A teenager standing in front of a car, asking the driver to end his life. Another teenager steals a family’s chicken from their backyard, then eats it alive, right in front of the kids.
There is a severe shortage of psychiatric care for teenagers that has led to conflict and crime in a town in Westchester County. And while residents demand a solution, teens are being denied the help they desperately need, putting them at risk of harming themselves or others.
Video posted to a public Facebook page showed the scary situation a female driver in Westchester faced as a distressed teenage girl jumped in front of her car and refused to move. She threatened to call the police on him, to which he responded with a chilling request: He asked her to kill him.
As mind-boggling and alarming as the incident was, it is not the only recent one like this. Local residents expressed their concerns at a Wednesday evening hearing in Mount Pleasant, saying it is not fair to them that they have to bear a burden the state has imposed on them due to a shortage of properly equipped mental health care facilities.
Dozens of teenagers, including the one seen in the Facebook video, with serious mental health issues are increasingly being sent to live at Pleasantville Cottage School, which is run by the nonprofit JCCA, formerly known under the name of Jewish Child Care Association. The teens are schizophrenic, suicidal, possibly even murderous, according to program CEO Ron Richter — conditions for which the facility is not equipped to provide adequate care.
“These are very sick children,” Richter said. “We are not authorized or funded to provide the level of care for children who are psychiatrically ill as we have them now.”
The Cottage School is intended to be a residential home offering therapy to foster children who have experienced abuse and neglect. But now they face fights, threats, even suicide attempts and serious incidents involving more than 30 children in the past six months.
A small percentage of residents distract from the other children who are supposed to be there. Staff are not allowed to get hold of children, lock doors, or force them to stay on campus. Mount Pleasant Police Chief Paul Oliva said his officers visited the facility seven times in one day recently.
Earlier this year, a 17-year-old terrorized the neighborhood around Virginia Lane when he walked 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 kids called the police, it was a nightmare.”
“It scared the neighbors. It scared me,” Chief Oliva said.
But according to a complaint filed with the state, the situation should never have come to this. The JCCA said the day before the teenager – who has schizophrenia – ate the chicken, they brought him to Westchester Medical Center three times.
Each time, he was fired: first after breaking a mosquito net and a staff member’s rear-view mirror on campus, then after climbing the Virginia Lane fence and brandishing a rake.
“He was banging on the fence saying he wanted to hurt someone,” says the neighbor.
After the third discharge, he again left the campus and returned to the neighbor. That’s when he grabbed the chicken
“If you could see the way he ate my chicken, it was clear he had a mental illness,” the neighbor’s daughter said. “He had a blank look on his face and he had no idea he was doing anything wrong.”
But even after the incident that traumatized a family, the hospital again refused to admit him, according to the complaint, adding that he kept talking about acquiring weapons, had expressed the intention to kill his peers while they slept – and to commit suicide. .
“We can’t convince the psychiatric emergency rooms that our kids need to be assessed. I don’t even say admitted, I say assessed,” Richter said.
In a statement, Westchester Medical Center said it could not comment on specific cases, but added that no one in need of physical or behavioral health treatment is denied care at its hospitals.
The teenager in this case was admitted to Bellevue Hospital in New York for long-term care. But the JCCA will continue to care for children in need, as the state has given them nowhere to go.
“The JCCA would never say, ‘Stop sending us kids,’ because at this point… there’s no place for those kids to go,” Richter said. “The state has decided that we don’t want 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 been closed. The pandemic has worsened mental health issues, and the state has cut adolescent psychiatric beds in recent years.
The JCCA has written to New York State, saying that if they want them to care for these children, they should put in place a program equipped to do so. But Richter says they’ve been waiting months for the state to act before another – possibly even more serious – crime occurs.
“Look at the subways in New York, look at what’s happened in Buffalo, with young people who have documented mental illness. God forbid, it’s happened before.”
New York State said Friday its offices of Child and Family Services and Mental Health are working closely with the JCCA to ensure it provides safe and effective care to affected young people. .
“New York State has invested significantly in the development of intensive community services for these youth in foster care, including comprehensive outpatient programs, partial hospital programs, active community treatment teams for youth and by doubling in-home crisis response capacity,” the statement said. “The JCCA has a long history of serving these children, especially those who need complex support due to chronic exposure to trauma and adverse childhood experiences.”
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