The following blog post was written by a DC parent of a disconnected young person.
When my chocolate baby was born, I had nothing but big dreams in mind for him and was ready, as a single mother, to overcome any challenge. I did not realize the heart-wrenching journey before me. At age five, I proudly enrolled my son in a private Catholic School only for him to be expelled in 1st grade before the year concluded. The school cited “unruly behavior” as the reason. Two years later the cause of my son’s behavior was diagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He was placed in a special education program in a public school. I was not prepared for the additional diagnoses of Learning Disabled, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Bipolar II by the time he became a teenager. His diagnoses required him to participate in a school offering behavioral modification through medication and therapeutic counseling. He was hospitalized seven times starting at age 12 and placed on a host of medications ranging from Ritalin to Depakote.
Upon entering 12th grade, my son had participated in four special education schools for behavioral and emotional problems across three states. Each program trying to design the right treatment for him but without success. By age 16 he started using drugs, skipping school and staying away from home for weeks at time. At age 19, my son was incarcerated for alleged armed robbery. He had become one of the many African American males that entered the school to prison pipeline without a means to reconnect to the school to career pipeline.
Where did I go wrong? Where did the system fail him? I continuously sought help through psychiatrists and psychologists, mentors, and school personnel. Every suggestion came with financial challenges. One suggestion was to send my son away to school in Colorado where he could participate in therapeutic horseback rides and have round the clock counseling for a mere $50,000 per year. Another came from high school staff that recommended I apply for Social Security Benefits to underwrite program costs only to be denied. Through demanding reevaluation of my son’s case, he was approved for Social Security Benefits. He was incarcerated when we received the good news! As a result of his incarceration, he had to re-apply for benefits.
My story is unfortunately not unique. It is one of the many stories of parents who sadly must navigate a public and private system designed to challenge not support parents in their efforts to care for their child. Most regrettably our education system is not designed to provide adequate mental health services and supports to children and youth struggling to succeed in school and life. It most certainly is not designed to support my 25 year old with a criminal record and mental disabilities to obtain a GED and obtain a “good job”.
To reflect on his journey and mine, brings new tears to my eyes. I know if I could have gotten help a lot sooner things would not have turned out the way they did for my son. The help he received in high school was too late. My wish is that my story helps another parent before my son’s present is your child’s future.
This past fall DCAYA, in conjunction with the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region and the United Way of the National Capital Area released the report "Connecting Youth to Opportunity." The report used insight from hundreds of disconnected and reconnecting youth across the District of Columbia through surveys and focus groups, to better understand the reasons and possible solutions to disconnection. To hear a youth's story about her journey from disconnection to reconnection watch YOUTH VOICES: Charmia Carolina.