it will cost money, but if done with planning, it will save money in the long run. However, to do this the bureaucracy has to stop hiding behind dishonest and manipulative statistics.
Homeless people are voiceless. They don't vote because they have no address. Homelessness is a full time job, when you have to deal with Suffolk County's Department of Social Services. It could be different. There are people in the system who want to collaborate, but they are being stifled. Meanwhile, the problem is getting worse and your tax dollars are being wasted.
Family Court is the only venue available to help families and teenagers in crisis. It is scandalously under-funded and understaffed. Finally, there seems to be a team of judges who are listening. They are trying to be responsive and creative in supporting, healing and helping troubled families and their children.
However, not all variables in this crippled system are in sync with the court. Assessments and evaluations are not done in a timely manner. There are not enough probation officers to do their job effectively. Many teenagers who need intensive supervision don't get it. They beat the system and laugh because they have gotten over on it.
If a strong intervention with the right supports can be made while a young person falls under the jurisdiction of the Family Court, then that young man or woman has a good chance of getting back on track, no matter how oppositionally defiant he or she might be.
The reality of life is that a growing number of teenagers think they are invincible. They feel they can do anything they want without consequence. Too many do exactly as they please and are not held accountable.
You cannot hold people accountable if the resources are lacking and if the few resources you do have are constantly abused.
It is tragic that a mother has sought assistance for over a year for her teenage daughter who is clearly a drug addict with mental illness issues. This young woman, under the age of fifteen has been allowed to literally do as she pleases. She has effectively left school, moved in with a boyfriend against her mother's wishes and continues to use drugs.
What will it take for the system to pay attention to this human life? Her death? I hope not. It could be your son or daughter some day!
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