It’s the ‘Shhh! Silent Problem’

It’s all on the down-low.

Jamie is 8 and has ADHD and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. She comes to school smelling like pot a couple weeks out of each month because her mother sells Jamie’s prescriptions on the street and makes her smoke some marijuana before school to keep her calm enough in class to not get sent home.

It’s often school professionals who first notice neglected kids. They come to school dirty, tired, hungry, and inappropriately clothed. They sometimes become a regular fixture in the nurse’s office, complaining of vague stomachaches and headaches. They often can’t concentrate in school and don’t do well. Some are withdrawn and depressed. Others are very, very angry and rebellious. Sometimes they substitute attitude for confidence. Frequently absent, they have little chance of keeping up with the curriculum. Unable to succeed, they stay away more and more. When the school calls the parents for a meeting, the parents seldom show up. When they do show up, they may be overwhelmed and incapable or defensive and angry.

Jordan’s teacher knows she should be more sympathetic. When he does show up, he is usually dirty and oddly dressed. He smells. The other kids avoid him. Although he is 11, he is still in the fourth grade. Frequent absences mean he probably won’t get promoted this year either. Notes and calls to his parents get no response. Jordan is neglected.

Jenny, on the other hand, always has the latest clothes and the latest technology. Her teachers are very concerned because she is sexually provocative with peers and even with her male teachers. Her guidance counselor was able to have one briefly unguarded conversation with her. Hungry for love and attention, Jenny acknowledged that she goes after sex as a route to some kind of love. The counselor has called Jenny’s mother repeatedly to request a meeting. Mother says she is much too busy. “I put off my own life long enough,” says the mother. “She’s 13 now and she can take care of herself.” Jenny is neglected too.

Neglect is found at all levels of the economic spectrum. While some kids, like Jordan, suffer the dual burden of neglect and poverty, other children, like Jenny, have parents who have plenty of material resources. They are willing and able to provide material things but not enough care and concern.

Neglected children often are undetected both because they are less obviously hurting and because America has a tradition of respecting family privacy. Sadly, the end result is that neglected children are protected neither by their parents or their community.

If you suspect neglect is occurring to a child you know, it’s important to get involved. Report it to your local child protective services. Most will allow you to do so anonymously if you prefer. Generally, a report is followed up with an investigation. Despite the impression created by high-profile cases, it is rare that children are removed from their home. That only occurs in the most severe cases, when the child is at significant risk for harm. Even in those cases, removal is usually temporary, with placement with extended family being preferred to foster care.

Sometimes the best efforts to preserve the family fail and children are placed with foster families to keep them safe and to give them a chance for a better life. Whenever possible, though, the approach in most communities and states is to educate and support the parents and to monitor the children in the hope that their own family can become a safe and healthy one. Once provided with adequate services, many parents do improve.

*All names are fictional.

Jessica L. Arrant
STAR Program/ BAC

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Draw Olaf and Stop Cyberstalking

I lack any sense of abstract thinking and I am the master of all logic. Personally, it’s a flaw and something I am actively working on balancing. The flaw of my left-side-of-brain-thinking began shining through immediately upon my acceptance of a new position, which entails working with and evaluating the minds and psyche of children. When it comes to any type of childhood psychology, it is usually best to rear back and kick logic out of the door like a bright red kickball in desperate need of a home run. Children are impatient, needy for love and understanding (particularly from mother), irrational and overly dramatic, and as quickly as they are rude, they are cheerful and pleasant again. These are things that most (though not all) of us develop out of during the growing up stages and phases of life.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, https://jessicalarrant.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/teaching-children-how-to-feel-so-i-dont-have-to-deal-with-a-lion/, “kids show… Confusion as in, frustration disguised by squawking noises or rolling on the floor. Sadness displayed through anger and aggression acts, such as hitting the teachers or repeatedly stabbing oneself with a pencil. Uncertainty channeled through acts of manipulation in order to gain full task avoidance. Anxiety often looks like crawling on the floor acting like a wolf or lion (why not, nothing can hurt those beasts.)”

