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Mar
26

“Welcome to the Juvenile Justice System. We will do our best to ensure you have a pleasant visit so that you will return again and again!” This is what I believe the guide I read recently for parents to acquaint themselves with the Juvenile Justice System SHOULD say. Why am I reading about the DJS, you ask?

A short time ago I wrote a blog about my twelve-year-old stepson who steals. He moved in with his dad and me at the age of nine. At that time he was stealing, lying and destroying property. His mother was at her wit’s end and was unable to meet the demands of caring for him. He was going to therapy weekly, seeing a psychiatrist, and there were frequent meetings at school.

When we took him in we were very excited. We were sure we could provide the structure and consistency and love that he needed. We have actually seen some progress. He used to hoard food and that has stopped. There is definitely a difference between hoarding food and stealing food. The hoarding was bringing anything to his room and hiding it — cheese sticks, juice boxes, cookies, etc… He has always “stolen” food, meaning he will eat ice cream that he knows his brother’s girlfriend bought, or eat the donuts we were going to take to work the next morning.

We saw stealing at home — he’d take his brother’s cell phone or game boy. If he was angry he’d get revenge on the person he was mad at. When he had a time-out on the steps, he’d sneak a pair of scissors in his pocket and poke holes in the wall of the stairway and pull out the carpet strand by strand. Sometimes there would be no apparent reason for damage — he’d be watching TV in the basement and rip every button off of the couch and chairs. We provided consequences, found a new therapist with more of a background in Reactive Attachment Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and communicated with the school. Sadly he has few friends, although he is able to “blend” so the school seems to see a polite, social child.

Although we have been doing everything the doctors are telling us, we still feel like we are watching a train wreck. We felt we could see where he was heading and nothing we were doing was stopping it.

Last Saturday evening a police officer came to our door asking if my stepson lived here. The officer had our child’s first name and was going door-to-door looking for him. Apparently my stepson had taken a walk earlier in the morning and introduced himself to some new children who were just moving in. Later that morning the police were called and proceeded to take 6 (SIX!!) reports of cars being ‘keyed.’ The officer asked if our son was outside at that time and what he was wearing. With his past history, our hearts sank. WE KNEW. We told the officer to go ahead and question the boy — hopefully it would scare him! This boy looked directly into the eyes of the policeman and denied it. (I probably would have wet my pants at that age, being questioned by a police officer.)

Apparently one of the homes has surveillance cameras and caught him on both sides of their car. The image wasn’t clear, but again, WE KNEW. Even though it was black-n-white, I could tell what he had on. When asked if he wore that outfit earlier in the day, he said, “I don’t believe so,” which is standard for him — totally non-committal.  I showed the officer the clothes on the bedroom floor and coincidentally they looked eerily similar to those in the photo. The officer talked to him about honesty and laying his head down on his pillow that night knowing if he told the truth or not.

The officer called later, after checking with his supervisor to see if they had enough “evidence” to charge him. He was switching shifts and told us he’d be back on Tuesday and we should bring him to the station to fill out the charging papers then. He thanked us. I guess most parents do not allow their kids to be questioned. We were very cooperative. We will support him however we can, but maybe this is what he needs to scare him enough so he does not enter a world of crime!

The next day our darling boy confessed. He was angry at us because he’d been grounded to his room for fighting at school last week. So, let’s take out that anger on complete strangers? We had always been his victims in the past, but now he has moved to the real world. We told him we could no longer provide the consequences and that it was out of our hands. When Tuesday rolled around, we called to see what time we should bring him in. My husband had another appointment that day also, and was willing to still bring him in, but the officer said since he confessed, there was not the same sense of “urgency.” He was going to be on vacation, so told us we can bring him in two weeks from now. I am not clear what will happen next exactly, but he will give his statement and have charges filed. I do not know if this involves fingerprinting or a mug shot. Since we told him he would be going in that day and he didn’t, we were worried he would feel he “got off easily.” We told him that he is on house arrest and has been placed on the “docket” for the date in 2 weeks. We felt we had to take matters into our own hands because he has been “threatened” with arrest by us a million times and here he actually commits a crime and nothing happens!

From what I am told, he will probably get nothing for this first offense. We want him to be held accountable and learn that his actions have serious consequences so he doesn’t continue this behavior. We are hoping this involves some community service and other consequences for making amends.

And of course we feel terrible for these people whose cars have been damaged. He took a rock and scratched them from panel to panel. We drove by to see. We are unclear about restitution on our part at this time, but obviously we want to do something. I can only imagine the cost to these people as well as how we will be able to afford to help fix 6 (SIX!!) cars!!

The psychiatrist and therapist say this is due to the trauma my stepson experienced as a young child and we are doing everything we should be doing, but it is up to him to make changes. He will have to deal with the consequences his whole life — he cannot just say, “Oh, I had a traumatic childhood…” as an excuse.

