Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sometime we don't know, sometimes we close our eyes

Our attention was just called to a new Spanish movie called Tranquility Valley. It is a movie about a father and a son going through a difficult period in their relationship.

Feeling that the problems with the family dynamics has gotten out of hand, the father decide to enroll his son in an education center, where they teach the children to control themselves. The father doesn't know how it is done and as the movie continues we see some horror not very unlike what has happened in real life several places in even countries being a part of the modern western world.

You may as a parent ask. If I cannot control my child and he is outgrowing me in strength, then what would it take to control him. Can it be done without some violence? Can it be done preserving the dignity of the child?

We would like to believe so. Every parent loves their children but sometime we fool ourselves.

When the Danish Television channel DR sent a documentary about children placed at Schuberts Minde many viewers didn't like what they saw. They didn't like that the staff told a child that he had to give up earrings given as a very personal gift from one of his parents. They didn't like that the staff didn't allow the child to wear clothes seen on a normal street in Denmark. The poor child lost out both his history and the identity he had built for his entire life. What the viewers failed to realize was that removing personal items and clothes is a important step to break down the spirit of a person you are about to confine in a strict and very regulated environment. Some places they dont stop with the clothes and jewelries. They remove the hair also in order to erase the identity further.

The drama in the Danish facility is far from what is to be seen in the movie but the emotional suffering is not. The real question is what institutionalized children carry with them once they are returning to freedom. The experience we have learned so far is not promising.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sometime the fight for human rights feels like a lost cause

As it has happened so many times before, a teenager approached the U.S. message board Fornits for help. The parents of a teenage girl called Morgan had given up any chances for local counseling and looked into an enclosed boarding school which markets them as a treatment center. Let me state. I have not visited the boarding school. I will not doubt that the mother of the girl visited a nice campus with horses and well-kept buildings. The specific treatment center called Academy at Sisters has two campuses. A campus they can use as a kind of showroom and a campus where new clients are kept until they adapt the guidelines of the school.

But as with all residential centers there are well-kept secrets. In Denmark a TV-program followed four teenagers at a Danish residential treatment center called Schuberts Minde. We saw one restraint and we saw how the teenagers were forced to remove personal items like earrings given to them by a parent as a very personal gift, clothing which are generally accepted in the public to be worn by even adults at work and we saw how they and their luggage were searched as if they were entering a prison. At the Danish residential treatment centers the psychological break down of the teenager was done calmly over an entire day. They did use hours quietly stating what they want and in the end they were able to persuade the teenager to lose his identity. Now they had a teenager with no resistance they could shape into their little enclosed world.

But there is a problem with this method. The teenager will need time to adjust back to the society now where his identity is nowhere useful in a modern workplace. Some of us are old enough to remember what happened once the wall came down and the two Germany’s united. The western Germany took over entirely. The main reason was that you had a population in East German who was like the teenagers at Schuberts Minde. Not ready to engage into their own destiny, with no long-term plans for their future. They were able to follow rules only.

The answer the residential centers give is that it will take time. It is a good answer – for the residential treatment centers. Residential treatment is 5-10 times more costly that any outpatient treatment. Places like Schuberts Minde charge the Danish society around 8-14,000 dollars per month to the Danish society. It can be done cheaper even in Denmark but then you replace trained counselors with untrained employees. In Denmark everybody can start a residential treatment center if they unite themselves with a few trained professionals. The cheapest of the residential treatment facilities tend to locate themselves in areas with large unemployment. There is oversight by the local authorities but the real security for the children is the local department of social security back home. The most skilled visit their clients to ensure that they don’t end up more damaged after the treatment than before. Sadly there is a lot room for improvement. A manager for a prison on Zealand told the press that the children in many cases could do better with time in prison because there are no national minimum standard and the teenagers he receives are destroyed and unable to function properly in a normal community.

But the parents of Morgan faces even bigger trouble than the parents typically face in Denmark. While the children in Danish residential treatment centers have a watchdog in the local department of social security the teenagers in U.S. treatment has none to come and visit them. The parents are given this task but often are they involved too closely in the treatment so they are unable to step back and look at the process from the outside.

The persons who should ensure human standards for the child placed in the program by holding on the only thing a residential treatment center respects – the money – are suddenly also a patient.

It is not wrong to treat the parents. Very often the parents are raising their child based on 20 to 30 years old experiences. 20-30 years back we had no internet, no cell-phones, no twitter etc. We didn’t have to worry about an earthquake on the other side of the world being thrown into our face in real-time. I remember my 2 year old daughter asking me why the towers fell on 9/11. Is people jumping out of a building to their deaths something to let a two year old watch? No, of course not but she saw it at a supermarket while we were shopping as I as a parent failed to realize that televisions were sold next to the toys. I was not aiming to destroy my child’s world that was built on a Disney like morale. It wasn’t the time where I wanted to tell her that humans can be evil too. But I failed as a parent that day and I had to take the consequences and teach her a lesson I was spared for until later in my life when I was child.

