Archive for July, 2019

It’s Not That Simple

July 14, 2019

It’s Not That Simple

It’s Not That Simple

I had a phone call a couple of weeks ago from a producer (Brenda Finley) with Bell Media.  She had been referred to me by a social activist that I have a lot of respect for, Velvet Martin.  She asked me if I would be interested in joining a panel discussion on Alberta Prime Time to discuss the issues faced by a parent with a disability.

We spoke for about twenty minutes exchanging information and doing a cursory overview of her expectations for the panel discussion.  She was very interested in getting feedback from a parent with a disability regarding any types of support programs that may have been available for me to access if required.  She had indicated that there would be two or three other panel members and that she was also trying to get a government spokesperson.   What I was thinking as we talk was “What services” which I didn’t voice at the time but I did agree to participate.

Since the show was being broadcast from their Edmonton studio a cameraman came to my home with his equipment and a set of questions.  The filming would later be edited to make it appear that I was answering a few questions posed by the host.  The cameraman was at my place for just under two hours and we probably shot fifteen to twenty minutes of tape.  I knew the segment was only thirteen to fifteen minutes long and I wasn’t expecting a lot of face time.  I was more excited over some of the issues that were discussed on the phone.  The most importance was the acknowledgement of the intimidation factor many parents with disabilities face.  That was the issue I wanted to focus on.

Anybody who knows me personally knows I don’t intimidate easily.  However I do know many parents with disabilities that have had to face quiet intimidation when they have looked for some service that may help around the house.  For instances there is an Alberta program were some house keeping services can be made available (up to 12 hours per month) for those with the physical needs.  I have witnessed a government caseworker tell an individual requesting that service, “If it is too difficult to parent we could always look at foster care for your child”.  That one statement has kept more parents with disabilities from asking for any type of support than I care to admit.  That was not an isolated incidence otherwise I wouldn’t be getting as many requests for advocacy service as I get.

So this past Monday I sat down to watch this particular edition of Alberta Prime Time.  The minute I saw the make-up of the panel I knew the conversation was going to go in a very different direction.  Like any segment of society there is fragmentation among those with disabilities.  Bruce Uditsky, who has been the face of the Alberta Association for Community Living for over twenty years, was one of the panelists in the studio.  The Alberta Association for Community Living is primarily focused on developmental disabilities.  Comparing parenting supports for the developmentally disabled parent to that of a parent in a wheelchair is like trying to order Chinese food using a pizza menu.

Now this is not intended to denigrate anyone with a developmental or cognitive disability but there is a world of functioning difference between the needs of these groups.  Contrary to what many people in the general public think all disabilities cannot dealt with the same way.  Just because you put a ramp into the local library does not mean it is accessible.  Anybody with a visual impairment would have issues but based on policy (building code) the library is now accessible because they put in a ramp.  It is the overly simplistic approach that contributes to systemic barriers and those are the ones that need to change.

However that is the essence of most programming for members of the community with a disability.  Not only do different types of disabilities need to be dealt with differently, there also has to be some flexibility for the individual with the disability.  We don’t need to be challenged with support programs that are defined by policy statements designed for gatekeepers.  My prime example of when policy overrides common sense is the policy around the disabled parking placards.  I had polio in 1953 and the results of that are never going to leave me.  However every five years I have to go back to my doctor (taking up valuable health care time), get another letter from him stating I am disabled (at a cost of $50 for the non-medical matter related document) and then go get the parking placard renewed.  I have come to accept the fact that I will always live with the results of my polio so when will those supplying certain services come to accept it as well.   Anyway I realized the moment the program started that there just wouldn’t be enough time in a fifteen minute segment to do justice to the complicated nature of these issues.

After watching the show I came to the conclusion it had more to do with directing a bigger share of limited community resources to those parents with some form of developmental disability with some onsite effective parenting staffing resources.  Again that type of support is very different than me asking for some support in shoveling snow or paying someone to teach my child to skate, as examples.  After watching the show I was left with the feeling that all that was really demonstrated was how fragmented the disabled community is.

Just one man’s opinion.

