Tuesday, December 7, 2010

And which story is the right story?

It's complicated. Last July, an 11 year old Montebello, CA boy hanged himself a few hours after a visit by child protective services workers. According to officials, the boy had sought help from a school counselor, saying he was bullied by classmates and hit by his mother while his stepfather held him down. According to news reports, he said he wanted to shoot himself. In the past, apparently, he had threatened to hang himself. After receiving a report from the school, CPS came and interviewed the child. They looked for a gun but not a rope. They asked questions about abuse, which he denied. The child's mother showed concern for him. The officials left; it is not clear whether they planned to continue the investigation. They say they did not have the records that would have led them to remove the child.

Later, the mother said she believed her son hanged himself because of the CPS visit. He'd been in foster care for a year previously, shuttled among 5 different foster homes, feeling unwanted in all of them. He believed he would be taken away again.

Which story is the right story?

Reading the newspaper account, http://www.insidesocal.com/sgvcrime/2010/07/boy-apparently-committed-suici.html, it strikes me that regardless of what information the social worker had or didn't have, she did not respond very well to the child's search for help. First of all, when suicide is mentioned, you take it seriously. You get the person--especially a child--to a psychiatric facility for immediate assessment.  You make sure mom and dad come along. You get the message to the child that his suffering is taken seriously by everyone. You do not treat it as a "is this kid being abused or not abused?" investigation.

I also believe the mother may well be right on target herself. I am willing to bet that whatever the alleged abuse and neglect issues led to the boy's previous removal, on many levels foster care was a worse place to be. I am willing to bet that the boy never received any post-reunification counseling to deal with the trauma of being in foster care. But the mother, too, dropped the ball, although quite possibly without realizing it. As someone who has had a lot of personal contact with mental health issues, my response would have been different than hers, even though I am not a mental health professional.

The child could have been taken to a hospital for observation, with the explanation that this was NOT foster care, nobody was accusing anybody of anything, but because when kids express the level of suffering he did, adults do care and will act.

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