As a parent I early realized that I had to learn to parent a child after the millennium. I could not use the methods from my childhood, only the values I was raised by. It is here that many parents go wrong. It is possible to keep your values as a family while the methods are changed. You don’t need to throw it all away. An example is destruction of property. It was not acceptable to destroy property just it was boring when I was a child. It is certainly not acceptable for my children to destroy property just they are boring today. When I was bored I had to figure out that I could take my fishing rod and use some hours to angle. If my children are bored they have to figure out that they can turn on their computer or game console and spend some hours using them.

We can agree upon that childhood ends too soon. In many residential treatment centers we often hear of 15-17 years old children who play like in the old days. The childhood is artificial extended and it can be done because they are locked out of the real world. It does keep them safe, but it does not make them citizens ready to face the challenges of the modern world. The risk that they will go out in the world and act their adolescence out, when they are aged 20 or more is huge. Statistically people in the 20’s are more at risk in a modern society than teenagers.

You may ask what is wrong by delaying the chemical process teenagers go through with 5 to 10 years and the main problem is that the brain of people at that age does not accept mortality. Once they are legally adults they fool themselves to believe that they have to make it without parental guidance. They have access to things that demand a brain which has been through the restructure of the brain a teenager undergoes. To operate a car demands a mature brain. It demands that the driver has cured the curiosity of experimenting with alcohol. Otherwise we risk experiments with driving under influence and tragedies when people are killed as result of these experiments.

Once a child reaches the age of 18 certain aspects of live has to have been experienced if we want to create a responsible adult. The task of a parent is to give guidance through this tough period of the entire family unit. Guidance is many things and it is not friendship. It is a mix of giving consequences, empathy, teaching and love. It is properly the toughest task any human can take on. You have no guidebook, you have no answer book.

Morgan’s parents are in the middle of it and they reached out. We must all praise the parents who accept that they have limitations and reach out for help. It must never be shameful to ask for help. We are talking of the most costly resource our society produce – our children. No effort can be too much to help a family unit to function. The optimal solution would have to be to look at the family unit at the very place where it should function – at the home. Only when we are talking of illness among the adult members of the family unit or the parents choose to opt out of the role as a parent the question should be asked whether it is the right place for the children to live. In any other situation the problem started in the family unit and it should be solved in the family unit.

The parents of Morgan reached out. They got poor counseling which recommended them that Morgan should be removed from the family unit. Morgan found out because her parents in general were among those who have good values which enables them to include Morgan about the advices the professionals gave them. It is important as a parent to be honest. If you are angry with something your child has done tell them why you are disappointed. Don’t shout it. It is not a good idea to teach your child how a good barrier of communication is constructed. There are parents who cannot engage in communication. In the United States parents with little or poor communication skills can hire a firm to remove a child from the home in handcuffs and shackles and send them to a residential treatment center of their choice.

Morgan also reached out by use of Yahoo Answers and Fornits. Morgan seems to be a teenage girl with plans for her future. She has plans for her career; she was plans for visiting foreign cultures. While she like most teenagers are challenged by the chemical changes in her brain, she has sent signs through her writings letting the readers know that she is doing more than just living in the present. She might make poor choices in the daily life but it is exact there where the guidance comes into the picture. It was clear for everyone that there was something to build upon; something which could excel over time.

Sadly she got far from good counseling. At Fornits you find many who have been sent to residential treatment centers when they were children. But it is not all. They were guinea pigs for treatment methods where many have since been banned and sadly also many treatment methods which were just refined but still included methods which would be a criminal offense in many countries. It did cause damage. Fornits does also include poster working for the industry trying to downplay the history of residential treatment. It is difficult to explain how frustrated the survivors are just because they don’t have physically evidence of the damage the so-called treatment has caused. Had they just received a lobotomy then it would be like clear evidence before the court of time.

The problem with Fornits is that the present of the lobbyists from the modern industry is like a red cloth before their faces. The most extreme of the survivors do hold their parents accountable because they pay for their torment. They fail to realize that their parents failed their jobs as parents because they were poorly guided by not only the professionals at the program but also by politicians using youth crime and so-called antisocial behavior to be re-elected. The last 30 years of experiments at residential programs will be something the society will have to pay for the next 50 years.

Some show Morgan’s parents as evil and they decide to create a page targeted against the parents. I have difficulties how to find words for this action. I cannot condemn it enough. While the parents have received poor guidance they don’t need to be attacked in this way.

