I’ve done a few posts this year about the expanding role of schools as social service providers. Here’s another one….
The recent report on Adam Lanza’s mental health before he killed a bunch of school kids in Connecticut is pretty sad. The poor kid was a mess. Professionals told the Lanzas that their child needed immediate help and probably medication for a whole range of problems. He mostly likely needed residential treatment at some institution. These problems were obvious to everybody, but his parents.
His parents, particularly his mother, didn’t get him the treatment that he needed. They were in denial. And who can blame them? It’s a HUGE thing to get your mind around the idea that your child needs institutional care. So, they did things that made his mental problems worse. They let the boy isolate himself more and left guns around the house.
Let’s leave the gun thing aside for the moment and talk about the isolation. It’s very, very, very easy to become isolated when a child has any sort of disability. We touched on that a bit in the last comment thread. Between the child’s extreme behavior and the lack of community supports for people who aren’t average, the default is hermitry. It takes an enormous amount of energy and resources to prevent that from happening. I don’t blame the parents for sliding into isolation.
I blame everyone else.
We need systems in place, so that the burden for caring for children with extreme issues doesn’t fall solely on one or two people. It’s American individualism gone terribly wrong.
The report highlights the school district’s errors.
The OCA report is also critical of the educational professionals that dealt with Lanza, designing an individual educational plan for him after he was withdrawn from the normal high school classroom setting at his mother’s request.
The report found records indicating that the school system “unwittingly enabled Mrs. Lanza’s preference to accommodate and appease AL through the educational plan’s lack of attention to social-emotional support, failure to provide related services, and agreement to AL’s plan of independent study and early graduation age 17.”
Somehow, school districts have become responsible for health care related issues of children between 3-21. They hire neurologists and psychologists to diagnose everything from anxiety disorders to OCD to bipolar disorder. It’s nearly impossible for pediatricians to pick up on any problems in their five minute yearly visits. Now that school districts are responsible for educating kids regardless of their disability, they have gotten in the mental health field.
Schools do not want this responsibility. They HATE this responsibility. It’s expensive to them and outside their mission of educating typical children. So, they do whatever they can to evade this responsibility. When faced with a passive and oblivious parent, like Lanza, they do the side step away from these responsibilities as fast as they can.
Now, maybe schools shouldn’t be in the business of treating the full range of problems associated with autism, cerebral palsy, or selective mutism. Teachers don’t attend medical school. Many problems simply cannot be addressed by a 23-year girl with BA in education from a less selective college.
The problem is that somebody needs to be involved. We cannot let families float along without any help. They need more guidance. They need financial support for expensive services. They need professionals in their homes. I would say that this responsibility should fall with the social workers at state child protection departments, but they have proven incompetent too many times. New systems need to be established.
We shouldn’t do these things to avoid another Sandy Hook. Most people, even with severe mental health problems like Lanza, won’t commit a mass murder. We need to guide parents, and maybe even force them, to let their children enter state-run mental health centers, because it is simply the right thing to do.