One cannot help a child if they can’t decode a raging 9 year old tearing apart a classroom at 2:05 in the afternoon. The decoding of the previous sentence: Possibly, the child does not want to go home, which is a strong implication of some type of ongoing abuse.

Another possibility would be the bus. Do you know the environment of the child’s bus? Where does the bus go before they pick up the child? Maybe a middle school. What are the demographics of the bus route? Perhaps the bus first stops at a behavior unit. Or maybe the other elementary school’s tutoring kids get on before the child in question. (There is a strong correlation of low grades and bad behavior.) Point is, maybe the child gets on a bus and is lightly tortured for the whole 30 minute ride.

Another question to ask could be, is the child diagnosed with ADHD? If so, it is possible that the end of the day rage is the child’s inability to process whatever activities are going on at school while knowing they are so close to going home. ODD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, is often paired with ADHD. ODD is a persistent behavioral pattern of angry or irritable mood; argumentative, defiant behavior towards authority figures; and vindictiveness. In some children with ODD, these behaviors are only in evidence in one setting—usually at school. In more severe cases they occur in multiple settings.

If a professional cannot get out of their logical mind and get down on the floor and play Legos with kids or sketch out a scene from a Disney movie and let the kids color, then there will be too huge of a barrier between the problem and the solution.

One can’t know that flipping a desk and throwing books means, “I’m crying for help” unless one can get out of logical thinking and get on an abstract pathway.

I’m determined to equip the children I see every day with the tools to gain the stability to NOT be 13 and pregnant, 15 and selling drugs on the street, 17 and dependent on pills, 18 and selling themselves on the street. I want them to have enough self worth to know when to stop. Enough emotional stability to not be the cyberstalking ex, or the person that lashes out on social media sites with a series of rants about people they’ve never met in person, but don’t ‘like.’

My determination to help prevent the above stated has been driven by the fueling things I have seen come from my new less-logical thinking skills.
Unfortunately, we all know that just because someone is equipped with something does not mean they will utilize the equipment. Probably most people can think about encounters they’ve had with different individuals over the course of life who are able to put on a nice façade of normality, while at the roots of the person they are unstable to say the very least. I can speak for myself and say I’ve known these people in life. Showing the ability to front normalcy implies that the person has the tools for successful social behavior, but does not enforce them when the demons creep in giving them the first urge to play petty games with someone who has no clue about what is going on or why. (Or any antisocial behavior)

Teaching myself that my job stops at the equipping is a challenge. It is the job of the parents and other adults in a child’s environment to enforce the utilization of important social tools in life. Unfortunately, the type of children I see, typically, lack appropriate social behavior because it has never been modeled for them. So, how a parent will enforce something they do not possess is something I can’t allow myself to think about. I’m unmarried and 23 years old and in a 4 month time period I have wanted to adopt several children I’ve worked with… That’s me using a little too much of my right side of brain.

The past few months it has been a joy to learn to use the right side of my brain. To get in touch with my creative and colorful side in order to get in touch with a struggling child is truly one of life’s hidden treasures.
I suggest it for everyone.

Jessica L. Arrant
STAR Program/ BAC

Teaching Children How to Feel So I Don’t Have to Deal with a Lion

In the short time I have spent learning and experiencing the ways of EBD children I have seen a plethora of flat out confusion. Confusion as in, frustration disguised by squawking noises or rolling on the floor. Sadness displayed through anger and aggression acts, such as hitting the teachers or repeatedly stabbing oneself with a pencil. Uncertainty channeled through acts of manipulation in order to gain full task avoidance. Anxiety often looks like crawling on the floor acting like a wolf or lion (why not, nothing can hurt those beasts.)
When a child has begun deescalating after hitting the teacher or hurting themselves, they almost always cry. This is when we have to take the opportunity to say, “This is feeling sad, what you feel right now, with these tears, is how to feel sad.”

To avoid any child you’re involved with having to go through anything I’ve above described, take the opportunity to teach them how to feel.