Morgan came for help. She wanted to know what kind of boarding school the Academy at Sisters is. She wanted to know what to expect. Here is some basically guidelines:

Once you arrive at the residential facility the staff needs to ensure that you focus on the subculture they want you to live in. It is restricted compared to what you have been used to. Things like music, television, cell-phone and Internet you have been used to at home will not be present in the facility. It will be called contrabands regardless of how innocence your use of these items is. You have to understand that they want you to focus on their guidelines and it means that every kind of distraction must be removed. Because the student manual unlike normal boarding schools is missing on the homepage we cannot tell you if earrings and your own clothes will have to be removed also in order to ensure complete focus. We also don’t know if they believe that contraband can be hidden inside the body. At some residential treatment centers they check for it, at others not.

Your parents will be told that you need some time to adjust and the contact to them will be a distraction for you. At some treatment centers this time can turn out to be months or even close to a year, at some places this time may be a months. General guidelines from professionals here in Denmark are that no child can keep out their appearance for more than 14 days. At some point they will test the boundaries. It is this test the professionals wait for because they want to replace the structure of communication you have at home with the structure used at the treatment center.

The treatment center wants to secure that your parents also involves them in your treatment so the home you return to are changed to modeled after the subculture at the treatment center. The treatment center acknowledges that the wish for a change which led your parents to this decision was created by their own actions. They have to learn at least as many rules as you do. First they have to learn that the rules of the center always apply – even their home. The treatment center is the judge. If you complaint you parent will learn that they should not take your words for it. Only the treatment center! Once they have learned their lesson they can be allowed to speak to you in person. If you have family members who are critical towards the treatment they will be denied access to you. The peer group you may have known all your life will also be cut off.

You are sent to the treatment center for a problem may not acknowledge. It may not be real or diagnosed by a professional which treat people without financial involvement with the treatment center. It is quite normal for professionals to get referrals from treatment centers. But you have to learn how to deal with the imposed issue. It is a tough real life lesson. When you are adults you will be faced with decisions you have no influence on. We are talking economy where your work can be lost regardless of how good you are doing. You may be involved in a high jacking or car accident as passenger. You still have to deal with them and go on from there. While you may have some kind of agreement with your parents about how long you will be staying there is no upper limit beside your 18 years birthday. If your parents become too involved with the treatment they can be caught up at it.

It is hard to tell what you can take with you from such a stay. It might even restrict your present dreams about a future. A miss-diagnose are dangerous even when we are not talking surgical treatment. In general we can read from prison-statistics that once the problems at adolescents has reached the need for residential treatment the later life will be challenged by not only the original issues but also issues created during the residential treatment. Even at normal hospitals mind-based transfer of diseases are known. It is a huge risk at residential treatment centers because you live so close to the other residents.

Morgan. I can only once again deeply regret that both you and your parents didn’t get the help you should have gotten at Fornits.

I cannot tell you how to ease the burden and how you can get to talk to someone who can give you access a proper grievance protocol. There are no adult professional which can pull you if the treatment is not proper for your needs.

Sometime the fight for human treatment of children is a climb up of a steep road.

Academy at Sisters, a thread on the Fornits message board
Looks like somebody posted Morgan's parents to ED, a thread on the Fornits message board
Academy at Sisters - Fornits Wiki

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The first 14 year old charged with a crime in Denmark

July 1 Denmark changed the age limit for criminal responsibility from 15 to 14 based on the success learned from the U.S. In order to create a safe society the lesson learned is that you need to lock 1 percent of the entire population up in prisons so the rest can live in peace. It is called “a new start” by the politicians.

A couple of hours later the first arrest was made.

It was a 14 year old boy who had stole a car and had gone for a joyride where he reached speeds around 110 miles per hour. The speed itself would have been of no concern if it had been done on high ways because experiences from Germany tells us that speed limits is not needed (They don't have any on most of their high ways). Second spending time on a race track is a mandatory part of the education of new drivers in civilized countries. The problem was that he drove his car on ordinary roads where he could have killed some or ended up as Porsche girl.

But what is known about this boy?

The local journalists found that he in fact was on a home visit from a residential program. He had been detained at this facility by the social services because he used to hang around older teenagers who didn't dare to shoplift or break into houses because they risked criminal consequences. Those older teenagers had made their own little crowd in the best Fagin style.

However criminal investigation is pricey and the social services decided to remove the younger teenagers to residential facilities instead of letting the police investigate. Fagin-boys as we have chosen to mention them is quite ordinary in Denmark and the penalty for playing Mr. Fagin himself is a joke. Now where the law has been changed the criminals have already adjusted so you in certain neighborhoods can find 12- or 13 years old committing crimes.

