Archive for Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Juvenile detention should be last resort for problem kids

January 10, 2006


Dear Dr. Wes & Marissa: Is it OK for parents to put their out-of-control, anger-filled children in a juvenile detention center to get them help? And if not, what are other possibilities? - 17-year-old girl

Marissa: I feel less qualified to answer this question than most. Fortunately, I have limited experience with the topic. After some research, I found that, in most cases, one has to commit a crime or be a danger to society before being admitted into a juvenile detention center.

I'm not clear on whether a crime has been committed in this case. If when you say "very angry" you mean he often has the teenage equivalent of a temper tantrum, then I don't think that's grounds for being in a juvenile detention center. However, if that temper has resulted in many fights and physical confrontations, then the child might benefit from it.

A bad temper is something that can damage a person in more ways than one. Personal relationships will suffer if a person cannot effectively communicate without blowing her top off, and no employer wants an employee who will go off at the drop of a hat.

If other options are not available, then I suppose a JDC could be a choice. But I think families and society in general should try to explore other outlets. I know it seems like we hand out "therapy" as a solution in many instances, but in this case I truly believe that the child could benefit from it. There could be a psychological or emotional problem causing this anger.

Dr. Wes: I've worked with a lot of these cases and actually wrote a book on treating children and families in the child protective system. Trust me when I say that I would do everything possible to avoid using JDC in this manner. First of all, the Juvenile Justice Authority (JJA) is not there to "help" people. It is there to isolate, control and hopefully rehabilitate through the use of consequences for antisocial behavior.

That's an important function, but it is not a service for families with difficult kids. It's kid jail. Marissa is correct: There is usually some kind of psychological problem involved in such cases, and JJA and foster care are not designed to address these issues. Additionally, once either of these systems gets involved, families are astonished at how quickly they lose control and don't like the results.

I can understand how families facing such turmoil, anger and violence would feel like there's nowhere to turn. Kansas has all but eliminated bed space for young people in the state hospital system. There is a gap in services to kids that likely will never be filled.

There are community-based services for such cases on an outpatient basis using Medicaid funding for families of all income levels, but those services are sometimes short-handed. However, if the family hasn't looked into that kind of service, they should. It provides additional and more intensive services than once- or twice-a-week therapy. Usually SRS or JJA officials will recommend that before it comes to outplacement. It's too complex to explain here, but I will try to do so by e-mail if the family is interested.

Beyond this, the single most important thing to know is that individual therapy is not very helpful in these cases, even though it is often recommended. Family therapy is the demonstrated way to go.

Next week: "I have trouble trusting my daughter."

- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Marissa Ballard is a Lawrence High School senior. Send your questions to


Ragingbear 12 years, 2 months ago

I can tell you now, that in the exception of drugs/alchohol, and sudden onset mental disorders, that any 17 year old that is completely out of control has been a long-time coming. Just as they are getting older, and bolder, as the artificial day they turn 18 will somehow liberate them.

The entire family needs to be in extensive therapy, and should remain there for years. It sickens me so much when the general attitude is that there is only something wrong with the teenager, and nothing wrong with the family. Speaking from experience, I can guarantee that 99% of the issues that the teen has, stems from things that happened within the houshold.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.