Friday, May 4, 2007

We can do better

My mid-week blog post on the Lincoln Police Department's response to behavioral crises involving young children at elementary schools started a spirited discussion, with comments ranging from the ignorant to the eloquent. I'd like to close it with a few observations.

There are a fair number of Lincoln police officers who were teachers and even members of school boards. There are several school staff members, likewise, who wore our uniform. There are plenty of husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, and other family members whose professional lives take place in police cars and classrooms. We cope with the same kinds of social problems and dysfunctions every day, and it's a pretty common topic of discussion. Protest as you may, you know we can do better in coping with the high needs of a small number of children in our schools.

Most people in Lincoln are somewhat oblivious to this issue. They simply don't know what teachers, principals, administrators, and police officers know: we have an increasing number of little kids with serious behavior disorders, mental illnesses, and just plain conduct problems. Other people are more aware, but don't realize just how acute it can be at times.

It's not going away soon, and no amount of wistful pining for the 1950's will change that. Although some of these problems are clearly traceable to the complete absence of parental care and responsibility, others are not, and in many cases very loving and capable parents are trying to cope as best they can with a high-needs child for whom they desperately want the best opportunity.

Maybe we need more capacity at the special-needs facilities and programs already operated by our school district. Maybe we need better laws, policies, or guidelines. Maybe we need a small group of more highly-trained and experienced rapid responders for our rare but acute crises. Maybe we need more creative thought. I don't know, or pretend to know. It's incredibly easy to run someone else's business--poorly. I do know, however that we certainly need more parenting education, more teenage pregnancy prevention, more substance abuse treatment, more surrogate grandparents, more respite care, more home-visiting public health nurses, more Teammates, more Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

Right now, it appears to me that we rely upon teachers and principals to control the most serious manifestations of these behaviors. They are very good, but sometimes they are overwhelmed by the severity and intensity of the behavior they are called upon to deal with. In these extreme cases they must rely on the coercive power of the police, and on the ability and willingness of the police (when necessary) to physically restrain, arrest, or take children away. As a City, School District, and society, we ought to do better.

I hope that funding priorities are not an impediment to finding a better way. Those are some pretty impressive athletic facilities, and I hope that garnering support for schools in Lincoln does not come at the expense of bending our priorities to fit what we perceive as the demands of our popular culture, rather than the most important needs of our educators and our students.

There are some teachers or staff members who have posted on this blog who are mad at this messenger who is questioning the response to behavioral crises involving little children.

I don't buy it.

This is an emotional response (to which they are entitled), but they, more than anyone, know that we can do better and that we should. They may call the police, but they cry when a mentally ill child, or a child with a behavior disorder, or a child with no impulse control, must be intimidated by the presence of a police officer--or worse. They cry. I know this with certainty. Even when they are frustrated, frightened, assaulted, and exhausted, their heart breaks. They know that what this child needs is a skilled counselor, or a clinical psychologist, or a psychiatric social worker, or a hospital bed, or a competent parent. Or love.

They do not need, at the age of 7, a police incident report, a citation, handcuffs, fear, and the Plexiglas-enclosed back seat of a police cruiser. Unfortunately, several times a year that's the best we can muster.

As Forrest Gump said, "That's all I have to say about that."


foxspit said...

Well said chief, well said.

I like the idea of the team of highly trained rapid responders.

All good suggestions. Some of these children don't even have parents, as you point out, and are a breath away from being forgotten. We can do more to address these problems but it's hard to get people to commit to something that might break their heart. I hope we can come up with some good ideas for these children.

Anonymous said...

You Go Chief! As a parent of 3 children, all at different age levels, and a hospital employee who sees these children when lpd brings them to our ER, I can completely empathize with you and your officers. I can also empathize with all the school officials involved, as one of my children tends to misbehave at school. Not fighting with others, but constant talking, disrupting of class, etc.... There is not one person who can tell me that we dont love this child or that we arent trying to help him. There comes a point as a parent when we have to take responsibility for our children, not matter what their action is. Ultimately it is OUR responsibility. Being in communication with all the school officals and those involved with these children can only help! We can spend all the money we want on training school officials how to deal with these situations ( and i agree that would be helpful) but maybe its time to spend the money on training parents how to deal with THEIR child in these situations. Unfortunately, when you leave the hospital with a brand new baby, they dont send you home with a "What to do when your child does this..." manual! Maybe we can spend the money and make one of those! I commend LPD and LPS for all their hard work and efforts!

Anonymous said...

I don't think it is the 'end-all be-all' but I believe part of the solution is mentioned in the chief's comments.

As many people as possible need to get involved in their community--helping make great programs like Teammates succeed.

While I believe that parents should be parents, this advice probably falls on deaf ears where dysfunctional parenting is concerned. Those that care enough to do something can--get involved.

It won't 'save' every child, but can make a great difference in enough of the next generation to matter.

Anonymous said...

I must comment that it is not correct to foxspit say these children do not even have parents. I hope as you encounter these children in your life that you see that ALL children have parents. I used to say as a child that " I do not have a dad " well as an adult I learned the truth is I have a dad but I have never met him. It is important that when we meet a child who says I dont have parents to reflect that of course you have parents.

Anonymous said...

Hey Chief, what was the "tough decision" that you mentioned in Do the Right thing part II.... It's been 2 weeks - many are anxiously awaiting the unveiling.

Tom Casady said...

To 9:23 anonymous: Sorry for delay, but it's still cooking. I warned the students that it might take a few weeks. I'm hostage to a decision another agency makes first. If you're holding your breath in suspense, I'm afraid you might be disappointed: it's not that much of a big deal--just something that was tough for me to decide upon which way to go. I think the students saw why, and saw a lot of potential repercussions they hadn't thought of--that was the point of the exercise.

Anonymous said...

It would make some sense to dedicate resources to the developmental disorders of these troubled kids.

How many times do you see "crisis counselors" turn up at these schools when a classmate is killed in a car crash? What are these "crisis counselors" doing the other 100+ days they aren't called out for an emergency?

Of course, this will mean the school board (who all ran UNOPPOSED in the city election....did you notice?) will be whining that we need more money to pay for these services.

Meanwhile the LPS administration keeps on administrating, at a higher and higher cost every year.

Anonymous said...

A bit off topic, but here is a link to a DUI story.