Being a foster parent gives me more insight into the world of children’s mental health than I ever wanted to have. I get to see firsthand just how prevalent the problems are, and, unfortunately, also get to see the lengthy process kids have to go through to get help.
But I want you to know that the growing epidemic of trauma in the United States isn’t just a foster kid problem. Yes, kids who are in foster care have experienced trauma, but they’re not the only ones who are experiencing it.
My foster son went through a sort of mental breakdown last week. He’s only seven years old, but his breakdown was severe enough that he had to be removed from our home because of safety concerns.
What were the steps taken to get him help?
First, we were told to go to the crisis center for mental health. This was where we met with an emergency counselor who asked my little guy about ninety questions, only heard part of his answers, laughed at him frequently, and then sent us out the door.
Literally, we were sent out the door with a piece of paper and no answers. Why? Because they didn’t have the resources to help him.
So we did the only thing we could do to survive the night. We took him home, even though he’d threatened to take his own life and hurt the other kids in the house, and wait until morning. We rearranged everyone’s beds to separate him from the other kiddos while he slept, and then we waited with open eyes and no sleep.
In the morning, we went to the only mental health facility in town for children. We live in a city of 50,000 people, and there is only ONE place to help kids who are experiencing symptoms of mental illness. ONE.
Every therapist in the city refers their clients to this place. Every caseworker, every medical doctor, every school psychologist. All of the kids who are experiencing high rates of behavior due to probable mental illness are sent to this one place. And it’s not huge.
While we there that morning, we answered the same ninety questions again–plus another fifty or so–and then were told our boy definitely needed services.
He definitely needs services, guys.
Let me repeat that one more time. We spent eight hours of our day with this place for them to tell us that he definitely needed services.
(This is where I took a deep breath to keep from rolling my eyes because DUH.)
They assured me they would get him some help within the next couple weeks.
Let me be clear. I’m not angry with the people in the building who assisted us. They did exactly what they were supposed to do, and they really did care about us. I understand that getting these plans in place doesn’t happen overnight, and that it takes a lot of highly qualified people to help one child.
The problem is that they don’t have enough staff to help kids as quickly as they need to because there are SO MANY children who need services. The other problem is that the number of children who are experiencing mental health concerns is rising faster than the number of social service workers who are becoming qualified. (Maybe we should try paying people in the social service field more than $28,000/year, considering the fact that they were around the clock, seven days a week, with some of the most difficult children and families in their respective areas? I dunno. Just thinking out loud.)
Childhood trauma is becoming an epidemic we can’t keep up with because we don’t take the threat seriously.
My best friend has a daughter with Reactive Attachment Disorder who was adopted as an infant. They’ve tried getting her the help she needs for about three years now (since they discovered a problem), but they’re turned away from a lot of services because there isn’t enough room for her. The wait lists are miles long. The help is given to older kids who need it more because there isn’t enough to go around for everyone.
There’s also a very sparse amount of research being done on early childhood trauma, which dwindles the amount of resources they have at their disposal significantly.
Doctors are afraid to try new methods with her because those things haven’t been tried with young children yet.
Therapists don’t know what methods to use on her in sessions because she’s significantly younger than any of their other clients, and there isn’t a section in the DSM about her.
Residential facilities can’t offer help because she’s not old enough.
Parents like them are left to help their young children with trial-and-error methods because no one knows what else to do. And my friends are only one of many, many families going through this same issue.
One study completed by a health organization estimated that roughly one out of every two children in the foster care system will be diagnosed with a mental health condition in their lifetime. ONE IN TWO. That’s half, guys.
That number in itself is an epidemic.
But, like I said before, foster kids aren’t the only ones being diagnosed with mental health disorders. I have friends who have children from healthy homes that are going through similar problems. Some of them have attempted suicide. Some are seeking long-term care from psychiatric facilities.
It’s not just moody teenagers being diagnosed with these things (though that number is disturbing, too). It’s also kids who are three, four, and five years old being diagnosed with disorders that will impact them for the rest of their lives. The number is rising, and the causes are as widespread as the illnesses.
An “epidemic” is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as, “affecting or tending to affect a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community, or region at the same time.”
Trauma in our children has become an epidemic. It’s time we start treating it as such.