The crime wave in the little town of Svendborg was over. The police was happy that they had time for their donuts again. The social services could write a lot of reports and in this way tell the world that they benefitted the society.

Until Greece went down the road and had to be saved by the rest of Europe in order to avoid bankruptcy as a nation. Denmark had to pay their part and in exchange conduct massive cutbacks in our society.

Suddenly the social services were told that they had to save 12 million DKK (about 2,000,000 dollars). In order to save all that money they ordered 15 of the children in residential care back home for a mandatory home visit. They didn't care if the children were removed because the parents couldn't handle them due to own problems or they had been Fagin-children as the 14 year old boy.

So he returned home.

During his first week home he stole a boat and a gocart. He was arrested by the police and returned home. Then came his arrest on July 1. Now he was arrested, charged with a crime and returned home.

As I write this blog we have July 6. He has been arrested a total of 5 times. July 5 he was arrested in the morning for a breaking together with two girls also aged 14. Later in the afternoon he had stole a moped and despite the low speed he managed to crash into a car in slow motion. The police are tired. Juvenile detention in Denmark cost around 1,000 dollars per day. They are overcrowded during the summer time because crimes always occur when youth are not in high school where they can calm down in the Friday bars over a couple of beers, so youth have to conduct a lot of misdemeanors to risk detention. However he is closing in to meet the standards as they say it.

When will he be in court so he can face the consequences for his crime wave?

Properly sometime in winter!

What will properly be his fate?

More time in residential treatment, but this time court-ordered to the state can pay the bill!

I have to challenge our system. I have to challenge our motives to change the age limit of criminal responsibility. I have to challenge the use of residential treatment programs.

We are talking of a 14 year old boy. His brain is not fully developed. He cannot understand what is waiting around the corner due to his actions.

Teenagers at that age do not include past and future consequences when they decide what to do. They only operate in present time.

When a teenager made bad decisions the answer is not to punish them. The answer is to give them a consequence. We are talking of a huge consequence here.

I have been advocating for a total remodeling of our justice system for the minors.

When a child commits a crime I believe that first step is to ask the school if the child understands right from wrong. If the child is challenged with illness, then the child cannot be held responsible.

But if the school reports that the child functions similar to what is expected from a child aged 12 or above I believe that the police should ask the child or the parents if the child is ready to take responsibility for his actions and avoid any criminal record.

If the answer is yes then the teenager will have to appear before a court of his peers within a week. Based on the previous actions of the child the police may order that the child wears a GPS bracelet and observes a curfew during that week. Otherwise the child and the family should make themselves available for interviews 24/7 by the social services and the appointed teenagers who will be taking the roles of prosecution and defense.

At the trial date the teenager will have to appear before a peer court which will hear the case and sentence the child to write apologies to the victims, give a verbal apology to his parents, assign a number of community service hours and peer court jury duty services.

Once the consequences have been served the sheet is clean. However the family can be ordered to meet with a family coach. If the family fails to corporate with the coach, the parents can be fined until they comply. We have to focus on the family unit rather than the individual child.

Denmark is the country among the Nordic countries which make the most use of residential programs. In a time where we have to rely not only on our own economy but also on the economy of other European countries we have a vulnerable system. The decision to place a child in residential treatment is too often taken without a plan for the future.

While we criticize the teenagers for making bad decision based only on present facts, we have to acknowledge that the entire social system is function very much like teenagers. Where is the plan for the youth once they reach the age of 18 and fall out of the system?

We want a society without crime. There are other paths to choose in order to reach that goal than locking one percent of the population up.

Our system has not served this 14 year old boy very well.

But it has also not served his victims well. The boat had an owner, the cars had owners, the moped had owners and some people may not feel the safety of their own anymore because their personal items have been tampered with.

I must call for a real new start.

I must call for new criminal justice system for the minors which work for their minds. A system where punishment is replaced by consequences handed out not months after the crimes has been made but within a week.

As a taxpaying citizen I want a simple system where the money is used in the local community for the good of ordinary people. Whenever some take something from the local community, they shall pay back to local community.

The time for a change is now.

It can only be done too slow.

14-årig svendborgenser fortsætter kriminel ferie, by Helge Rahbaek, Fyens StiftsTidende, July 5 - 2010 (Article in Danish)
Sparekniv sendte 14-årig retur, by Torsten Nielsen, Fyens StiftsTidende, July 2 - 2010 (Article in Danish)
Første 14-årige sigtes i Svendborg, by Michala Dieckman, Fyens StiftsTidende, July 1 - 2010 (Article in Danish)
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