A recent domestic incident case that resulted in a charge of felony child abandonment at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital has highlighted once again the difficulty in gaining access to mental health treatment, especially for families with children approaching adulthood who defy parents’ attempts at control.
A 36-year-old parent from Dundee was arrested July 14 by Penn Yan Police who charged him with felony child abandonment and misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child after leaving his 13-year-old adult-sized son at Soldiers & Sailors. Upon contact with police, the father refused to return to the hospital to take custody of his son. The father was taken into custody at his home, and was held at the Yates County Jail to await arraignment.
Yates County Deputies and Investigators have responded to calls from the parent often, dealing with his son’s refusal to comply even with Family Court orders. A Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for the 911 dispatch notes for that one Dundee address resulted in 48 pages of response reports.
More and more frequently over the police scanner are heard calls for law enforcement to respond to “child out of control” incidents. Some are as simple as a teenager who refuses to get out of bed to go to school. Others are as extreme as a child in a violent rage damaging property. One girl recently broke the windshield of her mother’s car when she was brought to the police.
With the fear of being charged with child abuse, many parents are far more wary of any form of corporal punishment or physical restraint of their children, some of whom are physically bigger and stronger than their parents. But the steps to seek help in coping with a child who is increasingly out of control and even a danger to others in the household, are not always easy for parents to discover. And having to rely on law enforcement agencies to respond to these incidents comes at an increased public cost.
Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike replied, “Yes, we have had a rash of juvenile matters lately causing strain on our resources of Deputies to transport the youth to Buffalo, Utica, Watertown or Rochester to find a facility with bed space. Often we make the trip to and from and back two days in a row for court, etc. Lately we have had to use overtime to meet the demands.” Spike adds that Yates County does not have a reserved bed at any treatment location.
“More often than not,” says Spike, “law enforcement gets involved in juvenile delinquency cases (criminal) for those currently 16 and under, and this fall that goes to 17 and under.” Often a parent will call the YCSO and we will have the Youth officer get involved or will transfer to a school resource officer. Yates County Probation Dept. generally determines if a juvenile matter requires Family Court intervention or diversion to Persons In Need of Supervision (PINS), which is handled by Yates County Department of Social Services (DSS).
Spike explains a child under the age of 18 who does not attend school or behaves in a way that is dangerous or out of control, runs away, is using drugs, or often disobeys his or her parents, guardians, or other authorities, may be found to be a candidate for PINS. All PINS proceedings are heard in Family Court.
A PINS petition is a written request asking the Family Court to get involved when other efforts to control a child have failed. Most PINS petitions are filed by the parent or caregiver of a child. But school officials, police officers, people injured by the child, or the DSS may also file a PINS petition in Family Court with the Family Court Clerk at the court house.
PINS is not the same as a juvenile delinquency petition proceeding alleging that a crime was committed. PINS does not create a criminal record. The child cannot be put in a secure or locked facility as a result of a PINS case.
The PINS petition contains a description of the child’s behavior and asks the court to find that the child is in need of supervision. The petition and a summons must be given to the child and his or her parent, directing them to appear in Family Court on a specific date. There are no filing fees in Family Court.
According to information provided by Spike, different things can happen in Family court:
• Parent and child may agree that a short stay in foster care (usually at a group home) is the best thing for everyone.
• Parent and child may agree that working out the problems at home is best for everyone.
• Parent and child may not agree about what is best. When this happens, the Family Court judge can select a date for either a probable cause hearing or a fact-finding hearing.
A probable cause hearing is scheduled when a judge needs to decide if the child should stay somewhere else until the fact-finding hearing. A judge who thinks the child might not show up at the fact-finding hearing, can order the child to stay in a non-secure facility until the next court date. A non-secure facility is a place where the child is not locked in. The Sheriff’s Office is ordered to transport the child to and from the court and facility.
A fact-finding hearing is a trial. At this trial, it must be proven that the child did what he or she did in the PINS petition. Testimony and evidence is submitted. At the fact-finding hearing, the judge can:
• Decide that the child did what he/she is accused of. If this happens, the judge will set a date for a dispositional hearing, or
• Dismiss the case.
A dispositional hearing is when a judge decides what will happen to the child as a result of the PINS case. This includes where the child will live for the next 12 months or less. The judge also decides what services the child will get. The judge will sign an order that does one of the following things:
• Gives your child a suspended judgment. This may include things the child must do or must not do. If your child does what the judge says, the case may be later dismissed.