How-To on Feeling Feelings

Kids who know how to express their feelings in socially appropriate ways are less likely to exhibit behavior problems. When kids have the language to say, “I’m mad at you,” they are less likely to throw a temper tantrum. Teach them how to talk about their feelings and healthy ways to help them deal with their feelings. Show kids how to use feeling words in their daily vocabulary. Model how to express feelings by taking opportunities to share your feelings to your child. For example, say, “I’m sad that you don’t want to share your toys with your sister.”

Teach kids appropriate ways to deal with uncomfortable emotions. Kids need to learn that just because they feel angry doesn’t mean they can hit someone. Instead, they need to learn anger management skills so they can resolve conflict peacefully.

One way to deal with feelings is to talk about it. Encourage kids to use their words to express how they feel. This can help them speak up to a friend who has ripped a toy out of their hand and can prevent them from lashing out and retaliating.

Teach kids how to take a self-time out. Encourage them to go to their room or another quiet place when they are getting upset. This can help them learn to calm down before they do something that gets them sent to time out.

Teaching kids how to deal with sad feelings can be helpful as well. For example, if your child feels sad that his friend won’t play with him, talk about ways he can deal with his sad feelings. Often, kids don’t know what to do when they feel sad so they become aggressive or exhibit attention-seeking behaviors.

Reinforcing Positive Ways to Express Feelings

It’s important to reinforce a child’s positive behaviors with a positive consequence when you catch him verbalizing his feelings. Praise efforts by saying something such as, “I really like the way you used your words when you told your sister you were mad at her.”

Another great way to reinforce healthy habits is to use a reward system. For example, a token economy system could help a child practice using his healthy coping strategies when he feels angry instead of becoming aggressive.

Model Healthy Behaviors

Just like with any behaviors you are trying to teach kids, it is important to model healthy ways to deal with feelings. If you tell your child to use his words when he’s angry but he witnesses you throw your cell phone after a dropped call, your words are likely to fall on deaf ears.

Point out times when you feel angry or frustrated and say it out loud. For example, “Wow, I’m angry that car just pulled in front of me.” Then take some deep breaths or model another healthy coping skill so your child can learn to recognize skills you use when you feel angry.

Jessica L. Arrant
STAR Program/ BAC
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Everything You Never Wanted to Have to Know About The Baker Act of a Child

Let me describe a scenario that recently took place at my job: A 12 year old child who has a violent criminal history, leaving (running away from) the behavioral unit they are enrolled in, and entering the grounds of an elementary school which they do not attend. Yes, all facilitators in the unit are Crisis Prevention Intervention trained (meaning trained on verbal deescalation, physical holds and restraints, etc.) but this particular child cannot be touched due to their extensive childhood abuse history. So, what can be done? The student is a danger to others, trespassing, and a danger to themselves. Law enforcement must be called.

What do they do?
Seeing a child be wrestled to the ground and handcuffed (wrists and ankles) is not something the majority of people in society want to witness, but that is what was done in the story I am describing. With the child in the back of a cop car attempting to kick the windows out, where to? What next?

The Baker Act
Most parents are unaware that their child can be removed from school grounds, without their permission, and brought to a psychiatric ward. Parents have the right to be informed and to understand that, by school intervention programs, your child may be evaluated and if a psychologist or school personnel or even another child who then reports their observations to a school psychologist, deems that your child is a behavioral risk, a potential risk to themselves or others, they are liable to the Baker Act.
A child is considered to be 4 years old up to 17 years old. Children younger than 4 years old are not considered to be involuntarily committed under the Baker Act. Involuntary means that a person is committed against their will, without their own choice.
A medical professional, Sheriff Resource Officer and a police officer can initiate a Baker Act if the child or individual is demonstrating an inability “to exercise voluntary control over his or her own symptoms (mental health symptoms).”
And because of their inability to control their mental health symptoms, depression, anxiety, aggression, etcetera, and because they are deemed an “imminent danger” to themselves or to others, with the “nature and extent of the danger posed” documented in their records, the individual or child will be involuntary committed.
If the child is deemed to be incapacitated or incompetent to consent to treatment, he or she cannot prevent the involuntary commitment. If the person is involuntary committed, then there are very specific things that they can or cannot do. The following information from the Florida Department of Children and Families “Baker Act Handbook and User Reference Guide” clarifies specific issues regarding the child, parent or guardian’s right to refuse treatment:
“The person does have the right to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus so a judge can determine if the person’s rights have been violated.

