Dec 172012
 

Self portrait by BZTATI never knew Nancy Lanza. I never heard of her or her son Adam until they both perished in a spray of bullets last week.

I have never met Lisa Long either. She is the courageous parent who wrote the I am Adam Lanza’s Mother article that has gone viral in cyberspace since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

I have known many women and men like them, however. They are decent parents and foster parents who have children with emotional disturbances. They do everything they can to get mental health and educational services to meet the needs of their kids, and yet it is never enough.

Some live in fear of their own children, or those with whom they are charged to care, because their children’s behaviors often spiral out of control. Irrevocable violence is always a heartbeat away with these families.

I have sat in emergency rooms with these parents following emotional meltdowns from their progenies. When a child has a psychiatric episode in Ohio, they are directed to an emergency room for evaluation. After about 5-6 hours, the child is either sent home because he or she has fallen asleep, or they get admitted to a psychiatric unit.

Often, an ambulance ride and full court press attention in an ER is just the ticket to make the raging beast settle down and look like an adorably cute cherub. The doctors say, “doesn’t look suicidal or homicidal to me,” and they act condescending towards the parents as if THEY are the problem.

If a child does get admitted to a hospital psychiatric ward, they are usually discharged in a few days after being placed on high doses of psychiatric medications that have not yet had time to take effect.

And then the parent and family counselor get back on the roller coaster.

Too many visits to the hospital in a short amount of time leads to the ER doctors telling you to call the juvenile justice authorities. To them, it is a behavior problem, not a medical or psychiatric issue.

Never mind that showing dysregulated behavior is how a child often manifests emotional distress.

In the wake of Sandy Hook and the long list of previous mass shootings, you hear the cry, “Why didn’t someone see the signs and do something?” I can tell you that I have seen the signs with some very volatile youth. I have tried to do something. And I have been chastised and bitterly rebuked for trying to go around the usual barriers to getting kids help.

Thankfully, none of my clients ever got to the point that Adam Lanza did. But I have seen some close calls.

Our mental health system is broken. We must do something about how we deal with individuals with emotional disorders if we ever want to see things improve. But fixing the mental health system alone is not sufficient in ending senseless violence with our children.

  • We must do everything possible to get high powered weaponry out of the reach of those with no need for it, especially those likely to demonstrate instability. As long as assault weapons are available to the masses, troubled people will get their hands on them and use them.
  • We must find a way to reduce the amount of violent stimuli in our culture, including virulent music, violent movies and TV shows, and video games.
  • We must sufficiently fund daycare and after school programs so that youth are properly supervised.
  • We must provide trauma based interventions to every youth affected by domestic violence, community violence, abuse, neglect, disaster, or other types of trauma.
  • We must start responding in a way that meets individuals and communities’ needs, instead of simply responding in the cheapest method possible.
  • We must get off of our political high horses and acknowledge that social programs, such as those most at risk in the fiscal cliff debate are the very things that we need to keep our kids safe. 

I left the mental health profession a year ago because I no longer felt effective. After spending 20 years working with high risk youth and families, I was no longer able to make the personal sacrifices and risks to my own well-being that it took to go to work each day. It is sad to me that it happened, but I had to stop.

The saddest part is that it does not have to be this way.

The majority of people experiencing emotional disorders are non-violent and low risk. They are no harm to anyone, and yet they too suffer from the complete inadequacy of our mental health treatment system.

If you ask me, that is just wrong.

Will we really do something to change it all?

As they say, it takes a village. It is up to all of us to change priorities and purposes. I am hopeful, but wary.

Please, surprise me world.

BZTAT

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Dec 162012
 
Boy  on sidewalk digital drawing by BZTAT

Digital drawing by BZTAT

We can all agree on the problem – too many innocent lives cut down needlessly in mass shootings with unprovoked displays of violence.

Coming to a consensus solution to the problem, however, seems farther away than ever.

My Facebook newsfeed has become an all out verbal war of opinions and admonitions since the story of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre first broke.

Some cry out for gun control. Others cry out for improved mental healthcare. Others decry the prevalence of virtual violence in games, movies and TV. Some just want us to shut up and grieve.

Who am I to argue with any of them? I feel as helpless as anyone in this.

As a counselor who worked with troubled youth for 20 years, I have more knowledge, expertise and relevant experience to bring forth in the conversation. Yet my skilled thoughts seem unwanted in this stream of impassioned discourse.

Certainly my political views come into play as I form my own clinically-based solutions. I could also argue that my expertise and experiences have guided my political perspective.

We cannot avoid a political discussion of the issues. Politics guide the formation of laws and public policy to address such concerns, and something has to be done. We can, however, be reasonable and sensible in our approach.

My suggestion is that we voice our concerns to our law and policy makers instead of admonishing our Facebook friends. Write or call your senators, representatives, governors, etc. Let THEM know what recourse YOU want them to take.

Violence against children is a pervasive problem in our society. Although it is not usually 20 cut down in a single incident in a matter of minutes, children die DAILY in sprays of bullets. Survivors live in terror, yet they rarely get their intense mental health needs addressed. Often they reenact their trauma through video games with realistic visual imagery.

Young survivors of trauma are at much greater risk of becoming violent offenders as they grow older.

Something needs to change in our society’s approach to children and violence. Will we take action and find true solutions to ALL the factors that come into play? Or will we succumb to blather and useless noisy rhetoric?

