Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Heartless in the heartland

    And I thought Todd Landry, the guy who runs the child welfare agency in Nebraska, was bad. But even Landry pales compared to Dave Reed who works for a Boys Town shelter in Grand Island.

    Virtually every expert in the Grand Island area understood that, for almost every parent using the state's "safe haven" law, that parent was acting out of desperation. But not the man from Boys Town, whose every quote in this story from the Grand Island Independent oozed with sanctimony.

    "I don't know if there is a gap in services. That implies, if we have more of the right kind of services, everything would be fine, I don't know if that is true," Reed told the newspaper.

    Well, I know one way to find out. Try providing more of the right kind of services.

    Reed continues: "We have a lot of great services in Nebraska. You can call and get help in Nebraska. Sometimes, it just takes a while."

    And how long, exactly, is a parent supposed to wait if their child is assaulting them and siblings and the assaults keep getting more violent? How long must they wait after the first suicide attempt – until the second one comes closer to succeeding?

    But wait, there's more!

    "Reed also disagreed that socio-economic status affects the availability of treatment, as [one expert] suggested. 'Service is available at every socio-economic level,' he said. "If people can't afford (counseling), there are interns and student counselors. Sometimes people need to get creative. If you get in a situation where you can't pay for someone to help you, it motivates you to find other ways to get help."
    Oh, o.k. then Mr. Reed. But why stop with mental illness? If, sometime in the next few years, you need brain surgery, you don't mind if we just let a first year med student do it, do you?

    And, by the way, in one "safe haven" case, the mother said she resorted to the law after first trying desperately, on her own, to get the child admitted to Boys Town. But, she says, Boys Town refused. "Boys Town was my one and only last hope," the mother said. "There was nothing else for me."

    Fortunately, the Man from Boys Town does not appear to be typical of professionals in Grand Island.

    According to the Grand Island Independent story:

"What I've seen with the preteens and teens coming through safe haven is not abuse and neglect on the parents' part but behavioral health issues going on," said Scott Dugan, president and chief executive officer of Mid-Plains Center for Behavioral Healthcare Services in Grand Island. Dugan said the "safe-haven problem" reflects a lack of behavioral and mental health services for children and the high costs of obtaining the services that are available.

"Even if parents have insurance, many carriers don't pay for mental health care," he said. Blaming the parents or caregivers for abandoning their children isn't the answer, he said, nor is it that simple. "These kids show problematic behaviors that require therapy," he said. "These parents are at the end of their rope. (Using safe haven) is the only option they see." …

"It goes back to money," said Anne Buettner of Grand Island, a private-practice family therapist for 30 years. "Even if therapy is $5 an hour, if you don't have money for gas, you don't go to therapy." Even in a best-case scenario, when a family can access therapy and behavioral health assistance, Allen said it's not always enough. "You look at the families that have dropped children off (under safe haven). I believe they've tried everything else," she said. "For a parent to drop a child off, things have to get so bad."

Meanwhile, Landry, the guy who used the parents' plight for a little sick humor not long ago, also is getting all sanctimonious again.

His latest tactic, and that of other family bashers in Nebraska: Suggest that the parents willfully are doing severe emotional damage to the children by the message sent when the children are "abandoned" at hospitals.

In one sense, he's got a point. It does, indeed send a terrible message and common sense suggests it can be enormously scarring. But Landry implies that parents don't care about that and are just doing this out of convenience. The evidence so far, in the overwhelming majority of cases, is that these parents have been left with only lousy choices, and the safe haven law was the least bad option they could find.

And, fortunately, at least some lawmakers are not buying the snake oil Landry is trying to sell. According to the Omaha World-Herald:

Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha … said the safe haven law is not abandonment. "I have a hard time classifying what these parents, guardians and grandparents did as abandonment, if they had nowhere else to turn and if they stayed with the case," said Ashford. "To my mind, they were very, very concerned parents."

But what's worse about Landry's comments is the rank hypocrisy. When it comes to emotional harm, you know what ranks right up there with "abandonment"? Taking a child from everyone he knows and loves, by force of law, and throwing him into foster care when it's not necessary. Year after year the state with one of the worst records in the nation for that, sometimes the very worst record, is Nebraska.

And that means no one in a position of power in Nebraska – not Todd Landry, not the Governor, not the members of the Nebraska Legislature – none of them has a right to accuse anyone else of doing emotional harm to children. Because there is simply no greater perpetrator of emotional abuse in the State of Nebraska than the government of the State of Nebraska.