Tuesday, July 23, 2013

PA - Lost in the system: Juvenile justice programs leave families in the dark

Original Article


By Beth Brelje

A mentally disabled Pike County boy took photos of a disabled girl's genitals while on the school bus.

The boy, 11, was charged with harassment and invasion of privacy, according to court records, and ordered to wear an ankle bracelet.

He was allowed to go to school and required to stay at home the rest of the time. But he left the border of his yard three times, stepping onto the quiet country road in front of his house to greet playmates, according to his stepmother.

And since he could not follow the rules, he was placed in the temporary legal custody of Pike County Children and Youth, placed in therapeutic foster care and directed to get a psychosexual evaluation.

At first, the placement was a relief for his parents.

"We had been fighting like hell to get him some help," his father said.

The boy, who suffers from a range of disabilities, including Asperger syndrome and oppositional defiant disorder, had behavioral problems starting at age 2.

Once in county custody, parental contact was not allowed for the first 30 days while he became acclimated to the foster family. After 40 days, his parents started calling every day to ask when they could visit. It was 70 days before they met in a park for their first, one-hour visit.

"It was the first time we have ever been separated for so long in our lives," said the stepmother, whose name and other identifying information are not being disclosed to protect the juvenile's identity.

Today, the boy is 13, still under state care, and his parents feel that despite attempts to stay connected, their relationship has been marginalized by the system.

This Pike County boy is one of nearly 40,000 juvenile justice cases in the state.

His story provides a window into the way Pennsylvania has traditionally handled troubled youths, the long-lasting problems the system can sow and the heartache it can cause families.

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