To get mental health help for a child, some FL parents resort to giving up custody of their child

July 7, 2019

To get mental health help for a child, some FL parents resort to giving up custody of their child

Katie LaGrone

12:41 PM, Jul 04, 2019


What happens when a parent has done nothing wrong but feels they have no other choice but to give up custody of their child to an already overwhelmed state child welfare system?

One Florida father, who we’re not identifying by name, first shared

his story

with us back in December.

His 13-year-old son is diagnosed with multiple mental and behavioral disorders and spent years in and out of clinics. His dad said long term treatment became impossible.

“The insurance would stop paying,” he said. Dad reached his limits last year when, he said, his son tried to poison him and his wife with toilet bowl cleaner. He says his son also attempted to kill the family dog twice. By the time this father spoke with us, his teenage son was facing criminal charges over the incidents.

Young & troubled, FL’s mental health crisis

“I feel like I failed him,” the father told us after describing the gut-wrenching decision he was facing to give up custody of his child so his son could access long-term mental health services.

“It’s just wrong that as a parent I’ve tried everything I can for 5 years but the only way I can get him the help he needs is to give him up,” he said.

Industry insiders says kids in custody can get better treatment for mental illness when the government pays for it versus private insurance.

“It’s sad” said Dr. Robert Card, Director of community-based care for Eckerd Connects. His agency is contracted by the Florida Department of Children and Family Services (DCF) to manage the welfare of roughly 7000 kids in state custody on Florida’s west coast. He says, while these cases are rare, his office will receive nearly a dozen children from parents each year so desperate to get their child help, they decide to give them up.

More from the Florida Investigative Team

“It’s reflective of a mental health system that is inadequately prepared for this kind of behavior and this kind of kid. It’s also reflective of the funding available to families to solve this problem,” he said.

Dr. Card said the state’s lack of resources and know-how to handle extreme cases of child mental illness leaves him searching out-of-state for the right care for some of these kids and taxpayers, he said, can pay up to $1,000 per day for it. He thinks the state needs to be better equipped to handle extreme cases of mental illness in children.


Beth Stroul is an expert in children’s behavioral health. She recently led a

government study

on this issue which is widely known as child relinquishment. She said, while rare, relinquishment cases can be found nationwide and are often seen as a last resort for desperate parents who have exhausted all efforts to find and access help for their mentally ill child. She believes many states aren’t doing enough to help children with serious mental illness at the community level and early on to prevent child relinquishment.

“It’s more than unfair, it’s really indefensible,” she said. “It’s not a solution, it should never be a solution. The practice needs to be eliminated,” Stroul told us.


It’s not known how many children fall into Florida’s system access treatment for mental illness. Like most states, Florida doesn’t keep track of data specific to these cases. According to DaMonica Smith, a spokesperson with the state Department of Children and Families, last year nearly 1000 kids were abandoned by their parents. It’s the only number the state could provide but it doesn’t reveal how many children were placed in the state’s system for the sole purpose of obtaining mental health help. When we asked about child relinquishment for mental health services, a spokesperson responded in an email stating, “[DCF] policy does not permit parents to relinquish their rights in an effort to obtain services.” Smith when on to state, “DCF and community-based care lead agencies will work together to build a service plan that meets the needs of the family.” Still, parents and industry insiders say relinquishment for the purpose of mental health services happens in Florida.

Florida Republican Representative Chris Latvala, who represents Clearwater, has taken on child welfare as a top issue in need of reform. This past session, he unsuccessfully introduced legislation to help improve the state’s foster care system following the death of 2-year-old Jordan Belliveau. He had never heard of parents relinquishing custody of their children for mental health services until we told him.

“That’s unbelievable. There has to be a solution other than telling a parent that they have to give up their parental rights so that they can get their child the help that they need,” he said.

Latvala will be contacting DCF to find out why it’s happening and how to stop it so children in Florida get the help they really need, without losing their family.

Chris Latvala

“It’s putting them in an impossible position that no parent should have to deal with,” Latvala said.

If you feel like the state isn’t doing enough to help your child with mental illness, please let us know by filling out the following contact us form.