I don’t remember when reporting of suspected abuse and threat assessments (e.g., suicide risk identifications) became mandatory for educators and counselors. It was before I became a parent, I know that much, and it dawned on me a long time ago that there were probably plenty of reports that resulted from misunderstandings.
About a month ago, while we were in the middle of Princess’ most troubling days, while we struggled to identify and treat her emerging bipolar tendencies, our son, Hoss, ran away from his school and was brought back by the county police. It’s been a long time since he ran away like that, but it brought back memories of the tough times before he was diagnosed with his mood disorder.
One of these elopement incidents was the final thing that sent him to the psychiatric hospital back in the day, and that he’d gone all of last school year without ever feeling the need to escape like that made me feel like we’d made serious progress. Last month’s bolting was not as serious as what we used to see, but he did leave the property.
When the police officer brought him back to the school, they said he’d expressed that he’d wanted to die. As a result, despite the assurances of the school staff with whom Hoss has a history (principal, counselor, psychologist) that he was not actually a danger to himself or others, the police informed us that they would be taking him to the ER for a psychiatric consult. I was told that I would not be allowed to go along until I had spoken with the Mobile Crisis Team.
I spent time with the MCT explaining all of the steps I go through to care for my children and myself (outpatient therapies for the children, family therapy with a social worker with whom all of the family members are comfortable, open lines of communication with the schools, medication monitoring all around) with a response that roughly translated to:
“Okay. That’s exactly what we were going to recommend, so keep on keeping on.”
My husband went to the ER to stay with Hoss, and the evaluation indicated that Hoss’ “I wish someone would just kill me,” was not actually a cry for help, but rather a misstated outburst that is not all that unusual for a nine-year-old boy with ADHD. During the next therapy session, Hoss got an opportunity to talk about how upset he was that he’d been forced to go to the ER when he’d wanted to stay with his sister and I.
While Princess was in the day hospital program a few weeks ago in preparation for the transition back to school (now that we’ve gotten her medication properly titrated), she spoke of her brother’s boundary issues, and how he’s gotten in trouble the weekend before for not keeping his hands to himself.
Part of that boundary crossing included trying to tickle her all over, and missing her stomach by hitting a bit further south. Because we are working with Hoss on respecting personal space as well as just plain leaving his sister alone sometimes, he had to process what he’d done and he had consequences for not acting as he was supposed to.
Princess accepted his apology, since he’d properly identified what he’d done wrong and what he should have done instead. I didn’t hear about the incident until days later, since it happened while I was out of the house and it was no longer on everyone’s mind by the time I got home that evening.
However, the hospital reported the incident to the county, who interviewed all three of my children.
The end result of the interviews (from the point of view of the police and social worker) was that there was no criminal activity or additional cause for concern.
The end result from the point of view of my children was slightly different- Princess feels bad that she got her brother in trouble, Hoss is irritated and slightly grossed out that he “…had to look at pictures of private parts! Even girl ones!” and Little Joe doesn’t understand why he had to answer a whole bunch of questions about body parts and our family and stuff.
I know that mandatory reporting has resulted in abuse being caught before more damage can be done. I know that conducting threat assessments in elementary school may mean that we have fewer young children reacting to their stress by harming or killing themselves.
I understand this, and of course I want those bad things prevented.
I’m just struggling with how this has put me under a microscope when, according to the mental health and educational professionals who know me and my family, I’m one of the good guys