Plight of Troubled Teen cont….

Editorial: The Dilemma of Helping Troubled Teens

Edmonton Journal Jan 25, 2012

Difficult as this might be to believe, the implications of a couple’s struggle to cope with a troubled adopted daughter are even worse than columnist Paula Simons set out in her article on The Journal’s front page Tuesday.

In addition to the frustrations her parents face with inadequate support from society, and the problem governments face in intervening without taking away rights, we must contemplate the impact cases like this have on other present and future adoptive and foster children.

Already, there are precious few of us willing to take on the parenting role for a special-needs child. For youngsters most in need of a parent’s love and the community’s nurturing embrace, it can only make things worse if potential adopters see how little help they will get, and how paralyzed government is in finding effective public policy for such troubled youth.

The name of the particular child in Simons’s column, and thus the names of her parents, cannot be published. (At least on that front, government has managed to keep the best interests of the troubled girl at the forefront.)

But what we know of her family’s situation is tragically familiar. The young woman is 16 years old, and has a number of behavioural issues that can be attributed in part to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Her birth mother had addiction problems; it is known she was neglected and abused by guardians prior to her adoption. She now has a history of running away from home, and of using alcohol and drugs.

Her parents need and have asked for more help from government. Currently, however, they are caught in an all-too-familiar Catch-22: they desperately hope to avoid a spiral down into crime or more serious medical con-sequences, but only after those things happen can the state contemplate more decisive intervention.

In 2006, the Alberta legislature gave health officials the legal tools to hold a youngster for five days in a secure detox centre, and the girl in the current case has had a few such stays. But government has no power to compel treatment, and in this case those efforts have failed. As indeed have more recent, longer sessions of court-ordered “secure services.”

It is difficult – well, make that impossible – to confidently say what should be done in the case of young people who either can’t or won’t adjust their behaviour to less destructive patterns. Even apart from the cost, open-ended institutionalization can never cure injuries incurred in vitro.

Clearly, the only long-term solution is more effective prevention of fetal injury, and of damaging care in the first years of life.

On a closer horizon, the logic that such children need care, and that prospective caregivers will be more forth-coming if they know that society won’t leave them hanging, demands that government and taxpayers worry less about the cost of acting, and more about the cost of failing to do so.

Author name not on article. Copyright Edmonton Journal.

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