I’d love to hear anyone’s experiences with the Juvenile Justice System.

Editor’s Note: Children who exhibit signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder need a comprehensive psychiatric assessment and an individualized treatment plan. Because of that, if your child has either RAD or PTSD, we recommend that you work closely with a local counselor or therapist to coordinate your approach to challenging behaviors such as those Emmie has described here. Close and ongoing collaboration between your family and the treatment team will increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.

Emmie is the mom of two boys, ages 15 and 21, both with ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. She is remarried and her husband also has two boys, ages 12 and 14.


     

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  • jrhmof3 Says:

    I am continually disappointed in the JJS. I have experienced this as well. I finally have someone with the authority to really do something that I hope will scare my son and they do nothing. I feel like they make me look like my threats that the police will be called for certain situations makes me lose credibility since the police don’t really do anything which ends up reinforcing the children’s belief they can do anything they want. I get that police and the system are overcrowded, too much to deal with, but come on, we have to do something. I wonder what it’s going to be next time, at what point are there actually going to be consequences beyond anything I can do at my home.

  • brittanyhope1986 Says:

    This is very discouraging!!! I have an 8 year old stepson who thinks he can make his own rules…and of course our consequences mean NOTHING. I was hoping that sometime there would be something to teach him…guess not what a horribly crudely failed system…get by with everything untilcyour 18 then suddenly your magically responsable…there needs to be a change.

  • gorca Says:

    My 16 yr old has 2 encounters with the police. Once at the beginning of this school year, and once about 2 yrs ago. Both times the police (resource officers who were already at his school) were called after he threatened an administrator. Both times he received a citation, and we had to accompany him to the juvenile justice building where we met with an officer- I can’t remember his title, but he was sort of like a juvenile probation officer.

    With the first offense, my son had to call the officer every week for 12 weeks to check in. We really liked the officer, and he was firm, but kind when he spoke to my son at the “hearing”. However, that was the only time my son spoke with him. With all of his phone calls, he got the officer’s voice mail and left a message. With the 2nd offense, the officer was also firm but encouraging. That time, my son had to write an essay related to the offense and was required to do 20 hrs of community service. He also had serious consequences from the school both times, but it seemed like the police involvement helped to really bring home how serious his behavior was. Yes, the system is crowded and stressed, but the juvenile justice people seem sincere and caring. They really want to scare these kids away from the behavior that got them in trouble before they are adults and the consequences are really serious.

  • melanieerenee Says:

    My daughter was referred to the JJC for truancy. The officer is also kind,but firm. He does not tolerate her BS and has had her in the evenings from 4-9pm when she’s not working up to HIS expectations. She is not afraid of him, but is afraid of disappointing him. She’s learned she made a dreadful mistake and I hope this is the only foray into juvenile justice we will have to make.

  • Joe S. Says:

    My 17 yo son has ADHD and, what I have diagnosed as, ODD. He appears out of control, with little concern for his own future, the welfare of his siblings and my bank account. He has received numerous fines over the last few years for things from smoking in a prohibited area, fare evasion and unlicensed motorbike riding. I feel his poor understanding of reality, along with his no care attitude to schooling, means that he is effectively incapable of defending himself for his ‘crimes’, be they against his family or the wider community. This leaves me with little choice other than to defend him, using my ability to write, seeking review of his fines or punishments. I love the boy dearly, but when he doesn’t get his way, his apparent empty threats to tattoo his neck or commit robberies, leaves me believing he has ODD. I say it’s white, he says it’s black. I have this underlying belief than deep down he cares and has learnt from both his mother and I. Parents of his friends report that he is a ‘gem’. A wonderful boy to have a round. At the end of it all he will come out with flying colours and we may look back on all this and say, ‘See, I told he would be alright’…………………

  • BrittanyT2011 Says:

    I have also been very disappointed with our Justice system. My son stole my new car in the middle of the night at age 14 and called when the battery was dead and he had caused $300 dollars worth of damage trying to figure out how to restart it. ( 3am very unexpected phone call) I was furious, called the police and they came to my house. I told them the story and that I wanted consequences. They explained that I could press charges which would cost me $$ because I’m the parent and he is 14. Then there would be court costs, probation fees, all which I would have to pay for and it really wasn’t worth it.. I couldn’t believe it! I am a single mom with a Abusive Ex who moonlights as a Disneyland Dad when it can hurt me. Not long after this I caught him stealing $600.00 snowboarding coats and car hopping GPS devices and ipods. I ended up turning him in and his 4 buddies. He was charged and was on probation for 3 years. It cost a lot of money and taught him nothing, His probabtion officer could never remember his name, mixed his case up with another boys with the same name and I basically payed for a bunch of classes where he learned nothing and he did some Janitorial duties after school a few days a week for community service. I feel I was punished and on probation but my son continues to steal from his brothers and friends and friends parents. His stories just get more creative.