This is going to be an intensely personal post, but I like to be up-front with my readers…all 2 of you. 🙂
I have 3 children, one of them, Noah-is 13 years old and has a host of mental health disorders that have made it necessary for him to live in a residential mental health facility for a period of about 6 months. This is not the first time he has been in a residential setting, as he was in 2 other facilities here in Central Florida, starting in 2011.
I am writing this post for a couple of reasons, one of them being that we ALL need the mental healthcare system in the United States to change…drastically, or it will be everyone who suffers the consequences. The second reason is to try to de-stigmatize mental health disorders. This is a subject which has just recently come into light since the unfortunate CT school shooting.
The facility where Noah is living has 2 sides to it, one being a regular inpatient mental health side & the other, is basically a shelter for runaway youths. On Monday morning, 3/4/13, at about 9 am, Noah & a friend were playing outside the facility. The friend had issues that same morning with compliance & I later learned, had a court date set for the next day… Noah is a trusting child who has issues with both making & keeping friends due to his Asperger’s, albeit high-functioning he does not read social cues well & coupled with his other issues (ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, PTSD) he has almost no long term friends. So the other boy tells Noah he’s going to leave the facility & Noah should come with. My son, being the type of boy who craves adventure & adrenaline rushes, decides that it would be cool & fun to tag along & see where the other boy might lead him.
Have I mentioned that the facility also has a gate that is supposed to have a keypad lock that is kept shut at all times, has said gate open 24/7? Yes, in the middle of a residential neighborhood full of housing developments as far as the eye can see, this mental health facility has a door which is kept wide open. Mind you, we mentioned to them when he was 1st brought there that Noah has extremely good climbing abilities, a fact that was tested almost daily when he lived at home by him deciding the roof would be a fun place to play & yes, sometimes even skateboard off of. This was one of the main reasons we decided a residential setting was the right choice for Noah. The last facility had fences 3 times higher than these & he almost made it out of there, so we were concerned. We kept mentioning the open gate issue at our weekly family therapy sessions, in which the therapist acknowledged the issue & blamed the kids for breaking the lock of the gate & made the excuse that the runaway kids actually had the freedom to come & go as they pleased, which is the polar opposite of the mental health side, but I digress…
So Noah & the other boy jumped the fence. They ran in & out of neighboring yards and before the phone call was made to the Police Department, an officer even spotted them. 9:38 am is when the facility phoned to report them missing. 11:17 I got the call telling me what happened & that the report was made & that officers were canvasing the area. I was also told what they were both wearing & that their outfits did not include shoes or socks! 6pm rolls around and with no phone call in sight & darkness closing in as well as cold evening temperatures that were in the forecast for the area, my worrying mom syndrome kicks into high-gear. I call the police department & ask to speak with the supervisor on duty & express my concern for Noah’s well-being & that he is in need of multiple medications. Then he tells me that the fact he needed medication was not in the original police report and that the way whomever reported made it sound as if it was just another one of the runaways who took off, which happens often… He also says that if it had been reported the right way, they would’ve sent out dogs & helicopters to look but being that so much time had passed, it was too late.
This is when my absolute determination turned into absolute fear. The worst thoughts you can possibly imagine as a parent started rushing through my head and all I could think about was my son & wonder if he was okay. I called his case worker, who always has ideas & resources to help & left a message for her. The hours passed so slowly & all I remember is non-stop crying alternating with anger at the facility who couldn’t be bothered to report my son’s disappearance correctly. I made another call to the police supervisor at around 9pm & he assured me they were looking in the neighborhood. The real unknown factor to me was this other boy who has influenced my son to come with him. The facility could only give me a physical description & no other information, which was not comforting considering he was taller than my son my at least 3 inches, which lead me to believe he was older. They also said this wasn’t the first time he had run & it was as if it was no big deal to them…
My husband went to go drive around the area, which is about 5 miles from our house. When he drove up to the facility & asked to speak with whomever was in charge that evening, the person who came to speak with him was rude & belligerent, telling my husband when he asked what they were doing to help find him that “it wasn’t their job to chase after them or look for them”. He also refused to tell my husband his name when he asked for it… Of course.
At around 2am I was feeling desperate to find Noah & asked my husband if he would take me with so we could look for Noah again. We stopped at the area convenience stores & the Wal-Mart that was nearby & showed his picture around. I was overwhelmed looking at all the streets in the area, knowing that they could be in any yard or abandoned house. I know my son, and he does not go an entire day without calling either me or his biological father. So I was rather hysterical at this point. We came home with no new hope or information and basically passed out at around 3;30am.
I woke to the phone ringing at 8:30-it was Noah’s father asking if I had any news. Sadly, I didn’t but a dawn of a new day was here & I resolved to make every possible phone call I could as well as get the word out on social media. I posted on Facebook, twitter & called the officer handling the case, who told me they were still looking for them. I spoke to Noah’s case worker & was told I should report teh facility to DCF for neglect since it’s their job to protect the children & they did not do their job. I called them and was referred to The Agency for Healthcare Administration where they took my information and generated a report. I called all the local media outlets only to be told that they could do no story without the police calling them first. I called the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and generated a case, they sent me an email with forms to fill out so that they could generate flyers and contact media outlets, which I promptly filled out and attached photos to.
I had done what felt like a full fays work before it was even 10 am. But my son was not found yet so my determination was unwavering. We put in another call to the officer to ask if he could please go to the media with Noah information and were told that he was escalating the case to “endangered child” status due to Noah’s medication needs as well as his diagnosis’. This, we were told would help the case get to the media and he said that an Investigative Analyst would help with that & he gave me a name, the same name that was given to me by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children after they received my paperwork. I called and called this person to no avail & got another name via email. When I spoke to the “Investigative Aide” he told me that Noah did not meet their “criteria” to release to the media. I was floored and angry.
Facebook was my next mission, as many of my friends were concerned about Noah’s safety & well-being & awaiting any help they could provide. I gave the aide’s information and media information and asked that phone calls me made imploring for their help in finding Noah. By this time, it was almost 1:30PM, over 28 hours since Noah was missing. My husband is a long time fan of a local radio show & put a call in earlier in the morning. They put my husband on the phone at around noon of their radio show. At 2:38, I got the best phone call ever-Noah called to tell me that he had run away (you think?) and wanted to come home! He is now home and asleep in his own bed after a nice dinner with his sister’s and step-dad.
Happy ending? I think so, for now. But tomorrow morning I will be meeting with the facility he was in to determine how I can ever feel that he will be okay and safe there. The boy who was with my son ran off when he found out we were coming to get him and I have to say, I am thankful to him for his survivalist skills. They went fishing & sold the fish to buy shoes and a blanket, they went to a local hardware store & slept in an empty and unlocked shed. He was safe and home with me after having quite the “adventure”. I hope he understands now how unsafe he actually was. I have talked to him about it & so has his step-dad & biological father. I have a feeling this may be the first of many new “adventures” for Noah.
As one of my favorite characters, Yoda, might say if he were here now: Long the road ahead of us is. Clouded the future is.
I will continue to advocate for better mental healthcare in the US for all, including those who have limited incomes and hope that many more will do so.
For more information on how you can help those living with mental illness and their families, please check out the following resources:
To contact your local politician via email, phone or twitter: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml
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