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Parents struggle to get help for potentially violent male teens

Posted Jun 23, 2014 8:51 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Recent shootings by troubled youths have raised questions about how the mental health system deals with troubled boys who have aggressive tendencies.

The New York Times looks at the problems experienced by one family in Geneva, Illinois, as they tapped high-quality insurance and finally hired a lawyer in an effort to help their son, who was a foster kid before the family adopted him and his brother.

Troubled, aggressive youths often have multiple mental-health diagnoses and resist treatment. “Most of these young men will never commit a violent crime, much less an atrocity,” the story says. “But the questions of how best to help them and how to pay for it are among the most intractable problems hanging over the system.”

The mother of the Geneva teen told the Times her initial concern was that her son would harm himself. She realized he could be violent to others during a confrontation over a cigarette. The mother asked the boy, then 15, to put out his cigarette and he refused. When she tried to take the cigarette from his mouth, he kicked his mother so hard she flew backwards into a dresser and on the floor.

The mother called police several times, but police in Illinois cannot lock up minors unless they are an imminent threat to the community, the story says. Federal law now requires insurers to cover treatments for mental illness, but even good insurance may not cover long-term care.

The Geneva family enrolled their son in two different day therapy programs, and he was kicked out of both. Once he brought a razor blade to a session, and another time he was kicked out for refusing to participate. Though the family had good insurance coverage, the insurer at first refused to pay for long-term residential care, and then approved coverage on a week-by-week basis. The boy was back home after two months.

Finally the family hired a lawyer, who petitioned the school district to pay for education at a therapeutic school. The school district agreed. The son will go to a therapeutic school in Montana for an academic year, where there will be horses, physical labor and talk therapy.

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