By Kenyon Wallace and Andrew Seymour, National Post and The Ottawa Citizen January 25, 2011
OTTAWA — In a case that shines a harsh light on the many challenges faced by Canada’s mentally ill, the parents of an Ottawa teen deemed too violent to
remain in care at a Utah treatment centre — the only place considered by the Ontario government appropriate for the girl — are appealing to Premier Dalton
McGuinty to find a suitable alternative in their daughter’s home province.
The 13-year-old girl, who cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, was transferred to the Utah facility, which specializes in adolescent behavioural disorders, this month. She was charged with mischief after a violent encounter with police in which she kicked out the back window of a police cruiser.
The courts and the province’s Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, which has funding arrangements with U.S. facilities to provide residential treatment
to Ontario residents, determined that the Utah centre was best equipped to treat the girl, who suffers from a variety of conditions, including oppositional
defiance disorder, ADHD, sensory and self-regulation disorder, disruptive behaviour disorder and a non-verbal learning disability.
But just nine days after she arrived under a peace bond, the girl was unexpectedly discharged, allegedly because of “violent behaviours” that included destroying an art room and punching holes in the wall.
She was then transferred to a local children’s hospital, where she spent nearly two days before being put on a plane Tuesday for the return trip to Ottawa.
The province has now withdrawn funding for her court-ordered treatment, leaving her in legal limbo and potentially back in jail facing further criminal
charges since she is no longer in compliance with her release conditions, her mother said Tuesday.
The mother also said the Children’s Aid Society has launched proceedings to take custody of the girl — something the mother doesn’t want to see happen.
“This is about a mentally ill 13-year-old girl with no treatment plan in the province of Ontario and she has a legal right to be treated and there is nothing,”
said the mother.
They have contacted McGuinty, who is their MPP, in the hope that he can somehow intervene. According to the mother, a representative from McGuinty’s office indicated they are monitoring the situation and feel sympathy for the family.
While the parents were initially pleased their daughter was to receive treatment at a residential facility — albeit in another country — they are now worried
that recent events will see their daughter fall through the cracks of Ontario’s mental-health system.
“My daughter has a right to treatment,” said the mother. “If my daughter had cancer, and we were 10 years into her treatment for cancer, there would be
no one sitting on one side of the fence or the other, the kid is sick. But because it is mental health it is all subjective.”
The mother said they have been dealing with Ottawa-area treatment facilities for years, most notably the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO),
arguing there should be a place close to home for their daughter to receive treatment. They claim CHEO has refused to treat their daughter on an in-patient basis.
CHEO spokeswoman Ann Fuller would not comment on individual cases, but said the hospital only has 15 psychiatric beds available for children over the age of 12. Those beds are intended for crisis stabilization and assessment, not longer-term treatment.
The girl’s lawyer, Meaghan Thomas, said her client wants treatment and willingly went to the Utah facility for help, only to be told she is too sick for
to be treated.
“She’s sick, she needs help, and it shouldn’t be this much of a struggle,” said Thomas, who called the situation a “disaster.”
“The criminal justice system should not have to be used as a tool to get a 13-year-old girl treatment,” Thomas said. “She’s a kid. It’s incredibly unfortunate this is where she finds herself.”
The girl’s mother said her daughter began exhibiting signs of mental illness and behavioural problems by age two. By age six, she was placed in foster care, the mother said.
“We couldn’t cope with her behaviour any more. She tried to stab me in the neck with a pencil,” said the mother.
When she returned, her mother said the girl’s problems, particularly at school, continued. The girl hasn’t been able to attend full-time since Grade 6.
She has become an Internet and television addict, her mother said, who becomes uncontrollably violent when they attempt to limit her access to the computer or TV. It was a debate over whether she was allowed to use the computer at night that led to police being called to the home, where they placed her in the back of the same cruiser of which she kicked out the back window. The girl has also talked about suicide, the mother said.
“When you think of the average out-of-control teen, multiply that by 50 and you’ve got our daughter,” her mother said. “It doesn’t matter where she goes,
she’s a wrecking ball. This kid needs help.”
The mother says there had been discussions about placing the girl at the Roberts/Smart Centre in Ottawa, a residential treatment facility for youth with
mental health problems, although it was dismissed at the time because her alleged crimes weren’t considered serious enough.
Pat Forsdyke, a mental health advocate and former president of the Schizophrenia Society of Kingston, said the hardship endured by the girl and her family echoes the case of Ashley Smith, the 19-year-old New Brunswick woman who strangled herself with a piece of cloth at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener in October 2007. Smith was first incarcerated when she was 15. In the 11 months leading up to her death while in federal custody, she was transferred 17 times to prisons across the country. Forsdyke said both cases illustrate that jail must be avoided at all costs when attempting to treat the mentally ill — a remedy that Canada has so far failed to address.
“The number of people in prison is so large compared to the number of beds for mentally ill people,” said Forsdyke. “Because there are no beds, you have to move people out to get somebody else in. You can’t blame the person because needs are complex. They have to be handled in a civilized way. Certainly jail is not the right place.”
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