Mental health services fails troubled youth

When he gets upset, Jane’s 13-year-old son threatens to kill her. In the past, he’s come at Jane with a screwdriver.

When he gets upset, Jane’s 13-year-old son threatens to kill her.

In the past, he’s come at Jane with a screwdriver.

“The next time it happens, I should tell him to do it because then he would get the help he needs,” said Jane (her real name is being withheld to protect her son’s identity).

In April, Jane and her son moved to Whitehorse from Calgary.

Since then, the boy has been charged with numerous break and enters, thefts and vandalism.

“He came up here and started getting in trouble,” said Jane.

It was a relief when the boy was assigned a probation officer.

“I was thinking, ‘Thank god. This is my chance to get him help, because I can’t control him — now the police can control him, which is good because they have more clout than I do.’

“I was wrong,” she said.

Jane’s son continually breaches his probation orders.

He stays out late, sometimes all night, skips school and continues to come home with stolen property.

When her son comes home with new bikes, Jane asks him about them. But he just gets angry.

“So I can’t call him on it because he gets violent about it, terribly violent,” she said.

Jane phoned her son’s school and asked for his attendance and incident reports.

“That should be what the probation officer does,” she said.

Youth probation officers are “to ensure the conditions of the court orders are fulfilled,” the officers are to do “random curfew checks … provide interventions aimed at reducing re-offending,” and “provide intensive supervision to high-risk young persons,” according to the department of Health job description.

So, when her son skipped school or came home with stolen goods, Jane called the probation officer.

“I asked why he wouldn’t breach him,” she said.

That’s a lot of paperwork, the probation officer told Jane.

“He said he’d have to subpoena him, then go to court and, by then, it’s so long past the incident ….”

Instead, the probation officer told Jane to call the police.

“And the police told me to call the probation officer.”

This has been going on for months, she said.

Jane knows there’s something wrong with her son.

“He’s not able to connect consequences with action,” she said. “And he can’t even go to something like anger management because he doesn’t get it — he can’t connect things together.”

Recently, the boy gave his mom a page of letters with certain ones selected. It read, “Someone in the family will die on February 14th.”

The boy needs help, said Jane.

“But there aren’t any services here.”

“(He) is never able to take responsibility for his actions and will usually respond with long strings of profanity and violence towards staff members,” wrote Boys and Girls Club employee Chris Vainio in a letter.

“He shows no respect for personal space or boundaries … he has grabbed girls’ breasts and buttock without provocation, and spit in their faces.

“I would like to officially give my endorsement for (him) to have psychological testing done,” wrote Vainio.

As soon as her son started getting in trouble, Jane asked the probation officer for a psychological assessment of the youth.

In September, the probation officer added Jane’s son to the wait list to see one of three forensic psychologists on contract to Health and Social Services.

Several weeks went by.

Jane heard nothing.

She investigated and discovered her son had been taken off the list.

“It was just pacification,” she said. “They are telling you what you want to hear so you shut up.

“Maybe lots of parents fight and fight and then give up.”

But Jane hasn’t.

After meeting with the probation officer’s supervisor, she got her son back on the list.

“He just came off an episode — it lasted a few weeks, where he wasn’t even eating, he was pale, he had circles under his eyes.

“It’s just got to the point where I go from anger to sadness. I’m mad at the things he does, but I’m also so sad for him — what is the world he lives in like?”

After fighting for it, Jane was finally granted a consultation with a psychologist contracted through Health.

“But it was just a consultation, he wouldn’t see the boy.”

The psychologist recommended Jane’s son go to BC for a multidisciplinary assessment.

Despite this recommendation, and although she’s been approached by the RCMP’s high-risk assessment team, Jane can’t get her son an appointment with a psychologist.

The wait list is so long, she said.

“And the only way he can be moved up the list is if the probation officer facilitates it, or the court facilitates it.

“But the court and the probation officer wouldn’t do that because he wasn’t in enough trouble with the law.”

Jane kept making calls, and landed the support of a professional from the High Risk Treatment Program.

“I said, ‘Look I need your help — I need you to join my team,’ because I needed strength, and the woman came on board with me for free,” said Jane.

“But it wasn’t Health and Social Services — it was somebody I called.”

With the help of this professional, Jane secured an assessment for her son at a BC facility.

As long as her son had a doctor’s note, the territory would pay for it.

A few days later, a mental health official called Jane.

The process had been expedited.

Her son could see someone in the territory on November 14th.

“That was great because it’s hard for me to get time off work to go to BC,” she said.

Jane, her son and his teachers were given a bunch of paperwork, with questions like, “My hands feel sweaty — yes/no,” “Shows little interest in having close relationships — never/sometimes/often/very often,” and “Plays hookey from school.”

These forms were duplicates that she had received before.

“This is what we filled out when my son was being assessed for (attention deficit disorder),” she said.

“It’s a prescription for Ritalin.”

Jane asked the Health department who would assess the completed forms.

A woman in mental health looks over the forms, she was told.

“But she’s not even a psychologist,” said Jane.

So where does the psychologist come in?

“The woman told me, if she sees enough written down here and can’t decide what the trouble might be, then she’d ask the doctor what he thinks.”

Jane decided to fly her son to BC after all.

“I’m lucky I even have a job anymore,” she said. “Because I have spent so much time out of my office going to this meeting and that meeting and getting these people on board and being a social worker and a probation officer and a police officer and a parole worker — all of this, meanwhile I still have to be an administrator and a mom.

“Then I get to go home and be abused by my son.”

There is a lack of mental health professionals in the territory, said NDP Health critic John Edzerza.

“It’s been an ongoing problem for decades.

“The wait list to see a psychologist used to be six months, if you were lucky.”

Edzerza had a friend who was contemplating suicide.

He referred the person to mental health, but was told, “there was no one available.”

Edzerza ended up taking his friend to Education to see a psychologist there.

Family violence and crime is closely linked to mental health issues, he said.

“The linkage between (mental health) and family violence and, of course, alcoholism is one we’re concerned about,” said Health Minister Brad Cathers in the house on Wednesday.

The Health department is expanding “in terms of providing a youth clinician for mental health, and a nurse clinician based out of Dawson City,” he said.

“I hope to announce in the near future,” an expansion of services for people with mental health issues.

Cathers claims there are new announcements coming, said Jane.

“Well, how soon before the next election are these announcements coming?,” she asked. “Because I want to know before I vote.”

The government doesn’t want to spend the money, she said.

“They’ll wait until someone is dead.”

The only reason Jane’s son is getting an assessment is because she fought “tooth and claw to get it,” she said.

“I only got action because I made a stink.”

Jane’s son has a friend who’s schizophrenic. He’s over at Jane’s all the time, and he’s also in trouble with the law.

“His mother knows he’s schizophrenic, but I’ll be damned if she can get him in to see the doctor — the kid is on the waiting list too,” said Jane.

“But the waiting list is so long and, for whatever reason, his mom’s not as strong a fighter as me.”

There are many kids who come from “madly dysfunctional families,” said Jane.

“The moms or dads, they just don’t have the strength to fight or, for whatever reason, they won’t fight for their kids, so those kids are not going to get the services they need.

“It’s just a damn good thing I am who I am and that I do fight for my son.

“Other parents would have given up long ago.”