Saturday, October 23, 2010

What was her crime?

Just reflecting on the situation of a little girl T that I read about in a book about foster care. T came into foster care severely abused. I don’t know why the welfare system, which tracked her case for years, took so long before pulling her away from her natural environment where she was regularly subject to violence and abuse.

Little T was subject to sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her biological father and her stepfather. She came into foster care just 8 years old, but already severely 'damaged' by abuse.

What disturbed me most about her story was that, there came a point when, after observing some rather ominous acting-out behaviour on the part of little T including sexualized play, little T was removed from the foster home and put into a paediatric psychiatric care unit.

The psych unit, from the description of the foster mother, was as typical as most adult psychiatric units. The same green walls, grey floors, depressing atmosphere, and bars on the windows. In keeping with its role as a juvenile facility there were also lists of rules, and a point system complete with rewards and punishments for compliance or otherwise.

Little T stayed there for a couple of months and then was released back into the custody of the foster mother. It wasn’t long before she was caught coaxing another child to molest her (note, not the other way around) and again, she was put back into the same locked mental facility.

Strange thing is, she isn’t the only victim of sexual abuse put into a mental ward that I’ve read about. Recently I read Scarred. The mental facility that the girl featured in the book was placed into had so many juvenile victims of sexual abuse, the facility arranged group discussions exclusively for these victims.

I remember my visit to a psychiatric ward in a local hospital to visit a teenager that I knew. The ward was typical for a general hospital, and there were some patients, including this teen, who were really quite normal. They were just in there because they’d checked themselves in because they were unable to cope with outside life.

But there were also those who’d lost their reasoning abilities; who wandered around and stared blankly, and who sometimes stopped and talked to you but their speech made no sense.

I was wondering, why would you put a kid into somewhere like that just because she’s been sexually abused?

There are no separate facilities to separate a child who is reacting from a case of abuse and a child who is a sociopath, schizophrenic etc. There are no separate facilities for a juvenile victim of abuse and adults suffering from every kind of mental disorder.

The reasoning behind it, I understand, is that the child or juvenile has become a threat to others and to him/herself. The child could be like little T, indulging in sexual play, self-harming, a suicide risk etc. In the mental ward, the child/ juvenile will have access to constant supervision and more frequent and more intense hours of therapy.

But... how sad that this is the only option for treatment.

What would go through a child's mind when you remove her from a fairly safe environment as she starts to act out due to abuse and put her into a locked mental facility? Could a child reason to him/herself that he/she is there for safety and not as further punishment? When he/she has so much confusion to deal with already?

And I wonder, in the centre that I want to have someday, what will I do when a child/ juvenile reaches the stage where he/she becomes a danger to him/herself and to others? I guess there is no choice is there? I’ll have to recommend the child/juvenile be remanded for psychiatric treatment too.

What a cruel punishment for someone whose only crime was to be a victim.

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