• Puts your child on probation. This means the child has to meet with a probation officer and follow certain rules.
• Place the child in a group home, a foster home, or some other non-secure facility. This may happen if the parent does not want the child to return home or the child does not want to go home. If the judge places a child in a non-secure facility, group home or foster home, the parent may be responsible for financially supporting him or her. This means a child support case may be started against the parent if applicable.
• The Judge may adjourn the case in contemplation of dismissal (ACD) for up to six months. If everything is okay during that period, the case will be dismissed.
According to DSS Director Amy Miller, there were 21 new referrals and 13 PINS Diversion cases opened in 2018.
Children’s Services and Foster Care
Yates County DSS has a Children’s Services Unit. The goal of the Children’s Services Unit is to keep children safe within their communities or homes, and to build permanency for children entering the child welfare system. This program investigates maltreatment/neglect issues involving children under the age of 18 which are believed to be caused by a parent or a person legally responsible. Caseworkers meet with the family to assess the conditions leading to the report, as well as any safety and risk issues. Caseworkers work with the family to facilitate services and minimize the risk of future maltreatment of the children. These cases work towards ensuring the safety of children that are at risk of placement or preventing a return to placement. Caseworkers’ responsibilities include, but are not limited to: referrals to needed services, mandated contacts two times per month, collateral contacts, writing court petitions and reports, and documentation.
Foster Care is used when parents or guardians are unable to care for or keep their children safe in the home. Foster Care takes place in community home settings and higher levels of care such as institutions for children with high needs.
In addition to DSS, Miller also offers that if a parent is struggling, there are a number of places they can reach out to in the community, but stops short of endorsing any particular programs over any other: primary care physician, the child’s school, Aspire Hope NY, Child and Family Resources, Early Intervention, FLACRA, Safe Harbors, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Penn Yan Family Support Center.
“There are a number of counseling resources available to children and adults including John D. Kelly, Family Counseling of the Finger Lakes, and Finger lakes Community Health. We also have a number of therapists that practice in the community who do not work for an agency,” says Miller.
Yates is a Coordinated Children’s Services Initiative (CCSI) county where agencies and programs serving children and youth and their families have developed a collaboration with the goal of providing an array of services to minimize the number of out of home placements. Through this Initiative, the Single Point of Accountability (SPOA) was developed and allows for the monitoring of youth as he/she receives services.
Juvenile delinquency matters are screened to determine if they should be diverted from Family Court action. Penn Yan Police Chief Thomas Dunham said, “Every case is different and can involve different issues such as loss of a family member, behavioral disorders, mental health issues, parenting issues etc.” Dunham outlined the procedure when and how secure detention of juveniles (less than 16 year old but at least 7) is determined to be necessary.
1. Contact the County Attorney to discuss the case and to make a determination if secure or non-secure detention is necessary
2. If secure detention is warranted contact the Yates County Youth Probation Officer
3. The Probation Officer will conduct a detention risk assessment
4. The Probation Department will contact facilities to locate a detention bed
5. Probation contacts the Family Court Clerk to arrange preparation of a detention order. A copy of the risk assessment form is sent to Family Court.
6. The juvenile is transported to detention and back to an initial Family Court appearance by the arresting agency.
Mental Health Treatment Courts
Yates County District Attorney Todd Casella declined to offer a comment specific to any pending cases, but did suggest an alternative route for cases involving mental health issues.
“The interplay of mental illness and the criminal justice system is something that has always frustrated me as a prosecutor because there are not many meaningful options to assist people who suffer from a mental illness once they are arrested. One of the goals in any prosecution is to arrive at a disposition that will make the present criminal action the last for the defendant — whether it is though punishment, community service, treatment, or probation.
“Individuals with mental illness present a challenge because our traditional options don’t work and are often inappropriate for the individual, says Casella. “One option that exists, just not in Yates County, is a Mental Health Treatment Court. Mental Health Courts follow the Drug Court model in that they require regular appearances, intensive monitoring, and a team-based approach to provide the support and structure needed to develop a treatment plan that will provide the foundation for a healthy, productive, and crime-free future for the participants. As of 2017 there were 29 mental health courts in New York, and I would embrace the development of one here in Yates County.”