mad in pursuit: greed & arrogance

2004 political season

mad in pursuit home

greed & arrogance index


7.12.04 Pinball Kids

We continue to compartmentalize services to youth in trouble. And in doing so we turn kids into categories. A recent editorial in the Rochester Democat & Chronicle highlights youth in the "juvenile justice system" who should be in the "mental health system."

As a society we tear ourselves apart by wanting punishment for "bad" kids, psychotherapy for "mentally ill" kids, rehab for "addicted" kids, and new families for impoverished "neglected" or "abused" kids. These categories have created giant state and local bureaucracies, with thousands of rules, regulations, forms, and idiosyncratic cultures that no one can budge. Give them more money, they make more rules. Give them less money, they focus more rigidly on their old rules. All of course in the best interest of children.

Meanwhile, kids are kids. They skip school, they steal a car, they feel bad and take some drugs, they have sex with the wrong people. They have melt-downs and blow-ups. One day it looks like the family is overwhelmed and disorganized. Another day, it looks like the kid can't think straight. Has she take too many street drugs or does she simply need more prescription drugs? How do you define "mental health" for any youth who has been disrupted from his or her family for any reason?

For too many kids, the world is simply a giant pinball machine. When they are suddenly in trouble, they get sprung into world of "services." No one want to lose a kid, but no one wants them too long either. They bounce the child around, keeping him or her in play as long as possible among assorted detention, mental health and social service programs. And then the kid is gone, who knows where.

For the pinball kids, our approach is fundamentally flawed. The public sector is hobbled by its tomes of well-intentioned regulations and its thousands of employees either protecting them or squabbling ineffectively over them. Privatizing only transfers the categorical grief to yet another group of people with even less obligation to stick with a belligerent youth. Ask this question: how many youth in detention have already been abandoned by mental health providers? How many youth sitting in detention have already been pinballed through the best services in town?

The solution is not only about mental health allocations or insurance parity. While we are waiting for the revolution in the Executive Branch of NYS, families, pediatricians, and schools need to make unconditional commitments to their most vulnerable children. They must work together to get kids what they need without relying on fragmented systems to figure it out for them.

Then, support research -- a marriage between the learning-theory-based educational community and the scientific medical community is most likely to yield the real breakthroughs in transforming youth from problem categoricies to healthy, happy kids.





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