Time will tell. I hope we do right by our children. They are counting on us.

BZTAT

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Nov 282012
 
Okey's Promise: Art for a Cause public art mural sketch by BZTAT

Okey’s Promise mural sketch by BZTAT

I spent 20 years working as a professional clinical counselor. In that time, I met a number of children who had been abused or exposed to domestic violence. The trauma was profound and the emotional effects were deep for these children.

Most of these children are now adults. Some have recovered from their painful experiences and have gone on to be successful in their endeavors. Others still struggle, but are working towards recovery.

And there are a few who have ended up in prison for violent crimes. That is the reality of recovery – some do not get to the place where we want them to be.

I met up with a young woman recently with whom I had worked towards a healing journey from her painful history. This young woman continues to struggle. She has a support network that stands by her, though, and a family that she has accrued through the years. She knows how important that is to her.

I had not seen her in probably 5 years. The reunion was emotional for both of us.

I was completely disarmed by her genuine gratitude for my past efforts on her behalf. As a child, she had many moments of reacting angrily against me, so I was surprised that she had recognized that I was helping her. One by one, she recounted incidents where I had stood by her despite her ingratitude at the time.

And she thanked me.

Not just for standing by her, but for understanding her pain.

This young lady loved animals, but when she experienced her emotional torment, that love turned to hate. She did not understand why, and she hated herself for it, but when her pain became too great, she attempted to harm the very pets whom she loved.

Luckily, she had foster parents and a treatment team that understood this. Plans were in place to protect the child and the animals from the dangers of her pain.

As we walked down memory lane recalling this, she was profuse in her gratitude about my help in keeping her from hurting the animals who were her best friends.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead has said, “One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it.” My young friend told me in so many words that she believed it to be true.

She rekindled my belief in the necessity of educating the public about this important issue.

Okey’s Promise is not just about animals. It is not just about children. It is not just about abuse and domestic violence.

Okey’s Promise is about bringing widespread awareness to the connections of animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence through public art, so that we can help animals AND people be safe in our world.

I cannot do it alone. Will you help me?

My young friend, and many others out there deeply appreciate your understanding and willingness to share it with the world.

BZTAT

Please support the latest Okey’s Promise project. Become an Okey’s Promise Keeper today!

donate to Okey's Promise: Art for a Cause

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Jul 292012
 

cavalier king charles spaniel puppy abstract by BZTAT

As the major media outlets have been focused on the Olympics, the latest political news, and the traumatic shooting in Aurora, CO, a tragedy in upstate New York seemed to slip by us virtually unnoticed this past week.

According to the New York Daily News, one of the few news sites that did notice the tragedy, an 11-year old girl was arrested for senselessly beating her foster parent’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy to death.

According to the news report, the girl’s actions were surprisingly callous and provoked simply by being told “no” by her foster parent. The implication was that the child’s superficial needs being thwarted prompted the attack.

We know virtually nothing about the girl, other than the fact that she was in foster care, and that her placement in the home where the tragedy took place was temporary.

Knowing that the girl was in foster care, we can surmise that she had encountered some sort of turbulence in her young life, but we can only speculate on what experiences may have led up to her horrible actions against an innocent creature.

We do know this, however. Children are not born with malice. It is put in them.

When children harm animals, it is likely that they have been harmed themselves. Their actions are typically the only way they know how to release the pain and psychological torment that has interrupted their experience of childhood.

Although the girl’s actions resulted from a seemingly superficial disappointment, I feel confident in guessing that there was much more to it than that.

The tragedy here is that many lives have been deeply hurt by the girl’s actions. The puppy lost its life, and the foster parent’s family lost a treasured pet. The girl now is not only a likely victim herself, she is a perpetrator, leaving her with legal consequences and deeper psychological trauma.

“One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it.” -Anthropologist Margaret Mead

We cannot, and should not let this girl escape consequences for her actions. Yet consequences alone will not be sufficient treatment for her. She needs a combination of specialized trauma therapy, close supervision and monitoring, education regarding effective problem-solving, and unconditional support.

Will she get it?

I have my doubts. Our system of care for troubled youth is underfunded and not well-designed. Sadly, it often fails. Even if this girl does get the right mix of services, there are so many others who need it and will not get it.

That is why it is so important to watch for signs of trouble before it reaches this level of tragic outcome. We need to be aware that children in troubled situations need help, and they often show signs of their distress well before it gets this bad.

What can you do?

  1. Report known or suspected incidents of child abuse to authorities IMMEDIATELY. Failing to report because you do not want to get involved is a tragedy in and of itself.
  2. Be alert to the behaviors of children and adolescents with whom you are regularly in contact, and report incidents of aggressive behavior towards animals to caregivers or authorities.
  3. Combine efforts to rescue animals with advocacy for children. If you have rescued an animal from a bad situation, see if any children may be in that same bad situation.
  4. Volunteer as a mentor for children with Big Brother’s Big Sisters or other mentoring groups and involve youth in compassionate programming for animals.
  5. Check out our Resource Page to learn more.
  6. Spread the message of Okey’s Promise so that others will be aware to watch for signs of animals and children in need.

Actual intervention and involvement with children is so needed in our communities. Combining that intervention and involvement with animal causes is a win-win on many levels.

Advocacy is important too. We can all spread the word.

Will you help us do that?

BZTAT

Learn about how you can get involved with the latest Okey’s Promise: Art for a Cause project!

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