> No More Secrets And Lies: Round Robin Reprimands — September 17, 2008

Friday, October 5, 2012

Round Robin Reprimands — September 17, 2008

Besides being upset with me, Mary's workers were becoming more and more upset with her and blamed most of the problems she was having on her. They would often reprimand her when she came to the court house for her 60-day hearings. I hated this. Not that I didn't think Mary was partially responsible for the problems she was experiencing. She was. But then we all bore some responsibility for this placement gone terribly wrong, and I hated that no one would admit this. None of us were free from blame for what was happening to her, but her workers continued to blame her (or me) and took no responsibility themselves for the mess she was in. I hate it when we blame children for everything. Part of their behavior is due to our behavior — a lot of it actually — and we can't expect them to take responsibility for their actions if we don't model this by taking responsibility for ours.

Mary was the one who was locked up, who was not allowed to come home, and who was continually kicked out of one group home after another. She didn't need anyone telling her it was her fault. After a year and a half of getting kicked out of nearly 20 group homes, this message was clear to her. And it was starting to look like she was blaming herself more and more for something that was less and less her fault. She was a victim of an inexperienced team — there was no doubt about this. None of us were able to help her at this point. The difference, though, was that some of us admitted this and some of us didn't; and if there was ever an instance of a child feeling completely out of control of her life, it was Mary in the group homes.

She didn't like what was happening to her any more than we did. She didn't like the way she was acting, and she desperately wanted to improve and get better. But she didn't know what she was supposed to do to get better or what she had done to get into the predicament she was now in. How could she — she was given a different behavioral plan every month with an ever-changing list of criteria to master in order to succeed. And often by the time she figured out what that criteria was, she would be moved again. But I don't think anyone knew this but her lawyer and me. And I wondered if her corrections officer and social worker actually talked to Mary when they visited her — and by talking to Mary, I mean listening to Mary. I found the answer to this, however, during one of their visits to her while she was at Forest Ridge.

Her corrections officer and social worker (SW) drove to Forest Ridge one afternoon to visit Mary. They told Karen (Mary's mother) and me ahead of time that they were going to be having a conference call with Mary when they got there and that we should wait at home by the phone for them to call us when the meeting began. For some reason they wanted us to be in on their meeting with Mary. This was on a day I was going to be visiting Mary anyway, and after our call, I was going to drive down to Forest Ridge to see her.

We got the call from her workers. Karen and I were both in Mankato on the phone, and Mary's CO, her SW, and Mary were in a room at Forest Ridge in Iowa. The SW started the meeting by mentioning how upset she and everyone else was with the way Mary had been behaving and that she was frustrated that she had to take a whole day off just to drive down to Mary's group home to let her know this. She wanted her to know she wasn't going to tolerate this behavior of hers any longer, and she told her that she wouldn't have to move so often if she would just "buckle down and try harder." She told Mary that her mom and dad felt the same way (even though I didn't) and that we were listening in on the speakerphone and would be telling her the same things.

Her workers then proceeded to go around the room. I was writing all of this down. First the CO told Mary what she thought:

"The reason you're here is to work on your social skills and I'm upset with you for not getting better. If you don't get better things are going to get worse. The ball is in your court. You aren't acting your age. You're acting like a preschooler. I feel like we're spinning our wheels. It's time to grow up! This is a big fat waste of everyone's time! It's time to grow up, Mary!"

It was then the social worker's turn and she basically told Mary the same thing — that she wished Mary would straighten up and try harder to be a good kid because she was making life really hard for her and she had other cases besides Mary's but hers was taking most of her time and on and on.

And then it was Karen's turn: "You just need the willpower to get this done. To do better." I don't know if Karen really wanted to say these things or not, or if she felt pressured to.

By then I was appalled by what they were doing to my daughter, and I could picture her sitting in that room feeling smaller and smaller and worse and worse with every comment they made — her expression changing from one of joy upon first finding out that her Mom and Dad were on the phone, to that of a sad child who believed she was all the things they were saying to her.

It was my turn to speak and her social worker said, "John, what would you like to say to Mary?" I had a lot to say, but it wasn't to Mary. I wanted to reprimand them for what they were saying to my daughter, but all I said was,

"I don't have anything to say right now. I'll see Mary later today and I'll talk to her then."

There was this awkward silence, and then they ended the meeting. I don't know why they set up a meeting like this in the first place, but now I'm wondering if they wanted to put me on the spot and make me have to denigrate my daughter in front of them. And I wondered if the speakerphone was more for them to hear me, then for Mary to hear us.

When I saw Mary later that day, I apologized for what everyone had said to her. She was still visibly shaken from all of this and wondered if she was in trouble for something or if it meant she was going to have to stay longer, or what. She didn't know what that crazy meeting meant. How could she? How could any child? I tried to help her make sense out of it, but it absolutely broke my heart to hear them say these things to her like they did — basically reprimanding her for having a mental disability. This was just the worst, and I almost started crying myself when they started in on her like they did. They probably think this is how you talk to children who aren't doing what you want them to — you yell at them.


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