Jessica L. Arrant
STAR Program/ BAC

A Voice for EBD

As I have mentioned, all of the students I work with are EBD, Emotional Behavioral Disorder. This is a newer label that many people have not heard. So, I’m using this blog as a voice for EBD, so that it may be known and respected and left without stigma.
Many terms are used to describe emotional, behavioral or mental disorders. Now, students with such disorders are categorized as having an emotional disturbance, which is defined under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as “a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:

An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors

An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers

Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances

A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression

A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school factors.”

Educational Recommendations
Teaching strategies for these students should be based on changing the behavior itself. The system is often centered on discouraging the unwanted behavior and rewarding/encouraging the desired behavior.
Specifically identify the behavior which needs to be changed.
Create a baseline of the observed behavior.
Closely examine the information in the baseline and evaluate what has been observed and documented
Develop short and long term goals for the student. In the plan create a reward system to be used. Such as: give student a check mark for every 15 minutes behavior is appropriate. When the student receives 8 checks they may have 10 minutes of computer time.
Reevaluate the plan for effectiveness. Has the behavior reduced occurrence in a variety of settings?
Make modifications in the behavior plan to reinforce the desired outcome.
A behavior modification chart is a widely accepted tool to help a child visually understand the key behavior expectations and track their progress.

The Association for Comprehensive NeuroTherapy (CAN) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to exploring advanced and alternative non-toxic treatment for children with a variety of social and emotional disorders. The site links to several behavior modification charts.

There are nearly 20,000 students ages 3-21 identified as having a primary disability of EBD.

Jessica L. Arrant
STAR Program/ BAC

Tree Eating Giraffe and Pizza Eating Dog

As a psych major I never cared too much about Childhood/Adolescent Psychology. However, that has all changed since I scored a job with the school district in an elementary behavioral focus classroom. Two weeks ago, while building this tree eating giraffe and pizza eating dog from Legos I learned, very nonchalantly, from one of my fourth-graders about several types of abuse going on at home. I want to keep today’s blog simple. Lovingly care for your children. You lay their foundation for their entire lives. Make it a strong one. Don’t lay a foundation with cracks and crevices that will allow them to fall apart. Neglect, verbal abuse, physical abuse, etc. all form cracks in your child’s foundation that can easily lead to use of drugs, abusive relationships, attitude of not caring, dropping out of school, poverty, jail, all the things that loving parents never want for their children.
The prevalence of child abuse in our community is huge. We have more than 100 reports of child abuse each day. Sadly, many more instances go unreported and countless children are subject to abuse and neglect. I believe the cycle of abuse and family violence are preventable, and want to learn more about prevention, as my current job is working with children already altered by the effects of abuse.

Jessica L. Arrant
STAR Program/ BAC

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Where My Blogs Come From, What I Do

I am employed by the Santa Rosa County School District. I work in the elementary behavioral unit, which facilitates a total of eight 3rd-5th graders who have all been specifically placed by the state due to severe behavior. The unit is an intensive behavioral support program.
All of the students are EBD, Emotional Behavioral Disorder, among other diagnoses including Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and other undiagnosed disorders due to age being a determining factor in the ability to give a proper diagnosis. The program takes a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) approach. We assist students in identifying behaviors that are inappropriate in the academic environment, exploring triggers for those behaviors, identifying positive behaviors with which to replace those unwanted behaviors and practicing those positive behaviors in a safe, nurturing and structured environment. The program also uses a structured reward approach to build external buy in and eventually transfers the behaviors to an internal intrinsic motivation.

Jessica L. Arrant
STAR Program/ BAC