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Severely Mentally Ill Teens Sent to NY Foster Home Unable to Treat Them, Leading to Scares

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A teenager standing in front of a car, asking the driver to end his life. Another teen stealing a family’s chicken from their backyard — then eating it alive, right in front of children.

There is a dire shortage of psychiatric care for adolescents that has led to conflict and crime in a Westchester County town. And while residents demand a solution, the teens meanwhile are being denied the help they so desperately need, putting them at risk of hurting themselves — or others.

A video posted on a public Facebook page showed the scary situation one Westchester driver encountered, as a distressed teenager jumped in front of her car and refused to move. She threatened to call the police on him, to which he responded with a frightening request: He asked her to kill him.

As jaw-dropping and alarming as the incident was, it’s not the only recent one like it. Local residents expressed their concerns at a Wednesday night hearing in Mount Pleasant, saying it’s not fair to them that they have to shoulder a burden the state has put on them due to a dearth of properly equipped mental health care facilities.

Dozens of teens, including the one seen in the Facebook video, with serious mental health issues are increasingly being sent to live at the Pleasantville Cottage School, which is run by the nonprofit JCCA, formerly known as the Jewish Child Care Association. The adolescents are schizophrenic, suicidal, possibly even homicidal, according to program CEO Ron Richter — conditions the facility is not equipped to adequately provide care for.

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“They’re very sick kids,” Richter said. “We’re not licensed or funded to provide the level of care to children who are psychiatrically sick the way we have them now.”

The Cottage School is intended to be a residential home offering therapy to kids in foster care who have suffered abuse and neglect. But now they’re dealing with fights, threats, even suicide attempts and serious incidents involving more than 30 kids in the past six months.

A small percentage of the residents are detracting from the care for the other kids who are meant to be there. The staff are not permitted to put hands on the children, lock doors or force them to remain on campus. Mount Pleasant Police Chief Paul Oliva said that his officers were at the facility seven times in one day, recently.

Earlier in the year, a 17-year-old terrorized the neighborhood around Virginia Lane when he went into a family’s yard and stole a chicken — before doing the unthinkable with it.

“This student was on our street with one of our chickens in his hands eating it alive, with the neck in one hand and the body in the other…feathers and blood everywhere,” a neighbor said. “My children called the police, it was a nightmare.”

“It frightened the neighbors. It frightened me,” Chief Oliva said.

But according to a complaint filed with the state, the situation never should have gotten to that point. JCCA said that the day before the teen — who is schizophrenic — ate the chicken, they brought him to Westchester Medical Center three times.

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Each time he was discharged: First after he broke a window screen and a staffer’s car mirror on campus, second after climbing the fence on Virginia Lane and brandishing a rake.

“He was banging on the fence said he wanted to hurt someone,” said the neighbor.

After the the third discharge, he left the campus again and returned to the neighbor’s property. Thats’s when he grabbed the chicken

“If you could see the way he was eating my chicken, it was clear he had a mental illness,” said the neighbor’s daughter. “He had a blank stare on his face and he had no idea that he was doing something wrong.”

But even after the incident that left a family traumatized, the hospital again declined to admit him, according to the complaint, adding that he kept talking about acquiring weapons, expressed an intention to kill his peers while they were sleeping — and take his own life.

“We can’t seem to convince the psychiatric emergency rooms that our kids should be evaluated. I’m not even saying admitted, I’m saying evaluated,” Richter said.

In a statement, Westchester Medical Center said they cannot comment on specific cases, but added that no person in need of physical or behavioral health treatment is denied care at their hospitals.

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The teen in this case was admitted to Bellevue Hospital in New York City for longer term care. But JCCA will keep taking on the kids in need, because the state has given them nowhere else to go.

“JCCA would never say ‘Stop sending us kids,’ because at this point in time…there’s no place for these kids to go,” Richter said. “The state has decided that we don’t want to have high-end psychiatric residential services for children.”

Why not? A new federal law limits the time children can spend in residential care, so programs have closed. The pandemic made mental health issues worse, and the state has cut adolescent psychiatric beds in recent years.

JCCA wrote to New York state, saying if they want them to care for these kids, they should set up a program that is equipped to do it. But Richter says they’ve been waiting months for the state to take action before another — possibly even more serious — crime takes place.

“Look at the New York City subways, look at what happened in Buffalo, with young people who have documented mental illness. God forbid, it’s already happened.”

New York state said Friday its offices of Children and Family Services and Mental Health are working closely with JCCA to ensure it is safely and effectively providing care to impacted youth.

“New York State has invested significantly in developing intensive community-based services for these youth in foster care, including comprehensive outpatient programs, partial hospital programs, youth assertive community treatment teams, and by doubling the capacity of home-based crisis intervention,” the statement said. “JCCA has a longstanding history of serving these children, especially those who require complex supports due chronic exposure to trauma and adverse childhood experiences.”

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Source: NBC New York

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