Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Former TYC psychologist: 'I saw children in pain stuck in the system and couldn't help'

How many kids at the Texas Youth Commission suffer from undiagnosed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

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.

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.
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.

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.


Anonymous said...

Kids that end up in TYC/TDCJ are messed up, and have major psychological problems. The State of Texas does not wish to address the problems in the Texas correctional system. Right now outside forces are trying to push privatization issues by developing a cheap warehousing approach to corrections. This is why Texas has one of the highest rate of repeat offenders.

Private correctional companies like Correctional Corporation of America(cxw), Civigenic, MTC, and Geo Group (GEO) plan on taking over the Texas correctional agencies. The private correctional industry for years have pushed for lower standards in Texas. If proper treatment programs were in place, this would cost them more. Right now most of the private prisons will not house inmates with psychological problems or major medical issues.

The reason these agencies are so messed up is employees are not allowed to run correctional system the way it needs to be run. Psychological and social workers are black listed for speaking out in favor of treatment that will cost more. Correctional officers are viewed only as SECURITY GUARDS. Low wages are paid to all correctional employees.

The “Great Texas Robbery” is now taking place and outside private interest plan on taking over. Companies such as Geo Group, who have been run out of Michigan and Louisiana, are pushing for TYC/ TDCJ contracts. Low wage/ low standards corrections are not what Texas needs. Better treatment and reducing recidivism is what Texas needs to push for. Private corrections is run like a hotel, they make money when their beds a full. Texans will pay more with increased recidivism(repeat offenders). Treatment and standards are the solution!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We need to tell this crooks in Austin to stop taking money from the for-profit prison groups and address the real solution to the problem, low standards. Texas correctional employees are some of the worst paid employees in the nation. Texas would rather cover up the mess than address it. Even worse some of our leaders wish to profit by bringing in lower standards corrections. Private correctional companies need to get out of Texas now. Lower standard corrections is not the solution. Addressing the issues and fixing them is. There may be no large PACs with money for the fix, but sometimes it pays to do the right thing. Texas politicians need to also remember, “Don’t mess with Texas Employees.” We are the solution.

Anonymous said...

This is really the issue of throw-away people. The current public opinion about people who commit crimes is that they make up a throw away class of people that is useless and will never benefit society.

If McDonalds founder, Ray Kroc, had been treated this way we wouldn't have Big Macs clogging our arteries. But someone realized that people are not a commodity to be discarded.

Freddy Fender would probably still be in the Ramsey Unit under the current public opinion. And Steve McQueen would have never been allowed to make movies.

How stupid can we be?

tttt said...

It would be interesting to know of these self-reports from the kids just how many were diagnosed PTSD because of TYC's environmental factors. I've no doubt many were stressed when they came in and I'm convinced their stay at TYC exacerbated the problem. If there were any semblance of treatment, did low-risk kids receive too much treatment? There are a lot of variables that apparently play into these diagnoses. Frankly, it seems TYC is worse than TDCJ.

Anonymous said...

Treatment costs money. The major thrust by the head of the Senate Finance Committee over the past 12 years, had been to reduce the spending/youth in TYC. He cut, and cut and cut. Not to be outdone by a political rival, Guv Goodhair increased the amount of the cuts to funding of TYC. Even in times of budget surplus, the TYC budget was cut yet again amid all this "reform." Even though the West Texas abuse did occur, and even though it was covered up, that scandal was used as a smoke screen to cover up the real scandal - the scandal of how our legislative leaders and our Guv gutted TYC over the years.

The handwriting is on the wall - privatization is on its way. Geo group (which runs the Coke County JJC) has blantantly refused to comply with TYC standards of care, yet they are allowed to continue unimpeded. Why is that? Whose pockets are they in?

Now there's an investigation for the Rangers to undertake. If not the Rangers, maybe DOJ. Maybe not, though, because the Guv controls the Rangers and you know who controls the DOJ.

Anonymous said...


If you have information for DOJ about Coke County, contact them! Look them up online -- Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section.

Anonymous said...

treatment costs money but education brings money into TYC so how do we address the cutbacks to the educational programs central office support staff?

Anonymous said...

Is there a reason why trial lawyers don't often sue TYC on behalf of kids?

Anonymous said...

The big reason that lawyers don't sue TYC on behalf of kids is the civil adjudication process. Under civil adjudication conditions for release are only time based when the individual meets the other conditions of incarceration. This means that a kid can legally be held until his 19th birthday if he does not meet court ordered treatment issues.

Anonymous said...

The reason trial lawyers don't sue the state that much is collecting the judgment and fees can take years. These private prisons are in for a shock when attorneys in this state find out how easy they are to sue. The amount of the judgment against these private corrections companies is not limited like the state is.

Anonymous said...

This is also a sad commentary on the state of mental health services (for juveniles and adults) in Texas. Or lack thereof. Many people would not be incarcerated in the first place, or could be appropriatley diversted soon after incarceration, if the services and treatment were available. Jails and juvenile detention facilities have become catch-alls for the mentally ill.

Anonymous said...

7:56, what about the current sentenced offenders who are still there after their 19th birthday? I'm thinking one reason is TYC could make their claim moot by sending them to prison.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the sentenced offender dilemna has been resolved. (of course, pending any challenge in the courts). TYC is following the same formula they followed when the sentenced offender law was changed back in the 90's. We now have "old law" and "new law" sentenced offenders again. Those sentenced before the changes in SB103 will be eligible to stay under TYC until they turn 21. Old Salty

Anonymous said...

I was in TYC from ages 12-17, 13 years ago and can attest to the PTSD! No one inside cares either. I am considering writing a book on my experiences.