Tuesday, September 13, 2005

It Still Doesn't Feel That Great

Claudia and I have two sons currently in residential treatment settings. The younger of the two, our recently-turned 15-year-old is doing quite well in his placement, and we are encouraged by his progress. The older of the two, our 16-year-old son, has had checkered progress. Amongst his challenges are FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder), ODD (oppositional definat disorder), PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (the inability to see beyond oneself, to an extreme). While he is currently doing better, back in May he decided he would stay at the bottom as long as possible. He refused to accomplish his daily tasks, wouldn't attend school and spent much of his time pointing the finger of blame. If it wasn't the program's fault ("this is not the right program for me; just look, I'm not making any progress"), it was his parents' (Claudia's and my) fault ("If you really loved me you'd give me a second chance and get me out of this hell hole"). On days when blamed needed to be assigned elsewhere it was social services fault ("If I didn't have such a stubborn social worker, I'd be out of here by now"). In an attempt to create a move for himself four months ago he decided to attack another resident of the program. This resident pressed charges against him and today we were in court to see what would happen.

In the previous weeks our sixteen-year-old son alternately pleaded, threatened and cajoled any willing listener with his plight. His attempts at triangulation were met with stubborn resistance on the parts of all parties until he met his court-appointed attorney. Although the attorney represented our son specifically on the three misdemeanor charges against him, he decided to champion the cause of a juvenile "in an inappropriate setting."

This public defender took us into a small room prior to the hearing to sanctimoniously regale us with bits of parenting advice and concern that the reason (not the "excuse," he was quick to point out) for the altercation was because the setting was not appropriate for a kid like our son. We listened, Claudia filled in some blanks the attorney was not interested in hearing (such as our son's previous social services involvement, and the fact that we have been working closely with the social services agency in this case), and then we went into the courtroom.

In a previous conversation two weeks ago our son had told me that anything he discussed with his attorney was "between me and my attorney," so we have communicated little with him about their conversations. We had attempted to explain to our son over the past three months that the judge would not be interested in hearing about how a change of program would be his salvation. We indicated that the judge would want to know what happened in the specific matter before him, and that it was not a placement hearing. Our son, and evidently his attorney, decided to test the waters.

During the hearing the judge asked our son what he needed, since the current program wasn't "meeting his needs." "A foster home, maybe," was the response. His Honor was unhappy with this option. "What makes you think that a foster home is what you need? When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, who is going to be looking back at you? You. And it won't matter whether you're in [the facility] or a foster home or your parents' home. It's you that needs to decide to get your life together. You're wasting the best years of your life, do you understand that?"

Sadly, I am not convinced that our son did understand that. WIth his panoply of diagnoses, recalcitrance to change and consistent patterns of self-saboutage, I'm not sure this communicated well. The judge couldn't have been more supportive (in an indirect way) of our parenting efforts to hold our son accountable for his actions. We were pleased that in this situation our parental role was not eroded in the face of a juvenile player.

So, after accepting the county attorney's offer (that our son plead guilty to an assault charge in exchange for the two other charges being dropped, community service and a year's probation), the judge asked our son if there was anything else he needed to know. "Yeah, I don't want to go home" was our son's response. His Honor was controlled, but peeved. "Why is it that you don't want to go home?" "Because I don't think I would be successful," was our son's response. After little further exchange, His Honor simply said, "This is not a matter before the court at this time."

At that perfunctory end the court-appointed attorney looked at our son, said, "Do you have any questions?" and walked out the door. His task was complete. And once again our son had as his only true allies the two parents who have steadfastly refused to give up on him over the past seven years. WIthout words or eye contact our son walked away from us toward the treatment center escort. I patted him on the shoulder and said, "Goodbye, Mike. See you soon." There was no response.

I guess as parents we prevailed today. The court was not convinced that the environment is what caused our son to violate three statutes. The court-appointed attorney is history. The residential treatment escort did his job and returned Mike to "the unit." There is a consistent direction for our son's future. I guess we prevailed, but it still doesn't feel that great.

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