In my blog post A Parent’s Suggestions for Improving the Division of Youth Services, I outlined several areas DYS needs to improve upon. The first is facilitating family involvement, which I believe can be accomplished in the following ways:
- Place youth in a facility as close to their families as possible
- Advise parents of the visitation and phone call procedures during the initial call home
- Offer a parent orientation and a parent handbook
- Allow youth to call home at least once a week if not more
- Allow parents to attend staffings and family therapy at convenient times to accommodate work schedules
- Increase communication to parents from the youth’s client manager and therapist
- Listen to input and insight from parents
Family relationships are the most important part of a child’s life. Helping to foster and repair those relationships is vital to her success upon release from DYS.
For six months of her sentence, our daughter Mallory was in a facility almost two hours away from our home. This created a hardship for us which DYS was not willing to do anything about, though there was a facility thirty-five minutes from our home. Even after we were involved in a traumatic car accident with a semi truck near the facility, and I was suffering from PTSD as a result, DYS showed no compassion for our situation. The regional director of client management suggested we visit via Skype, which was not an option since we live in the mountains where our internet connection is extremely slow. So, because of the distance, our visits with Mallory were not as frequent as we would have liked, and family therapy was impossible.
Having a child committed to DYS is a scary thing, and it would also help to ease some of the anxiety if the facilities would inform parents of the visitation and phone call procedures right away. I would even go a step further and say that there should be a parent orientation and a parent handbook so parents know what is expected of their child and what to expect themselves when they visit. Often times, families show up for visitation not knowing they need to be on an approved visitors list or that they need to schedule the visit ahead of time because this wasn’t communicated to them.
Currently, depending on the facility in which a child is placed, phone calls home are infrequent and brief. At the Platte Valley Youth Services Center, for example, the facility is only required to allow youth to call home twice a month for five minutes. This is not enough time, especially if the child is placed two hours away from home, making it difficult for her family to visit. In other facilities, phone calls home may be as often as twice a week which is a significant improvement, but this is something that should be consistent from facility to facility.
Communication between parents and their child’s therapist and DYS client manager is also lacking. When a child can’t call home, parents rely on these professionals to let them know what is going on with their child. We were not notified on occasions when Mallory received IRs (incident reports), lost her reward level, was restrained, or when she was placed on suicide watch. Parents shouldn’t be kept in the dark about their child’s behavior, consequences she receives, or her mental health condition.
Monthly “staffings” and family therapy should also be offered at convenient times to increase family involvement. By the time a child has been committed to DYS, some parents may have already exhausted all of their vacation and sick time, or they may have even lost their jobs to attend various court proceedings, staffings, and family therapy sessions. By the time Mallory was committed to DYS, I had already left my job for this very reason. This is another valid argument for placing a child close to home. It reduces the amount of time parents need to take off work to attend staffings. When Mallory was at Platte Valley, we had to block off five hours of the day for staffings because of the drive time.
Though parents are considered part of the child’s multidisciplinary team (MDT), sometimes decisions are made without parent insight or involvement, and sometimes our input is even ignored. We parents know our kids better than anyone else and should be included in the decision-making process to help them achieve success. We weren’t involved in the decision to move Mallory to Platte Valley, and our concerns about the facility being too restrictive of an environment for her in addition to the distance from home were ignored until her time there ended in an excessive use of force investigation. Even after the investigation, she was only moved back to the Denver area when the long drive became too inconvenient for her new client manager, her transition worker, and for her transition to parole. No one cared that it was not the right environment for her or that the location was inconvenient and stressful for us.
DYS needs to have more compassion for families and what we have been through, as well as a better understanding of just how vital we are to our children’s success.