I'd reported that 83% of students who called TYC's abuse hotline this spring and received counseling were diagnosed with PTSD, but I now have reason to believe victim-psych services for PTSD and related disorders should be a higher priority for the agency. TYC already ended counseling for kids identified through the hotline this summer.
Commenting on Grits' post on lack of sufficient PTSD counseling for abuse victims who called the Texas Youth Commission hotline this spring, a former TYC psychologist writes:
As an associate psychologist with TYC, I was consistently frustrated because I had youths in my office who fully met the criteria for PTSD but that diagnosis from the Marlin Orientation and Assessment Unit never showed up in their charts.That's a tragic bureaucratic failure. Not only does it worsen public safety in the long run, it ignores the fact that many kids who we lock up as criminals are also themselves victims, both before they come to TYC and sometimes while they're there.
Statistics from other states indicate one should expect about 65% of the youths in juvenile lock-up to meet the criteria for PTSD. I randomly selected 50 charts to see if any of the youths had been diagnosed with PTSD. According to the research, I should have found about 32 youths with PTSD. I found NOT ONE.
Many of the criteria for PTSD match the criteria for Conduct Disorder. Apparently a decision was made somewhere up the food chain to dismiss the PTSD symptoms and rely on Conduct Disorder -- possibly because this provides evidence that TYC is dealing with "the worst of the worse."
There is absolutely no will to provide treatment for this issue and I believe this is because the treatment protocol for PTSD is challenging and exhausting for the psychologist.
That said, however, a lock-down setting could be viewed as the perfect opportunity to provide treatment for PTSD. The youths cannot go anywhere, which guarantees they will attend each scheduled session even if they're in Security. In outpatient treatment, youths often don't come regularly which makes it nearly impossible to meet treatment plan goals.
Furthermore, it is interesting that when counselors outside the agency were asked to come into TYC and assess the youth, they did not find the same diagnoses TYC psychologists at Marlin found. Some say that is because those psychologists were naive and inexperienced with this kind of youth. After having an opportunity to chat with several of them, however, I found they had much experience working with traumatized children in the foster care system and were actually better prepared to see PTSD AND Conduct Disorder than many of TYC's best psychologists and psychiatrists.
Sorry for such a long post, but this was one of the principal issues that led to my resignation from TYC at John Shero. I saw children who were in pain stuck in a system that provided no opportunity to relieve that pain -- even though I had the training, skills and desire to do so.
TYC is the saddest experience of my career and while I am thankful to have escaped such a toxic environment, my heart breaks for the children who've been failed by the entire system.
Many of these children have been reaching out for help the best way they know how for most of their lives. That help has been elusive and unavailable for most.
When we speak of victim's rights, plenty of kids in TYC have been denied them. While TYC has these youth, the state should seize the opportunity to teach abused kids how to forgive, how to ask forgiveness, and how to live with their memories and fears without taking it out on others or creating new victims.
That's the importance of accurate diagnoses and assessments: To prevent kids from continuing a cycle of victimization when they leave custody, the state must not flinch from identifying the their real problems and directing resources toward them.
That's not happening now for kids with PTSD at all, even those whose victimization was splashed across the newspaper headlines this spring! That part, especially, really stinks.